THE reason why the Centrist Democrats (CDP) gravitated toward the candidate Rodrigo Duterte in 2016 was that our tenets and programs of government coincided with those of his political party, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan. To the uninitiated, a short digression. We are a non-traditional political party founded during the last decade.

Human dignity, our core value, is promoted by our adherence to a body of beliefs characterized by the four pillars of Centrist Democracy: social market economy; federalism and parliamentary government; the institutionalization of real political parties; all under the overarching ideals of democracy and the rule of law.

Corollary to the four pillars is our party platform encompassing the basic needs of the Filipino under the acronym of HEED: for health, employment, education and dwelling. These are the fundamental take-off from which poverty in the country is meant to be alleviated through the establishment of an efficient welfare state system.

An important lesson

If there is anything that is most glaring during this pandemic season, it is the deficiency in our public healthcare system, coupled with a near total absence of welfare mechanisms. Due to meager resources, we had to defeat the coronavirus by mimicking other countries’ defensive stance: quarantine and lockdown to contain the virus. While other countries combined these drastic moves with massive “testing, tracing and isolation” (TTI) of the infected, eventually “flattening their curves,” we fell short. In hindsight, we could have diverted funds to TTI initiatives in lieu of very long lockdown periods causing the near-collapse of our economy, instead of populist dole-outs and hairbrained initiatives like Balik Probinsya.

But this is all water under the bridge now. But the ramifications of what happened cuts to the core of our collective negligence. Our public healthcare system is primitive, to say the least. In 2017 (latest figures) World Bank data on Philippine per capita health care expenditure was $133, or just 4.45 percent of the gross domestic product, putting us on 102nd place out of 141 countries. Equivalent figures for Canada, $4,755; Denmark, $5,800; and Sweden, $5,904 make them the world’s top three countries in best health care. Along with Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany, these countries have excellent comprehensive welfare state systems which the Philippines should emulate, where social spending represents the largest individual item of public expenditure.

Welfare state derailed — promises, promises

The Deegong ran and won riding on three major promises, under his slogan “Pagbabago,” which were the linchpin of his administration. Initiate structural political reforms through the revision of the 1987 Constitution and a shift from the unitary system of government to federalism; the elimination of illegal drugs that is pushing the country toward a narcostate; and the eradication of corruption in all levels of government — tall orders, all.

By July 2018, the Consultative Committee formed to study the revision of the 1987 Constitution submitted its “Bayanihan Constitution” to Congress. For a time, the lower house went through a tableau of hearings before eventually sweeping the same to the legislative dustbin. To deliver the coup de grace the initiative for Charter revisions was then passed on to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and placed under a minor functionary. It was then obvious that Duterte has washed his hands of and dropped the ball on federalism.

His second agenda netted him some minor drug lords but his tokhang methods produced no major drug kingpins. What we got instead were thousands of dead Filipinos and worldwide condemnation for human rights violations. And drugs still seep through.

Unraveling of the presidency

But perhaps the biggest deficit of this administration is on his third campaign promise to reduce corruption in government. And this was symbolized by what is now known as his Duterte Doctrine. He himself declared sublimely that he would not tolerate any corruption in his administration and he would dismiss from office any of his men (and women) who are tainted even by a “whiff of corruption”; and he is ready to sack any public officials even on a basis of false allegations of corruption.

In a series of bloodletting, he executed this doctrine with surgical precision. Two Cabinet secretaries, the DILG’s Mike Sueno and Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo got the axe for alleged anomalies. Then a charade of firings and dismissals ensued: Social Security System Commissioner Pompee la Viña, fired then transferred to the Department of Tourism as undersecretary; and Bureau of Customs chief Gen. Isidro Lapeña (Philippine Military Academy, ‘73), implicated in a smuggling case, “dismissed” and subsequently appointed as Technical Education and Skills Development Authority head.

In the Bureau of Customs, we have the tale of the “three stooges,” high officials implicated in the P6.4-billion shabu shipment scandal. The three were fired/resigned. It really didn’t matter as in a few months, they were reappointed to higher offices; Gerardo Gambala and Milo Maestrecampo as director in the Office of Transportation Security and ADG at the Civil Aviation Authority, respectively. The third man, Customs Commissioner Nick Faeldon, PRRD’s compadre was “fired” then assigned as Commissioner of the Bureau of Corrections — where the Good Conduct Time Allowance scandals erupted.

And recently, we have the case of Gen. Debold Sinas of the National Capital Region Police Office who flaunted his disdain for quarantine rules that he himself was mandated to enforce. He remained untouched. And now we have Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd, allegedly implicated in a corruption scandal at the Department of Health. Fourteen senators have called for his resignation. And the ludicrous defense of the President’s spokesman is “…Duque will not steal from government because [his] family [is] already affluent…”

And we have many, many more of these Duterte farces. These presidential acts reinforce the perception of the Duterte Doctrine of whiff of corruption to be a monumental hoax when close and loyal president’s men are involved.

Fighting the oligarchy

For a time, we were excited when he started a fight against the oligarchs. But he couldn’t quite finish it. His initial salvo at the ABS-CBN Corp. displaying his resolve, petered out.

ABS-CBN will get its franchise back. It has enough chips to cash in from all the congressmen and senators the Lopezes own. A franchise is for 25 years. The Deegong has only two years remaining and will soon be a lameduck president. Tradpols know how this is played out.

Balik Probinsiya

A failed Imelda program revived by the President’s subaltern was touted as a partial solution to the overpopulation of Metro Manila and the clearing of slums that are the breeding grounds for coronavirus contagion — and crime. Expectations were high and thousands applied, but the program was quietly withdrawn as the local government units that will receive the brunt of the exodus never did buy into the half-thought idea. Professor Ronald Mendoza, a noted political scientist has this to say: “These types of programs tend to be a waste of public-sector resources and merely become ‘ningas cogon’ — they eventually collapse due to the sheer size of the challenge and lack of significant impact.”

And meantime the coronavirus is here to stay, until when no one knows. We endured through the longest lockdown, yet infections are spiking, our people are dying, and the economy is collapsing. Many will come out of this — damaged but surviving. We need a President who can lead us, heal us — make us whole. Is Duterte up to it?
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.