Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: April 2018
Wednesday, 18 April 2018 15:29

Pasha presidency

On Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol capped his victory over Secretary to the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco Jr. by releasing photos of a Monday night Cabinet meeting in which the media was pointedly informed that Evasco did not attend. Some reports said that in the meeting, agencies previously under the Department of Agriculture — the National Food Authority, Philippine Coconut Authority, and the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority — were declared returned to Agriculture, after having been previously placed under the purview of Evasco; but other reports said the NFA was going to be placed directly under the President. But it seems Evasco may end up having the last word — a memorandum he submitted to President Duterte on Monday, laying out his view that the NFA administrator has some explaining to do, is being reported on by the media.

The Piñol photos were peculiar. The President was perched on an armchair flanked by members of the Cabinet arranged on chairs, resembling a courtesy call more than a Cabinet meeting (you know the drill for those, everyone seated at a long table, more often than not in the State Dining Room, following the practice begun during the Marcos administration; this is perhaps the first time in over 80 years that a Cabinet meeting has been laid out in this manner). But it is perhaps a more truthful picture, representing, more authentically, the President’s executive style. Academics, including Randy David, have coined a term for this style — sultanic rule. As David once put it, the President’s “approach to the complex work of governance is founded upon the presumed futility of conventional methods. He has no qualms about short-circuiting the requirements of formal institutions, believing these to be, at best, superfluous, and, at worst, dysfunctional… Instead of figuring out for ourselves how to master the routines of democratic statecraft, we have sought refuge in the decisiveness of sultanic rule. No matter how dubious the premises of these unorthodox solutions are, we scramble to find a warrant for them, even portraying them as inspired and born of native wisdom and experience.”

Like a pasha on a cushion, the President thus appears in public to validate the latest intrigue. Here, a whisper at the right moment is immune to thick wads of memoranda: Evasco, like a good bureaucrat, has found all the early-term executive orders and memoranda he’d successfully signed made meaningless not just by subsequent issuances, but simply by means of verbal statements. In this manner, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go and Secretary Piñol have systematically demolished what Evasco had tried to systematically build up. The pages and pages of talking points and charts — the ideological apparatus of the Crude Society — have ended up discarded, read only by Evasco and neither studied nor believed in, by anyone else, the Great Eagle Father included.

It may be that this allergic reaction to Evasco and his ways will actually ensure the regime change program of the ruling coalition. If it won’t be so different, then change can be welcomed by the pros. It will merely be a new era of mergers and acquisitions. There will be more to share because two major groups that previously had to be shared with—nationally elected senators with their mandates rivaling presidents and their nationwide perspective, and Supreme Court justices whose institutional power of review is fated to be stripped away—won’t matter as much as they did. Mayors will remain more powerful than governors, and congressmen may still get the chance to hold Cabinet portfolios as they’ve dreamed of doing for a generation, and while presidents won’t be as limited in their powers as they used to be, future speakers won’t have to play second fiddle to the powerless Senate presidents of the future.

These are only slight modifications to the overall scheme of things — and perhaps tidier in the long run. The fate of Boracay — its entire economy and even the physical mobility of its residents and visitors alike — has been so easily decreed from on high, so completely decided by the pasha’s whims. It turns out Imperial Manila was only bad so long as it was held by someone who’d spent their career in Manila. Give it to someone from outside and it’s no problem at all, because now it’s simply known as political will.



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Published in News
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
Wednesday, 18 April 2018 11:37

China military planes land on PH reef

Two Chinese military transport planes have been photographed on Panganiban Reef, marking the first reported presence of this type of aircraft in Philippine territory in the South China Sea and raising the prospect that China will base warplanes there.

Panganiban Reef — internationally known as Mischief Reef — is located within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea. The waters within this zone are known locally as West Philippine Sea.

Surveillance images taken on Jan. 6 showed two Xian Y-7 military transport planes 20 to 50 meters apart on the ramp near Runway 21 on Panganiban, one of seven reefs in the Spratlys that China has transformed into artificial islands with military capabilities.

The photos were given to the Inquirer by a source.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines declined to comment on the images. The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Inquirer checked the photos for modifications, but there appeared to be none.

It was unclear if it was the first ever presence of military aircraft on Panganiban Reef. It could not also be determined how long the planes had been there. Aerial photos of the reef dated Dec. 30, 2017, published by the Inquirer on Feb. 5, 2018, indicated no presence of airplanes.


China landed a civilian aircraft on Panganiban Reef on July 13, 2016, a day after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in a case brought by the Philippines and declared Beijing’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea invalid. It was as if China, which did not take part in the arbitration, was telling the court that it did not recognize its ruling.

Besides Panganiban, China has also transformed Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Zamora (Subi) and McKennan (Hughes) reefs into artificial islands.

A Chinese military aircraft landed on Kagitingan in 2016 reportedly to evacuate three ill workers to Hainan Island for treatment. There has been no confirmed presence of military planes on Zamora so far. Three of China’s artificial islands in the Spratlys have 3-kilometer runways.

The Hague court’s 2016 ruling says Panganiban Reef belongs to the Philippines. Part of the ruling says the reef, located about 232 km from Palawan, forms part of the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf, and China has violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights with its island-building in the area.

But China has refused to acknowledge the verdict and continues to insist it has sovereignty over almost the entire 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the South China Sea, which is crisscrossed by vital sea-lanes through which $5 trillion in global commerce passes every year and where islets, reefs and atolls are believed to be sitting atop vast energy reserves.

China to up the ante

“If they could land transports now, in the future they might want to land more provocative and destabilizing types of assets such as fighter jets and bombers. And over time, such consistent but creeping practice would become a fact, in effect dealing a fait accompli to Manila, should it choose to stay silent or downplay the issue, and it could become ‘routinized’ or ‘normalized’ operations for China,” Collin Koh, a research fellow at Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Maritime Security Program, told the Inquirer.

The Duterte administration has repeatedly played down the militarization of China in the South China Sea and if it continues to do so, “this could embolden Beijing to up the ante in the future,” Koh said.

“There must be certain calculations within the Chinese political elite circles that Manila is in Beijing’s pocket, because of President Duterte’s desire for rapprochement and quest for Chinese aid and investments, which thus conclude that they could possibly get away with further acts of militarization,” he said.

“There’s always also a concern about the American factor in the back of their minds, but they could have assessed that so long as the Duterte administration chooses to downplay these developments, there’s also nothing much the Americans can do,” he added.

‘Interesting revelation’

The landing of military transport planes on Panganiban Reef, he said, is an “interesting revelation,” and if the Philippine government has been aware of the presence of the military planes but refuses to raise it in public only highlights the administration’s desire to “not rock the boat with China” despite the ongoing talks on a code of conduct in the South China Sea with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Tensions between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea eased when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, put the Philippine victory in The Hague on the back burner, and began to court Beijing for aid and investment.

Last week, the President returned home from his third visit to China with $9.5 billion in investment and aid pledges from the Chinese government. Mr. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping also held talks for a possible joint exploration for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea.

The President said he did not take up the South China Sea dispute during his meeting with Xi because he believed it was “not the appropriate time.”

“Why should I ruin it? They are now offering joint exploration and from the mouth of the president of China, he said, then exploration, maybe we can be extra generous … I am not ready to sacrifice the lives of my policemen and soldiers for nothing. I’d rather talk about business. Let it float there, it cannot be stolen. But China is coming in, offering something,” he told reporters in Davao City early on Friday after arriving from China.

‘No giving up of claims’

Despite criticisms of the administration’s defeatist attitude toward China, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano insists the Philippines has not given up its claims in the South China Sea.

“[T]he prosperity of the Filipinos coming from China is not because we gave up sovereignty but because how we are dealing with issues of territorial claims and sovereignty. China has not asked us, and I can tell you this very honestly whether closed door or in open, they have never asked us to give up our claims. They have simply asked us to put some order in how we will discuss these claims and where we should discuss these claims,” Cayetano told journalists last week in Hong Kong, where the Philippine delegation proceeded after the Boao Forum for Asia on Hainan Island.

Cayetano said earlier that the Duterte administration held China to its “good faith” promise not to reclaim new features in the South China Sea.

“As of now, if we compare the Aquino administration strategy and the Duterte strategy, we simply are making do with a bad situation but we have stopped the bleeding. Meaning, we have stopped other claimants from getting new features, we have started discussion on the [code of conduct], we have jump-started relationship: people to people; cultural exchanges; educational exchanges; military to military. Yes we want to fight for what is ours but we don’t want a war. And no one in our region wants a war because no one will win,” he said.

Slow step of operations

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the presence of the planes on Panganiban Reef showed China had continuous operations in the area.

“This means they’re going there both by air and sea. It indicates full reach of their operations,” Batongbacal said in an interview.

This means, he said, the deployment of the cargo planes is just “another slow step” in their operations: “They will make it appear that it’s not threatening. They started out with cargo planes first, and they would say these are normal operations. We know they would do that eventually and it’s evident on their timetable.”

What should be watched out for, Batongbacal said, is the presence of fighter jets or bombers.

“If this happens, it means they are expanding their operations in their bases. Eventually this will be more frequent until it becomes permanent. Right now, [the transport planes are] either for construction people or military who operate the facilities. Maybe they’re part of the rotation,” he said.

Tense and busy week

It was a tense and busy week in the South China Sea last week with demonstrations of power by both China and the United States.

Xi presided over the largest maritime parade in the disputed waters on Thursday, with the participation of least 10,000 personnel, dozens of fighter jets, submarines, ships and aircraft, to show off China’s naval might.

The US aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Manila last Wednesday for a port visit. Before its stopover, it showed off its capabilities with flight deck operations in the South China Sea. It hosted a reception for Philippine government officials, military and business leaders on Friday night.

The United States, which has no claims in the South China Sea, has no official position in the disputes but has repeatedly asserted its right to freedom of navigation.

The Wall Street Journal last week reported that China had also started deploying communications and radar jamming equipment on Panganiban and Kagitingan, spurring suspicions that Beijing would use its bases on the two artificial islands to enforce its claims in the South China Sea.

Discovered by accident

Panganiban is within the Philippines’ EEZ but China has occupied it for decades. Before its transformation into the largest of the seven artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago, it was a small outpost that China claimed in the 1990s as a shelter for its fishermen.

“It was discovered by accident when I was national security adviser. A [Filipino] fisherman who escaped [from Chinese detention] told us about it,” Jose Almonte, who was national security adviser to President Fidel Ramos when China seized Panganiban Reef in 1995, told the Inquirer in an interview.

“They’ve been constructing for years. They’ve been there since early ’90s,” he said.

The Philippines rallied Asean for support in trying to shoo China away, but the economic dependence of some members of the bloc on China had stood in the way of unity within the grouping.

China started massive dredging operations on the seven reefs in the Spratlys in early 2014 in anticipation of an adverse ruling from the Hague court. In 2015, Xi said during his trip to Washington that China wouldn’t militarize the artificial islands.

‘Barangay of China’

For the Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, war is not an option. It doesn’t have to be, according to Almonte.

The Philippines, Almonte said, could mobilize world opinion, as “China, who wants to be a superpower, is sensitive to world opinion.”

“We should continue to uphold the decision of [the Hague court]. Of course, we can’t implement it because we have no armed forces. Even the [United Nations] can’t implement it. And America will not implement it even if they can. So we should campaign for world opinion,” he said.

“Here, America will help us because we are not creating conditions for them to go to war with China. If we want to campaign in the world, they will be with us,” he added.

“I’ve said this before in my speeches. There are only two forces that can solve the South China Sea dispute: China and world opinion,” he said.

But China will never do it and it is even willing to violate international law for its ambitious claims, he said.

“We have won in The Hague but they disregarded it. Duterte allowed them to go with it so you remove China,” he said.

Almonte also warned that too much cozying up to China could have its consequences, citing the struggle of Sri Lanka to repay its massive loans to China. It was forced to lease one of its ports to China for 99 years to be able to pay its huge debt, he said.

“If we do not manage properly the so-called opportunities provided by China in terms of loans, grants, we will become a barangay (village) of China,” he said.

Almonte described the South China Sea as the “maritime heartland of Southeast Asia.”

“Anybody who controls [the South China Sea] will control the peripheral countries. Anyone who controls the peripheral countries will control the Southeast Asia region. Who controls the Southeast Asia region will [have] influence in [the] Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific [regions],” he said.



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Published in News
Wednesday, 18 April 2018 05:45

Federalism or Duterte fails

YES, you read it right. Either we have federalism or Duterte ends up a failure. That is the single most vital endgame that Duterte will put all his political capital on.

We never had any political reform in the past six years of BSA3. It was the Liberal Party (LP) lording it over business, government, civil society and the economy. They never cared. But they surely planned to hold on to power for three presidential terms. From 2010 with Aquino to 2016 with Roxas and 2022 with whoever Roxas wanted then as vice president in 2028. Eighteen years of LP would mean a sure succession for the party post-2028 and that is where another Aquino was supposed to come into the picture. But as Robert Burns said, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” And indeed it went awry for the LP.

Duterte apparently is better than BSA3 in the sense that he never blamed the previous administration for all the sins and faults he saw when he assumed the presidency. Unlike Aquino for whom it was all “blame Arroyo.” Interestingly, the sins and faults are being unearthed and cases are being filed to bring Aquino officials and the former president to the bar of justice. Much awaited is that of Mamasapano and PDAF/DAP and Comelec chairman Andy Bautista. A free ride areDengvaxia and Philhealth-Senior Citizens Fund, used for campaign purposes as well as Yolanda money and substandard housing. Much more will come out as we hit the midterm. RevGov in a democratic way is getting all these cases filed and decided. Imagine the change in the political landscape just by getting these cases acted upon.

Without much political reform, nothing will change in our politics and this is where federalism plays an important role in the Duterte narrative. Without federalism, Duterte’s administration will be painted as a failure. Just like the failure in the illegal drugs campaign will erode legacy.


Thus, Duterte needs to appoint a presidential adviser on federalism. He needs to define his minimum structural requirements for the kind of federalism he is thinking of. It cannot be that others will define it for him. He has done his listening tours on federalism and he knows what will work and will not. He also knows what is wrong with our politics and what needs to be done. The presidential adviser on federalism will be the “timon.” He will crack the whip and get things done in the timeframe that Duterte wants. Why? Because the national agenda since 2016 has solely been defined by Duterte. A strong executive leader with a penchant for political hedging, only Duterte knows where and when we are going and the danger there is that technocrats will have to follow him fast so analyses are made before the decision gets implemented. Duterte is all action and not much analysis. That is why he is all gut and emotion.

With a presidential adviser on federalism appointed and reporting directly to the president, a cabinet cluster can be organized to get all the needed government data on taxes, budget and assets per province so that the baseline of information is put together to make sense of how best to evolve a federal structure in the country. Economies of scale would be the initial factor to consider. The bigger the land area in transition, the better for all. And as we evolve into federal, more regions can be made at the local level, petitioning the parliament for its creation. No, it cannot be the present 17 regions. That has been a failure. Four to 5fivefederal regions would be the ideal so there is not much shock to the system. These can be NCR, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao as the four regions, or North Luzon, NCR, South Luzon, Visayas and Minsupala as the five regions.

We should not look to other foreign models because we already had a history of a unicameral parliament, with government headed by the prime minister and the president being the head of state under the 1973 constitution. A parliament ensures the development of political parties in the country. A parliament fuses the executive and legislative functions thus ensuring coordination and collaboration as well as training the next leaders of the nation. A parliament also allows the growth of a shadow government for the opposition. Enough of the personality-based, identity-centricpolitics that is so expensive. More of citizen-based, programmatic political parties that are bound by ideologies, team strength and common vision.

Timing is very important in politics. If the 17th Congress fails to pass a federalism law, the incoming 18th Congress elected in May 2019 may just be the right time to push for a RevGov option done democratically through an expanded people’s initiative. Everyone is new and only the president, vice president and the 12 senators (a continuing body) have life terms. The people’s initiative is an exercise of direct democracy and with the approval ratings of Duterte remaining high, unlike previous presidents at this period, and if his chosen candidates at the local and national win, moving the needle for federalism may just get a break.

Our economy is sound. The fundamentals are good. Only the redistribution of wealth needs careful tweaking so that there is bias in favor of equity and social justice. What has placed us in this rut is our politics, and until we get the reforms done, we will never sustain our gains. The only way we can get political reform in place is via federalism. The first step is May 2018, during the barangay elections. The second is May 2019, securing the victory of Duterte’s choices. The third is getting the initiative going. The fourth is to approve the federal constitution. And the fifth is ensuring a smooth and viable succession. Failure in any would compromise Duterte’s legacy.

Published in News
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
Tuesday, 17 April 2018 15:00

Call his bluff

At one point during the hearings by the House of Representatives’ committee on justice on the impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Mindoro Oriental Rep. and committee chair Reynaldo Umali said a mouthful against Larry Gadon, the lawyer who had filed the complaint.

The committee had found that Gadon’s allegation of acts of favoritism and manipulation by Sereno were not supported by affidavits from the supposed resource persons he had mentioned in his complaint.

When asked if he had spoken directly with these people and if they could substantiate his claims, Gadon said they had not expressed willingness to cooperate but that they knew things, which was why he was suggesting that the committee invite them to testify: “Wala po silang pinarating sa akin na willing to cooperate pero meron po silang alam, kaya nga po sina-suggest ko po sa justice committee na sila ay imbitahin…”


Gadon’s allegations were, it thus appeared, mere hearsay, and he wanted the House to step in to do the job of buttressing his case against Sereno.

“Please do your homework,” a seemingly indignant Umali told him in response, adding that since he was the accuser, he should “do [his] job” and not, as some committee members had been complaining, make them do the investigation for him: “Ikaw kasi nag-aakusa kung kaya’t hinihingi nung pagkakataon na gawin mo naman yung trabaho mo. Yun yung inaangal ng kasamahan namin dito, na ginagawa mo kaming imbestigador mo, eh. Hindi kami yun.”

It was a moment of clarity in the proceedings, but one gone too soon.

As things stand now, it could have been a watershed point—the moment when sober-minded members of the House committee on justice came to their senses, saw through the lies and sham of Gadon’s complaint, and, rising beyond partisan interests, junked the impeachment complaint, thus sparing the republic the constitutional crisis now about to unfold with the administration’s full-on assault on the Chief Justice and an independent judiciary.

But then again, perhaps it was no more than a piece of theater — Umali et al. feigning anger at Gadon for the benefit of the cameras, but high-fiving him in private despite his comically flawed complaint. Because, incredibly, the hearings plodded on, and while more of Gadon’s deceits and misrepresentations came to light, in the end the House committee still vindicated him by voting to recommend Sereno’s impeachment.

Gadon’s capacity to survive one demonstrable act of public lying after another — even being rewarded by the House for his blatant untruths under oath in such a grave proceeding as attempting to unseat a chief magistrate — appears to be inexhaustible.

His extreme views on a number of national issues — on television, he advocated the mass killing of Muslims as a solution to the Mindanao strife; he also said the thousands of extrajudicial killings in the course of the government’s war on drugs were still not enough — should have long ago marked him out for the crackpot personality that he is, and disqualified him from being taken seriously.

Instead, shadowy forces have seemingly turned this lawyer’s profound aversion to norms of basic decent behavior into his chief qualification as the alpha attack dog in the game plan to cow the judiciary.

In the face of criticism of his unsubstantiated accusations and disreputable methods, Gadon can be counted on to try to outshout, curse, flail, and lash at his critics.

His recent reprehensible behavior in Baguio before a group of pro-Sereno protesters was vintage Gadon: flashing the dirty finger, yelling profanities, and shrieking “bobo” (dumb) at anyone but himself.

What is taking the Integrated Bar of the Philippines so long to disbar this outrageous excuse for a lawyer?

Gadon has declared that he didn’t care about being disbarred, claiming that he would still be able to eat lavishly even if he lost the right to practice law. His peers should quickly call his bluff.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/112518/call-his-bluff#ixzz5CuXOXoX9 
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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.



Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/112484/pattern-marawi-boracay#ixzz5Cp4XVNjI 
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Published in News
Wednesday, 11 April 2018 12:05

How we spent our Holy Week

Semana Santa and the Jewish tradition

WHEN I was in grade school, we were asked to write about how we spent our summer vacation or Christmas holidays and read them out in front of the class. But I couldn’t remember ever having been asked by my teacher how I spent Holy Week. I thought I should begin a tradition among my grandkids, except that in the age of internet and social media, their take on Holy Week would be quite different from mine. To start with, and to broaden their knowledge, I would interject some facets of the commemoration that goes back even farther back than that inscribed in our Christian faith.

As a background, Holy Week is universally observed by all Christian denominations and depicts the Passion of the Christ as witnessed from the New Testament of the Bible. It starts on Palm Sunday recalling the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, met with palm-waving hosannas. Christ then presided over the last supper with his disciples and proceeded to the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed and agonized and was subsequently arrested after Judas betrayed him. This is marked on Maundy Thursday – which in the Christian tradition is symbolized by the washing of the feet of the poor. The next day is Good Friday, the Crucifixion of Christ and his death at Calvary.

This year, Good Friday coincided with the Jewish Passover. The latter memorializes the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and their escape to freedom from the Pharaoh thousands of years ago. The former appears in the New Testament (the Bible) while the latter is in the Old Testament (Torah).

The highlight of the Jewish Passover is the Seder (dinner) which occurs on the first or second night of the Passover. The Seder is an exclusively Jewish festive meal that uses the Haggadah, a book of readings for the Seder service recounting or retelling the Passover story (exodus from Egypt) and features special food and singing of songs. An interesting feature is the asking of the four questions—traditionally asked by the youngest person at the table.

“Ma Nish tana halailah hazeh mikol haleilot’ Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights we eat leavened bread, tonight only matzah;

On all other nights we eat all vegetables, tonight only bitter vegetables;

On all other nights, we don’t dip our food even once, tonight we dip our food twice;

On all other nights we eat sitting, tonight we eat only reclining.

Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Christian Holy Week where Filipinos believe evil spirits have the run of the place. There is something quaint about the way most Filipinos observe Holy Week. In my last column (“Presidential system-patronage politics and political dynasties,” Manila Times, March 28), I wrote about Filipino dualism in our cultural ethos. Our deep faith in our religion, predominantly Roman Catholic, mixed with pagan practices, including venerating nature and the supernatural beings that inhabit them.

In our folklore, the aswang, mananagggal and kapri come out in droves. On this day, we must observe silence. No singing, no music, no loud conversation and no travel. We are not even allowed by our grandparents to take a bath. All the malls and most commercial establishments are closed and Filipinos are expected by the church hierarchy to be confined at home in deep reflection. Many return to their provinces to be with family; and the middle and upper classes will be found in the beaches or out of town on vacation.

But the Holy Week culminates on Easter Sunday. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is the linchpin of Christianity, its core belief – without which Christian faith is meaningless and Roman Catholicism a farce.

Both the Jewish Passover and the Christian Lenten holiday are adjusted by both religions to coincide with early spring, with the Christian belief that the resurrection took place on Sunday, as decreed by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD (Wikipedia).

Jews do not commemorate Holy Week the way Christians do. But both observe these events based on hope and redemption “…a delivery from a state of despair; for the Jews from slavery in Egypt, and for Christians, from sin.” For the Jews their oppression and the desperate experience suffered in Egypt formed them into a nation. But their God “…imbued them with the national mission to create a body politic of a nobler order…to recall the exodus in dark times nurtured the yearning for a future restoration…(and) Passover heralds the birth of the Jewish people as a force for good in the comity of nations. In contrast, Easter assures the individual Christian life eternal. Passover summons Jews collectively into the world to repair it; Easter proffers a way out of a world beyond repair.” (Wikipedia)

I don’t expect my grandchildren to understand these nuances and write about “what they did during Holy Week”. But I should begin to tell them stories about a man many years ago who died for all of us. I won’t even describe this man as having been nailed to a cross. This would be too gory for them and will give nightmares to my six-year-old Max and four-year-old Javier. In time, they will understand and perhaps write about the Redeemer.

Meantime, we will have them share stories (they can’t write yet) about their happy experiences at the Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea and their introduction to sashimi and sushi. Or maybe we will talk about the blooming of the sakura, the cherry blossoms that depict the transient nature of life and its fragility when the blooms fall in so short a time. Perhaps this is an apt digression to the Holy Week narrative of Christ’s passion, love, death and redemption. My grandchildren will be sad, and perhaps begin to learn about death; a safe intro into Christ’s suffering. But not now—only when they’re older.

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 04 April 2018 12:26

Looks full but empty

The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
Published in Commentaries