Wednesday, 02 May 2018 15:27

Millennials take on DU30 and EDCA

THE Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI) has been accepting third-year college students as OJT interns (on the job training) for the past decade. We have been fortunate in having young people (aged 18 to 22 years), coming from different schools in the provinces, work with us for six to eight weeks during their summer break.

This year’s batch is the smallest. Craig Vincent Tibon, 19, Dennis Jay Paras, 20, and Nizle Caraballe, 20. They all come from Liceo de Cagayan University and will graduate with degrees in international studies or political science. Last year’s batch of four females and two males was outstanding: three finished magna cum laude with one a sobresaliente, and two cum laude. Craig, a sobresaliente himself, is on track for a summa cum laude this incoming schoolyear.

Both the CDPI and the interns benefit from these arrangements. The students get to learn to work in a real office environment and do field work on “political technocracy,” with schedules, assignments and deadlines, preparing them for an early professional life post-college. CDPI profits from this arrangement as the OJTs inject fresh insights and perspectives into our political institute; which brings me to this week’s article.

I wanted to mine the brains of my young colleagues, gauge the depth of their socio-political awareness, and for them to put to paper their take as millennials on the issues of the day. They were given less than a week to write a 400 to 800-word essay on their favorite issues with one or two suggested by CDPI.

Two out of three topics were about President Duterte while the lone female preferred the encroachment of the US bases in the Philippines.

What was evident is their predilection for sourcing news and issues almost wholly from social media. This could eventually spell the demise of the broadsheets as young readers migrate towards the exclusive use of internet platforms.

The choice of topics reflects how abreast they are with current issues. Craig’s take on the Deegong is straight, linear and bold: “…the most powerful person in the country, the President, is not exempted from being the center of the discourse…apparently, this set of millennials believe that Digong is an imperial president. They argue that the president destroys the democratic processes and institutions of the country. But there is an apparent cleavage of opinions between the pros and anti (Duterte). However, there are ‘passersby’ not (paying) attention on issues (not found) on their (FB) timelines. They are apathetic.”

Dennis on the other hand employs the Socratic method: Is Deegong a prudent and rational man or is he just another bad decision-maker? Machiavelli once said, ‘A prudent man never honors his words’…one could say that Deegong is indeed a prudent man due to his mood swings and his unique style of decision-making, which can be compared to modern artworks (complex, weird and unorthodox yet still has an appeal to the viewing public).”

Such declarations may provoke debate among the more articulate millennials, particularly those now working in various professions. Most, however, seem to be ambivalent and oblivious of the passion of the moment – the erratic behavior of DU30 – particularly those who are still ensconced within the comfortable and safe confines of their classrooms.

This is understandable as the millennials and the X Gen (40 +) barely have the firsthand memories of a dictatorship but only the lessons to be learned from books, essays and documents, mostly written by the baby boomers. The imposition of martial law and life within a dictatorial regime are alien to their experience. But the greater danger lies where lessons are not learned and the creeping conditions similar to those of the Marcos dictatorship will again descend upon us. We need to be mindful of George Santayana’s dictum.

Which brings me also to the short article of the lone female OJT on the Philippine-US relationship. Nizle’s take is that recent news signaled the sneaking intrusion of American forces into the country with the bilateral military exercise “known as Balikatan – happening next month (May 7-18, 2018). This caters to the US-Philippine arrangement in response to a recent crisis; but the cooperation and interoperability of the US and Philippine armed forces is the core of this exercise; (depicting) too the embodiment of diplomatic affairs on both sides.”

It will be recalled that past American administrations (Bush Sr./Reagan) were the champions of the Marcos dictatorship. In 1998, the US military bases in the country, were taken out, eroding US prestige in Southeast Asia. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed between the two countries as a watered-down version covering the US military presence in the region, establishing the annual bilateral military exercises called Balikatan.

When the deadly Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the Philippines in November 2013, the US Marines were the first to arrive and give aid to the victims through the “disaster relief crisis response.” From this sprung the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by the two countries.

Effective for an initial period of 10 years, and enforced yearly thereafter unless terminated by either party, EDCA allows US forces to operate out of agreed locations – facilities and areas that are provided by our government through our Armed Forces (AFP). Operational control of these facilities is with the US forces although the Philippines retains ownership of the “agreed locations.” The US government asked for access to eight locations in the Philippines. We agreed to five.

On April 18, 2018, the first “EDCA project broke ground at the Pampanga Basa Air Base for a ‘multi-purpose Humanitarian Response Warehouse.’ Defense Secretary Lorenzana said it will respond to the evolving security challenges and promote peace in the Asian region”

(PDI April 18, 2018)

Except for the remnants of the leftist groups in the country, these developments did not seem to disturb the equanimity of the millennials. With all media platform inundated by news about China’s illegal infringement on our territories in the West Philippine Sea, its bullying tactics, and Malacañang’s lame and inutile response, the millennials may be tolerant and even welcome the “return of the US forces.”

The perspectives of the millennials may be different from those of the past generations; and rightly so as they have one thing going for them today absent in our time – immediate and unfettered access to information. But with this rapid growth of technology, they are inundated with facts and “pseudo facts,” and a plethora of data, opinion and viewpoints. Do they have the sophisticated mind to separate the chaff from the grain allowing them to formulate their own views? The contribution of the interns manifested in their essays puts the answer in the positive. And labeling the President as ‘imperial’ and an unorthodox decision-maker; plus, their healthy skepticism about the continued presence of America in the country, they also have the courage to say it.

This specific characteristic of the Filipino millennial is crucial in the maintenance and furtherance of the country’s democracy. We are in good hands!
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 18 April 2018 14:57

The Supreme Court a co-equal branch?

IN the Philippines, scandals, tsismis and fake news (STF for short) are part of the daily news diet. I have no idea how many of our citizens care to read the papers or how many are active in social media. For the majority, word of mouth is an effective carrier of STF, and travel faster and farther. There is that symbiotic relationship between word of mouth and media. Sourced from either platform, these raw morsels of STF are then either distorted, embellished and presented to the public as truth. In social media, internet trolls on both sides of the argument or advocacies are then engaged in a frenzy of spin, effectively taking over the political conversation.

More often than not, this job is assigned to favored stooges with government sinecures who have large social media following; talking heads and lawyers with the leash tightly held by Malacañang. They then proffer these fables to the public in double-speak.

Take the example of the quo warranto petition against beleaguered Chief Justice (on leave) Maria Lourdes Sereno brought by Solicitor General Jose Calida. Ordinary Filipinos take this simply as “lawyer’s mumbo-jumbo.” According to Calida’s suit, Sereno’s appointment as Chief Justice is not valid “ab initio” (from the very beginning) and “…requires her to show by what authority she exercises her assumption to public office.”

Sereno opined: “If they succeed [in removing]an impeachable officer nearly six years after her appointment, then every sitting justice will no longer be independent.” (PDI, April 12, 2018)

True enough! Why only now, after six years? The ordinary Filipino would rather not participate in this “moro-moro” and with a mind of his own prefer a narrative which is simple, linear and honest.

President Duterte wants her ousted. She has provoked the anger of the President. Many believe this started when she clashed with the Deegong early in his administration in August 2016. Du30 made the mistake of naming judges allegedly involved in illegal drugs, some of whom had long been retired and one long dead. DU30 backed down from a confrontation with the feisty lady who insisted on her prerogatives and the independence of the judiciary. But she had drawn first blood. The President’s disdain for the chief justice could have started at this point.

Rubbing salt on the wound, she has consistently voted against Duterte’s policies that have been elevated to the high court: a hero’s burial for the dictator Marcos, and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao to contain the IS rebellion, among others.

And lately, Sereno lashed out at DU30’s perceived drift towards authoritarianism. “The current state of the nation is one where perceived enemies of the dominant order are considered fair game for harassment, intimidation and persecution, where shortcuts are preferred over adherence to constitutional guarantees of human rights, including the denial of due process,” Sereno said.

“Coarseness, including the denigration of women, rather than civility, mark the language of the podium,” she added. (Nikkei Asian Review, March 8, 2018)

This could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Who is this

Lourdes Sereno who has the balls to stand up to the macho president?

Sereno had been chief justice for five years prior to DU30’s ascendancy. She took her position seriously as head of the judiciary, co-equal to the executive and legislative branches of government. She was installed as chief justice after the impeachment of CJ Corona and after having been scrutinized and recommended by the Judicial and Bar Council.

Corona himself earned the ire of the Aquinos on some high court decisions against the Aquino/Cojuangco interests. PNoy used his office to allegedly bribe the senators with DAP money to impeach Corona.

PNoy’s inexperienced niña bonita , appointed at a very young age (57 in 2012), will be sitting as CJ for the next several years (70 years old in 2030) outliving those in the current bench. This did not sit well with the other justices, all senior to her, drooling over the CJ post.

A quo warranto petition was filed by the Solicitor General. Knowing how the DU30 can be intimidating to his cabinet, no way will Calida act without the Deegong’s imprimatur. DU30’s assertions that he did not have a hand in this is simply not plausible.

Sereno took the bait, asking the Deegong publicly to show his hand. This allowed DU30 to accommodate her challenge, thus his declaration: “I am putting you on notice that I’m now your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 10, 2018)

There is no mumbo-jumbo in the PRRD’s language. Sereno, the head of another co-equal branch, became an enemy once she stepped on the almighty’s toes and he wants her head.

What next? Sereno could be booted out by her peers on this quo warranto petition, but this would look funny. She has been a member of the bench for a good part of a decade. Would these good justices now “require her to show by what authority she exercises her assumption to public office”?

The success of this quo warranto petition will have a lasting effect. A precedent having been established, any SolGen in the future will have the ability to bring quo warranto petitions against any of them. This in fact is a hanging sword of Damocles of their own making.

The issues of Sereno’s alleged corruption, profligate lifestyle and imperial tendencies will not be taken up in this quo warranto petition. These are issues rightly lodged in an impeachment proceeding against impeachable officials.

If Chief Justice Sereno’s peers will shamelessly abide by the dictates of their personal agenda, they will boot her out on this quo warranto petition. But their reputation will be left in tatters as they shall have been reduced to mere lap dogs of the executive branch.

Impeach her, if you must! But go through the proper constitutional process.

Published in LML Polettiques
Tuesday, 17 April 2018 15:57

Is Duterte a dictator?

The answer is not as simple as one would like, and the reasoning is necessarily nonlinear.

Part of the reason this is so lies in the Philippines’ own recent history of dictatorship. Ferdinand Marcos, a consummate lawyer, created an elaborate legal infrastructure to enable what was called constitutional authoritarianism — what Marcos critic turned foremost apologist Teodoro Valencia called “martial law with a smile.”

In his younger days, Marcos could orate for hours — not in the mold of President Duterte’s stream-of-consciousness ramblings, but in the vein of Fidel Castro’s extemporaneous political philosophizing. He hardly used directly threatening language (one famous exception was his retort to student leader Edgar Jopson as a mere “grocer’s son”). While he was a brutal dictator in fact, he was very conscious of appearances and careful to keep them.

Mr. Duterte does not often give a damn. He holds his tongue only when it comes to former president Fidel Ramos’ criticisms; he pays tribute to leaders who do not criticize him (Vladimir Putin: “My idol.” Xi Jinping: “I simply love” him. Donald Trump: “A deep thinker.”) Everyone else, especially women critics, gets the full I-am-the-President-not-you treatment—and many people see this as a form of dictatorship, or at least of dictatorial impulses given free rein.

Another part of the reason is we’ve called other presidents dictatorial before — which makes Mr. Duterte’s actual embrace of the dictatorial possibilities in the Philippine presidency that much harder to counter.

In “Marcos was the worst (3),” part of my occasional series on the true and perfidious legacy of the Marcos family, I wrote about the Singapore fantasy of the Marcos loyalists: the idea that, in the words of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., his father would have turned the Philippines into another Singapore if he had continued in office.

“Why is it that some Filipinos — not only those who are too young, but even those old enough to have lived through the Marcos years — seem ready to buy into this counterfactual version of history?

“Many factors must be at work. The loss of perspective: The events have receded into what is now the distant past (more years separate our time from the declaration of martial law than from the start of World War II to military rule in 1972). The failure of education: Our generation has not done an adequate job of reminding the nation of the atrocities of the Marcos dictatorship. The power of myth: Marcos allies have been successful in presenting the beginning of an alternative history, especially online. The relativism of protest: Antigovernment critics of whatever stripe fall into the relativist habit of denouncing the incumbent president as the worst of the time (scroll through newspaper pages and see the vilification of one president after another: Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo, Aquino again). Not least, the lure of innocence: Media organizations today are too noisy, busy with present-day stories of iniquity and inequality.”

That relativism of protest has led protesters—including but not limited to Bayan—to denounce every single president since Marcos as an incipient or undeclared dictator. A Bulatlat article on “progressive groups” marking the 42nd anniversary of the declaration of martial law, in 2014, was headlined: “Groups call to end ‘Aquino dictatorship.’” A 2007 story by DPA News on the 35th anniversary of martial law carried this omnibus quote attributed to Karapatan and Selda: “There is a new dictator and kleptocrat in Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her cohorts under an undeclared martial law.” That narrative of absolute power concentrated in a presidential dictatorship goes all the way back, through Joseph Estrada and Fidel Ramos, to Corazon Aquino.

It is true that the Philippine presidency, despite its single-term limitation, retains vast powers, including command of the administrative infrastructure of justice and oversight of a quarter-million members of the uniformed services. And it is also true that a vindictive or single-minded president can use these powers to retaliate against critics; this is how I understand (and to point to only two examples) the jailing of Ka Jimmy Tadeo under Cory Aquino and the unseating of Dick Gordon under Estrada.

But if these presidents were dictators, understood in the usual sense, what does that make of President Duterte? Galactic overlord?

A third part of the reason: Despite the absence of a new constitution (the centerpiece of Marcos’ strategy), influential people in and outside the government already act as though the President were a dictator: the pliable majority in the Supreme Court that privileged his election mandate (a plurality) over public support for the Constitution (an overwhelming majority); local officials and intimidated businessmen who fail to vigorously question the legal basis of the Boracay closure; bureaucrats and advertisers who put pressure on the media to please him.

President Duterte has dictatorial tendencies, but is the Philippines back under one-man rule? Not yet — but we’re getting there, fast.

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Published in News
Monday, 16 April 2018 13:35

The pattern in Marawi and Boracay

Many moons ago, I made the obligatory trip to Boracay with the preconceived notion of an “island paradise.” It was raining cats and dogs when I reached the Caticlan jetty. Disembarking on the island, I was dropped off at the so-called D’Mall d’Boracay, the main shopping center that teemed with boutiques and restaurants galore.

D’Mall is also part of where the action is at night for its hodgepodge of bars. But that afternoon when I arrived, D’Mall had also one feature not necessarily delightful —it was under water from the profuse downpour. The flood was knee-deep and the waters were fetid.

I immediately realized I was transported not to an island paradise but to the usual slapdash built-up spaces one regularly sees in any Philippine city. Behind the chic watering holes and posh hotels, the Boracay landscape was filled with shantytowns, some built on stilts along its wetlands where residents waded through the dark water that was both stagnant and putrid.

The scene, of course, left me unimpressed, to say the least. Why are the poor swarming on an island that made Philippine tourism world-famous? The answer needs no rocket scientist — it is because we have a governance system that does not address poverty. We have a system that does not address homelessness. Our society is far from an equal-opportunity one.

The entry of the Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment casino — which President Duterte had denied but which turned out to be a lie —exactly epitomizes the Duterte approach and all political leaders before him — there is a cesspool alright, but the solution given hardly addresses it because there is no comprehensive master plan.

Duterte, after all, is no reformist. He is simply a speaker who tries to be a firebrand to add garnish to the spin that he wants change. Six months from now, you can bet that those who live in Boracay’s squalor will continue to wade through those stinking waters in the isle’s wetlands.

The pattern has by now become familiar. The perpetually disoriented Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, whose bantam experience only lies with local Davao tours, revealed on television that like Marawi, the architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. would spearhead the Boracay makeover.

Exactly what that means remains vague but the pattern is as clear as day. Magnify a problem that exists — Islamic State in Marawi, a cesspool in Boracay — by declaring a blanket decision that does not take into account all sectors of the multiple stakeholders. In the end, every stakeholder is treated as a culprit. The decision mesmerizes. Hail, Duterte. But when examined closely, there is no master plan.

One cannot imagine now the nightmare that Boracay’s closure will have on thousands of formal and informal workers. Let us not even quantify the end of regular flights to and from Caticlan and Kalibo airports. The displacement will be massive. How different is that from Marawi’s internally displaced families who continue to languish? No difference.

Where human dignity — which includes the dignity of labor — is involved, those in governance must consider the condition of the human actors involved. It is a duty and an imperative, not a choice like the way Duterte kowtows to the interests of big business and his Chinese mandarins.

The poor do not have a place in the Duterte regime. He fashions himself as a reformist by means of rhetorical amusement, just like any traditional politician. He is just like the “Dilawans” before him. He is no different from any stage entertainer. But he can probably learn from the late Brazilian bishop Dom Helder Camara who alluded to the most destitute of society: “Society calls me an eyesore, a beggar and a parasite. But what do you call a society that has reduced me to this state?”

Duterte does not rule that way. By now, the Duterte deportment is familiar: throw a tantrum (applause), and then bring the house down just to kill a rat. Applaud and be an idiot.

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Published in News
TWO agreements will be signed between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia as President Rodrigo Duterte embarks on the first leg of his three-country swing to Middle East countries this week.

Duterte met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and other high-ranking Saudi officials Tuesday to discuss the plight of Filipino workers there and to strengthen the cooperation between Manila and Riyadh to combat the drug scourge.

Among the agreements signed are a memorandum of agreement on labor cooperation on general workers and employment between Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the Philippines’ Department of Labor and Employment; and a memorandum of understanding regarding political consultations between Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

Saudi Arabia is the first leg of President Duterte’s first foreign trip to the Middle East and is the home and destination of work of the largest number of overseas Filipinos in the region.

In an interview at Riyadh, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella clarified that Duterte cannot bring home Filipinos on the death row, but he can bring those who sought amnesty before the Saudi government.

“He was asked about the death row matter. We need to clarify that first the process has not yet reached the level of the king, in which case there is no place for us asking for clemency at this stage so let us wait for the process regarding the death row issues,” Abella said.

He said the President could bring with him those who had taken advantage of an immigration amnesty by Saudi Arabia.

Philippine Consul-General to Saudi Arabia Iric C. Arribas urged Filipinos to avail of the amnesty for undocumented foreign workers declared by the Saudi government last March 29 to resolve problems in their papers to come clean with their government work permits.

Philippine Embassy officials said they were expecting around 5,000 undocumented Filipinos here to avail of the amnesty the Saudi government announced for illegal migrants.

“For this amnesty 2017 we are hoping that all of them will avail but we expect around 5,000 to avail, more or less. We are urging undocumented Filipinos here to avail of the amnesty,” Abella said.

The President is also expected to meet members of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry where Filipino business leaders would meet their Arab counterparts to explore trade and investment opportunities.

Duterte supporter and starlet Margaux “Mocha” Uson is part of Duterte’s entourage as a “morale booster” for Filipinos abroad, the Palace said Tuesday.

Also joining Duterte’s trip abroad is Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos and former Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino, two of Duterte’s closest allies despite having no connection at all to the President’s trips.

Defending Uson’s inclusion in the official delegation abroad, Abella said that Uson will serve as the Philippine delegation’s “morale-booster.”

“The appointed official of The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board is part of the Philippine delegation. She has a large following among the overseas Filipino communities, especially in the Middle East, and it is in their interest that she has come to help boost morale and well-being,” Abella said.

In an interview at Davao City before leaving for Middle East, the Ilocos Norte governor said she asked the Palace to join Duterte’s trips to check on the condition of Filipino workers in the Middle East.

“I really requested to join because among the overseas migrant laborers in the Middle East, many are Ilocanos and women, so it’s important for me to know if their situation is improving because as far as I know, many of them were left behind, so we have to work on it,” Marcos said.

Marcos joined the President’s trips to China and Singapore last year.

Another official spotted joining the President’s trip was Tolentino, whose sister Analyn is currently the President’s Social Secretary.

In a press briefing at Riyadh, Abella admitted that the government is paying for the accommodation of all officials included in the President’s trip to the Middle East.

He said he could not explain how Tolentino was able to join the official delegation, even though he holds no government position.
Published in News
Saturday, 01 April 2017 09:36

Duterte is not Trump

The liberal world order, inaugurated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his dying days and ended with the sublime leadership of Barack Obama, has given way to a new era of disorder. No one is responsible, but Vladimir Putin’s gaining full dictatorial powers in Russia in 2012 is an easy starting date. Rightwing dictatorships have spread across East and Central Europe, stopping only at—ironically—the well-ruled Germany of Angela Merkel sticking tightly to democratic governance.

It was in this atmosphere that Rodrigo Duterte came to power, just nine months ago. Then, four months ago, and possibly with the help of Russian hackers, Donald Trump managed a near-landslide in what is clearly now ex-America; there is certainly nothing united about the United States anymore.

Given both men’s penchant for foul language, many commentators saw Trump as part of this trend and Mr. Duterte’s election as presaging Trump’s. Mr. Duterte’s awful start, with his seeming encouragement of the extrajudicial killing of thousands of druggies, and Trump’s appalling language with reference to women, not to mention his disdain for any democratic rule that stands in his way, underlined the comparisons.

True, they are both septuagenarians, but I make the case that the two men have nothing relevant in common, and that whereas the Philippines may emerge a far better ruled country and a more coherent one after Mr. Duterte’s six years, ex-America is heading to disaster.

Let’s start with what they say. Mr. Duterte is coherent; no one doubts he is also very smart. One may not like what he has to say but it is clear. He states an objective, then step by step, he lays the groundwork for carrying it out. If he is to be compared with any leader, it would be the late Singapore leader Lee Kwan Yew, who in a generation of tough leadership made his country the richest city in the world.

Now read any pronouncement by Trump that isn’t scripted, and what do you have? You cannot even parse it. It is composed of ramblings on whatever in the immediate context will bring attention or, better yet, adoration. This is narcissism, in pure form.

It gets worse. If you extract what message, if any, is consistent, it is that he has no interest in democratic values. More basically, he has no values. He has no agenda other than enjoying the attention that the presidency is bringing. He enjoys Republican majorities in the House and Senate, so there are no checks on him from the so-called division of powers. It is a psychosis. Not to put too fine a point on it, Trump is a narcissistic psychotic.

Now if by a fluke he was elected 20 years ago, the liberal world order would have checked him. The United Nations is not as such powerful, but it’s important in consolidating a rules-based system; an American president who wished to knock it down would have drawn amused yawns and curiosity on how he ever got elected.

Compare the Duterte agenda: Basically, it’s to make the Philippines a nation, a coherent and at least slightly disciplined state where citizens think of the national interest before their own personal agenda. I’m highly optimistic that the Duterte presidency will get better and better, that the virtuous reforms will cumulate and compound. He cannot do it in six years, but he can put the Philippines on a road that cannot be altered.

On the other hand, I fear the Trump presidency will just get worse and worse. Trump plays with fire. Many national security experts have laid out their fears that a psycho simply can’t be allowed to have his fingers on the nuclear trigger; he might be a Nero enjoying a burning Rome—because it was all about him.

But as for the Philippines itself, I think six years of tough rule will be a good thing, because Mr. Duterte is disciplined but coherent, and genuinely wants a better country, not his own glorification. That is not a small thing to be grateful for.
Published in Commentaries
I NEARLY fell out of my seat when I read Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas’ Lenten message. Villegas is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) which posted his message in its website – dramatically titled “Meditation”.

What kind of Church leaders do we have now in someone like Villegas? Political partisans exploiting the name of God, and lusting to be the country’s second Cardinal Sin, who had a glorious crucial role in the EDSA revolt that toppled a dictator?

The title of Villegas’ meditation is shocking enough: “Edgar and Art and God’s Mercy.”

Who is Edgar? He’s Edgar Matobato, an admitted hit man, whom the Yellow Cult or probably just Senator Antonio Trillanes IV got to testify in the Senate last October not really to seek justice, but to portray in the most vivid way that President Duterte was a ruthless killer who organized the Davao Death Squad (DDS) that murdered innocent people in that city in the 1980s.

Who is Art? He is Arthur Lascañas, worse than Matobato as he was an officer of the law, a police sergeant. “Just our low-level killer we contracted at times,” Lascañas even denigrated Matobato. Lascañas in contrast was a middle-level DDS leader, who ordered men under him to kill, and who by his own admission, himself killed some 300 human beings.

That puts him in that very small group of serial killers in the modern world with that many people murdered. Matobato obviously is the Phase 2 of the Yellow Cult’s program to demonize Duterte.

How can Villegas be so naïve or gullible as to assume that these two killers repented for killing so many people? I watched so many of the TV interviews of these two killers, and endured so many hours of their testimony: Did they ever shed a tear, or become misty-eyed over their victims? Absolutely not.

Lascañas testified that he stopped killing people, not because he sympathized with his victims or their relatives, but because the Devil visited him in his dreams – which means he was simply afraid of some killer more powerful than he. (Villegas claims though that the Devil actually appeared to him.)

Killed two brothers

Why, even Lascañas had some respect for the truth that he didn’t even attempt to narrate that such a dramatic conversion happened to him: He simply said he had a “spiritual renewal,” a term that had obviously been fed to him to say.

Like a telenovela writer, Villegas wrote of Lascañas: “He did not give up. He returned to his knees and sobbed tears of shame and guilt. He heard a voice again ‘Do you love me? Feed my people. Feed them the food of truth. Set my people free. I will wait,’ the Lord assured Art.”

Villegas didn’t even consider the possibility, given the apparently good financial situation of the two killers, that the Liberal Party or just Trillanes may have paid them a fortune to blacken Duterte’s image, probably explaining to them that they could trigger an EDSA kind of revolution?

Villegas didn’t even consider that the institution with more expertise on worldly affairs—the Senate committee that heard the testimony of the two killers—concluded that they were liars.

The Lenten season commemorates Catholicism’s core teaching of Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, an event really more mind-boggling than the Big Bang, when God entered Human History. Therefore, Lenten messages are supposed to be about transcendental ideas—who we are, our mortality, our relationship with the Infinite.

Degrades the Infinite

Yet Villegas degrades this commemoration of the Infinite to the mud of politics, about how bad this very temporary President is. He thinks he is being cute, or hoped his message would land in the newspapers’ front pages by referring to the two killers’ boss as “Superman,” which they had said in the Senate hearings was their code for Duterte.

In the Lenten messages this year of Pope Francis, and those of other Church heads around the world such as the Singapore Archbishop Goh, Brisbane Archbishop Coleridge, Melbourne Archbishop Hart, and Glasgow Archbishop Tartaglia, there is not a single word referring to a current event.

Which is as it should be, as an event as transcendental and cosmic as Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, cannot be dragged down to the mud of ephemeral politics. Doesn’t Villegas know that clerics get involved in politics only in a few Islamic countries, with the term Ayatollah even now connoting something fearful?

Why, for God’s sake, did Villegas do this?

Villegas’ motive is not really to inspire the faithful to have faith in God, to believe that their sins will be forgiven, whatever they are. That is certainly not a problem for most Catholics: it is in fact what makes this religion attractive for them.

Villegas’ motive is to revive in the public mind the testimonies of the two killers and to believe their allegations against Duterte, which have all been dismissed and forgotten, with the prevailing view being that these two are merely Trillanes’ paid minions.

Jesus Christ himself, Villegas claims, have forgiven them: “On the charge sheet for the sins of Edgar and Art, Jesus had stamped in clear words “PAID”. Therefore, believe their testimonies.

To heaven

He even implies that these two murderers will go to heaven: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” So, Villegas thinks that Matobato and Lascañas are better human beings than us who have never snuffed out a human life? Bullshit.

Why is Villegas doing this? The only reason I can think of: For vainglory. In his mind, he is the political heir of Jaime Cardinal Sin, since nobody was as close to the Hero of EDSA as he.

Villegas was for 25 years the personal secretary of Sin, who intervened actively in politics in the 1980s for the emergence and victory of the EDSA revolt that overthrew the dictator Marcos. Villegas was disheartened when instead of the prime post of Manila, Pope Francis assigned him instead in 2009 to the provinces, as Archbishop of Dagupan-Pangasinan, far from the center of politics in the country. His hopes of being the new Cardinal Sin were, however, revived when he was elected CBCP president in 2013, a post his mentor had occupied in the years leading up to the EDSA uprising.

In his egotism, Villegas believes he is the Sin of this period, which requires him though to lead such a glorious event similar to EDSA that his idol did—like the overthrow of Duterte through some People Power kind of revolt. Like the Liberal Party, Leni Robredo, and Trillanes, Villegas thinks that the controversy over extra-judicial killings and the supposedly explosive revelations of the two killers would trigger such an EDSA.

Truth—and Lenten messages—are the casualties in such ambition and in such plots.
Published in Commentaries
AS an adult in the news business, the Manila Times as a matter of policy does not dignify a piece of fake news or fake story, by commenting on it as if it should be seriously considered by our readers and the Filipino nation.

But there are times when we make an exception because the fake story is deceiving too many; and it has the potential to shape international perception of our country and our people in a highly negative way.

This is the situation we face with the unsubstantiated story authored by Mr. Richard C. Paddock. which the New York Times published in the World section of its edition of March 21, 2017.

The story is grandly titled “Becoming Duterte: The Making of a Philippine Strongman.” It is illustrated with full-color photos of various incidents in Duterte’s life.

It relates multiple stories about Duterte, and summarizes many of his outrageous statements and claims. It purports to quote some of DU30’s relatives and his acquaintances who agreed to be interviewed.

It levels at Duterte the charge that he sees himself as a killer-savior of the Philippines. Killing for him is the solution to key problems of the country.

Paddock writes of various killings in the country, some of which he says involved Duterte at the trigger. Yet whenever he has to substantiate an allegation he retreats by claiming that it is hard to prove. He cannot cite specific cases.

Typical is how he cites a sadistic story where Duterte allegedly throws a criminal suspect out of a helicopter, Paddock did not even supply his name.

Overall, it is hard not to agree with the charge of Duterte’s spokesman and press secretary Ernesto Fabella that the NYT story is just a clever hack job.

Mr. Paddock is unbelievably lazy as a journalist. He will not validate any of his allegations with serious fact-checking. No one corroborates his grisly tales.

For instance, he claims that in nine months. President Duterte has exceeded the number of killings during the 20-year rule of President Ferdinand Marcos — by claiming that there are now over 7,000 killings under Duterte, while there were 3,600 under Marcos.

The numbers are wrong with both Presidents. Both statistics are false and have not been validated by fact-checking.

No serious work of journalism has made the claim that 3,600 were killed under Marcos. It was Amnesty International which first made the claim. But when challenged, AI admitted that it could not validate its figures.

The problem is the same with the contemporary figures regarding killings under Duterte. Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao has exposed the 7,000 figure as a concoction of a Philippine website,, whose numbers were used by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations and Western governments to criticize Duterte and make him call off his drug war.

This is not a defense of President Duterte and his war on drugs (which the Manila Times has squarely criticized on several occasions). This is rather a call for better and fact-checked journalism.

It would have been different if the paddock story was published as an op-ed article. But NYT ran it as a news story and analysis in its world section.

We criticize the New York Times in its handling of the Paddock story, because by reason of its prestige and influence, we did not expect to see it purveying a false story. We expected it to be more factual and reliable, by demanding fact-checking from its reporters or contributors.

The net result of the Paddock story is that it contributes no new facts about President Duterte, other than some hitherto unknown personal family anecdotes. It has no facts to report.

Far truer, is that NYT and Mr. Paddock have added to the growing urban legend of Duterte and made it global.

According to the Oxford dictionaries and other respected dictionaries, an urban legend is “a humorous or horrific story or piece of information circulated as though true, especially one purporting to involve someone vaguely related or known to the teller.”

Fake news, by definition, resembles an urban legend. According to Politifact,

“Fake news is made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports.”

That unfortunately is what Paddock’s story on Duterte amounts to.
Published in Commentaries
AMID reports of Chinese construction in the disputed areas in West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), President Rodrigo Duterte said China had assured him it would honor its word not to build structures on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. Speaking to reporters upon his arrival from an official trip to Thailand on Thursday, the President said China won’t do anything that would jeopardize its relations with the Philippines.“I was informed that they are not going to build anything at Panatag. Out of respect for our friendship they will stop it. Hindi nila gagalawin ‘yan sabi ng China. ‘Huwag kayong mag-alaala, magkaibigan tayo’ [They won’t touch it, China said. ‘Don’t worry, we’re friends],” Duterte said during a news conference.

“That was the assurance given by the Chinese government. They are not going to build anything on Panatag because they want our friendship. They [won’t] do anything to place it in jeopardy…China has a word of honor,” he added.

China is reportedly preparing to build monitoring stations on the islands situated in the disputed waters, including Panatag Shoal, a traditional fishing ground off Zambales province.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has said the Philippine government should file a “strong protest” against China’s building activity, which could lead to militarization in the disputed waters.

Carpio urged Duterte to send the Philippine Navy to patrol at Panatag Shoal and invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty if China attacks the Philippine Navy.

‘Why pick a fight?’

But Duterte reiterated that his administration wants to avoid a rift with the Chinese government because it is not ready to wage war.

“This is what I said in China and it was bilateral… I said I come here in peace… I said I just want to trade with you and I want business because my country needs the money. But certainly, during my term, before it ends or in the middle of my administration, there has got to be a time when I will confront you with the arbitral judgment,” Duterte said.

“In the meantime, I set it aside. But I said remember my caveat that I will bring it up…When? When they shall have dug the minerals and the riches of the bowels of the sea. Bakit ako makipag-away ngayon [Why will I pick a fight today]?” he added.

Duterte is referring to the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that favored the Philippines over China. The tribunal ruled that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights over areas within its so-called nine-dash line, which covers practically the entire South China Sea.

China has refused to recognize the ruling, calling it “a mere piece of paper.”

‘Free to enter’

The President also said that he had allowed the Chinese “innocent passage” in the disputed territories.

“You are free to enter, just inform the Navy, inform the Foreign Affairs secretary,” Duterte told the Chinese.

The Defense department earlier this month bared that Chinese survey ships were seen last year at Benham Rise, an undersea region that forms part of the Philippines’ extended continental shelf east of Luzon, and is not a disputed area.

The President backtracked on his campaign statement that he would go to the disputed islands on a jet ski and wave the Philippine flag to dramatize the country’s claim to the islands.

During the 2016 presidential debates, Duterte said he would ask the Philippine Navy to bring him to the boundary of the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands so he could “ride a jet ski while bringing the Philippine flag.”

“Why do you have to go there and look for a friction? A friction could cause explosion?… There is always the unchanging rule for that. I’m not bright but I’m a lawyer, the reality is miscalculation,” he said.
Published in News
Thursday, 23 March 2017 10:10

A grand game of chess

CHESS is a mind game of strategy between protagonists that involves tactical moves and counter-moves. And the winner purportedly is the one who thinks ahead by several moves.

The Duterte presidency has been involved in an exciting game of chess of late pitted against several players – akin to an exhibition tournament where the grandmaster simultaneously clashes against several amateurs. But in this political chess, it is not simply an exhibition; and the adversaries are not of lesser caliber; and the spectators are left guessing as to the next moves of the combatants.

Several recent moves may be part of a larger scheme to throw him off balance and could be a concerted effort towards an eventual checkmate. Ponder upon the following: the re-emergence of Arthur Lascañas as a perjured prime witness against the Deegong accusing him as the patron of the Davao Death Squad (DDS); the recent video clips released by VP Leni Robredo in the international media on the DU30-authored extra-judicial killings (EJK); and now the first impeachment complaint against Duterte by the Magdalo party-list representative Gary Alejano, all within the space of one month. One can’t help but conclude that this could be part of the “destabilization” directed against the DU30 administration.

As a flashback, the Magdalo group, led by an active Navy officer mutinied against the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in that infamous Oakwood episode of 2003; the same officer Antonio Trillanes is now a senator of the land and the bete noire of the Deegong. And they are at it again, throwing rocks at the DU30’s ship of state, hoping and waiting for it to sink.

And now the minority partisans of this deadly political chess game are drawn into the fray once again taking sides; the fanatical Red and Blues defending the status quo and the Yellows relishing the role of the opposition. The moves and counter moves are currently fought in social media and in the halls of Congress – deflecting attention from the all-important task of good governance. The greater segment of the citizenry, we, mere onlookers, no doubt could be the biggest losers.

PRRD could be his own worst enemy here if he continues to be waylaid by these irritants – for indeed, they are. I have no doubt in the President’s sincerity to do good for the national constituency as he did well with the local community as a city mayor. In fact, Gina Lopez, the beleaguered environment secretary has described Duterte as “the real thing”. His economic programs as enunciated by his economic team are laudable, but it needs his personal attention. His election promise to usher in a new governance paradigm, rejecting the defective unitary form of government through a shift to a parliamentary-federal form will need the revision of the 1987 Constitution. This is his other priority and he needs to stay in focus.

But let us examine closely his current predicament and see if these are really worth his being derailed from his chosen path. First, he has barely warmed his seat in office and an impeachment complaint has been filed. But what will it take for this to prosper in the lower house; just another numbers game and the endorsement of the leadership. He has the backing of his super-majority – and its leadership in his pocket. There is no way impeachment will succeed.

Second, the noisy opposition is mulling over the possibility of filing cases in the International Criminal Court for crimes committed during his stint as a city mayor and on human rights violations. PRRD need not concern himself with his own defense. He has a thousand lawyers who can carry the burden of litigation if ever it will come to that; not to mention that the Lascañas and Matobato confessions, perjured witnesses all, are being used to make these cases against him. Legal luminaries doubt these will prosper at all.

Third, VP Robredo’s rant at a United Nations commission may bring her sympathy internationally and girl scout points but bluster does not get an international criminal trial going. PRRD need not concern himself with the fall-out if any, and social media is heavily on his side.

Clearly, Trillanes, a major instigator along with the Magdalo group and the disgruntled LP congressmen and senators who lost juicy committee chairmanships are doing everything to “destabilize” this administration. Even then, this is expected and par for the course. The Deegong from the very start of his regime has attracted controversy and in fact has in some bizarre way, sought it. These are merely bumps on the road and he will survive them. As the saying goes, “…what doesn’t kill him can only make him stronger”.

The Deegong—with 80 percent of the people’s approval; the political support of his elected super-majority; and the near-subservience of a bureaucracy long inured to patronage—has the singular ability to lead this country where he said he would: out of the clutches of corruption and poverty towards the promise of real “pagbabago”. He simply needs to keep his eyes “on the ball” as it were.

To paraphrase Michelle Obama: “If they take the low road, we go high”. It is high time for the President to do the same. Though somewhat aberrant, we are still living under the precepts of democracy, where criticisms and controversies may arise at any time.

What would really take PRRD to face these head-on? Perhaps it is time for a game changer. Buckle down and work diligently towards the fulfillment of his electoral promises; become less ambiguous on his responses to questions given by the media; and simply stay on message.

Simply put, still be the Deegong without the expletives!
Published in LML Polettiques
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