Wednesday, 22 February 2017 09:56

Martial law or revolutionary govt?

CONTRARY to what appeared on this page in my last piece, “Thou shall not kill” is the Fifth Commandment rather than the Sixth, according to the Roman Catholic (Augustinian) rendering of the Ten Commandments. It is the Sixth, according the Talmudic version of the same, as used by Hellenistic Jews, Greek Orthodox and Protestants except Lutherans. For this Catholic layman, therefore, it was a blooper pure and simple. My sincerest apologies.

But perhaps some unseen power was trying to tell us something. The degradation of human sexuality, which is the subject of the Sixth Commandment (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”), has become endemic to what Pope Francis calls our throwaway culture. It is now globally asserted, beginning in Donald Trump’s US Christian constituency, that the destruction of the family and marriage is potentially more costly than the massive loss of lives in wars, terrorist attacks and insurgencies. This deserves a separate discussion though.

Quarreling with the press

For now, my concern is the intensity of self-inflicted problems that keep piling up against the seven-month-old Duterte regime. In the US, Donald Trump’s latest fight appears to be with the “dishonest media” which he accuses of not telling the public the truth about his accomplishments. Here, Malacañang seems determined to replicate Trump’s attack on the media with accusations of its own. On Monday, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar accused members of the Senate media of receiving a $1,000 payoff, apiece, to cover the press conference of SPO3 Arthur Lascañas, the latest self-confessed hitman after one Edgar Matobato to accuse President Rodrigo Duterte of having been involved in the killings and bombing of mosques in 1993 when he was still mayor of Davao City.

The implication is that the press conference was a criminal activity that did not deserve to see the light of day, and the Senate media had to be bribed to cover it. The Senate media group has denounced the accusation as completely baseless and slanderous, and Andanar has offered no “smoking gun” to support his charges. The Lascañas accusations are one thing, the conflict with the Senate media is another. Whatever the truth or untruth of the accusations, Andanar’s unsubstantiated accusation puts DU30 in deep sh***t with the press or at least part of the press. This is most unfortunate. Even in the worst adversarial situation between the government and the media, charges like this should be avoided. Mutual respect should be preserved.

With the summary drug killings, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s charges of hidden ill-gotten wealth against the President and his family, the move to railroad in Congress the death penalty, lower the age of criminal liability to nine years old, and limit the number of children per family to the outrage of the public, and questions about DU30’s state of health all piling up on Malacañang’s plate, it is easy to understand why Andanar would rather suppress any further accusations against the President.

But suppressing the news is not the best way of dealing with the problem. The best way to deal with it is to have a convincing response to every accusation hurled by one’s accusers or critics. It is a simple case of making sure one’s narrative is more believable than the accusations and is in fact believed. Since Congress cannot investigate a sitting President, unless and until he has been impeached, what matters is the public believes what the President says.

On the part of Andanar and his colleagues, all that is needed is for them not to try to talk the way DU30 talks, but to try to win the press to their side. If anything, they should try to persuade the President to moderate himself and be more open to his critics. He could learn a few tricks from some of his predecessors, like former President Fidel V. Ramos.

FVR’s critique

Earlier on Monday, Ramos, in an interview at the Samahang Plaridel at the Manila Hotel, gave a running commentary on DU30’s tepid performance on many fronts—his inability to initiate meaningful reform after seven months in office, his inability to sufficiently honor the memory of EDSA 1986, his inability to sustain the peace initiative with the CPP/NPA/NDF, his questionable handling of the nation’s historic ties with old allies in the name of new alliances, his unexplained prolonged disappearances from public view which have provoked speculations about his state of health.

Ramos is a known supporter whom DU30 publicly thanked during his inaugural address for “making him President.” He also served briefly as “special envoy” who facilitated DU30’s diplomatic contacts with China, preparatory to his state visit to Beijing, where he threatened to separate militarily and economically from the US and align himself with China and Russia “against the world.” He has tried to be moderate and gentle in his critique, but being an ally, his gentlest criticism has an impact on the President.

In his interview, Ramos was critical of the reported Malacañang decision to keep the 31st EDSA anniversary celebration (from February 22 to 25) subdued, giving no special recognition to the role of its defenders, both living and dead. For Ramos, who with then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile led the military mutiny against President Ferdinand Marcos, EDSA was one of the watershed moments in the Philippines’ struggle as a sovereign and self-respecting state, comparable to the first cry of revolution at Pugad Lawin in 1896 and the defense of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942, which halted the Japanese invasion of Australia and the islands of the South Pacific. For him it is unforgivable that the full meaning of EDSA should be withheld from the present and future generations of Filipinos—for reasons known only to those in charge at this point.

A lot of loose talk

Indeed, it is difficult to understand why while Malacañang is trying to discourage large crowds from the EDSA celebration, Cabinet Secretary and NDF Vice Chairman Leoncio Evasco Jr.’s “Kilusang Pagbabago”, the communist structure meant to become the principal organ of DU30’s bureaucracy, is said to be mobilizing a mammoth assembly to “Occupy Rizal Park” on February 25.

Some are inclined to speculate that DU30 fears certain elements could make use of the EDSA anniversary as an excuse to mount a massive destabilization effort against him. Some in fact go so far as suggest that a “coup” against DU30 could be attempted.

I view all this as irresponsible talk. The anti-DU30 voices (forces, if you like) are certainly increasing, but I think it is quite foolish to imagine that even if they succeed in forcing DU30 out of office, they have a ready and credible alternative whom the people would welcome and support. Certainly not a military successor, or a Vice President Leni Robredo, whose legitimacy is being questioned before the Supreme Court. I would like to believe that most anti-DU30 critics would like to see DU30 reform and ultimately succeed as a democratic President. But the greater danger, to my mind, is the hidden agenda of Secretary Jun Evasco and his Kilusang Pagbabago and Masa Masid. If their plan is to “Occupy Rizal Park,” while some “yellow groupings” march on EDSA against DU30, what are the chances that at some point the two forces would clash?

And what happens if and when that happens? Shall we have martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, or a revolutionary government? Can DU30 afford it?
Published in Commentaries
ABOUT five years ago I visited General Joe Almonte in his office in Greenhills. I told him about the plans of my young Philippine Centrist friends to set up a principled Centrist Democratic Party with the purpose of overcoming the patronage system with all the misery it brings to the Filipinos. His spontaneous reaction: “Peter, you must be crazy! Do you know what you are up against?” I asked: “OK, but what other options do you have to overcome the hardening poverty, failing judicial system, violence, impunity, lack of perspectives for the young people?”
Published in Commentaries