Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: March 2020
Wednesday, 01 April 2020 08:04

Covid-19 conspiracy theories

The lockdown, enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or similar appropriate euphemisms is a correct attempt to contain a deadly pandemic. Other countries are implementing this with varying degrees of success. My medium-sized family with three grandkids (aged 8, 6 and 4), two parents, two grandparents, nannies and kasambahay (househelps) — sequestered in a fairly large house with a modest garden — are enjoying the novelty of it all, at least in the provinces (five others are quarantined in Manila). Forced interaction within a confined space is akin to a prison without bars, armed guards and a bartolina (isolation chamber) and absent corporal punishment although the intermittent shouting and cries and the general ruckus that erupt between unique, dynamic and highly independent siblings are, at least to the lolo (grandfather), analogous to Holy Week penance.

Our home ECQ has unstructured amusements, leisure, entertainment and recreation privileges as contrasted to the proverbial “doing time” or incarceration. At least for a month, the inmates make their own rules, although in the hierarchy of authority — the rankings are confused as to who are the wardens; the adults or the little ones. Discipline is loose and bedtime curfew is unenforceable as the kids, with no school, consider every night a “movie night.”

Social media data overload
But Facebook, Messenger, Viber and You Tube have inundated social media with all sorts of news articles, opinions and warnings against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). But what catch my eyes are the insights of bloggers, pundits, intellectual charlatans and wannabe opinion makers.

The contributions are a witches’ brew of facts, fiction, questionable science and fake news. All these thrown into the cauldron suffused with the overarching fear of the pandemic with daily real time statistics on the spread, survival and morbidity rates. Throw in a healthy measure of a blend of epidemic movies — i.e., the “Outbreak” (1995), “Contagion” (2011), my special favorite “Andromeda Strain” (1969), the recent Netflix film “Pandemic” (2020) and “World War Z” (2013) — and, voila, conspiracy theories are regurgitated which, in some way, alleviate anxieties in the primordial quest for simple answers during times of peril.

One that has gained traction was an account of a paper written by four researcher-scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology based on their study from 2018, anticipating an outbreak. The document was received by the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing for peer review on Jan. 29, 2019. On March 2, 2019, it was published in an open access journal titled “Bat Coronaviruses in China,”10 months before the outbreak. Apparently these new deadly pathogens had similar genomes with other coronaviruses. The suspected cover-up by Chinese authorities was unraveled in December 2019, when the spread could no longer be contained and the lockdown of Wuhan was enforced. By then, 4,000 citizens have already fled the city for other parts in China and abroad.

To deflect these denunciations of the virus origins, Chinese authorities hinted that the United States biochemical weapons agency spread the virus through US soldiers who visited Hubei Province where Wuhan city is situated. US President Donald Trump promptly retaliated by officially tweeting Covid-19 not by its name, but as “the China virus.”

Depopulate the earth
But a compelling conspiracy theory is one expanded from the hypothesis of an 18th century philosopher, Thomas Malthus, whose writings centered on world population and its capacity to consume the earth’s resources: “The power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must, in some shape or other, visit the human race.”

I wrote in my column “Malthus and the global peril” (The Manila Times, Feb.12, 2019): “…The world’s resources are finite and technology can no longer mitigate the effects of a disastrous population bursting at the seams. By 2050, at current growth rates, the United Nations predicts the world population could reach 9.6 billion. Demographic experts argue 10 billion is Earth’s maximum population carrying capacity; predicated too on another projection that earth can afford to feed only this much.”

Depopulation not genocide
There are two ways to reduce the Earth’s population. One by nuclear holocaust, with the ensuing collapse of the world’s economy with the resultant possible annihilation of the human species. War is too messy, and nobody wins. The efficient method is by attrition, depopulation spaced over time so as not to inflict too much trauma to the world’s economy. Covid-19 is presumably reengineered to eliminate the elderly with preexisting health vulnerabilities. In Italy, 99.99 percent of the infected elderly died. (Another rich source of conspiracy theory “Why Italy?” https://uncoverdc.com/2020/03/20/why-italy/.)

The next round of pandemics may target the 1 billion souls worldwide living in the slums, shantytowns and favelas under squalid conditions.

The theory further postulates that over the past decades, the two remaining competing superpowers have allowed or even caused the introduction of deadly viruses from their arsenals or from “natural causes.” The coronavirus family — the severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle East respiratory syndrome and now the more lethal Covid-19 have decimated the targeted segment in each other’s population — and at their allies, too. Supposedly vaccines for these various plagues have already been discovered from the blood of human survivors then processed and stored for safekeeping by multinationals, and allocated from time to time in line with the plan for depopulation

Bill Gates, in his TED speech in 2015 declared that the next world war would not be nuclear. It will be virus- and technology-based. Left unsaid is the desired result: eradication of poverty, the healing of the environment, and mitigating the violence to the earth’s climate toward striking a balance between the desired numbers of a depopulated human race and the earth’s capacity to produce; perforce maintain the desired quality of life.

Who survives
The blame game over whether the pandemic is a result of China’s profligate exotic culinary palate or America’s weaponizing biotechnology simply deflects the conversation away from the real issue — that man has long been irresponsible for his ascendency over nature.

I wrote in 2014 an appropriate conclusion: “Human extinction is unthinkable…but this might not be Mother Nature’s intention to wipe out the entire human race. We are [her] best creation, the predator on top of the food chain. She will not destroy her ‘obra maestra,’ but perhaps just intermittently warn us, humans, that we are responsible for ourselves — for each other and our environment. Over the millennia…Mother Nature was there to ride herd on us, letting us be until we go outside the limits of our discretion. Then she steps in to discipline us. More than a hundred plagues…in human history…curtailing millions from the earth’s population.”

We are taxing her resources and her patience. Mother Nature or God or Allah has simply intervened, but is neutral on who are to be eliminated. But man or more particularly the world’s oligarchy and the elite are now playing God, choosing who may or may not survive. Those who are no longer useful and a burden to society will not pull through. This is happening now!
Published in LML Polettiques
IN times of great peril, man turns to his deity or the unknown for his survival. This is how religion evolved over the millennia: The primordial longing to be extricated from whatever difficulties he is faced with. This is, perhaps, also the evolution of prayer, starting as incantations to implore the gods for a “deus ex machina.” These are the miracles, inexplicable events attributable to those greater than him.

Lockdown and prayers
During this quarantine period, social media has been inundated by calls to prayers from all religions, sects and cults. In one TV mass celebration, a Roman Catholic priest proclaimed the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) as God’s instrument to bring the straying sheep back to the Shepherd. Hallelujah! And every 12 noon and 8 p.m. daily, the church bells will ring enjoining the faithful to pray the oratio imperata to fight the virus. Hallelujah! Catholics have a convenient prayer for all occasions, be it an earthquake, a typhoon or a tsunami. And an obscure Sta. Corona has appeared, the patron saint of pandemics.

We have one from our Muslim brothers,too, Ustadh Ahmad Javier preaching about “sampung mabubuting naidulot ng Covid-19 sa mundo” (10 good things from the virus), among which are that the lockdowns have drastically minimized industrial pollution, principally from China, healing our environment and general cleaning of cities. But my favorite is the minimizing of haram activities like drinking and gambling, leading a sinful nightlife and, presumably, going wenching. Inshallah!

Appointed son of God
But by now many would have heard of this enigmatic man from Davao City. With a dashing personality, he has the gift of gab and can sway audiences through an emotional roller-coaster, although his audiences are confined within a controlled space where images are shaped and filtered through the harsh and dominant lenses of television cameras — his cameras. With his fanatical followers, he has the capacity to make or break local politicians. This is a mighty man and an ally to another powerful Davaoeño — President Rodrigo Duterte.

Pastor Apollo Quiboloy enthrals his audience through a staccato of biblical quotes that purportedly underpins whatever claims he makes as personal revelations directly from God. During his sermons, the spellbound faithful interrupts with shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujahs” — with the cameras panning over the choir, singling out gorgeous coiffured women in finely cut conservative white dresses with tears running down their cheeks. This goes on and on, mesmerizing an audience he already dominates, capturing images and selectively editing them for cable TV channels that he owns. This is theater at its most garish exhibition.

How Quiboloy became the chosen one is a riveting tale in itself. At his birth, he intimated that his mother had a vision of God looking down from above and declared, “That is my son!” (He has not revealed if he was born in a manger or whether his was a virgin birth.) Right after high school in his village, he attended a Bible college and later became a national youth leader of the United Pentecostal Church, which he left in Sept. 1, 1985 with 15 of its members to establish his own church, “The Kingdom of Jesus Christ — the name above every name.” He preached that Jesus Christ came as a redeemer of the Jewish people 2,000 years ago, but he comes today as the savior of the gentiles — the non-Jews — for which he was chosen by God the Father as the “appointed son of God” exactly on April 13, 2003. In some creative but convoluted way, which is the basis of his church’s credo, God gave him the “kingship” — the ultimate act of the Father who was now “finished with him” as the good pastor was now in a state of perfection, similar to Adam (and Eve) before the fall.

Owner of the world and the universe
Central to his version of the biblical genesis was an interesting twist that God ceded His right and responsibility over the universe to Adam (and Eve), but was deceived by Satan; so, ownership of the universe passed on to the devil. The race procreated through Adam and Eve, “the fallen Adamic race,” was doomed. And for more than a thousand years of the “Dominion of the Serpency (serpent seed),” the world was Satan’s. Until the fight between Lucifer and Quiboloy in “that covenant mountain” (presumably a mountain in the outskirts of Davao City) ensued, winning for the latter the whole enchilada — the Universe! In this new creation, a new Adam has come. Quiboloy profoundly and expansively declared that — “It is I that came. Who am I? I am the new owner of the world. I am here to ‘undeceive’ you by enlightenment.”

‘Earthquake stop!’
But Quiboloy has of late made other assertions. During the 6.7-magnitude earthquake in Davao, he declared publicly that he stopped the earthquake, in time to prevent further damage. Multitudes laughed and mocked him. With that, he subsequently allowed Typhoon “Tisoy” (international name: “Kammuri”) to ravage the land as chastisement for the taunt and for good measure, punishing those who insinuated he was a sexual predator and illegal recruiter. The latter prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to raid his church in Hawaii. This raid was also an offshoot of an investigation of an attempted United States dollar smuggling aboard his jet in Hawaii last year. With all these, God conversed with Quiboloy: “Nakausap ko and Diyos — ang kumakalat na virus ay kaparusahan sa pagsira sa aming simbahan. Hindi ko ito mapipigilan, ito po ay itinakda. Ngunit and mga kasapi po ay walang dapat ipag-alala, kami po ay exempted sabi ng Diyos (I talked to God. The [coronavirus] is punishment inflicted for destroying His church. I can’t stop this. It is ordained. But my flock need not worry. God said we are exempted).”

These claims have biblical antecedents 3,200 years ago, when Moses inflicted 10 plagues upon Egypt when the Pharaoh did not let his people go “…water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the killing of firstborn children.” Neither are these all that far-fetched from the One who turned water into wine, healed the sick, the blind to see, the lame to walk and even the dead to rise 2,000 years ago; or to the splitting of the moon in Muslim tradition by the prophet Muhammad; or of Isra and Mi’raj, two parts of a night journey on his flying horse-like beast, Buraq, to the farthest mosque and of his ascent to heaven 1,400 years ago.

So, there you are. The persons who can deliver us from this quarantine and this dilemma are both from Davao; one, a mere President with temporal powers saddled with a coping and alarmingly incompetent bureaucracy; and the “appointed son of God” himself.

Filipinos are predominantly Roman Catholics; many are poverty-stricken and easy prey to Bible-quoting characters gifted with eloquence mouthing passages of hope giving respite from their miserable lives. And, churches, sects and cults are the petri dish for the emergence of these types. These institutions enjoy tax-free revenues.

And, here is one whom prophets may have foretold — or a snake-oil salesman, a charlatan or one totally deranged!
Published in LML Polettiques
Monday, 23 March 2020 13:42

Duterte seeks more powers vs COVID-19

National Week of Prayer set
MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte wants to declare a state of national emergency and is asking Congress to grant him additional powers to cope with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Malacañang stressed that Duterte is not seeking “emergency powers,” adding that a proposal to allow the state’s takeover of private firms for quarantine and related purposes came from Congress.

Duterte is also turning to prayer to fight the contagion.

In Proclamation 934 that he signed last Saturday, Duterte declared the fourth week of March as a National Week of Prayer against COVID-19.

In the proclamation, the President said the state recognizes the religious nature of Filipinos and the “vital role of faith in bringing about peace, solidarity, compassion and heroism in times of adversity.”

“During the aforesaid week, I urge all Filipinos of all faiths, religious traditions and backgrounds to unite our hearts in prayer as we face the COVID-19 threat, fixing our eyes on the Almighty in this time of affliction,” Duterte said.

The President urged the public to pray for the recovery of people who are suffering from COVID-19, for the comfort of those who have lost loves ones, and for the protection of all, especially the most vulnerable sectors of society.

“Pray also for strength and endurance for our outstanding medical professionals and health workers on the frontlines, your military and law enforcement officers, the government officials and personnel dealing with the present threat and all Filipinos who are working tirelessly to protect our communities, sacrificing their lives in the service of the country,” Duterte said.

“Through prayer, let us, as one nation, find strength to defeat this invisible enemy, with the aid and blessing of God,” he added.

The Philippines has 380 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 25 deaths as of yesterday.

The pandemic has prompted Duterte to place the entire Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine from March 17 to April 13.

Sen. Bong Go yesterday commended Duterte’s decision to declare a National Week of Prayer.

“I hope this paves the way for all of us to unite as a nation, notwithstanding our religion, and for us to also offer prayers for our frontliners who are leading our fight against COVID-19,” Go said in a statement in Filipino.

The senator seconded the importance of the President’s declaration, saying it is one of the ways to encourage and promote unity among Filipinos in the name of a common goal.

“We have gone through a lot of challenges. This is proof of our strength. Gaya ng ating pagdarasal noon upang maibsan ang hirap na pinagdaanan nating lahat, now more than ever, Filipinos need to pray,” Go said.

‘Not emergency powers’
Meanwhile, in a text message, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the letter to Congress signed by Execurive Secretary Salvador Medialdea stated “powers necessary to carry out urgent measures to implement the national emergency, not emergency powers.”

Earlier this month, President Duterte declared a state of public health emergency throughout the Philippines due to the local transmission of COVID-19.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the grant of special powers was a proposal of Congress.

“Malacañang just wants the President to have flexibility on the use of some of the provisions of the budget bill... so we can use them for our needs as we combat COVID-19,” Nograles said.

Under Proclamation No. 933 dated March 21, Duterte urged Congress to hold a special session today to allow him to “exercise powers necessary to carry out urgent measures to meet the current national emergency” relating to COVID-19.

The President also wants lawmakers to provide him “ample latitude to utilize appropriate funds to strengthen governmental response” against the threat of the disease and to continue providing basic services to the people.

In a letter sent to Senate President Vicente Sotto III last Saturday, Duterte certified as urgent the passage of a bill titled “An act to declare the existence of a national emergency arising from the COVID-19 situation, a unified national policy in connection therewith, and to authorize the President of the Republic of the Philippines for a limited period and subject to restrictions, to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out the declared national policy and for other purposes.”

‘Emergency powers’ in draft bill
A draft bill leaked to reporters, however, used the term “emergency powers” in its declaration of policy.

“By reason thereof, and in order to optimize the efforts of the President to carry out the tasks needed to implement the aforementioned policy, it is imperative to grant him emergency powers subject to such limitations as hereinafter provided,” the bill read.

Palace officials have not confirmed whether the draft bill was the version they transmitted to Congress.

The draft bill also allows the President to take over private firms when necessary. Private firms include, but are not limited to, hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief, and aid distribution locations or other temporary medical facilities; public transportation to ferry health, emergency and frontline personnel and other persons; and telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public.

Nograles was mum on the alleged proposal by the Senate to allow the government to take over private entities if necessary.

“(T)he House and the Senate will debate on it. Let’s just wait for the result of the debate because we in the executive branch will just follow the law to be passed by Congress,” he said. ­– With Paolo Romero
Published in News
Wednesday, 18 March 2020 12:16

Duterte’s incapacities — what if?

REPORTS and rumors have been rife lately that President Rodrigo Duterte’s health is deteriorating fast. There is no official medical bulletin, except for interpretations of the curious gleaned from his TV appearances. But the trickles of kuro-kuro is pervasive — perfectly normal against a regime of secrecy. A glimpse of a bandaged arm titillates the chismosos y chimosas to conclude a regimen of kidney dialysis. And his skin goes from pale to dark to yellowish. What is known is what the Deegong disclosed publicly — that he suffers from an autoimmune disease, a condition called “…myasthenia gravis…one of my eyes is smaller. It roams on its own. It’s a nerve malfunction. I got it from my grandfather….” Earlier, he revealed he suffers from“Buerger’s disease, an illness that affects the veins and the arteries of the limbs and is usually due to smoking.” He takes Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller to alleviate pain due to a spinal injury from a motorcycle accident.

Methinks the President is in good health. Except for his family and Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, no one is privy to his condition. So, all these speculations are hogwash. I believe the President, at least for people like us who’ve hit the second half of seven decades. But his and our minds are active more than ever, although many of us in the High School Class of 1960 at the Ateneo de Davao (the Deegong and Carlos “Sonny D” Dominguez 3rd were in class ‘61) are a little physically slow, but mentally and psychologically, we are alert, in high spirits and can hold our own. We still have, maybe, 30 more years before we meet our Maker.

The main difference, as Toti M. and Dinky M. aver, is that our bragging rights to our male potency are no longer believable. And so is the Deegong’s. But being the country’s president, he is given that much leeway, or at least his prowess is not questioned — in public, that is.

But this is not an article on the sexual proficiency of the elderly — a fiction at best, let alone a treatise on how to revive “it,” for those that have crossed the mid-70s. This column is about “what ifs.”

What if the Deegong suddenly gives up the ghost tomorrow by natural causes. Then we have a situation that is open to all permutations, subject to interpretations, depending on where you sit. Perspectives are always different from several angles and depending on one’s motivations, invite scenarios painted and perceived through the prism of ones biases. The following is the most possible of alternative realities.

Historical precedents
We have precedents in our history for such situations. President Manuel Roxas, the last president of the Philippine Commonwealth and the first president of the third Philippine Republic died of heart failure at the Clark Airbase in Pampanga on April 15, 1948. Two days after his demise, Vice President Elpidio Quirino assumed the presidency, taking his oath of office as the sixth president of the Philippines. It will be noted that the transition was peaceful and orderly. In the 1949 presidential elections, Quirino won as president, with Sen. Fernando Lopez (of the ABS-CBN clan) as vice president.

In the 1953 presidential elections, Ramon Magsaysay, Quirino’s erstwhile Defense secretary ran against him. A Liberal-turned-Nacionalista, Magsaysay won the presidency. He died in a plane crash on March 17, 1957 after only three years in office. He was succeeded by Vice President Carlos P. Garcia from Bohol. The transition, too, was likewise peaceful and tidy.

Alternative outcomes — dramatis personae
In our what if case, the default path to transition is the legal and legitimate one. Philippine constitutional provisions dictate a presidential line of succession and enshrined in Article VII (Executive Department), providing for a vice president to assume power. In this case, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo assumes the presidency. And the beneficiary here is the rule of law in a democratic process.

Any scenario that short-circuits this is illegitimate and unlawful. In this very partisan climate, the hot-headed, especially those occupying sinecures in government, appointed by Duterte, will perhaps move to prevent an orderly transition from happening and agitate for a drastic alternative, unsure as to their fate in the coming regime. They will use as a pretext the tired line of the “illegitimate vice presidency stolen from Marcos.” They have the DDS or the diehard duterte supporters and fist bumpers to augment as warm bodies. In which case, chaos may reign, paralyzing government services, forcing the state to intervene and exercise its monopoly on violence.

Intervention of institutions
The police will have their hands full restoring order — if they are not themselves partisans. These are the first line of law enforcement that will be called upon. The better trained and disciplined Armed Forces of the Philippines may have to use force as back-up to intervene enforcing the letter and spirit of the Constitution — to which it is bound to protect.

Then again, the question arises on the homogeneity of the Armed Forces and the police. It is obvious that the Deegong has been stacking the civilian bureaucracy with former generals and officers of the military. Will they break their oaths to defend the Constitution? Do these former generals have the balls and the warm bodies and work on a parallel chain of command?

Focus would shift on the Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the uncharismatic and unknown current chief of staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Archie Gamboa — perhaps expecting a reprise with a twist on the 1986 scenarios with Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and PNP chief Fidel Ramos playing the dynamic duo, absent the likes of Cardinal Jaime Sin and Corazon Aquino. The Roman Catholic Church this time will prove inutile and will just stand on the sidelines, the way they always behaved from the time the Deegong cursed them and God.

The bureaucracy will search for the next patron or padrino and the strongest group that can assume power. It will not be the Cabinet. This collegial body has long been inflicted, I fear, with political leadership catatonia. The two houses of Congress whose terms are still legitimate would have to seek guidance from their masters — not the electorate but the oligarchy. This is so far the next best group after the military that can enforce a certain modicum of stability. The oligarchy will not tolerate chaos, as this will negatively affect their bottom lines. But they will need the guidance and the deadly hardware of the silent overarching partner to all of these — they who will need stability in the country and in the region. China is not yet too entrenched in the political dynamics to make a dent. In the end, America will come to the rescue of their brown brothers, but with more airtight quid pro quo this time around. I foresee a military junta guiding Leni and the oligarchy through all of these.

The above is predicated on the Deegong’s exit by natural causes or even by the “Covid veerus.” But “what if” it is by assassination?

Then all bets are off. And God help us!

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 11 March 2020 12:36

The US State Department — ugly Americans?

I HAD the privilege of an audience with the president-elect in Davao City for a courtesy call scheduled at 2:30 a.m. Yes indeed, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) holds strange hours. I was accompanying a mutual friend, an American philanthropist whom he had invited long before his election. After the customary amenities, the conversation turned to a topic that intermittently crops up like a broken record and soured his attitude toward the United States government. I wrote on Dec. 29, 2016 in my Manila Times column:

“A point at issue then was the ‘Meiring matter’ that irritated the President, generating some sort of the lingering mistrust for the American government, reflected in his lukewarm attitude toward the outgoing US Ambassador Goldberg.

“Apparently, this was a case of an American who came in and out of Davao for years carrying explosives for unknown purposes. The hotel he stayed in burned down after an explosion in his room. He was hospitalised, but was whisked out of the country the next day, purportedly by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in a private jet to Singapore and subsequently to the United States. Richard Ricciardone, the US ambassador at the time, never did come up with a clear-cut explanation nor an apology. To President Duterte, this was merely one of the instances of America’s impertinent attitude toward the Philippines and its laws.

“The Deegong (President Duterte) since then has had a strong aversion for US ambassadors, regarding them as the proverbial ‘ugly Americans.’

Genesis of DU30’S US opprobrium

“Our second engagement with then President-elect Deegong was in June 24 [2016], when a group of around 40 US-based business executives, local industrialists, and former US and current Philippine diplomats flew to Davao from Washington D.C. and Manila in four private planes… We brought them to the ‘Malacañang South’…where the President was our gracious host. They flew back home that evening impressed with the President-elect and started mulling over plans for investments in the agricultural sector and power, especially in Mindanao.

“Then came a series of American, European and United Nations faux-pas on perceived human rights violations and the so called ‘EJK’ (extrajudicial killing), culminating in the US President’s [expression of] public concern and chastisement, and subsequent retaliation by President Deegong and his famous ‘p****g i*a’ reportedly directed at the US lame-duck President [Barack Obama]. Things went downhill from then on.”

In a microcosm, these two incidents depict what ails our relations with America today. PRRD’s unilateral decision to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement could be his vernacular version of a personal “resbak” (revenge) for these slights. From his standpoint as an uncomplicated linear thinker, this mitigates the damage to the Filipino collective pride over the decades while paradoxically in a “special relations.” In a litany of misdeeds, one strikes at the core of the populist president’s grasp of this bilateral relationship. I wrote:

Little brown brothers

“At this point, a cursory review of the relationship with America needed to be examined and understood from the point of view of the President. In his monologue over the months as president, he has given hints as to his feelings about the ‘big brother.’ Admittedly, our close relationships with America reached its apex when we fought side by side during the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos died on Philippine soil defending America’s concept of freedom and democracy. But, shortly after the war and the succeeding years, the relationship has reached its nadir when the Filipino soldiers, who fought beside his American comrades, were soon subjected to some of the most humiliating experiences by having to prove to America their courageous participation in countless battlefields — before they could receive some sort of ‘veteran’s compensation’; while their American counterparts never had a problem receiving their entitlements. Horror stories abound with old and ailing veterans ‘begging’ for pittance even decades after the war.

“Contrast this with the way America treated its World War 2 enemies. Japan, under the Philippines’ ‘adopted’ [son], Gen. Douglas McArthur had more American treasures thrown at it in their post-war rebuilding. Germany is now the leading European economy and the fourth or fifth in the world, having been rebuilt immediately after the war with the Marshall Plan. The Philippines’ post-war reconstruction was in no way comparable to those whom we fought against — the Axis powers.

“As the closest of America’s allies and men-at arms, what did we get in return for keeping the ‘fires of democracy’ alive and help to keep America’s presence in Asia? …We did not get our own Marshall Plan.”

Nurturing a relationship

At this critical juncture we don’t even have a US ambassador to interpret this maverick of a president to US political institutions. Similarly, in 2016, at the start of PRRD’s administration, the US State Department was so irresponsible as to neglect assigning a US ambassador after Philip Goldberg was replaced. And his replacement, Ambassador Sung Kim didn’t appear in Manila until the end of 2016.

Petty things like the cancellation of the US visa of PRRD’s favorite senator may be the trigger, but this is merely the culmination of a series of aggravations and insults over time. A good US ambassador, knowledgeable of the Filipino psyche, should understand Duterte’s way of conducting diplomacy and could have averted all these complications. The absence of America’s man on the ground, as all other blunders, simply signals — in the dialect — “Binabalewala lang tayo (We are being taken for granted).” In retrospect, it is not even so much the absence of America’s representative, but the quality of one. The US needs to send someone who internalizes the sensitive element that the Philippines was the big brother’s first tentative stab at colonization in Asia, resulting in the shaping of this “special relations.” But the US State Department has been sending US ambassadors without previous Philippine experience and without deep knowledge of our country. Also, the State Department needs to send an ambassador with strong ties to Trump (who professed to like the Deegong immensely) and solid links with members of the Senate and House Foreign Relations committee, Philippine senators and congressmen, and the Washington foreign policy think tank community.

But rumor has it that the US State Department wants to send the Philippines another ambassador totally inexperienced in Philippine affairs; and that our Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has agreed to this presumably without the knowledge of the Deegong or the rest of the Cabinet, or even our ambassador in Washington.

We should all be mindful of the near-debacle last year, when the term of Ambassador Kim was ending and social media was inundated with a photo of a comely Asian-American, purported to be the next US ambassador to the Philippines. She was presented at the Philippine Independence Day celebration at the Philippine Embassy in Washington with a senior State Department official, Brian Bulatao, escorting her. Turned out the 32-year-old Ms. Mina Chang had false credentials; subsequently, she had to resign from the State Department.

This continuing saga of incompetence by the US State Department does not augur well for the special relationship, which both sides need to continually nurture — not with the Philippines right smack in the front door of America’s last remaining worthy global competitor, China!

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 04 March 2020 08:01

The Donald and the Deegong — lame ducks?

PRESIDENTS Rodrigo “Deegong” Duterte and Donald Trump are a fascinating study in the arrogance of power, bordering on megalomania, not seen since the leaders of World War 2. Winston Churchill, Charles the Gaulle (Après moi, le déluge), Franklin D. Roosevelt and even Adolf Hitler, whom Duterte appeared to liken himself to by threatening to exterminate 3 million drug users and peddlers. The Deegong and the Donald are both charismatic, whose sheer force of personality catapulted them to their presidencies. Both are nominal members of pathetic political parties they dominate, unfettered by party core beliefs. And both have a personal distinctive voter base; Trump by the fanatically loyal middle-aged noncollege graduate white male, who feel politically voiceless; Deegong by the millennials, wary and tired of the old tradpol practices, augmented by the diehard Duterte supporters displaying Nazi-like fist-bump salutes; eclipsing the Centrist Democrats, like many of us, adherents of real change to the perverted system of governance promised by candidate Duterte in 2016.
Trump lost the popular vote, but won in the electoral college; Deegong by 39 percent of the voters, a minority but enough to win against a field of four monochromatic presidential candidates. 
Both come from the fringes as mavericks; Trump from real estate and Duterte from local politics. Both have a complicated relationship with their children compelled to follow parallel paths. Even their appetites for women are legendary. The Deegong’s two marriages, one unrecognized under antediluvian Catholic Church doctrines, do not defer much from Trump’s three marriages (two divorces). Both have bragging rights on amorous conquests, insipidly discussing in public the size of their penises. Both are inferior paragons toward their respective youths as moral deviants and confessed adulterers or at the very least, philandering husbands.
Women accuse them of chauvinism or worse, of being misogynists, defined mainly by their attitude and language; Trump’s “grab them by the p***y” and the Deegong’s “pusila sa bisong” are now iconic phrases; a blight on their presidencies that will outlive them. The similarities end here.
Trump is the darling of the American religious right and the Bible-toting Midwest and a member of the Presbyterian Church. He is supported by the big-ticket televangelists in America, among whom is Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, who has preached to a staggering “215 million people in 185 territories and countries.”

Duterte, who professes to be Islamic, when convenient, is the only Philippine president with the temerity to curse the Pope, Barack Obama and God. This blasphemy is unprecedented in a Catholic country, while the hierarchy stood by in disbelief with their tails tucked between their legs. But he has his long-time political ally Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, a Davao billionaire preacher who claims to be the “appointed son of God” — and boasts he can stop earthquakes.

Trump’s and Duterte’s dominance over their presidential coterie is total, reducing the same virtually into daunted factions of “yes men.” The difference is that Trump is faithless to his senior staff many of whom ignominiously left the White House. Duterte, on the other hand, has shown almost blind loyal backing for his people to the extent of reassigning miscreants to other sinecures in government.

Trump in four years has been known to have liberally told 3,000 lies, while nobody has dared count Duterte’s. Trump, a billionaire, is seen to be corrupt. He can redeem himself if he gets a second four-year term. President Duterte on the other hand is perceived to lead not exactly an ascetic life, but a simple one — and is not corrupt!

Lame duck presidency

Which brings us to an important intervening issue. The “lame duck presidency.” Trump could be one in a few months if the Democrats produce a strong and credible presidential candidate from their Democratic hopefuls. Fresh from being exonerated at his impeachment trial, Trump is at it again — unrepentant and wreaking havoc by interfering in the US criminal justice system. But the continuing Democrat narrative that the impeachment trial was obviously rigged in his favor by a Republican Senate majority may yet persuade the Americans, beyond Trump’s base, that he is not at all fit for the US presidency, let alone a second term; making Trump a lame duck president.
But it’s a different scenario for Duterte. The paradox in Philippine presidential politics is that although Duterte still has three more years in office, his reelection is not an option, unlike many of the senators, congressmen and local government executives. For their electoral campaign money is the lifeblood, and stealing from public coffers or selling their souls to the oligarchy and the elite is par for the course, to buy votes, loyalty and in some areas in the hinterlands — the need for “guns and goons."
And Duterte has been very loud and adamant in his anti-corruption campaign to prevent massive rent-seeking, but absent the mechanisms and the systems to prevent the same, thus the leakage is still pervasive. Duterte has been attacking the very people who finance elections — the oligarchy, the true patrons of the traditional politicians. These are the permanent, steady, reliable and long-term sources. For the tradpols, the choice seems clear. Their political survival demands pragmatic reassessments of their loyalty toward an ephemeral strongman.
Signs of ‘lame-ducking’
And the signs are there for the political cognoscenti to observe; the shifting power — antithetical to an earthquake, first a series of small “after quakes” before the big one. The rats are abandoning ship; defections from the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, the president’s party, are accelerating back to the embrace of the oligarch-funded National Unity Party and Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats. But party leaders are careful to tread delicately, explaining that they still support the Deegong’s legislative agenda.
But deadlier are the signs that Duterte may cave in on their demands for an extension of ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise. The mechanism to save face caused by his tantrums are now in play. First, the Deegong has accepted the Lopezes’ apology setting the stage for an “about face.” Then, Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo the talking head, has just declared that the President does not have anything to do with the franchise extension or its lapse. It is solely Congress’ responsibility.
The Department of Justice followed with a declaration that ABS-CBN could operate with an expired franchise. The presidential gofer in the Senate declares, “The President is fair to all and will save ABS-CBN jobs.” And then the clincher, daughter Sarah, the heiress apparent — “I support granting franchise extension to ABS-CBN.” The ABS-CBN, owned by the Lopez family, is simply too big to fail. They are now cashing in their markers with the senators and congressmen that they own.
And the emasculated Senate has found its voice by going ahead with a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which the President wants abrogated. Perhaps it is worth noting that a recent poll showed that Filipinos are not with the President on this. Although three-fourths of the Filipinos approve of the President, more than four-fifths of Pinoys want the VFA retained. Our colonial mentality runs deep. We still rely on Uncle Sam!
These are definite signs of a tectonic political power shift, imperceptible as yet, but inexorably contributing toward the “lame ducking” of the Deegong.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." style="color: #000000;">
Published in LML Polettiques