I’D like to start my year with a bang! After a wonderful skiing vacation with my grandkids and frolicking in the snow in Lake Tahoe, enjoying the seafood and amenities of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, something’s gotta give. And indeed, Presidents Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte obliged. The year 2020 began with a war on two fronts. The former could expand further the decades-old conflicts between America and Iran although a “hot shooting war” is unlikely; the latter — an expansion of the “cold war” between Duterte and the oligarchy.

US vs Iran
Trump’s order to assassinate the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani could start a war — not a world war, not even in the genre of the Vietnam War but more along the lines of heightened regional conflicts. This will of course involve the spilling of blood — not President Trump’s but those of his soldiers, American boys and girls, and Iranians and those caught in between — Iraqis, Syrians and civilians, and maybe our overseas Filipino workers who will have to suffer through a prolonged “low intensity conflict”, the preferred method of the underdog. This conflict is going to be played out in a non-traditional asymmetrical battlefield, cyberwar or even by proxy; using terrorist groups already lusting principally for American blood — Hezbollah, Islamic State or IS, Taliban, Boko Haram, the remnants of al-Qaida, and even our homegrown Abu Sayyaf. And the frontline could be everywhere. And we are all possible collaterals.

Thanks to Trump who has gone berserk. This unfolding scenario is like watching in slow motion a runaway train hurtling toward an impending disaster, having lost its brakes — only one doesn’t know the extent of the damage yet.

Retaliation from Iran came five days later with missiles raining on Iraqi air bases housing United States military forces. A few more rockets struck a US base at Camp Taji in Syria on the Jordanian border. Reports on casualties were sketchy. My take here is that these retaliatory acts perhaps were instigated more for the benefit of the Iranian domestic audience for an appearance of revenge. Pitted against a behemoth — a mosquito against an elephant — it’s a foregone conclusion that America could wipe Iran off the map, if ever.

But there will be no nuclear bombs. This is no Armageddon in the making but hostilities will spill over the region and beyond, perhaps even over American soil. And of course, a counter retaliation from this madman in Washington targeting Iranian cultural sites that could constitute war crimes under international law, although prevented from doing so by cooler heads at the Pentagon. But for how long will they hold the leash on this president gone rogue.

“They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.” Thus spoke the world’s number one terrorist, propounding in simplistic terms his future terrorist acts.

Soleimani no doubt had it coming. He caused the deaths of American servicemen although he also helped saved American soldiers’ lives by supporting Iraqi and Syrian militia defeat the IS. There is, however, a precedent when Obama ordered the assassination of Osama bin Laden. The Middle East conflicts have become too Byzantine to comprehend. And Trump’s precipitate acts may have been motivated by his unsophisticated worldview seen “…through the prism of whether an action advances his own narrow interests, his own distorted desires, his own twisted impulses….” (Peter Wehner, contributing editor, The Atlantic, Sept. 9, 2019).

But what the hell? Trump too is under siege and fighting for his political life. He is an impeached president; and he is playing to the American audience too, whose votes he will need for his reelection. No American in his right mind will contradict a president leading a country on the verge of war, real or concocted. This arouses in them a sense of patriotism, even a false one; but this is embedded in their DNA. They will rally to the flag no matter who is at fault. Since 1776, President Jimmy Carter said, “…the US… has only enjoyed 16 years of peace in its 242-year history, making the country ‘the most warlike nation in the history of the world.’” Perhaps America is just reverting to its nature, enjoying the bloodlust that has been part of its national character. And American business loves a war. It really is good for the bottom line.

Duterte vs water oligarchs
Meantime, on the local front and the ongoing fight between the Deegong and the Philippine oligarchy, the President has just given an ultimatum for “Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. to accept a new draft of water contracts or the government will terminate their concession deals and take over their water distribution services.” (Catherine S. Valente, The Manila Times, Jan. 8, 2020) He denies this is an ultimatum, but with a Damocles sword hanging over their heads —“non-bailable” offenses of syndicated estafa or plunder, saying he would love to see billionaires in jail, naming Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala for Manila Water and Manuel V. Pangilinan for Maynilad.

Duterte has directed the Justice department and the Office of the Solicitor General to prepare a draft of a new contract without the “onerous provisions.” Further, “[the] Chief Executive is giving the water concessionaires the option of accepting the new contracts without any guarantee of [them] not being criminally prosecuted together with those who conspired to craft the very onerous contracts, which are void ab initio for violating the Constitution and the laws of the land.” (Catherine S. Valente, Manila Times, Jan. 8, 2020)

Left unsaid are that these one-sided contracts were crafted principally during President Fidel V. Ramos’ (FVR) watch and must have been immersed in corruption. All these “onerous provisions” surfacing only now, tacitly acknowledged by the concessionaires with their profound silence and unilaterally giving up the Singapore arbitration awards already in their favor — implicate the FVR and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) administrations. The Manila Water contract expiring in 2022 but extended to 2037 by President GMA during her last year as president in 2009, was likewise questionable. Duterte has just implicitly lumped FVR and GMA as allies of the Philippine oligarchy; and for good measure, he included his immediate predecessor, President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

Duterte vs ABS-CBN
The Deegong has the sympathy of multitudes in this fight. The Lopez family has been notorious in using their political clout over the decades to advance and protect their family and business interests. For a time, the dictator Marcos got them out, but Aquino-Cojuangco, their allies, reinstated their pre-martial law status and their holdings. The ABS-CBN was their crown jewel — one that can make or break any politician. And many elective officials, congressmen and senators are in their pockets with some willingly kissing the family’s ass. But the Deegong has them by the balls. And God forbid, if they employ the same harebrained adventurism during martial law that got Geny Lopez in prison.

Trump’s war may not help his cause — impeachment! But Deegong’s may succeed. With 87 percent of Filipinos backing him, he will!
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.