JAN. 20, 2021. The world was riveted to their TV sets for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Earlier that morning, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania were seen sneaking out of the White House for the very last time. Marine One helicopter flew them to the Joint Base Andrews for departure formalities, consequently breaking the 150-year-old tradition of outgoing presidents playing host to the incoming tenants of the White House — the residence of every US president since John Adams in 1800.

Days before, Trump hinted to the Pentagon his desire for a big send-off, appropriate for “the greatest American President of all time” (his words). But at Andrews Air Force Base, only his family and a handful of supporters appeared. He had his 21-gun salute honors but no adulating MAGA — Making America Great Again — hordes he was accustomed to. No Air Force jet fly-by, no trooping of the colors and the grand farewell speech was scrapped, just an off-the-cuff remark of how great his administration was. The last sight of the man was on board Air Force One for his last flight out as the President of the USA, or Potus, and commander-in-chief of the most powerful country in the world to his home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida where his own neighbors objected to his residency. By noontime, upon Joe Biden’s oath-taking before the chief justice, Trump reverted to Mr. Donald J. Trump, ordinary American citizen. Hence, the ignominious exit of a president in disgrace. This undiscerning and unread president “went far beyond the pride that goes before a fall.” Hubris was his ruin.

No frills send-off

Future historians will note that the top echelon of his government led by Vice President Mike Pence, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and the obnoxious Sen. Ted Cruz, among others chose to decline his invitation to his valediction. Instead, they graced the inaugural at the Capitol Building — which only two weeks before saw its debasement by the Trumpists MAGA, Proud Boys, Militia and the white supremacists.

It will be recalled that these sycophants were the very same powerful Republicans who after Trump’s defeat at the polls enabled him to weave an “alternative world of facts” of massive election fraud purportedly stealing the election from him. Such are the vagaries of politics when iniquitous politicians calculatingly drop the old for the new. Cruel but pragmatic, a surreal drama unfolds choreographing the transition of power as it can only happen in America. Absent such smooth and bloodless transfer of power, then the alternative would have been a spectacle of tanks and armored vehicles in the streets — just like in many Latin American, African and Third World countries. But this is America. This is not supposed to happen, although how close it was in that attempt at the US Capitol on January 6. As an American cynic profoundly declared with a hint of America’s arrogance that disfigured the concept of democracy that has been peddled for generations to countries abroad, “We do this to other countries, not to ours!”

A study in contrast

The split TV screen followed Air Force One climbing from the tarmac as if reluctant to carry the heavy burden of a failed president within. Right then the new regime practically began — even when the new president’s power was still to be constitutionally consummated at noon. President-elect Biden’s class act was to allow the sight of Air Force One to fade into the horizon before the split-screen reverted to full panorama following solely the motorcade towards the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, thereby writing a painful finis to an unrestricted free media exposure for what was once the cynosure of reality TV.

It is only apt that President Joe Biden started his inaugural day with a Catholic Mass. Only the second US Catholic president, after the assassinated John F. Kennedy, he had much to thank the Lord for. The most important perhaps was that the American version of democracy survived the four years of the unworthy 45th president, his tenure blighted by his numerous prevarications culminating in that unprecedented treasonable presidential act inciting his base — an unthinking mob — to attempt to destroy the American temple of its political ideals and values — the Capitol.

The inaugural speech

Expanding the democratic space was the recurring theme of President Biden’s address, setting the tone for his government. And to think that the word “democracy” does not even appear anywhere in the US Constitution, whose ideals are simply encapsulated into the opening lines, “We the people.”

Biden will need to burrow deeper into his faith to draw strength from, to confront America’s problems — foremost of which are to arrest the spread of a pandemic that has killed 410,000 Americans surpassing American battle deaths of World War 2 and reinvigorate the economy.

And most of all, he needs to heal and lead a polarized people by inviting them to invest in his vision for America and the world articulated in this inaugural address.

Biden has inherited a country torn by a rise of racism and white supremacy thought to be long dormant but resurrected by a political charlatan concocting his own recipe blended in a dangerously volatile social cauldron of populist political extremism and domestic terrorism. This is Trump’s legacy. To fashion his own, Biden must destroy Trump’s. Finding himself at his twilight years of public service, he faces a dauntless and humbling task that will severely test a lifelong experience in the service of a flawed government.

In the international arena, his predecessor’s cry for MAGA has instead dangerously driven a wedge into postwar alliances and institutions. Thus, Biden is set to repair the damage, signaling that America can be trusted again to abide by its agreements — for one, rejoining the Paris Climate accord and the World Health Organization.

Refreshingly new beginning

His personal appeal was no less poignant. “This is a great nation. We are good people. Let’s begin to listen to one another again. Hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another. We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural vs urban, conservative vs liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes.”

And reaching out. “To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America.

“We have never, ever, ever, ever failed in America when we’ve acted together.”

As a portent of things to come and his intention to usher in a new dynamic regime harmonizing action with his words, he set out to reverse the dangerous failed policies of his predecessor. He did not opt for mere symbolisms. He signed 17 executive orders hours after taking his presidential oath. Thus, begins the dismantling of Trump’s perverted legacy and the shaping of Biden’s own.
The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
“Then I fall to my knees, shake a rattle at the skies and I’m afraid that I’ll be taken, abandoned, forsaken in her cold coffee eyes.” – A quote from the song, “She moves on” by Paul Simon, singer/songwriter

THE recent tremors affecting the central provinces of Mindanao caused by a series of seismic waves radiating to the northern and southern parts of the island, were like nature shaking a rattle, emitting sharp sounds and unnerving motions from the underground, both frightening and bewildering as to the intensity and confusion they generated.

The successive earthquakes and aftershocks were rattling the nerves not only of residents close to the epicenter but also those living along the active fault planes who were not used to strong earth movements. Some reported dizziness, anxiety, depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms after experiencing continuous shaking and periodic vibrations.

As this article was written, less frequent but perceptible tremors were felt on the affected areas although everyone is reportedly bracing for aftershocks which many hope and pray, would not turn out to be the dreaded “big one,” as some irresponsible persons are falsely posting on social media. Shake a rattle drum to this latter blokes.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), since the 1900s, Mindanao has been rocked by at least 35 earthquakes, three of which, felt at “Intensity 7” or worse, were deemed destructive: the 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake which caused a tsunami reaching up to nine meters that killed about 8,000 people including the unaccounted ones; the 1999 series of earthquakes in Agusan del Sur damaging roads, and poorly constructed schools and infrastructure; and the Sultan Kudarat earthquake in 2002, killing eight people with 41 others injured and affecting over seven thousand families in the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato (Rappler 2019). Shake a rattle of prayers for all who perished in these tragedies.

The series of earthquakes in October of this year, just weeks apart, with magnitudes of over 6 hitting many provinces, again, in Cotabato and southern parts of Davao accounted for the death toll of 22, damaging homes, school buildings and many infrastructure, shaking and sending chills to many residents who have to deal with continuing albeit smaller tremors which can be felt as far up the city of Cagayan de Oro and down the southern province of Sarangani.

Some local officials reported residents having developed “earthquake phobia” keeping watch on their clock hanging inside their tents in evacuation sites, losing sleep with anxiety awaiting when the next tremor would be coming. With frayed nerves, some would panic over even slight ground shakings.

But this is not about the temblor as much as the response of people and the country’s leaders and responsible officials. Except for the government of China which donated P22 million in aid and support for relief efforts in Mindanao, hurray for China, other foreign countries just expressed condolences and messages of sympathy to families of victims. No pledges, no assistance. Perhaps, they can’t trust our government agencies to do the job for them anymore. To them, a shake of the baby rattle.

To the initial bunch of donors who immediately come with their financial assistance such as Yorme Isko Moreno of Manila with his P5 million personal money, Mayor Vico Sotto with relief goods and P14 million coming from the people of Pasig City, Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina with 100 modular tents, movie star Angel Locsin who moved about sans fanfare for her charity work offering food and other assistance to victims in Davao and North Cotabato, to Mayor Inday Duterte for relief distribution, Cebu provincial government for disaster relief campaign and to the many nameless others who came with their relief aids, shake a rattle of joy and thankfulness for their kindness and generosity.

To our government officials and politicians goes our appeal to set aside politics, distribute the relief items according to the wishes of their donors and not allow goods to rot because of political colors as was shown in the previous administration’s handling of donated goods. To them, shake a rattle of enlightenment and peace.

In whatever disaster or crisis that befalls the country, trust Filipinos’ resiliency and coping mechanisms such as resorting to prayers and humor to come to their succor.

Social media become a natural venue for memes, practical jokes and bantering such as the ones which came after Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy reportedly claimed that he caused to stop the earthquakes so they can no longer create damage. To everyone, shake a rattle of laughter and fun while we help provide for the needs of our less fortunate brethren in Cotabato and Davao provinces.