Lito Monico Lorenzana

Lito Monico Lorenzana

Thursday, 11 May 2017 09:56

CDP roadmap to federalism, 2017-2028

DURING the 8th Centrist Democratic Party (CDP) congress that was held at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City last May 6, Senate President Koko Pimentel presented the PDP Laban’s federal-parliamentary model which is a hybrid of the US and German systems. He described it as “…semi-presidential and semi-parliamentary but uniquely Filipino”. His presentation was thorough and detailed, and it was apparent that the model was borne out of the PDP Laban’s experience and grasp of the Philippine situation over the years. It was a formidable reflection too of what is in the mind of its main sponsor, President Rodrigo Duterte, their party chairman.

Some basic features of the political structure is the retention of a universally elected president as head of state with specific powers granted by the soon to be revised 1987 Constitution. It has in effect a “strong federal president” but one who does not assume all the responsibilities of running the bureaucracy of government. Thus, the designation “semi-presidential”.

The legislative body retains the two houses—with a twist. Senators will be elected by the states, similar to the two senators from each of the 50 US states comprising the 100-member US Senate. The Senate has certain veto powers over some of the actions of parliament but it is strictly not a “lawmaking body”.

The parliament is the equivalent of the current House of Representatives with members elected from each of the 11 states of the Philippine Federal Republic. And the political party that has the majority of MPs gets to choose the prime minister, the head of government. Majority of lawmaking powers emanate from this body and only from among the MPs will come the prime minister. The current “party list” are embedded in the party and are allotted seats in parliament on a proportional basis.

All these are models to be discussed and debated publicly and none is “itinaga sa bato” (written in stone), as Senator Koko said. But the main thrust of PDP Laban is that federalism must be in place before President Duterte steps down from office in 2022 – a good 60 months from today.

Closer to German model

The CDP “Roadmap to Federalism” presented by the author, hews closer to the German than the US system. For one, the executive and legislative bodies are fused into a unicameral (one body) parliament; with the party which gets the most number of members of parliament elected choosing the Prime Minister, the head of government. The President, elected from among the members of parliament, surrenders his membership to any party and becomes the head of state – and like the current Queen of England has ceremonial duties, none political. The President who holds office for five years is given some powers by the Constitution – like that of commander in chief.

The PDP Laban and CDP positions are not that far apart as to the political structures, differing only in the time element. The PDP Laban’s thrust is transition to a federal parliamentary government within 60 months. CDP looks at a longer horizon even beyond 2022 – after President Duterte’s term.

To put this in perspective, federalism is intricate and complex. It is the antithesis to an aberrant unitary government practiced over a century, where values of political patronage have permeated the body politic.

The CDP roadmap is thus designed to mitigate the shock to the body politic arising from the purging of traditional political practices through the immediate passage of reform laws, now pending in Congress. Furthermore, the critical process of transition to a parliamentary-federal republic has to be in place in the revised constitution so the assurance of its continuity is safeguarded by the constitution itself even beyond the term of the current President.

3 major steps

The CDP federalism roadmap is simplified in three major steps:

1. To put in place four preconditions while revising the 1987 Constitution: political party reforms now pending in Congress; pass a universal freedom of information law; instigate electoral reforms; and make the ban on political dynasties executory in the constitution. The time frame here is two years with a plebiscite by May 2019.

2. The transition into a parliamentary government, known as “party government” because of the pivotal role of political parties.

3. Provinces and highly urbanized component cities are allowed to evolve first to an autonomous territory. Government can’t impose on the body politic the territories that will eventually become states in a federal format. Provinces and cities need to negotiate as to actual territories and population to encompass a bigger state; the considerations of the natural resources and wealth; the similarity of customs and language; and even the seat of the state capitals. All this will need time and with guidance from parliament.

By the time the President steps down, the parliamentary government will be in place. The prime minister or head of government will be chosen by the political party majority or through party coalitions. The president or head of state will be elected from among the members of parliament. Transitory provisions in the 2022 Constitution may allow DU30, by then 77 years of age, to be the head of state, with lesser powers but with his political ascendance intact. Or if he so chooses, he may retire.
ON the admission of the President himself, about 90-plus bureaucrats have to date been “let go” from his administration. Such a euphemism for dismissal cannot, however, mitigate the pain of PRRD’s wrath for those who were sacked, not to mention the grief their families have had to undergo.

Whether the sacking was deserved is not the point at issue here. This article will not examine the guilt or innocence of these public officials.

What needs to be examined is the policy concomitant to the dismissal of these officeholders. This is therefore not an in-depth investigation of individual circumstances singling out two of the President’s men who, because of the importance of their jobs, their personal closeness to the President and their high-profile dismissal, could be the core hypothesis of the President’s emerging doctrine of the “whiff of corruption”. As the Deegong himself stated, he will “…not tolerate any corruption in his administration and he will dismiss from office anyone who is tainted even by a ‘whiff of corruption’; and he is ready to sack any public official even on the basis of false allegations of corruption.”(, March 30, 2017)

On April 3, after the Cabinet meeting, PRRD fired Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno on the spot due to “loss of trust and confidence”. This dismissal was precipitated by a joint report of Sueno’s three undersecretaries through a letter sent to the President alleging, among other things, the anomalous purchase of fire trucks from Austria. Imputations of corruption involving the acquisition of trucks for personal use and payoffs from illegal gambling were added to the menu of charges.

President Duterte questioned Sueno on the legal brief prepared by his accusers but he claimed not to have seen it. It was his “wrong answers” to Duterte’s questions that was the immediate trigger for Sueno’s firing. But the legal brief was reportedly kept from Sueno, so he claimed ignorance.

At a press briefing the next day, Sueno said:“Feeling ko naman walang [I feel that there was no] due process dahil [because]he did not listen to me…”.

On a similar matter earlier this year, Peter Laviña, was sacked as head of the National Irrigation Administration. It was precipitated by a report personally given to the President by NIA directors on February 23 that Laviña ”…allegedly called them and pointed out projects the regional office had and told them, ‘Kayo nang bahala sa akin’”[It’s up to you to take care of me].(Rappler).

The next day, February 24, in a speech in Davao, PRRD announced that he had fired an appointee (presumably referring to Laviña); and on February 27, PRRD intimated at a meeting with some members of labor groups that the NIA chief was fired for allegedly receiving “40 percent”. No details were given.

The President sealed Laviña’s fate and left his reputation shattered with the statement: “When I said there will be no corruption, there will be no corruption…even a whiff of corruption, talagang tatanggalin kita (I will fire you) …”

Over the following months, this Duterte Doctrine was applied several times but we don’t have the exact data on the carcasses of the bureaucrats strewn over the landscape. Most of these public servants were once close to the President and gifted by him with appointments to sinecures with the associated pelf and prestige.

Facts common to both sackings (Lavina and Sueno) are that these charges of anomalies were reported by subalterns from within their own organization direct to PRRD; the President within a period of a few days from receipt of information took action to dismiss the alleged offenders; the targets of these charges were not given ample time to prepare a reasonable defense; and they were not allowed to confront their accusers. But insidiously, the dismissals were done publicly putting to shame these alleged offenders without a measure of a face-saving mechanism. This public humiliation was a deliberate act by a President out to send a strong message to the bureaucracy, that the consequences of even a “whiff of corruption” are immediate, deadly and total.

From several standpoints, presidential prerogatives have wide acceptance when it comes to hiring and firing of people. And our laws are clear on the matter defining presidential responsibilities stipulated in the Constitution (Article VII, Section 16).

There is no question that the President has the power to terminate from the bureaucracy anyone whose performance displeases him. But the President must be subject to the minimum of fairness and the etiquette of dismissal, for no other reason than this is what is demanded of civilized behavior. But more importantly, there is a greater overarching principle that covers the conduct of the mighty, the powerful and the humble – the rule of law.

The latter demands that the accused officials must undergo “due process”. This is the minimum requirement for a just, humane and civilized democratic society. The requisite process is simply that allegations of transgressions be investigated in a transparent manner by legitimately sanctioned structures. And the President, by virtue of his ascendancy granted by the Constitution, has conferred on him also its primary guardianship. He must therefore uphold its principles.

From another standpoint, nations with weak leaders breed weak laws and will find themselves in a quagmire of corruption and lawlessness. Nations with prudent laws but governed by leaders void of political will to implement such laws may only cripple the primacy of the rule of law. But strong leaders with political will must understand that all are equal under the dominance of the rule of law; none above. President Rodrigo Duterte must aspire to be one of the latter.

By these precepts, the Duterte Doctrine is defective.
Thursday, 20 April 2017 07:36

Of queridas and governance

Last of 2 parts

EH Diyos ko naman! Kayo naman eh. Sino ba’ng walang girlfriend?” (Oh, my God! Come on. Who does not have a girlfriend?) This was House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez speaking to reporters on March 30, 2017 (

But first a disclaimer: I don’t have a querida, never had one. At the ripe age of seven-plus decades, I thought of having one and sought the permission of my wife, Sylvia. She laughed! That was her reaction.

Part 1 of this two-part article discussed the women in history who exerted influence on men in public life who were not their husbands; from the ancient Greek Hetaerae to the French courtesans to the geishas and even the women of the papacy.

This article will focus on the implications of the recent public outrages by the mistresses of politically powerful persons in government; and the pronouncements by the principals to justify what could be a justiciable offense of concubinage and betrayal of public trust. I leave this issue for the legal minds to ponder. I will attempt to explain the cultural and moral underpinnings of these relationships.

Querida system

Tomes have been written by authors dissecting this phenomenon from different viewpoints: from the cultural, moral and religious aspects. Simply put, the querida system is an arrangement where a married man takes in a mistress more often leading to the establishment of another family, keeping this undisclosed from the legitimate wife and family.

Anthropologists posit that in prehistoric and ancient times, the union between a female and a male is simply a mechanism for the survival of the species. It has of course undergone changes over time assigning to the male the prerogatives of dominance over the female in the propagation of the species. This arrangement over eons became entrenched, with the male protecting the female and his issues.

Anthropologists and moralists have differed on how to define this union. But they may have reached an intellectual rapprochement with the injection of the concept of religion, where morality was more defined and categorized. But even in the dawn of formal religion, Judaism, Christianity and later Islam had conflicting takes on this union – which now took upon itself a certain legitimacy through the rituals and formality of “marriage”.

It is in the development of Catholicism that the union of man and woman – the “sacrament of marriage” is scrutinized and the parallel context of infidelity. Catholic doctrine interpreted Jesus’ attendance in the marriage ceremony in Cana as the approval of marriage between a man and a woman as being good. But even during the intervening years, the law of Moses on divorce still prevailed. Only in the Council of Verona in 1184 was marriage instituted as a sacrament. The medieval Catholic Church’s imposition of the sanctity of marriage and the indissolubility of the union was equated to the fidelity of Christ to his church.

Fast forward to the present. The question on the streets is that marriage—how sacred it is supposed to be in the eyes of the Catholic Church is still a union of mere mortals. What mechanism is created for marriage dissolution when love–the edifying modern ingredient that binds and coats marriages—is no longer present. A hundred countries spanning the religious spectrum have arrived at such mechanism. Only the Philippines and the Vatican believe that marriages “technically are indissoluble”, thus no divorce law was ever passed. This is attributed more to the power of the Church to sway the political leadership to its position. Our dysfunctional laws on marriage buttressed by the power and influence of the Church are crafted to preserve an impossible union, no matter what. A half-hearted solution “legal separation,” was introduced. The anomaly is the Church allows dissolution only within strictest limits. But statistics show mostly the rich and the well-connected can afford to avail of it. This is one of the main reasons why the querida system is resorted to by countless of Filipino males, the easier path of escape from an oppressively untenable union.

What concerns us now is not simply the double standard of morality, that Filipino society tolerates men indulging in discreet extra-marital relations while women are condemned if they do the same, but the objection to the flaunting of such relationships by men gifted by the electorate to serve and govern. We boast that we are a society that believes in the rule of law. And by these precepts, our leadership must be held to its high standards.

The Revised Penal Code decrees such behavior as criminal and prescribes jail and other penalties for the offense. The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA 6713) proscribe such behavior as being inimical to the public interest.

There are so many examples of these peculiar open arrangements by powerful personages vested with political power, beginning with Speaker Alvarez and his erstwhile ally Congressman Floirendo, the public squabble of whose queridas started a vortex of speculation in social media. Alvarez’s infamous declaration quoted above was answered by Congressman Tony Boy by his profound silence. But his mistress was not bereft of words in his defense.

Just recently, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered Aklan Mayor Denny Refol suspended for six months because of an extramarital affair. Like Alvarez, Refol in his defense said that only few politicians have no mistresses or affairs.

But the more famous ones have not been touched by the law: former President Joseph Estrada, former senator Ramon Revilla Sr., even the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

And of course, the most celebrated is our current President, the Deegong who has not only defended Alvarez but has been open about his “many girlfriends.”

Sadly, our government officials with extramarital affairs justify such liaisons as totally irrelevant from the efficacy of good governance. Their cynical defense simply describes a corrupt moral judgment and the depth of ethical ignorance about good governance. It ridicules the rule of law – that everyone is equal and none above.

Some have advanced the idea that the law needs changing and should allow divorce as one mechanism for marriage dissolution—perhaps offering a partial solution to the querida problem.
Thursday, 06 April 2017 07:53

My legitimate wife and girlfriends

Part 1

“Everyone does it, so what’s the problem?”

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Philippine Star, March 31, 2017

I HAVE to come clean too. I am a married man and I have a girlfriend. In fact, I have two girlfriends. I can justify this since I am not an elected official and not even part of the Deegong bureaucracy. So, I don’t use government funds for my ladies.

I am not discreet about my liaisons. In fact, I flaunt them and have their photos with me plastered all over my FB wall. You can “friend” me on my FB if you want a glimpse of these gorgeous girls. The fact that no one has so far “un-friended” me on FB shows that my friends and readers have accepted my lifestyle.

Recently, I had one of them (by the way, she’s an American) accompany me to Davao, for a four-day vacation. Her name is Sylvie. I intend to also bring my other girl, Claudia, to Davao (she too has a Fil-American mother). In fact I plan to bring both to my home in Davao, if my wife, Sylvia, can handle them. The logistics are, however, formidable.

You see, both need their bottles every few hours and there is always the problem of diaper change in the plane which I can’t handle. Sylvie is turning three years old next month and Claudia is practically a toddler at one year and five months. And I can’t afford to pay for the plane fare of their nannies.

Lately, mainstream and social media have been inundated by news stories of married government officials with ladies on the side distracting our political leadership from the all-important task of governance.

What is upsetting is that we have these queridas (a more appropriate description), not congressional wives, accompanying these bureaucrats on official government trips, presumably paid for by public funds.What is even more appalling, is that these mistresses’ statements have been given credence by the mainstream press, invariably picked up by social media and go viral. And apparently, these paramours are relishing their newfound notoriety. Their principals, unable to restrain them, as I assume such women can’t be restrained as they hold their men by the balls (pardon the pun), use them as tools in their political disputes.

We, the ordinary taxpayers, are left wondering to what extent these concubines are exerting influence on the political actions and decisions of their partners, our elected lawmakers. Admittedly, these could also be said of their wives; except that these are not wives, but proverbial “kept women”. The difference is that wives are legally and morally bound by certain legal, cultural and religious precepts. Perhaps, this is a good argument as any to support a divorce law in the country, a law which the Catholic church is still hypocritically opposed to, effectively exacerbating this kind of “arrangements of convenience”.

This brought me to google famous mistresses in history who may have exerted influence on their powerful partners, some even changing the course of history. I hope to at least elevate the discussion of these openly illicit relations from the level of gossip. Here are some types of mistresses and examples of relationships, ancient and contemporary.

Hetaera of Athens, 400 B.C.

These were women who at a young age were brought to the Athenian court to be educated in the arts and letters for the sole purpose of entertaining and keeping company with Greek men—married or unmarried. One such hetaera was Aspasiathe, the “live-in partner” of Pericles. She was known to have been consulted by Pericles on political and military matters. Pericles, considered the greatest Greek of the ancient world, ruled Greece during its Golden Age with Aspasia by his side.

Courtesans in 17th and 18th century France

These women were mostly also the wives of lesser nobility or functionaries ambitious for juicy sinecures in the French courts. Two of the famous courtesans were Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress from 1745 to 1751, and Madame du Barry, who occupied the exalted position of “maitresse-en-titre” (chief mistress of the King) from 1768 to 1774.

The former was the perfect mistress as she was reportedly sensitive to the status of Marie Leszczynska, the Queen of France and was even made her lady in waiting. Aside from her being a patroness of the arts, she was known to carry on an intelligent exchange with Voltaire. Louis XV granted her wide latitude in determining France’s foreign relations. Before her usefulness as the King’s lover ended, Madame de Pompadour arranged for other mistresses for the royal bedchamber. She died at the age of 42, leaving the king bereft.

Madame du Barry, the last French official royal mistress became a victim of the French revolution and was beheaded in 1793. In contrast to Madame de Pompadour, she never had a good relationship with the king’s family, carrying out a feud with the future wife of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette. She was not very influential in political and military matters but she was known to persuade the king to pardon friends of her friends from the guillotine. On one such occasion, the monarch declared graciously, “Madame, I am delighted that the first favor you should ask of me should be an act of mercy.”(Wikipedia)

Geishas of Japan

In traditional Japan, Confucian custom permeates cultural relationships between couples and love was not the primary consideration in marriage. The typical wife manages the home and children and the husband seeks sexual delights outside of the marital bed. This gave rise to the saburuko (serving girls) from whence the more educated of this class of women eventually morphed into the geisha. This was more than a thousand years of cultural acceptance. They are not technically mistresses in the contemporary sense of the word. Geishas go through years of rigorous training in the classical arts and the use of musical instruments to entertain men, married or single, and on occasion, women guests.

Powerful men in government and business repair to these houses of leisure for entertainment and intimate relations and when inebriated are wont to spew secrets as men do. One can just surmise the countless business tips and state secrets spilled out by these men to their favorite courtesans.

One famous geisha was Mineko Iwasaki, whose life was depicted in a book, Memoirs of a Geisha. She was an articulate and accomplished woman who became an author, famous throughout Japan. She retired at the age of 29 at the peak of her popularity.

Papal mistresses

There is evidence supporting the notion that men of great power and status are more often prone to having extramarital affairs. A study by Todd Shackelford from the University of Michigan found empirical evidence to support the positive correlation of infidelity and old age with having a higher status in life. Married men who are politically powerful are likely to have extramarital affairs. This does not exempt the papacy. Some of the popes from centuries back were themselves married, like Rodrigo Borgia who became Pope Alexander VI. Borgia was a scion of a prominent Italian family, the nephew of Alfonso Borgia who was later elevated as Pope Calixtus III. The latter created Borgia as Cardinal of the Catholic Church at the age of 25. He had several mistresses but his favorite was Vanozza dei Cattanei (1442-1518), who was married to a minor church functionary. She bore him four children, two of whom were the famous Cesare and the infamous Lucrezia. Pope Alexander VI’s children by Vannoza were lavished with honors and riches. When she died at the age of 76, she was buried with honors in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.(Part 2: The implications of the open but illicit relationships of elected officials on good governance.)
Thursday, 30 March 2017 09:21

The New York Times vs the Philippines

“President Rodrigo Duterte… a defiant crusader, willing to encourage the slaughter of thousands in the name of saving his nation from the scourge of drugs.“New York Times, March 21, 2017

THIS is how a New York Times feature story last March 21, 2017, opened, as part of a series of articles bashing President Duterte’s war on drugs. The newspaper obviously wanted to start a hurricane of global outrage when it started urging the European Union (EU) and our other trading partners, to “hit” the administration “where it may hurt” and that is in trade incentives – imposing tariffs on Philippine goods.

Richard Paddock’s piece “Becoming Duterte: The Making of a Philippine Strongman” was followed by a teaser of a trailer on Deegong’s drug war, two days later, March 23, for full release of the full documentary on March 26.

The Paddock article was then followed by an editorial entitled “Accountability for Duterte”; and a video documentary, “When A President Says, I’ll Kill You”. The New York Times wrote: “We sent a film crew to the Philippines, where death, grief and fear fill the streets.”

“The fakest story of all” screamed the Manila Times editorial. And I quote: “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”.

And then, The Manila Times proceeded to use 663 words to dignify Paddock’s article.

Malacañang’s Abella came out with his own pitiful response dismissing the NYT article as a “a well-paid hack job for well-heeled clients with shady motives.”

First, let us look at the purveyor of these attacks and the medium used. The New York Times is one of the three or four most prestigious US newspapers (along with the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post). In 1971, it published, “The Pentagon Papers,” a secret US Defense Department history of political/military involvement in the Vietnam War, which was leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, an activist and a US military analyst at the RAND Corporation. The US government filed lawsuits against the paper. The US Supreme Court decision in favor of the paper enshrined “an absolute right to free speech”. It has been awarded 119 prestigious Pulitzer Prizes – more than any other newspaper.

Richard C. Paddock, is not a regular columnist of the NYT but a contributing editor for the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), a Pulitzer Prize winner himself and a 30-year foreign correspondent, reporting from 50 countries.

These are the protagonists that have stirred a political hornet’s nest agitating Philippine social media to take sides: the usual suspects purportedly led by the remnants of the past administration out to “destabilize” the regime versus the red-blue army taking the cudgels for DU30. This time the mainstream media are all over each other defending the “reputation” of the country and by inference the Deegong administration (witness the Manila Times) on one hand and the perceived anti-DU30 PDI and Philippine Star on the other.

But the greater battle raging now is in Facebook, Twitter and the internet media – where everything goes including “ad hominem” arguments by all sides trying to stress their points of view.

But how is the cynosure of all this taking it?

Let me quote what he said last Friday after all of these hit print, the airwaves and the internet: “I’m now the President. The least of my worries is the EU. I have to build a nation…” And then in a speech during the 31st Biennial Convention of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry “…that’s why I went to China. I went everywhere, because we are really poor and we have to improve the economy…”

I could admire the attitude of the Deegong – chutzpah! While everyone is in frenzy, here is the “cool hand Luke,” trying to do what he is supposed to do, trying to govern! But how can he effectively govern given these conditions. And not everyone shares the President’s impudence.

It is a given that the Deegong has brought these negative vibes upon himself by inviting controversy with his unguided (misguided?) pronouncements interspersed with his colorful language. He is his own worst enemy. He stands defiant from the very start against nations that have criticized his war on drugs. His rhetoric, however, has been mostly accepted by leaders in China, Russia and even the new US President Trump. But this EU initiative could hurt not Deegong but the Filipino masses if the proposed trade “embargo” succeeds.

Highlighted in this NYT article is the impeachment case filed by the former mutineer, party-list lawmaker Gary Alejano, using the perjured testimonies of Matobato and Lascañas, and which has no way of advancing through the Deegong-controlled supermajority. Sure, these can be discredited in any court of law, but the Deegong is not facing such a court but that of international public opinion. He needs similar tools fought in comparable battlefield in international media.

The claims in the international media are gaining traction when not debunked properly. So far, the most that Deegong’s alter egos have been doing is to lamely declare that the NYT publication appears to be part of a well-funded demolition campaign to remove Duterte from office.

The alter egos need to carry the burden of defense of PRRD and the country against the onslaught of the local “destabilizers” and their cohorts abroad. Why not hire an international lobby or PR group that can do a professional job of explaining what the Deegong is doing for this country – and exposing the personalities behind these concerted attacks. I am sure the money will be well spent.

The way things are going, Deegong and his people are simply coping. This is a pathetic defense strategy.
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!
Thursday, 16 March 2017 10:39

A child of the oligarchy

I’VE never had the pleasure of meeting Gina Lopez personally. I of course know a little of her public persona and her pedigree; a daughter of the oligarchy who may have rejected the values of her class and assumed those of the “underclass,” and made herself a champion of the environment. Of late, one can’t help but form a positive opinion of this beleaguered bureaucrat, if only for the fact that she has emerged as one of the three or four competent and well-adjusted Cabinet members. And I may surmise that she comes closest to being a twin to the Deegong—minus the colorful language.

For the past few months since her appointment, Secretary Gina Lopez has wreaked havoc on the mining industry. Watching this woman on TV lambast mining violators, closing their operations, can be the most satisfying development nowadays. But the fierce secretary is yet to hurdle the Commission on Appointments (CA), as a full-fledged Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The mining industry

In 2014, a study conducted by the Fraser Institute cited the Philippines as the third worst in adopting mining policies in the world, only two notches higher than Venezuela and Kyrgyzstan.

The mining industry during the administrations of Presidents Macapagal-Arroyo and Aquino, was developed at a speed that caused long-term environmental damage and social problems. Aquino’s support of mining liberalization paved the way for the endorsement of 247 foreign-backed companies, severely undermining any sustainable development plans. This haphazard development resulted in loss of biodiversity, depletion of marine resources, disappearance of mangroves, and even human rights violations among environmental advocates. Aside from environmental degradation, hazardous child-labor in small-scale gold mining is prevalent. It is evident that the industry only benefited a few people.

The mining industry claims that it has contributed significantly to economic growth. However, a study conducted by IBON Foundation reveals otherwise. According to the IBON study, the mining industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP was only less than 0.10 percent since 1995. Indeed, it has produced 200,000 jobs, but the social and environmental costs over time far outweigh the benefits. In 2009, some areas where mining operations exist have the highest poverty incidence among all industry groups, and the highest poverty rate since 1988. According to official government data on poverty incidence since 2015, regions with mining operations fall severely behind in economic growth and development compared to other non-mining regions.

The birth of a dragon lady

This was the sordid state of affairs that confronted Gina Lopez when she was appointed DENR secretary. She came into office with impeccable credentials. A determined and courageous environmental activist, she headed the foundation established by her family and has since spearheaded campaigns against irresponsible mining and illegal logging, despite the Philippines being one of the countries with the worst records of environmental activists getting murdered. Eighty-eight environmental activists were killed between 2010 and 2015. One of them, Gerry Ortega, was a close friend of Gina. She also led the cleaning up and restoration of the Pasig River. She rallied against mining in ecotourism sites in Surigao del Sur in 2013 and gathered around 10 million votes for the Save Palawan Movement.

CA involvement in the mining industry

At Lopez’s confirmation hearing at the Commission on Appointments last week, more than 3,000 of her supporters rallied at the Senate. But the industry has begun to fight back, attacking her in the press and rallying their minions in Congress and the CA to block her appointment.

The forces arrayed against the Dragon Lady are formidable. A few members of the CA have ties with the mining industry and one of them is the CA vice chairman himself, San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora whose family owns Nickel Asia, a mining company that has been running since the 1970s in Surigao del Norte, Agusan and Palawan.

Another mining-affiliated congressman, although not a member of the CA, is Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, the president of the Claver Mineral Development Corp. board. The Claver mine in Surigao del Sur was one of those closed down by Lopez. Pichay, who owns a 60 percent stake in the company, was once at the center of a mining issue controversy when he was accused of mining, transporting and selling nickel ore from an ancestral domain site without prior consent from the indigenous people of the area. Even Senator Manny Pacquiao is known to have investments in the mining industry.

Duterte rallies behind Gina

“I would rather follow Gina… Get the 70 billion somewhere else and preserve our environment,” said Duterte as he threw his support behind Lopez after a week of grilling that she went through at the CA. He even said that the Philippines can live without the mining industry and he would rather divert into other sustainable industries.

This is where the main problem lies. The lines are drawn. On one side is the mining industry and the loss of thousands of jobs and the much-needed income for government; on the other is Gina Lopez, the environment and sustainable development.

This need not be a zero-sum game where we the Filipinos are the eventual losers.

The President in fact should break the impasse and work out a compromise. Decidedly, there are among those closed mines ones that understand the concept of “responsible mining” and need to be re-opened. We can’t afford to leave our riches underground while our people wallow in poverty. On the other hand, we can’t let go of Gina who has already won the hearts of millions of Filipinos who have long waited for someone who will protect them from environmental and social injustices committed by illegal miners.

We need both.
Thursday, 09 March 2017 06:49

What happened to EDSA?

Part 3

FOR each of the groups that participated in EDSA, the expectations, hopes and aspirations which motivated them were diverse. Thirty-one years, the survivors may now have a better grasp of the event and a better appreciation of whether these have been fulfilled in the light of current developments.

The Yellows- 2017

Some of us are no longer Yellows in 2017. Our perception of EDSA and our role in it runs counter to what is now being peddled, mostly by those of the recent past administration. For us, EDSA is not an Aquino family franchise, nor just a mere booting out of the Marcos family. And it is not a narrative of entitlements of two families.

For many of us, EDSA was a decades-long seething anger against poverty, injustice and the emerging rule of the oligarchy not only in the economy but throughout the political structures. These were long exemplified by the pre-martial law Liberal and Nacionalista political parties; same faces of a political coin that held sway over the lives of the masses of Filipinos through their brand of traditional politics.

The final capture of the color Yellow was consummated upon the serendipitous exquisitely timed demise of the EDSA icon when an opportunistic son rode on the people’s residual love and nostalgia to win power. Yellow from then on came to symbolize his own vengeful and exclusive “Daang Matuwid” regime. PNoy, in his brimming arrogance, tried to exact from the people who once took part in the EDSA revolution, a certain sense of loyalty and adulation similar to that shown his mother. He failed.

His double standards overshadowed his advocacy of transparent governance, and what we all witnessed was a man who used his power to inflict his wrath upon his political enemies. The economic policies that put the country in the international map, which in essence were inter-generational and a carryover from past administrations, were never properly attributed; in fact, his predecessor was incarcerated for the duration of his term in office.

But the last straw that broke the people’s trust was his refusal to apologize and take responsibility for the Mamasapano massacre that claimed the lives of 44 police commandos.

Some of these Yellows who perceived EDSA to be merely a victory over martial law forces were left disenchanted when the expected change in the status quo and the restructuring of the old order did not occur. And this too is the perception of mostly the millennials with their harsh judgment of EDSA as they have no personal connection to or collective memory of it. The disgruntled former Yellows and the millennials found a common cause in bringing about this elusive change – Ang Pagbabago! – exemplified by a maverick whose language resonated. They found their voice and a champion in DU30, our Davao mayor, whom they catapulted to the presidency running under two main campaign promises of drastic change: the elimination of the illegal drug menace and the restructuring of the government into a parliamentary-federal form.

The Marcos Loyalist Reds- 2017

The hundred yellow ribbons “round the old oak tree” may soon be covered by red ones as Marcos supporters have slowly inched their way to political consciousness in the past few years from their solid base in the Marcos homeland in the north. This resurgence can be attributed to the tolerance and naivete of President Fidel Ramos, a cousin, who allowed the return of the dictator’s remains under strict conditions agreed to by the Marcos family, but which they have reneged on, perhaps with the quiet acquiescence of the FVR administration. This paved the way for the complete rehabilitation of the family by PRRD who has admitted to his own father’s debt of gratitude to the father, Ferdinand, and his own fondness for the son, Bongbong. The son also did his part by demonstrating filial love, a trait much valued by Filipinos. On his run for the vice presidency, the Filipino millennial responded in kind. They are a powerful and versatile force that has clearly distorted the equation—partially alienating the Yellows.

The Military- 2017

Many of the major players have long been put to pasture and some tucked into the recesses of the bureaucracy. But the institution has a long collective memory and it has left behind what could be a dangerous legacy; they were made the protector of a dictatorship and have tasted the license of shared power. And they applied that newfound prerogative a decade and a half later in a caricature of EDSA II, that small original faction of 1986 who once broke away from the traditional mainstream culture with convoluted motivations to fight a common nemesis. EDSA will be a reminder of how their force can either be a tool for hegemony or freedom. And that the military has to be guided by strong moral principles and must equip themselves with a discerning mind to only use their force to serve the people.

DU30’s Red, White & Blue

This clinched-fist symbol of defiance and rejection of the status quo is the emblem of those who populate this group who are mostly the vocal millennials – those who have barely a memory of EDSA 1986 and no experience of the circumstances, events and upheavals that led to it. Most were not even born yet at the onset of the Marcos regime and therefore have no awareness of the piquancy of the period. They were among the first to march the streets of EDSA during the 2017 commemoration. They could have been properly schooled on the history of the EDSA revolution, what dictatorship feels like and how their forefathers fought it. However, the passion and flavor of conflict cannot be imparted. They may have understood the dangers of an iron-fisted leader such as Duterte, but on the other hand, the man speaks their language of defiance of the old order. And his is the only game in town!

The millennials are a force to reckon with and they could be the gamechanger. They have the vigor, the ideas and technology to rally behind a certain political ideology, an advocacy or a cause. But only when properly motivated can they begin to fulfill the promise of their generation which is congruent to the hopes of the majority of the EDSA participants – to free the Filipino from the shackles of poverty, injustice and the grasp of the oligarchy and the traditional practices of politics.

Perhaps it needed the passing of a generation—31years from EDSA—for a new set of players to emerge to fulfill the important aspirations, expectations and hopes of EDSA, without being burdened by the conflicts and biases that brought about that same EDSA.

Perhaps the colors, Yellow and Red, will lose their significance and everything negative attached to them. Perhaps, the rise of a leader who was himself a product of EDSA but tried to heal its wounds is what is needed in this time and age.


Thursday, 02 March 2017 08:19

I am EDSA, we are EDSA

I WROTE last week in Part I of this series: “Today … 31 years after, I am again putting on paper my thoughts, a little bit more appreciative and perhaps a little bit more dispassionate about the events that transpired – given the distance of years and the dissipation of emotions and passion that propelled us then to bring about this ‘revolution’.”

My children, Lara and Carlo, then 12 and 8 years, respectively, may only have a vague idea of the significance of the four-day events in February of 1986; though they were certainly affected by the antecedents over the years leading towards these events. We all lived in Davao during the repressive Marcos regime and saw the rise of the communists in the city making it their “laboratory”.

We lived in the outskirts of the city near the infamous Buhangin circumferential-diversion road where “salvaged bodies” were disposed of. They certainly saw the many bodies covered with newspapers during our sorties downtown.

My wife Sylvia and I tried to protect them from these realities. Several times she had to gather the kids from their rooms and sleep in the master bedroom comforting them when the intermittent gunfire from around the area came dangerously close.

I was mostly away from home from the late 1970s to 1986, contributing my share in the struggle against the dictatorship. My absences and the strain inflicted on my family I’d like to think have long been recompensed, perhaps by my hopes then that things would revert to normalcy upon the “restoration of democracy” by EDSA.

And this is the point at issue. I was both wrong and right!

I was right in the sense that a certain amount of normalcy has descended on my personal life. I was recruited to President Cory’s government and relocated my household to Manila where we were again an intact family until the children came of age and “flew the coop,” so to speak.

I was wrong on my expectations about the “restoration of democracy”. What was restored came with it too the re-establishment of the rule of an oligarchy and the continued perpetuation of traditional politics, albeit with a new set of personalities.

Many of us in the decades-long struggle for real democracy from the mid-1960s, adherents of a parliamentary-federal structure of government, were enthusiastic in supporting Cory Aquino as she was our symbol in the fight against the repressive dictatorship. We understood that she was from the elite and her values were therefore of those of her class but we were hopeful that she would transcend these with the outpouring of love and adulation shown by the masses–whose values were not congruent with hers.

A few of us recruited to her administration implored her to continue to rule under the Revolutionary Constitution to give herself more time to dismantle not only the martial law structures but the unitary system of government which we then and still now believe perverted the principles of democratic governance. We were no match for the ruling class. Cory surrendered her prerogatives to real socio-economic-political reforms by rejecting the people’s gift—the 1986 Freedom Constitution. She then proceeded to embed her dogmas in her 1987 Constitution.

This is the Constitution guarded zealously by her son, PNoy, that President Duterte and we, the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP), the PDP-Laban and the majority of the downtrodden Filipinos want to replace with a federal-parliamentary system and a social market economy (SOME).

Those were our expectations. But what were the expectations, then and perhaps now, of the others who participated at EDSA in February of 1986? First, let us identify the dramatis personae.

The Yellows 1986

We were all “Yellows” then, as this was the color we wore, after the assassination of Ninoy, symbolizing our protest against this dastardly act and our struggle to boot out the dictator Marcos from power and institute real reforms. The masses that congregated at Edsa were a motley crowd of Filipinos, from all walks of life—from the ordinary folk, some members of the elite and some of the oligarchic families dispossessed by the Marcos cronies; members of religious groups, Islam and Christians, prominently headed by Cardinal Sin and the Catholics. We all had disparate motives but were welded together by a pent-up anger against the Marcos family.

The Military

This was not a homogeneous group. The EDSA uprising was precipitated by a small breakaway group of mostly mid-level officers of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and their patron, Defense Secretary Enrile, whose plan for a putsch was exposed and nipped in the bud. It was the timely reinforcements of Gen. Ramos and his PC-INP and allies in the Army and Air Force that gave precious time for Cardinal Sin’s army to gather the people to stop the tanks and heavy artillery of Gen. Ver and saved the day. The putschists never did forgive the Yellows for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat—for saving their skin. Their revenge fell upon President Cory, who crushed seven coup attempts during her years in office.

The ‘Reds’

These were the people, foremost among which was the Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan (KBL), who supported the Marcos regime and his family sucking the country dry. We the “Yellows” then booted him out–for a time. But now his minions are back and his family is politically reinstated.

(Part 3 of this article will appear next Thursday, March 9.)
Thursday, 23 February 2017 09:32

I remember

Today, as the Duterte government has decided to “tone down” the celebration of what was once a glorious part of contemporary Philippine history, I am reprinting an essay which I wrote in 2009, 23 years after the events of February 1986 when we toppled the Marcos regime and tried to usher in a new democratic paradigm. Before the forces that now want to make the EDSA Revolution irrelevant could succeed, I am recounting those four days of February, hoping to in some way rekindle the fires of passion now deeply buried in the recesses of the collective memories of our people; preventing perhaps the muting of its significance and relegating these legitimate struggles against a dictatorship as mere historical footnote.

Today therefore, 31 years after, I am again putting on paper my thoughts, a little bit more appreciative and perhaps a little bit more dispassionate on the events that transpired – given the distance of years and the dissipation of emotions and passion that propelled us then to bring about this “revolution”. This will appear in Part 2 of this series. Meantime…

Davao City, January 2009

I WAS not at EDSA. There was no EDSA in Davao City. But I was part of the decades-long political struggle that eventually brought about the upheaval during those heady four days in February 1986, now known worldwide as the EDSA People Power Revolution.

This is not a tome or even an attempt at a thesis examining the actual events leading towards the culmination of decades of a seething political cauldron. This is a simple recounting from personal memory to answer an age-old conundrum “…where were you when it happened?” Perhaps this is also a way of situating one’s role in the great episodes of the times. We hanker to be part of the momentous movements of history and even begin to presume that we may indeed have been a major participant thereof—when in fact, we simply may have taken on a minor role—bit players in an unfolding drama on the world stage. But it is this trifling part, when multiplied by the thousands that makes the involvement of each of us anywhere within the stream of events singularly significant. In this way, our collective action becomes history-making. We need not have been (present physically) at EDSA—we were the spirit of EDSA.

A lapse of 23 years is a long time to overcome to rummage through one’s memories of those days. The haze and the cobwebs are layered through the years, locking some details perhaps never to resurface.

It was around the second week of February 1986 when I was called for a meeting at the Cojuangco building in Makati initiated by Peping Cojuangco to help plan out the sorties of Cory to the provinces. I was then working and living in Makati since 1983, after Ninoy’s assassination, and was an active functionary of the PDP-Laban. The sorties were designed to get Cory to major cities in the country to protest the massive cheating by Marcos at the February 7 snap presidential election.

In Davao, together with the late Zaf Respicio and Dodo Cagas (PDP-Laban members of the Batasang Pambansa), we helped coordinate Cory’s planned visit to the city on Sunday, February 23. She was to fly in from Cebu.

The late Chito Ayala, the leader of the Yellow Friday Movement in Davao, together with Paul Dominguez and the late Rey Teves, were the point men in this southern city. They handled all the details for the sortie, from the construction of the stage to providing local security for Cory and the multitudes we expected to attend. She was to stay at Chito’s house in Matina.

On Friday, February 20, the late Monching Mitra, Cory’s advance man, flew in to check the preparations. After a press interview in one of our radio stations, I drove him to the airport to catch a plane to Cebu where Cory was scheduled to attend a massive rally at Fuente Osmeña.

It was on February 22, Saturday, while we were all meeting at Chito’s house to finalize details of her visit, when word began to filter through about “some movement” going on in Manila. There was a vague rumor of a possible coup circulating among the members of the Manila press who were now in Davao to await Cory’s arrival. There was nothing yet on TV and radio hinting of a gathering cloud of a political tempest.

By early evening, Chito and Teddyboy Locsin, who accompanied the members of the Manila press, huddled with us to dissect the implications of the bizarre theater suddenly presented to a global audience, the first act of which was the press conference of Enrile and Ramos on their “breakaway” from Marcos.

Our gut feeling then was that we were in a maelstrom of a life-altering political convulsion, yet we were in a quandary as to what we local people could do. Our immediate concern was how to protect Cory (whom we thought was still flying in to Davao from Cebu) from the Marcos minions.

Somehow, an idea began to float about providing not only sanctuary to Cory in Davao but organizing an armed resistance against the Marcos regime. Mindanao was so vast an area that it was possible to create a revolutionary government headed by Cory. We looked upon Chito Ayala to bring this to the attention of Cory in Cebu, but by this time she was incommunicado.

The last detail of informal talks at Chito’s house before we broke off was where to get a private plane for Teddyboy and the media to fly to Cebu or Manila.

February 23. The streets of Davao were almost deserted as the residents were glued to their radios tuned in to either Radio Bombo or Radio Veritas. It was an emotional roller- coaster ride for us from hope to despair and back again, depending on how we perceived the rebels, under Ramos, were faring vis-a-vis Ver’s loyalists.

We, the opposition to the Marcos regime and identified with Cory, were by now used to marching in the streets and veterans at tweaking our noses at the dictator. But this development in the capital caught us unprepared for anything. We didn’t know what to do but wait for an outcome—any outcome. The waiting was excruciating.

Every bit of information, good or bad, helpful or not, filtering to us in Davao outside of what we heard on the radio, was instantly passed on to like-minded Davao residents. Oh, how we yearned to be in the center of things joining hands with the populace now gathering at EDSA.

The evening of this day was almost unbearable to us. The fear that our side was losing drained us of emotion. Our anguish was heightened by our inability to simply be there at EDSA.

February 24. The late June Keithley’s Radio Bandido appearing after midnight was as electrifying as any to lift up our spirits. We devoured every bit of news. The defection of Sotelo’s helicopters to Camp Crame later that morning stunned us to tears. A change in fortune was on our side.

But the declaration of Marcos later that morning that he would fight to the finish blunted our rising euphoria. The rest of the day was a cacophony of bits and pieces of news, hearsay and “intelligence reports”.

In our growing despair, we prayed. My wife Sylvia and I fell on our knees, beside our children Lara and Carlo, who were asleep.

February 25. God must have heard our prayers and surely the pleadings of the hosts of Filipinos at EDSA and throughout the country and the world. In the capital city, priest, nuns, and seminarians had been storming the ramparts of heaven.

That evening, Rey Teves, Cesar Ledesma, the late Cesar Decena, and Cris Lanorias congregated at my house for dinner. Two Presidents had been inaugurated that day: Cory at the Club Filipino and Marcos in Malacañang.

When reports came out that Marcos had left the Palace, Davao residents ran out of their houses and flooded the streets. We were honking our cars in impromptu caravans all around the metropolis and met up at the San Pedro Park in front of the City Hall.

A new day had begun.

(Part 2 of this article will appear next Thursday, March 2.)
Page 4 of 6