LAST week's events were interesting not only for Americans but for observers of American politics. The presidential debate, where two aging protagonists confronted with insipid questions from the moderators responded with non-sequitur replies coated in sound bites. The debate format did not test Biden or Trump for the job of president. It was a made-for-TV production where CNN made millions in their four commercial breaks. It is unfortunate that the harsh focus of the tube played not on the raging issues and comparisons of their presidential stints but instead on the personalities of both, highlighting senility, age, cognitive dissonance, soundbites and lies that couldn't be fact-checked instantly. Biden had the short end of the stick, showing him to be a stuttering, raspy-voiced old-ager with cognitive issues, looking old and sounding old.

Trump, on the other hand, was perfect for this format, a reprise of "The Apprentice." He ambushed the old warrior with lies and prevarications, where the moderators allowed these to go unchecked.

Trump never did respond clearly and directly to the moderator's question of whether he will abide by the results of the 2024 elections — win or lose. Up until now he negated Biden's 2020 election that precipitated the Jan. 6, 2020, Capitol Hill riots. He instead proclaimed the participants of this mob to be patriots and freedom-loving protesters. And once elected, he will pardon all of them. And the scary prospect is Trump's sense of retribution, promising to weaponize his justice department to go after his perceived enemies and rounding up millions of undocumented immigrants, shipping them out of the country.

Democrats in a panic

The unintended consequence of the debate was panic — by definition, a sudden episode of intense fear triggering irrational behavior when there really is no real danger. Based on one lousy debate performance, the knee-jerk reaction of the Democrats is to have Biden replaced — equivalent to cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. This created a flurry of negative press.

The next day, the New York Times, in an op-ed, decreed that Biden, to serve his country, should abandon the race. This played right into the hands of Republicans ramping up calls to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, urging Vice President Kamala Harris to use her constitutional powers to convene the Cabinet to declare Biden unable to carry out his duties as president, allowing the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet or Congress to deem the president "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." Under such circumstances, the vice president would immediately become acting president.

The Philadelphia Enquirer saw through these inanities and came up with a totally different take by its editorial board published June 29 with a banner headline: "To serve his country, Donald Trump should leave the race."

"We cannot be serious about letting such a crooked clown back in the White House. Yes, Biden had a horrible night. He's 81 and not as sharp as he used to be. But Biden, on his worst day, remains light years better than Trump on his best... There was only one person at the debate who does not deserve to be running for president. The sooner Trump exits the stage, the better off the country will be.

"Now, Trump is a convicted felon who is staring at three more criminal indictments. He is running for president to stay out of prison."

SCOTUS on presidential immunity

After weeks of dilly-dallying, the US Supreme Court came out with a ruling stating, among others, that "the nature of presidential power entitles a former president to absolute immunity from criminal prosecutions for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority. And he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts. There is no immunity for unofficial acts."

Legal experts maintain that former President Trump is not above the law. But this Supreme Court ruling kicks back to the lower courts for verification, as predicted, the question of whether some acts are official or unofficial, buying time for Trump, moving his trial date conveniently after the November 5 elections. The six conservative members of the court, three of whom were appointed by Trump, are complicit in allowing Trump breathing space. The implications here warm the heart of the MAGA cult: if Trump wins, as president, he can direct the American justice structure to drop all charges and cases against him — and even pardon himself for any and all transgressions. And go after Biden's people.

If he loses, the Supreme Court ruling does not preclude the courts from proceeding with the prosecution of Trump on his three remaining cases: the Georgia election interference case in which Trump is charged with illegally conspiring to overturn the 2020 election results; the criminal mishandling of classified documents taken by Trump from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago residence obstructing the FBI's efforts to retrieve the files; and the Manhattan District Attorney's office and New York Attorney General's office cases, both on Trump's illegal financial dealings, including tax fraud, insurance fraud and other financial crimes. These three cases, if Trump is convicted, would earn him additional years in prison.

The silver lining

My take on all of what's happening post-debate may be from an outsider looking in. My utter dislike for Trump does not translate into approbation for Biden. But this is of no consequence. I don't vote in American elections. But I see in the post-Biden-Trumpon debate and the subsequent US Supreme Court presidential immunity ruling a different angle — a personal perspective.

For one, I don't subscribe to Trump undergoing another trial after having been convicted of 34 counts of falsifying business records in the Storm Daniels case. That whole trial gave him a bump in the polls, allowing a surge of sympathy contributions to his campaign coffers. The fact that he holds the ignominious record of being the first former president in US history to be criminally convicted should have been enough psychic reward until after the presidential elections.

Thus, the Supreme Court's immunity ruling moving the trials after November 5 should play right into the hands of Democrat strategists. Redirect focus on more substantial issues on the economy, the superior record of Biden's administration compared to Trump's disastrous four-year stint, while exposing the ignorance of Trump on the nuances of governance and his cognitively impaired and insane ramblings.

Trump needs to be challenged to run on issues and not to be perceived as an aggrieved white male — a victim of America's rigged justice system — which these trials will induce.

The Electoral College

Biden will not win the US presidential election by winning debates or garnering popular votes. He and the Democrats should focus on a must-win campaign for only three crucial swing states for their electoral votes: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The other Blue and Red states are already immutable, and their electoral votes are fixed for each political party. Now, instead of the stupid idea of replacing Biden, Democrats should concentrate on beating Trump on November 5.

And put him in prison after Biden wins the presidency.

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.