Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: June 2021
Wednesday, 30 June 2021 05:50

The state of our politics

First of 3 parts

THE traditional and social media are now rife with speculation on who should run the country after President Duterte - not excluding the conjectures about the man himself running for vice president as foolishly proposed by the Cusi faction of the broken PDP-Laban. Even the President himself, I'm sure, is somewhat embarrassed by such a display of sycophancy. The President has dismissed this recipe outright from one senator suggesting he would run for president only if the Deegong runs as his VP. But clownish and inane declarations are par for the course for this sexennial event when all sorts of creatures come out of the woodwork to declare themselves fit to vie for the highest office of the land.

Presidential wannabes

Which brings us to several interrelated topics, among which are the state of politics in this country, particularly the patronage system impacting on our political parties birthing a mix of individuals, genuine and spurious, who have somehow decided that they are fit to follow after Duterte. Much worse are some deluding themselves worthy and destined to be gifted the ultimate prize by the electorate.

Subsequently, five names were released by Malacañang as possible candidates for the May 2022 presidential elections. Prominent among them are presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., PDP-Laban president Sen. Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao, Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso and Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go. It was hinted that Duterte may pick his choice from among these at an appropriate time.

An alternative list was an expanded one proposed by partisans to include those who may be under Duterte's radar to widen the choices from the heavily Mindanao-personalities-leaning one. Thus, were added Sen. Richard "Dick" Gordon; the AdeM niño bonito, Sen. Panfilo Ping Lacson, Lakas-NUCD stalwart Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro and Sen. Mary Grace Poe, who all lost their presidential bids, respectively, in the 2004, 2010 and 2016 presidential elections.

And the opposition has advanced the expected names of Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo, former vice president Manuel "Mar" Roxas and former senator Antonio "Sonny" Trillanes 4th. Unfortunately, with their tattered reputation and the way everything is stacked up against them, they may have the same chances as perennial candidate Pascual Racuyal, who has run in every presidential election beginning in 1935 against Manuel Quezon. Chances are the opposition candidate may eventually come from those that the Deegong will discard from among the list of top names, analogous to a "loyal opposition."

No doubt their partisans and even perhaps a substantial number of our electorate consider these names as persons who can make a difference when elected. I take the opposing view. My stand from years back congruent to the tenets as a Centrist Democrat (CD) that names, though important, should be subservient to the systemic configuration for good governance and their perceived moral standing. Simply put, the well-considered political platforms and the seriousness of the type of political systemic reforms advanced by principled candidates are elemental and have precedence. Not the popularity, the electability and the name recall that have been unfortunately the sine qua non of our elections.

What's wrong with PH politics?

As I intimated years ago reprinting excerpts here, everything's wrong with Philippine politics - period!

This tongue-in-cheek reply to the above query encapsulates the frustrations of many a writer on where to begin to dissect the multitude of problems reducing them into palatable morsels. The easier way to go about this is perhaps to focus on the whole universe of the electoral process which has obstinately captured the interest and occupied the minds of our people - next year's presidential election and its implications.

What comes to mind, as one voter from among the millions who will troop to the polls on May 9, 2022, is a simpler question. Who selected this dozen or so politicians in the first place to compete for my vote for the highest elective office in the land? Who made the decision that only these good people should be considered by the millions of Filipinos as worthy of their votes?

No wide consultation

Were people consulted on the process of selection? Was there a vetting process similar to one in politically mature countries - like the preliminaries and caucuses in America (or in China by the diktat of the Chinese Communist Party central politburo)? These are selection processes sanctioned by their political parties, where only the best (or most popular or intimidating) of the lot are selected and will be presented to the public as candidates worthy of contending for the highest honor the citizens can gift them with? In our case in the Philippines, I don't remember being asked about the criteria I want for these people to possess prior to their being paraded for the scrutiny of millions.

We boast to the world that ours is the first and oldest democracy in Asia. And by definition, the demos, we the people, perhaps through our political parties should first set the criteria for the aspirants to possess before they are allowed to enter the political arena and engage in partisan combat winning our hearts and minds - through the force of their character, the courage of their convictions, moral standing and familiarity with the longings and aspirations of their constituencies, and the articulateness of their submissions to the body politic.

Unfortunately, we don't have this kind of democratic vetting. Let me attempt to elucidate how these 10 or so persons could have emerged as candidates worthy of our consideration.

Self-serving process

The first is self-selection. One may have figured out what the job minimally entails, so, a mere declaration will suffice: "I want to be President of the Republic of the Philippines." Or perhaps a moneyed neophyte from other professions, principally the entertainment or sports sectors, seeing the opportunity to leverage popularity, a reputation as coming from the "masa" to run as independent, fashioning a temporary political vehicle, calling it a political party or movement.

The second is the notion that the presidency was agreed upon previously by the "barkada" - a clique. It is a legacy, an entitlement or even a family heirloom because one's relative has been there before me. This time around: "It is my turn to run for President of the Republic of the Philippines."

The third is a political patron, principally an oligarch selecting one from within or outside of a political party: I have the money; the organization and I anoint you as my candidate for the presidency of the Philippines.

There are permutations in the selection of who will run for any elective position, from the presidency down to the town mayor to the various sanggunian. But the underlying narrative is that any of these selection processes are the definition and the tools of traditional political patronage.

And this is basically what is wrong with Philippine politics. Traditional patronage politics has been the practice in the country for decades. This has been ingrained in our political culture permeating the very sinews of a good part of our political life. Our political system itself is a perversion and this travesty has been embedded in our Constitution.

This brings us to address the second part of the question above: How might it be fixed?

Next week, July 7, 2021:

Fixing a dysfunctional system
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 23 June 2021 16:27

Marawi, we weep for thee

ON May 21, 2017, I had the privilege of hosting a family dinner for Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at my residence in Davao. It was the eve of President Duterte's departure for Russia. Unbeknownst to the upper echelon of government, Marawi was to erupt in bloody violence between the forces of the Abu Sayyaf led by Isnilon Hapilon, the Islamic State-affiliated Maute-Islamist, and government forces. This would last for five months.

Researching on this incident, referred to as the "Marawi siege," four published source books are cited: 1) The Challenges of Reporting Violent Extremism: Lessons from Mindanao, Mindanao Institute of Journalism, Carolyn O. Arguilas ed. (2021); 2) The Battle of Marawi, Criselda Yabes (2020); 3) Marawi Siege: Stories from the Frontlines, Carmela S. Fonbuena (2020); and 4) No Man Left Behind, Phil Fortuno, PhD.

This column is written on the fourth anniversary of the siege, but to add flavor to these books, I sought another angle with the contribution of two individuals who had a stake in Marawi at different times of their lives: one describing Marawi long before the incident, and the other four years after. "Dinky" Munda, a Christian and a classmate at the AdeD in the 1960s and Samira Gutoc, a Maranao Marawi resident and former student leader in the 1990s whom I met during my NGO days and is now immersed in civil society.

Jose Paulino 'Dinky' Amado Santos Munda Jr.'s narrative

"Marawi, formerly known as 'Dansalan' has a special place in our family's history. In 1920, my grandfather, Gen. Paulino T. Santos, then a captain, was ordered back to the province of Lanao to become the first Filipino provincial commander and concurrent provincial governor, relieving Major M. L. Stephens.

"[The year] 1917 marked a defining moment in the young Paulino's career as an officer in an event which propelled him into the pantheon of Philippine heroes. This incident happened in the Lake Lanao-Bayang area.

"The tall slim, brown-skinned constabulary officer, a newly promoted lieutenant, stared unflinchingly at the heavily fortified Moro cotta, then confidently spoke to his American commanding officer: 'Colonel Waloe, Sir, this is a Filipino fight so let me have the honor of leading the attack.'

"When his leader consented, he took a bamboo ladder, leaned it against the ramparts, climbed it and led his American and Filipino men. He personally killed many Moro rebels and his troops finally overpowered and conquered the Moro stronghold. This despite his receiving a near-fatal wound in the neck.

"...Paulino Santos - private in 1909, lieutenant in 1914, and major-general commanding the Philippine Army in 1936. For his act of bravery on this bloody day in 1917, on this fort called Bayang Cotta by the placid waters of Lake Lanao, Lt. Santos would later be awarded his country's highest honor for bravery - the Medal for Valor.

"To date, there have been only three AFP chiefs of staff who have been awarded the Medal of Valor -- my lolo, Gen. Castañeda and Gen. Sobejana, the current chief of staff.

The siege

"On May 23, 2017, eight AFP troopers attempted to capture the Emir Isnilon Hapilon in an apartment in Marawi City. It turned out that the AFP's intelligence report was faulty which led to an unsuccessful operation - a 'botched' job.

"To get a better understanding of the Battle of Marawi and its aftermath, I sought answers to the following questions:

"First, there was no military strategy. AFP just stumbled into this battle – almost accidentally. The eight AFP troopers were shot at by Islamists killing two, wounding four and trapping the group. Thus began a series of unsuccessful 'rescue' attempts – escalating into a full-fledged battle.

"Second, the prolonged urban siege had taken the lives of 168 soldiers and 974 terrorists, 13 of them foreigners...87 civilians who died, 40 due to illness, and hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced...

"Perhaps, we'll never know how many of the 974 were really terrorists. Some were hostages forced by the Islamists to shoot at the AFP forces, or else...

"On the third and fourth questions (about the five-month battle costs and rehabilitation), there are no answers found in the four books...cost estimates...run into hundreds of billions. Was this a 'Pyrrhic victory'?

"On the fifth question (when will reconstruction be finished?) ...[at] the 4th anniversary of the battle...the reconstruction is far from complete. Did our AFP have to destroy the whole city of Marawi?"


Government reports an estimated 11,400 displaced families are currently housed at their relatives' and friends' homes mostly outside of Marawi while thousands more wait in temporary shelters. The Marawi Rehabilitation Task Force (MRTF) averred the displaced population could begin returning home at the end of July 2019 (two years ago). Furthermore, "the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) Secretary and Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) head Eduardo del Rosario said in a report that the master development plan for the rehabilitation was already 60 percent completed."

This is disputed by Maranao leaders and other civil society organizations from Mindanao under the Marawi Advocacy Accompaniment (MAA) who asked President Duterte to speed up reconstruction of war-torn Marawi city - four years after the siege. The Deegong's promise that Marawi will rise as a prosperous city again continues to remain hollow.

It may be recalled that in government official reports during the siege, the terrorists went on a killing spree carrying out extrajudicial executions on Christian civilian populations "...because they were not Muslim. Militants often gave civilians a de facto religious test prior to killing them; they were asked to recite the Shahada, which is an expression of Muslim faith, or to respond to Muslim greetings. Civilians who did not recite the Shahada or failed to respond appropriately were often summarily executed." Amnesty International after interviewing several witnesses reported accounts of just 25 such executions.

A collateral problem is the unidentified bodies recovered and buried in the Maqbara public cemetery. The police crime laboratory has processed 470 bodies but only four were matched and identified through DNA testing. The rest are unknown victims, terrorists, hostages or simply bystanders.

Samira Gutoc's view

Today Marawi is a desolate place. Initiatives to rebuild homes both by the private sector and government are bereft with problems. This is further complicated by the pandemic, which hit the "bakwits" (the displaced ones) the hardest. As Samira Gutoc wrote, "At the end of each day, as I take a few moments to reflect, one of the questions that comes to mind most often is this: How can we protect an entire country from Covid-19 when we cannot even protect and return home mere thousands of Marawi evacuees, who have been displaced since 2017 and are now subjected to the world's longest lockdown?

"For us, the delays coupled with the neglect of the voices of communities in the city's 'ground zero' contribute further not only to the trauma still being endured by the 'bakwits' of the siege but also to the century-old narrative of marginalization, discrimination and exclusion and social deprivation in Mindanao."

On the fourth anniversary of the siege, Marawi is a powder keg. It can erupt anytime and when it does, Allah/God help us!


Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 16 June 2021 11:40

Journalistic sycophancy

MY June 2 column, "Sinicization of PH: On becoming China's 24th province," has elicited comments from readers on both sides of the political divide from the Yellows and the diehard Duterte supporters (DDS) and from the many who are neither.

But critiquing Duterte's contradictory remarks on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue and the "arbitral award," particularly my rhetorical question "So, what's wrong with being subsumed by China? - suggesting that the Philippines could become the 24th province of China, has provoked virulent verbal assaults, mostly from a veteran journalist. His defense of the "most respected thinking broadsheet" where we both write columns, turning into "a dirty wall... where angry, brainless slogans are painted in the guise of headlines for inane opinion columns...echoing a crude blogger...is a cheap rabble-rousing means to fool the masses."

If this experienced journalist were professional and diligent enough, he would have discovered that I was echoing the pronouncements, albeit purportedly a joke, of Duterte in a Feb. 18, 2018 forum with the Chinese ambassador in attendance: "...kung gusto ninyo gawain n'yo nalang kaming province of China, 'di wala na tayong problema."

What is really boorish is his use of inelegant language, employed as insults, tempting the recipient to go down to his gutter level of vulgarity. This barrage of personal insults, ad hominem resorting to name calling; "inane," "idiot," "ignorant," "dwindling mental capacities," "asshole" etc. - simply reflects a paucity of imagination and absence of class, fatal for one claiming journalistic excellence.


I couldn't quite fathom his vehemence until it occurred to me that this is expected of one who must rise to the occasion defending his patron, President Duterte from threats as a dog must - displaying canine devotion. The louder the bark, the better to receive a pat on the head and a nice chewy bone from the master to earn his keep. Such sycophancy is shameless and impacts negatively on journalistic integrity.

Writing four columns a week for years at a clip of 1,500 words must have exhausted not only the quality of his prose but also the variety of topics, becoming careless and irresponsible about facts. When one's writing has become stale, take a sabbatical to renew vigor. His columns on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) are like a broken record, repetitively riding only on a few points ad nauseam. Verbally defecating about how PNoy sold us down the river; that the PNoy administration's incompetence lost us our islands in the WPS; that the Americans were the puppet masters in this debacle, blah, blah, blah! - are extraneous. PNoy is no longer president. He is gone. The Deegong is!

I can cite a litany of presidential faux pas for this journalist's education but decided to write another angle to this sordid affair hinting perhaps, with reason, that "...with the President's personal bias against America or perhaps intimidated by China - all these could signal the beginning of the final chapter of the Sinification of our country, China's possible slow but inevitable takeover of the Philippines as its 24th province."

And he has the impudence to ask for proof? What? Please review Duterte's statements from our newspaper; from inviting China to take us in as her province (a joke kuno) to "talo tayo kung magkagiyera" etc. This journalist totally did not get it, failing to extract the nuances of my column. If Duterte says his statements are a joke - then take my statement as a parody!

Higher plane

To put things in proper perspective, my columns are a valid critique of President Duterte's inanities and contradictions regarding the WPS and other Chinese-related issues. Nothing personal. That the arbitral award is just a scrap of paper to be thrown to the wastebasket; his refusal to negotiate with the Chinese for fear of conflict - "we will lose the war"; inviting and allowing hordes of Chinese in the POGO industry to come work in the Philippines; taking away jobs from the locals; allowing Chinese gamblers and the attendant crime; etc. And many more irresponsible and absurd statements. Let the President's official spokesman respond.

Purportedly showing his love of country by shamelessly playing to the crowd himself, he articulates: "How can any Filipino with a shred of self-respect claim that we are becoming 'China's 24th province,' yet does nothing to organize an armed rebellion to topple the government for agreeing to such a thing? He is insulting Filipinos by making such a claim." This is an idiotic and ridiculous declaration by an ex-communist kuno who failed in fomenting a revolution in the 1960s.

But I want to elevate this conversation to a higher plane. We have barely a year before the next administration. Will the President just wash his hands and irresponsibly pass these unresolved Chinese issues on to the next administration? Perhaps to the next president, with him as the VP? God forbid! This journalist's arguments are valid but debatable. I don't have a quarrel with these. My beef is with puerile presidential responses and declarations - and the sycophantic defense of such absurdities. Let me just quote a reader's comment on my column:

"I cannot believe u would even articulate, even if only to provoke, that we might be better off with China. Perhaps they may have significantly eradicated poverty in their own country but at what cost to their own individual freedoms.

No Sir, to exchange Spanish and American colonialism with a Chinese dictatorship is no choice at all."

This is one aspect of my column this journalist was unable to discern with his retort, "If you don't get this man's argumentation, I don't either, after reading his piece several times," subsequently labeling me anti-Chinese racist where comments of some readers make me pro-Chinese. This is one of the noble jobs of a columnist - to provoke critical thinking and shape the public debate - one that this journalist is unable to comprehend.

Where do we go from here

But the WPS questions are still unresolved. How do we help our country work things out? It is not enough to just attack whoever criticizes his patron; vilifying retired Chief Justice Carpio who was challenged to a debate by Duterte - who then backed out; marking anyone who disagrees as "unthinking Yellows" - all ad hominem.

But I will follow this journalist's wise counsel "...not to write some crap that would stain this newspaper's prestige." Good advice from one who has been crapping along in his past newspaper columns and still does. I refuse to go into a pissing contest as angry words don't win arguments, just feeding egos but sometimes it is the only way to confront a bully.

And lastly, I wrote this column not over a carafe of my favorite Argentinian Malbec. I was having a snifter of Remy Martin similar to the one I shared with this journalist when he came to visit me in Davao ages ago - or was that a Hennessy?

In any case, I raise a glass to this clueless one, hoping kind words turn enemies into friends again. Salud!

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 16 June 2021 09:53

Understanding Duterte's management style

WE are lending today's space to John Raña, a longtime friend of President Rodrigo "Deegong" Duterte and a management practitioner. I am quoting verbatim his personal assessment of the President's personality, background and thought process, attempting to explain the motivations behind the actuations and decisions, both presidential and personal, and some consequences thereof. John's take of more than 2,500 words has been heavily edited with some redundancy redacted, but the resulting product is as close to his original thoughts as possible. These are John's words and thoughts. Not mine.

DDS revisited
"The acronym DDS has acquired different meanings. To detractors, it is the Davao Death Squad. To fanatics, Duterte Diehard Supporters. To the administration, Davao Development System. Duterte is very results oriented. He prefers shortcuts or trade-offs if that is what it takes to get the job done. The end justifies the means!

"He intended to use the same DDS formula that apparently worked fine in Davao City. Mayor Duterte transformed Davao from a lair of lawlessness to a city of relative peace and palpable development. It was his reputation as a top and tough local executive that catapulted him to the presidency.

Digong governance style
"His decision-making process can be considered largely gut feel and emotion-motivated. When triggered, his words and actions betray his unfiltered emotions. These traits endeared him to his constituents by producing instant results, arguably very effective at the micro level of governance like a city or municipality.

"In contrast, any statement or decision by the President would have far-reaching implications and therefore must be subjected to what former President FVR called CSW (complete staff work). In short, when the president talks, that's 'policy,' which should be the product of CSW, including extensive research, incisive study and rational deliberation. When a spokesman constantly explains what the President 'really meant,' that's a telltale sign of absence of CSW.

"To Digong, everything is personal. As mayor, he personally attended to his Davao constituents. He even had a personal assistant, Bong Go, as his de facto surrogate. However, (as the president), personal interaction becomes impractical, thus, he had to rely more and more on his... heretofore unheard-of position of Special Assistant to the President (SAP). SAP Bong Go (even as a senator) serves as the main gatekeeper to and for the President. The SAP arrangement made Duterte even more inaccessible, it gave Senator Bong Go tremendous power who now wants (seriously?) to be the next president, that is, if Sara will not run and Digong runs as his vice president.

"Rational management calls for separation of a leader's views from his persona. This is critically important so that multiple, even contrary, perspectives can be ventilated and discussed. Candid exchanges should in fact be encouraged and not perceived as an assault on the ego of the leader.

"He wants his orders followed asap. Period. That may explain his preference for military men and those who were within his professional and personal orbit. They are expected to obey without question.

"He prefers compliance by reason of force rather than by force of reason. The former brings instantaneous results, the brand of leadership loved and feared at the same time.

"He usually abhors contrary opinions, especially when made public. When called out, he doubles down. A good example is the WPS issue regarding conflicting claims with China.

"1. He will plant the Philippine flag in the Spratlys even if he has to ride a jet-ski. (Now, he claims that was a joke.)

"2. He said that toward the end of his term, he will confront China on the arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines. (Now, he calls the arbitral decision a mere scrap of useless paper.)

"3. He challenged former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio to a debate. (He correctly backed out but not before being embarrassed.)

Duterte's vision
"The vision of candidate Duterte was simple as effective messaging must be a more comfortable life for the Filipino. He broke it down into three major programs:

"War on illegal drugs. Violence or the threat thereof was the tool of choice. Under 'Operation Tokhang,' thousands of suspected pushers and users were neutralized because 'nanlaban' (they fought it out). Methamphetamine (shabu) labs were dismantled, drug lords were on the run, some so-called narco politicians were eliminated.

"The war on illegal drugs is the President's personal war. 'Don't do it during my watch.' But precisely that›s the rub, what happens after his watch? Sustainability must be a prime consideration, particularly with a festering malaise like illegal drugs.

"Let's face it, illegal drugs and other syndicated crimes can only flourish with the tolerance, protection or incompetence of the mayor, police chief and barangay chairman. If they are unable to stop large-scale drug trade and use, they are at the very least incompetent, ergo, corrupt.

"War on corruption. President Duterte promised to get rid of corruption in government. His marching orders, no sacred cows. He constantly proclaimed that 'not even a whiff' of corruption shall be tolerated.

"Since this is his personal war, he alone decides the application of the much-ballyhooed standard. Unfortunately, there appears to be personal sacred cows.

"The Anti-Red Tape law is a step in the right direction. Lacking are comprehensive and systemic solutions. The irony of it all is that under the present setup, proposals to curb corruption are to be studied, evaluated, and recommended by the corruption-prone agencies themselves.

"In sum, merely apply basic management principles: Simplify. No exceptions to the rule, otherwise the exceptions become the rule.

"Peace and development. Sadly, the communists overplayed their hand. They demanded a coalition government. Duterte somehow accommodated them. While peace talks were in progress, the NPA was also escalating atrocities, casting doubt on the sincerity of the CPP-NPA-NDF. Another golden opportunity missed by the Left.

"The peace talk with the Moro group was more fruitful with the signing of the BARMM providing for greater autonomy. Perhaps this could be the baby steps and experimentation toward federalism.

"In fairness, there are bright spots in the Duterte administration:

"– Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy was robust with record foreign exchange reserves.

"– The Build, Build, Build program ushered in the 'golden age of infrastructure.'

"– The one-stop-shop Malasakit Center is a welcome development to those seeking help for health concerns.

"The Balik Probinsya, Balik Pag-asa (BP2) was a good program but lacked the requisite social and economic safety nets.

DDS formula consequences
"Contrary to what some opine as Duterte being unpredictable, he is quite predictable. Every issue is personal. His default response to opposing ideas is a threat laced with expletives. Nothing has changed in his behavior since he was a city mayor.

"This has spawned dysfunctional and counterproductive behavior of those who have to deal with the President. This had the following adverse effects:

"– Discouraged healthy and rational exchanges that could have produced better informed decisions.

"– Encouraged sycophancy as a survival mechanism, saying and doing only what pleases the President.

"– Alienated even supporters with sincere desire to help the administration."


Published in LML Polettiques

Now that Duterte has gagged his people from publicly discussing China and the West Philippine Seas (WPS) issue, the President has effectively quarantined the policy formulation process within his own bubble - sterilized from ideas emanating from outside inputs and vaccinated from public debates that are an integral part of good and effective governance.

Add to this his fatuous declaration that the arbitral award was just a piece of paper that he can throw away, contradicting himself when he appeared before the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020, rejecting any attempt to undermine the said arbitral ruling. And with the President's personal bias against America or perhaps intimidated by China - all these could signal the beginning of the final chapter of the Sinification of our country, China's possible slow but inevitable takeover of the Philippines as its 24th province or maybe the sixth autonomous region with the same status as Inner Mongolia or Tibet. Filipinos may opt for a Special Administrative Region (SAR) category similar to Hong Kong and Macau - considering Pinoys' love for shopping, excellent Chinese cuisine and gambling.

Spanish and American heritage

For so long, we were under the Spanish colonialists, who, for three and a half centuries, successfully imparted religion but not so much the language of the motherland. Language is the cultural soul and the construct that molds the dreams and aspiration of a people. True, it was spoken by the Filipino and Spanish elites of the time, but only the remnants of Kastila have survived in the board rooms of a few venerable businesses in Makati. Most no longer speak the language except at some elite schools - pretentiously reduced to telegraphic monosyllabic utterances of "coño-coño," passing themselves off as mestizo descendants of the peninsulares and insulares.

Under America's tutelage for a period less than a third of Spain's, we took to heart the rugged individualism of the west but more importantly, the American language. Thanks principally to the Thomasites who arrived in 1901, who liberalized education and taught their little brown brothers English, propagated and democratized the same. Today we speak our vernacular at home but mostly English as a second tongue once we step out - the lingo of business and the dominant transmission mechanism for information, communication and social media networking; likewise, the dominant text of academic papers, technical books and even literature. Many Filipinos think in English and articulate in the dialect for informal talk and street conversation. But the cosmopolitan elite and educated middle class if they have to speak formally in public or in conferences do so in English, distinguishing themselves from the rural folks. But English serves to stitch communications among a diversity of languages and dialects.

Four hundred years of Spanish and American influence resulted in a Filipino three-way personality split. We have the ingrained convent-bred values and Catholic Church-oriented beliefs blended with our superstitions and animism; the permissiveness of Hollywood and stoicism of the East; all these anchored in our Malay ethnicity, patois and diversity. We are a mishmash of cultures and, sometimes, contradictory proclivities. We are impervious to cultural onslaught inculcating in us a resiliency that could be the core of our survival as a people - as a nation.

Chinese influence and accomplishments

So, what's wrong with being subsumed by China? We have been trading with the Chinese for the better part of our known and written history, longer than Spain and America. Artifacts point to thriving communities and insights into peaceful lives with the Chinese. These Sangleys (frequent visitors) were traders, but mass migration occurred from Fujian and Guangdong provinces to avoid poverty and worsening famine in China. And "encik" denoted an address of respect - "venerable uncle" - until sometime in the past covered now by the mists of time, Intsik assumed pejorative connotations. But until now, my Tagalog family still uses endearing titles of familial respect: kuya, ate, dikong and diche for eldest brother, eldest sister, second oldest brother and second eldest sister. And my Filipino grandchildren consider their yayas or amahs as surrogate mothers. The Chinese never did try to colonize us the way Spain and America did although these cultures influenced us in many positive ways.

The Philippines' future

We have been emulating the democratic system handed down to us by Mother America for a hundred years - a concept now fraying at the edges. Thanks to the US' unhinged former president, it has exposed to the bone America's weaknesses, its inner rot. Their democratic system of governance is imploding. Yet it is not America's fault that our aping America's lead has not given us the advantages. The blame is on us, principally our political leadership. After World War 2, we were reportedly economically second only to Japan in Asia. Now, we are known as the service providers of the world, nurses, caregivers, sailors; not that these are dishonorable jobs giving our families dollar-income, practically shoring up our economy, but we need a better mix in our industries. Our Asian neighbors have overtaken us; in industries, technologies and by many metrics even in agriculture and food production.

China's accomplishments may rub off on us. From World Bank and multilateral agencies, they are one in their conclusion that "...under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the world's largest developing country has achieved a complete eradication of extreme poverty, raising more than 770 million poor people from poverty since its reform and opening up in late 1970s." We could cite a litany of achievements of China spurred by their government under their communist party, which is anathema to America's concept of governance which we Filipinos emulate. Freedom and liberty were always the American rallying cry and core concepts of democracy. Not necessarily ours. We would probably be better off with China.

But there is a negative flip side to China-centrism. Learning to speak the language and reading and writing the logo-syllabic pinyin system would be difficult to the alphabet-oriented. But imbibing the culture would be a cinch as we have more centuries of Chinese than Western influence. The locally born Tsinoys (Chinese Filipinos) comprise almost 30 percent of the population and are mostly well-integrated. Chinese Filipino blood runs in our Malay veins.

But in a December 2019 SWS poll, 53 percent of Filipinos consider that the number of Chinese (not Tsinoys) working in the Philippines is a "threat" to the country's security. The Bureau of Immigration (BI) estimates a spike of mostly legalized 3 million Chinese entering the country between 2016 and 2018 coinciding with Duterte's closer ties to China. And they are taking blue-collar jobs after Duterte's declaration to "let them work here"!

So, perhaps, Duterte's China-centric posturing is food for thought. We don't negotiate with China. We surrender! For the Deegong, confronting China is a zero-sum game resulting inevitably in war; too incompetent to seek other alternatives than just to pass it on to the next administration. And his promise to jet-ski to the WPS planting a flag to assert our sovereign rights is after all just a joke.

And guess who is the biggest joke of all?!

Published in LML Polettiques