Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: September 2022
Wednesday, 28 September 2022 08:29

Light at the tunnel's end: Reviving Cha-Cha

JUST when the Centrist Democrats, particularly the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP), were losing hope at the end of former president Rodrigo Duterte's term when he dropped the ball on constitutional revisions, we had our expectations revived with the pronouncements of Sen. Robin Padilla who topped the Senate race on a platform championing "federalism and parliamentary government" and his mantra of welcoming foreign direct investments (FDI). As always, Filipinos love populist candidates adopting trendy but complicated issues — stabbing in the eye the snobbish 20 to 30 percent of the citizenry who dismisses the good senator for being a "mere actor" incapable of understanding or following through on issues that require heated debates on the Senate floor in the language of the cognoscenti — English — not in the vernacular which most senators are incapable of speaking or are plain incompetent in.

It was a sad memory for our citizenry that one of the major cogs preventing discussions and debates on constitutional reform was the erstwhile Senate chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments — then senator Francis Pangilinan, who since 2019 sat on various constitutional amendments. He had to kowtow to the Liberal Party line upon the ascendancy of the then lamented President Benigno Aquino 3rd who declared that nary a "comma or a word" be changed in his mother's 1987 Constitution.

CD revival

Thus, the drowning Centrists grasped at straws on an actor's mouthing the correct idioms of the reformist who may not be articulate in English but possessing the language of the common man — the eventual beneficiary of constitutional reforms. Senator Robin Hood's (he insists on this nom de guerre) knowledge of parliamentary-federal government may not be book-learned or classroom-induced but simply experiential and anecdotal. Accordingly, his stay with his family in Australia gave him a glimpse of how federalism and parliamentary government work for the masses. His knowledge of the intricacies of the system may have been supplemented by the various Centrist groups and advocates of Fed-Parl, particularly the CDP, the CoRRECT Movement and the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI).

But in this 19th Congress, we have a more experienced and knowledgeable advocate in the lower house and possibly the most hardworking congressman, the president of CDP himself, Rufus Rodriguez, who has been advocating for a shift to federal-parliamentary government from the onerous unitary-presidential system that has stymied our socioeconomic-political development for decades and embedded systemic anomalies in the 1987 Constitution.

This tandem, a tyro in the Senate and an old hand and expert in Congress, could prove formidable, orchestrating the right symphony on constitutional revisions long silenced by the conservatives, the dynasts and the traditional politicians in both houses.

It is a great help too that the current speaker of the House, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, is an advocate himself and an acolyte of the former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) who initiated the 2005 ConCom.

The same advocacy can be attributed to the current president of the Senate — Migs Zubiri — a Mindanawnon and passionate federalist though his views on parliamentary government have yet to be fleshed out.

Both chambers may be ready to instigate fundamental changes with the support of the Centrist (CD) groups and reform-minded advocates among the citizenry. But one crucial ingredient is still lacking: the full support of the executive branch — President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. himself.

Contrasting SONAs

The new president did deliver a good SONA — comparatively better than his predecessor — the contrast vividly accentuated by the absence of cuss words, PI, misogynists remarks, referrals to penises and vaginas, and passionate emphasis on a jaded recurring theme "...if you destroy my country, I will kill you ... I will really bring you down because I love my country."

After the failure of the Duterte administration on constitutional reforms, his parting words, wryly directed to the next administration hardly resonated, coming out instead as a phony sad afterthought.

"Sa totoo lang, kailangan natin baguhin na ang Constitution. Eh nasa sa inyo 'yan (To be honest, we need to amend the Constitution. But it's up to you)," Duterte said in a speech in Batangas.

He said proposing amendments to the Constitution could either be done through constituent assembly (Con-Ass) or constitutional convention (Con-Con).

"The Constitution is not really a perfect one. I would not say it is the worst Constitution, but we have copied that from America word for word halos (almost) when we established the Republic in 1947 naging Republic of the Philippines tayo (we became the Republic of the Philippines)," he added. (PNA, April 4, 2022.)

But last July 25, what the Centrist constitutional reformers awaited with bated breath never came out from BBM's first SONA. No mention of constitutional revisions or mimicking his father's parliamentary government initiatives contained in Ferdinand Marcos Sr.'s 1973 Constitution. The rest of the SONA was a roadmap to what he intends to do in the next six years. Very wide-ranging relevant, appropriate and in some cases inspiring. But no Charter Change recommendations!

Failed Cha-cha initiatives

It may be recalled that a long history of failure to revise the 1987 Constitution, from FVR's Porma to Erap's Concord, to GMA's and Duterte's 2005 and 2017 ConCom may be attributed to the psyche of those that promulgated the original Cory Constitution. It was more a reflection of the rejection of the martial law regime that the 1987 Constitution was fashioned after and carried over into several administrations. The dictatorship booted out by Cory threw out anything connected to it — the baby along with the bathwater, the good along with the bad. Thus, a mongrelized version of a basic law that retained the unitary system.

A better version of the parliamentary government provisions espoused by the dictator in his 1973 Constitution was rejected by the 1987 Basic Law — losing out to a presidential government by a single vote on the constitutional convention floor. But some anomalous provisions were retained either for lack of material time or simply by neglect and stupidity. The party list which is best suited for a parliamentary system was inadvertently left untouched — thus producing the current party-list anomaly that even the former president Deegong called a "useless and stupid concept," calling for its abolition. What was then intended for the marginalized sectors are being used by rich influential politicians, political dynasties, the generals involved in the narcotics trade, and the legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines to subvert the government.

Ghosts of the past

Pirma, Concord and the two ConComs of 2005 and 2018, although pushed by their respective presidents, never had the cooperation of both houses of congress and died in the committees, never seeing serious discussion in plenary. The dissonance in both chambers of Congress drowned out the advocacies of a substantial portion of those who may have understood that central to the problems besetting Philippine society were really the systemic anomalies imbedded in our basic laws.

Both houses now have heads of the appropriate committees that can usher in serious discussions of constitutional revisions — Rufus and Robin Hood.

The question now is, will BBM follow through — with the original intent of his father embracing parliamentary government — the 1973 unicameral legislature, the Batasang Pambansa?


Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 21 September 2022 07:55

Thucydides Trap: The coming US-China (non) war!

IN November 2019, I wrote a piece on the rise of China based on the book of our Harvard Dean Graham Allison — Destined for War (2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The book described China's reappearance on the world stage as a superpower "...after an absence of more than two hundred years. It may be recalled that ancient China, the Middle Kingdom, was dominant in Asia for thousands of years before it was eclipsed by the West that began during the Age of Discovery in the early 16th century."

Allison proposes that the impact of China's rise will cause "...discombobulation to the US and the international order." He cited Thucydides, the Greek historian who first defined the concept of history in his History of the Peloponnesian War 2,500 years ago. In his book, he suggests that "[i]t was the rise of Athens and the fear that this installed in Sparta that made war inevitable." Applying this to the current status of America confronted with the rise of China, Allison conceived the "Thucydides Trap, a dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a major ruling power." In this case, China, the rising power, threatens to displace the ruling power, the United States. Will war ensue, as in Athens versus Sparta? Allison suggests that war is likely but not inevitable.

And this is the theme underpinning this column: to divine the direction America is embarking on, in the light of US House Speaker Pelosi's Taiwan visit — an "in your face move" on the People's Republic of China (PROC) that has always asserted that Taiwan is her province. This histrionics by the US, poking the eye of China may be an injudicious move but in the eyes of the US Democrats, a necessary though not altogether a brilliant one. But we have gone beyond Thucydides Trap and the world is no longer surprised by America's antics since they installed a buffoon of a president in the White House and now propping the sagging image of another septuagenarian president. Apparently, Pelosi's move was a play to the American voters signaling that the Democrats are shoring up its conservative streak, playing to the right wing, recapturing the American narrative from the Trumpists — who may stage a return to the White House.

Pelosi's was a calibrated move with the US probably having game-planned China's response. True enough, the full might of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) was revealed signaling its anger over this seeming provocation. But I'm afraid Beijing's response was more for show and perhaps a diversion — intended for its masses — given domestic economic dislocations precipitated by a massive real-estate bubble; averting in some ways China's impending economic collapse — if the Economist and the New York Times were to be believed. Tidbits of news have filtered out from the mainland that Chinese banks have frozen and curtailed bank accounts withdrawals — with the ordinary citizens boycotting mortgage payments; all resulting in an inevitable string of bank failures.

Third Crisis

It may be recalled that in 1996, China (PROC) caused crises when it fired missiles into the seas off Taiwan. President Clinton dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups to Taiwan as a gesture of solidarity and support. This was the so-called third crisis after that of 1954 and 1958 where a castrated PROC had to back down against the display of American might. Experts contended that the consequences of these three crises spurred China to purchase better generations of weaponry and develop strategies for future nuclear and non-nuclear confrontations — that will diminish the effectiveness of the US 7th fleet around the straits.

This time while Pelosi's plane was en route to Taipei, the PROC-PLA launched its largest and massive military exercise response lasting over a period of a week; blasting-off missiles towards the Taiwan strait with its latest aircraft and destroyers, submarines, and its own aircraft carriers.

If anything, this was to show America and the world that after several crises precipitated by the USA and Taiwan since the '50s, China has come into its own. It has transformed itself into a world military power, herself capable of going mano-a-mano with the US. It may have achieved parity with America on military capabilities. Experts maintained that it has even surpassed the US in shipbuilding, land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, and now is the third largest nuclear power after the US and Russia. Its recent bully move in the South China Sea (WPS) fortifying island fortresses has given China unsinkable aircraft carriers.

But will China go to war for Taiwan? Or the reverse question may even be more succinct and valid. Will the US risk war with China over Taiwan? These past weeks, Pelosi's visit has given China a pretext to elevate its military activity to another level just to a point where it is not seen as challenging the might of America. On the other hand, President Xi, with all his domestic troubles relegated temporarily to the sidelines, has proven to its citizens, humiliated for decades, and to the world that China can take Taiwan anytime they want. The massive build-up and repositioning of Chinese forces facing Taiwan was more a rehearsal for China's inevitable invasion than a response to a provocation.

The coming invasion

Pelosi's visit may be for China a blessing in disguise. It has allowed PLA to flex its muscles and practice for any eventualities; prepositioning assets, fuel, munitions and materiel into forward positions in Fujian province fronting Taiwan; and may have perfected its communication structures, coordinating air, land and sea forces required for a lightning invasion — similar and even better than any German Blitzkrieg of the second world war. But more importantly, China may have found a renewed sense of confidence.

China has bided its time. It is an old society spanning thousands of years. It must be clear to them by now that a strategy to overwhelm Taiwan using the element of surprise, is doable — before America can mobilize and get a consensus going. America, since the Trump phenomenon, has a highly polarized political society. And this is the perfect backdrop for a Chinese excursion. And I doubt that America will risk a war over Taiwan. Precious young white American blood may not be spilled to preserve the way of life of a faraway Asian nation. This is not racist. This is simply the reality. America for all its braggadocio, technological advances and military might has shown with its latest humiliation in Afghanistan and powerlessness in Ukraine that it is no longer up to it — the world's self-appointed policeman and keeper of its vaunted concepts of Freedom Democracy.

A quick defeat and occupation of Taiwan — which is her province anyway — will not precipitate a wider conflict. China and America with their nuclear arsenal understand only too well the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

And thus, Thucydides Trap may have sprung — starting decades back and accelerating with the American miscalculations over the decades; with Pelosi's visit just a footnote. China has risen and America may be on the wane, but both will not risk nuclear war. China regaining Taiwan is inevitable — war is not.


Published in LML Polettiques

SHORTLY after the opening of the 19th Congress, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers filed House Bill 1536, an act seeking to ban political turncoatism. Flamboyantly titled the "Anti-Political Prostitute Act," this bill is a watershed on two counts: an affirmation that political party turncoatism is prevalent and a blight on our political system; and more importantly, the acceptance by a member of legislature himself that political prostitutes proliferate through the hallowed halls of Congress. But don't jump to conclusions yet. Comparing political turncoats to prostitutes may be incorrect. In Philippine politics a turncoat "shifts allegiance from one loyalty or idea to another — betraying or deserting an original cause by switching to the opposing side or party; selfish only unto oneself and family," while a prostitute grants clients direct sexual access to one's body agreeing to engage in sexual conduct for a fee. Both common practices in the Philippine, their nuances may appear clearer when seen through the reality of recent developments and through the lens of each one's respective clients or constituency.

Political turncoats — a new profession

The Philippines adopted partly our American colonial structure of government and therefore the behavioral patterns emanating from it. We elect our political leaders through political parties, the primary vehicles to gain political power by engaging in political contests, primarily elections. The members and their leadership are expected to adhere to a set of principles and strategies written in a platform unique to that party. This espousal of a vision of governance defines the ideological identity of that party — and therefore, the electorate must be permitted a patent choice — as to who must govern them based on what the candidates and their respective parties stand for. Their adherence to their beliefs could be a guarantee on how they will behave in office after we vote them in. This, we call integrity — which political turncoats are bereft of.

A case in point. Within weeks of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s election, 27 district representatives abandoned their political parties to join Lakas-CMD, taking their oath before Speaker Martin Romualdez of the 19th Congress and President BBM's cousin.

This is not new. Many of these officials were once members of the 15th and 16th Congress under the late president Noynoy Aquino (approximately 31 at first, then eventually 75 congressmen) who transferred to President Duterte in the 17th and 18th Congress.

In 2016, candidate Duterte ran under the PDP Laban having one senator and only three congressmen. After he won in 2016, 77 went to PDP-Laban with 47 coming from the Liberal Party and 32 governors (Julio Teehankee, research article).

These turncoats switched parties weeks after an election. In his bill, Barbers seeks to ban these balimbing with appropriate sanctions; disqualification from current office, ban from future elections or from future appointments to government offices. Accordingly, Barbers' bill will "ensure a genuine party system and promote party loyalty, discipline, and adherence to ideological principles."

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said the present political setup has become embarrassing for the country because it opened itself to so-called political butterflies who switched loyalties. The good congressman who himself was a member of the LAMMP party (1998-2001), Lakas-CMD (before 2021), Liberal Party (2012-2018) and currently a stalwart of PDP-Laban, is among those who want the 1987 Constitution revised to prevent such anomalies — and good for him too!

Prostitution an old profession

In the olden days, aside from being the oldest profession, prostitution was an honest-to-goodness, even exalted occupation. John Philip Jenkins, a history professor at Baylor University in the US wrote:

"... Perceptions of prostitution are based on culturally determined values that differ between societies. In some societies, prostitutes have been viewed as members of a recognized profession; in others they have been shunned, reviled and punished with stoning, imprisonment and death... In some cultures, prostitution has been required of young girls as a rite of puberty or as a means of acquiring a dowry, and some religions have required prostitution of a certain class of priestesses ... Hebrew law did not forbid prostitution but confined the practice to foreign women."


Prostitutes have their unambiguous utility to society and were thus widely accepted. If one cares to do google search, the history of prostitution dates back to 2400 BCE, first recorded in Sumer where Sumerian priests ran brothels and where the kings "performed religious rituals or sacred marriage." Thus, the antecedents of prostitution are religious where brothels or temples are "houses of heaven" sacred to particular deities. The Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, is replete with stories of prostitution practiced during the era.

In ancient Greece, both women and men engaged in prostitution and in some temples thousands of prostitutes plied their wares. In ancient Rome citizens of stature openly engaged the services of prostitutes where it was legal and where opprobrium and moral censure were unattached to the arrangements. But over time, although the practice has its religious roots, the natural proclivity for carnal pursuit went beyond religious rituals, changing drastically the nature of the procurer, purveyor and the transaction itself. As Imperial Rome grew and conquered the known world, foreign slaves were substituted for purely sexual pleasures and foreign men, women and even children were captured and recruited for prostitution. Although Roman mores did not attach any stigma to the whole process, the onslaught of another religious creed came to erode the practice.

Not until the reign in AD 306 of Constantine, the Roman emperor who converted to Christianity, did prostitution undergo a complete facelift. The Christian moral suasion began to render such practices as unchristian — and thus shameful — though the practice persisted and continues to exist to the present time with ambiguous scruples in different societies. In many European countries prostitution is legal and regulated. In the Netherlands, the De Wallen red light district of Amsterdam is famous for its international sex tourism; and the prostitutes, mostly women have organized strong unions and are considered as professionals. In Switzerland, licensed brothels cater to customers though forcing people into the profession is illegal.

Today depending on where you live, prostitution may be viewed as haram and violence against women as in the countries practicing Islam — though their treatment of women leaves much to be desired; or various shades of morality and legality as practiced in the countries of Christian faith; and even morally neutral and perfectly legal in others. Some supporters of the practice decriminalize prostitution leaning toward the "Nordic model" — a concept that started in Norway, Sweden and the northern countries which has begun to spill over to Canada, Iceland and even France.

The difference

Surely the old profession has societal uses though now buried in a murky veil of morality. But the prostitutes received money for services rendered. This is integrity!

In the Philippines, political turncoats have no such fealty to their party from whom they were elected by their clients. Only to themselves do they owe fealty. No integrity! In this sense, turncoats are not prostitutes. Yet we allow them and shun prostitution. Their behavior is in fact an insult to prostitutes.


Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 07 September 2022 11:31

'Maid in Malacañang,' Imee's opus

I WATCHED the film "Maid in Malacañang" (MnM) at its premiere showing at the Gaisano Theater in Davao City last month. The last time I went to a film premiere was four or five decades ago at Garmon or Galaxy, movie houses that are now defunct. The film, "The Godfather," or was it James Bond's "Goldfinger" — I cannot remember now. It was a one-day screening affair. The movie series was much anticipated that we just had to see the premiere, buying our tickets from scalpers at prices several times over that of the takilya.

MnM was different. My wife and I were invited to the VIP section for free. The 300 seating capacity was half-occupied although seats were paid for by the local organizers — presumably, the theater owner. As in any premiere showing in Hollywood for a hyped-up movie, the local premiere was complete with the installed red carpet — where the invited local "who's who" were ushered in to walk through.

The movie

To make a movie, a script has to be written first. The visual narrative needs to follow the script weaving around the story it intends to portray. The director on the other hand has total control of the making of the film. The film is the director's medium — and does with it whatever he wants — sometimes diverging away from the script or the original intent of the narrative. Often, this creates a conflict between the scriptwriter and the director. Not in this one. Darryl Yap the scriptwriter is also its director and therefore, presumably, should have control of the flow of the narrative, the sequencing and more importantly, its veracity that must contribute overall toward a finished film.

In this case the scriptwriter-director needs to be true to his craft and research deeply the story to be depicted. But this movie is more than an art medium. As the executive producer and consultant, Sen. Imee Marcos herself declared: "It's about time we tell our story, too, about what happened in Malacañang ... about what we know ... we're just telling the story we know, from our point of view. We're not changing anything from what they say. We're not revising anything. It's totally inaccurate to say that. We're simply explaining the happenings in our final three days in [the Palace]."

"And I think the people have the right to know what was happening back then ...unfortunately, there will have to be some truths told and some lies, debunked, finally." (PDI, July 22, 2022)

With her declaration, the scriptwriter-director may have subsumed his creative control over the film, presumably surrendering to the good senator who has a bigger stake in the emotional impact of the film. The movie, I'm afraid, has now been captured by the senator herself, relegating the scriptwriter-director to a mere handyman, doing odd jobs, perhaps a notch above a film editor. But if one is paid well, the hell with creative control!


Thus, the movie has been elevated into something more than an ordinary film. It has polarized moviegoers. One person's truth is another man's prevarications. And the detractors of the movie, and there are many, have vehemently attacked the film (with many not even having seen the flick). There are accusations of historical revisionism and distortion of the historical record of the Marcos rule and dictatorship — or just simply plain lies, mostly coming from the leftist groups and the political center launching the ML@50 Movement. The stated purpose of this group's campaign is "...encouraging a wider awareness of that historical chapter through arts and culture. Thus, the organizers are planning, among other activities, festivals, exhibits and workshops about martial law"

Come on! It's just a frigging B-class movie. Produce your own!

The cast

A tale told from the point of view of the Malacañang staff (mostly maids/kasambahay), Imee — though the screenwriter-director and actors have to go through the pain of explaining what could have been great events — the last 72 hours during the EDSA People Power Revolution presaging the family's exile — from their personal point of view.

The budget for this film must really be astronomical. For one, big names have been recruited. Cesar Montano, the Philippine version of an "A lister" portrayed Apo Ferdie. But with a second-rate rambling dialogue it was almost impossible for a really good actor to be one. Statuesque Ruffa Gutierrez, a beautiful model took on the role of Imelda, who in real life was a force to reckon with — larger than life — who shared the political center stage with the Apo. Alas, their only similarities were their height and hairdo. Ruffa's acting was wooden, more fit for runway modeling. She did not do Imelda justice.

The rest of the cast, Ella Cruz as Irene, Diego Loyzaga as Bongbong, and the other minor roles had to follow an inane script with acting reflective of the Filipino genre of loud and runaway dialogues interspersed with sobbing, crying and hysterics. Unable to use the tools of good acting ... nuances, period of silences, intermittent pausing for effect; instead, in some instances, it turned into a deadly shouting match. Filipino actors have to show tears as their concept of "good acting. Ang galing sa hiyawan, sigawan at iyakan ... acting talaga."

Even the stab at comic relief by the maids deteriorated into slapstick, popular with the "masa," which garnered the greatest applause from the audience — at least at the Gaisano Theater in Davao.

But the portrayal of Bongbong in the film is unconscionable. He appeared as the bumbling younger brother donning one costume the whole 72 hours, military fatigues — and assigned one dramatic scene with the Apo, that Ambeth Ocampo described as "...a whimpering child of a man desperate for his father's attention and approval..." Even with literary license — the role was most degrading — the future president should not have been depicted this way. Fiction or not, what would Liza say of the whole film?

And the actress who hogged the film was Christine Reyes as Imee whom Ambeth Ocampo described "...as a pouting, petulant, entitled b*tch in the opening scene who degenerated into a shrill, hysterical banshee for most of the film."

I've met the senator a few times and she struck me as smart, beautiful, possessed of an electric personality who in my opinion is the Marcos who is closer to the mold of the Apo himself — the female Ferdinand.

The film as fiction

To be kind and fair, I view her opus "Maid in Malacañang" as a sort of a work of art; overwhelming the scriptwriter-director who may have been too lazy perhaps to produce a documentary film, unable to check his facts and too incompetent to produce a straight fiction. I don't think he went out of his way to peddle lies as truth — unless her pecuniary incentives were just too much. (My brother Cyril, a director-producer and sister Zelmar, a screenwriter, could have done a more professional job.) MnM could be an attempt to be presented as a political satire, a poor one — encapsulated by that mahjong scene with the nuns. I particularly enjoyed that controversial episode — fictitious at best — but what the hell! I love to play mahjong myself!

Published in LML Polettiques