Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: September 2019
Wednesday, 25 September 2019 12:34

Antidote to an unraveling presidency

MY column last week was inundated with comments personally messaged (PM) to me. There were some impudent statements in Facebook, Viber and Messenger describing this government and the Deegong himself in colorful language not fit for publication in this paper. But this is par for the course, midway to the President’s term, hopefully ending in 2022 — with emphasis on the word hopefully, disputing reckless statements from the DDS/fist pumpers and sycophants agitating for the perpetuation of the Deegong’s regime beyond his legitimate term. I surmise either one of two tracks; the worst would be a coup d’état (RevGov); or, field the daughter to succeed him in 2022, continuing the Duterte brand through the traditional exploitative use of government institutions. This had been shown to work as the 2019 senatorial elections forebode, with the total annihilation of the opposition, resulting in the elevation of the likes of Bong Go and Bato dela Rosa to the Senate.

Two scenarios
Both scenarios are unfortunately distracting our minds off our problems and disasters, man-made or otherwise, that is now reaching crisis proportion. Don’t take my word for it. Pick any newspaper for its headlines, listen to the radio, watch TV, surf the internet and social media to get a glimpse of what absorbs the citizenry. One can conclude that we are indeed a polarized country, characterized by factions. One blames government for the continued mis-governance, a weak rule of law, corruption and impunity resulting in hardening poverty, social injustice, human rights violations, and a host of other societal ills. Another blames the traditional politicians in cahoots with their partners among the oligarchy and the elite. Yet we exonerate ourselves for putting these people back to power. And the way our unitary-presidential system works, we then are shunted to the sidelines, precluded from meaningful participation in governance — a key ingredient in a vibrant democracy. So many of us now condemn PRRD and short of advocating for a regime change, hope and pray for a deus ex machina.

DU30’s conversion
But one hope I can see right now with the Filipino, ever cowed and insufferably patient, is a “Paul of Tarsus” conversion of the Deegong himself. I’m proposing some pathway that could be anathema to the growing anti-Duterte hordes — precipitated in part by the Deegong’s own action or inaction resulting in his being “clueless or tanga” (“The Clueless President,” The Manila Times, Sept. 18, 2019)

But first, a digression. The recent headlines enforce the notion of the President’s being clueless about events happening around him from his perch at the palace. The Malacañang communication filtration system is faulty. Consider the Bureau of Correction (BuCor) Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) fiasco. This had been going on for months with Bato and Faeldon, peaking during the latter’s watch. The Deegong should have already gotten an inkling of the incompetence of Faeldon when he was at the Bureau of Customs. Yet, the Deegong, a ”compadre” (ninong to his son), transfered him to BuCor. And the President was totally in the dark, or so he claims; were it not for the public outrage that ensued because of inclusion in the GCTA of the rapist/murderer and convicted heinous felon, former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez.

Running circles around DU30
Now comes the expose that the ”high-valued prisoners” at the penitentiary virtually runs the prisons with drugs galore, ”tilapia” brought in by prison guards for the prisoners’ entertainment and sex for pay; and money exchanging hands for hospital stay privileges; not to mention prisoners as assassins for hire. And these happened even during the stint of his protégé, Bato de la Rosa, now an honorable senator incongruously participating in the Senate hearing/investigation of the same anomalies.

In short, he is being played for a fool by his own trusted people — “pinaglalaruan.” This is painful to a President with a humongous ego. The whole Department of Justice and the Malacañang praetorian guard were criminally clueless (tanga) — making the President one, too.

This recounting of the BuCor/GCTA fiasco is simply an illustration of the goings-on in this administration to emphasize the magnitude of the corruption and criminal activities of his own people which is kept from the Deegong’s awareness by his own coterie. And these all add up to the symptoms leading towards the growing perception of the unraveling of the presidency. He is not in control!

Pathway for rectification
For most of us, outsiders looking in, DU30 is alone in the proverbial high seat of the presidency — not constricted by the majesty of the post nor the immensity of the responsibilities, but subjugated by his gigantic flaws. The alpha male possessing a rough and dominating personality with some degree of volatility intimidates people around him and brooks no criticism. What is needed perhaps is a foil to that kind of deviant personality.

A rough model comes to mind in Whipple’s, The Gatekeepers (refer to my columns of Sept. 18, 2019, “The clueless President and Palace cordon sanitaire” and “Part 3, The Gatekeepers…” Oct. 12, 2017). Ronald Reagan, one of America’s successful presidents had a “troika” in place — James Baker 3rd, Edward Meese and Mike Deaver. Adapting this model to the current Malacañang realities could work, retaining the current Executive Secretary/Chief of Staff (COS) Salvador Medialdea as the primus inter pares, considering his years of close intimate personal relationship with the Deegong thus, his preeminence within the coterie. PRRD simply needs to balance the troika with two real professional managers deeply selected from among astute political insiders with extensive experience in the high echelons of government from past administrations — former Cabinet Secretaries or business tycoons — patriotic enough to serve the remaining three years of DU30’s regime.

Such a prototype would also permanently replace Sen. Bong Go who acted as PRRD’s excellent “gofer” (never a COS) for more than a decade, freeing him to do his exalted senatorial duties he was voted for. These three could divide among themselves the enormous task of the office of OP “…supervise formulation of domestic policies, national security council and cabinet meetings while…handling paperwork, speechwriting and [Malacañang] staff; and more importantly control information to and from the president and the execution of policies.” The ‘troika’ is the “dispenser of the president’s time, the most valuable asset in presidential governance.” Collectively, it could stand up to the President while acting as a heat shield, lightning arrester and a safety valve for reining in his impulses.

Palace troika
This could work with one caveat and core to PRRD’s transformation: he must empower these three alter egos to assume the pre-arranged functions. The Deegong needs to understand at this critical juncture that he must leave a legacy behind – always a bane and boon for an outgoing leader. I paraphrase the conclusion in my Oct. 12, 2017 article with what the author Whipple said, quoting another writer: “…maybe that’s the strength of presidents like Ronald Reagan — who don’t think they’re the smartest person around.” The most successful leaders “are those that are secure enough to surround themselves with extremely strong-willed, talented people.”

The troika can help the Deegong run the Palace making him not only a president for all but be truly “presidential.”
Published in LML Polettiques
Friday, 20 September 2019 17:23

The polity of idiots

“Politics is the art of looking for troubles, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” – Groucho Marx

WHILE discerning directions, issues and ideas worth writing about, I find, to me at least, nothing indubitably stimulates the subconscious mind as much as “political” matters can. I hope readers tolerate my obvious preference and bias towards politics, a subject which, despite my exiguous political background, training and experience, I hit upon as edifying, utilitarian and challenging, notwithstanding that like religion, my other interest, it is unfairly despised.

Come to think of it, politics is the domain of those who genuinely desire to learn and serve as leaders of the community including, I admit, those who consider public service as the ladder to gaining prestige and popularity and perniciously, financial returns. They are, in Greek Democracy termed as “polites,” persons who are interested in public affairs, who consider citizenship both as a right and a duty. Being polite is “marked by or showing consideration for others and observance of accepted social usage.” Thus, the derivatives of policy, polity and, of course, politics would have its root from “polis” (Greek city-state), referring to the body of systems and standards, laws and regulations appurtenant to governing a society or community. The “polites” of this community receives incentives and gratifications in their social involvement and are thus politicized by their association with like-minded individuals. The motivations are as varied and portentous, as current social concerns could take away focus on crucial political and economic legislative issues.

Consider for example the extant issue on the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Equality bill (Sogie), an anti-discriminatory bill proposed in Congress which seeks to prevent prejudicial acts against some people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Some claim there’s really no need to pass them since there are numerous statutes that ensure discrimination is avoided and penalized such as in the 1987 Constitution, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 and the Magna Carta for Women, among others. But the bill, earlier filed in 2000 by the now late senator Miriam Santiago, and refiled even today, seeks an expansive law preventing discrimination against lesbians, gays, transgenders, bisexuals and queer sectors (LGBTQ++) lumping them with differently abled and indigenous groups, protecting their rights on the basis of their Sogie (e.g. right to access public and private restroom services, admission to educational institutions, among others) and providing penalties. Its political undertones are unmistakable, further dividing this benighted country splintering our social consciousness with more disruptive issues than our lawmakers and citizens can handle. I myself, would vote against the bill unless they amend provisions that will unnecessarily incriminate otherwise sane and innocent people and the stiff penalties provided therein that are by themselves discriminatory to the rights of the rest of the populace.

In his treatise on Politics, Aristotle made distinction of the political animal as a “social creature with the power of speech and moral reasoning,” and being naturally sociable, human beings are drawn to associations and activities of society. Such activism, not necessarily engaged in any form of protests, rallies and marches, is any activity “that promotes or directs social, political or economic change designed to improve society.” He went on to say that those who turn their backs on society, declare themselves to be “lawless, tribeless and heartless,” alluding to a bird flying alone which, of all the wild animals, “refused to be domesticated by human beings.” To be alone, concerned only of one’s private affairs, deciding only that which unequivocally benefit one’s self is being birdbrained or idiotic.

Aristotle might have called them political idiots, from the Greek idios which pertains to one’s own self, private, peculiar, self-focused or separate. In Athenian democracy, an “idiotes” was a person not active in – or not capable of being active in – public affairs and engaged only in self-interested pursuits or private matters, never mind the “civic space and the common good.” The words idiopathic (basic) or idiosyncratic (peculiarity) derive from same roots. From this flowed the idea of an idiot as an ignorant or mentally retarded person, and later evolving into our modern sensibility of an idiot as an insult to someone’s intelligence. They typically represent the majority in today’s society who could not care less if the locality swims in flood and garbage, boils in terrible heat due to traffic and elects similarly disposed idiotes who are concerned more on recouping campaign expenditures and perpetuating themselves in power, largely ignoring the general good.

Another issue of idiotic proportion, is the concern about our judicial and penal system particularly on GCTA, which brings home the point on the idiocy of a flawed interpretation of the law. First, our legislators created laws which abolished the death penalty found to be an ineffective deterrent to crimes and settled with reclusion perpetua which guaranteed perpetual punishment minus the killing. I have no argument with that. Then they amended the laws allowing for good behavior (Good Conduct and Time Allowance) and converting them into days and years, which could be deducted from their penalty, to give chance for those repentant ones who did sufficient time, made amends and capable of reuniting with society. All these are commendable acts that show our judicial system is more reformative than punitive. But embedded in the same system are corrupt and corruptible elements which circumvented the law to serve their own private interests, the idiotes of penology.

According to their own convoluted computation, even those who are not allowed by law to qualify and are in fact expressly disqualified by law, the rapists, murderers and plunderers who were consigned to perpetual punishment, can make time with good conduct, deductible from their total stay, regardless if the number of years meted out are meant to ensure they stay for good. Even if they have five life imprisonment, each life being equivalent to 20-40 years, if their behavior inside the correctional facility showed them as reformed, then they qualify. What about the injustice done to the victims and their families, can the crime be reversed too and get the dead to come back from the afterlife because they have made time wherever they are now? It is utterly mind-boggling and thus, exacerbated by a flawed system, interpreted by corruptible prison officials and supported by idiotic politicians, understandably, the polity of idiots howled.

According to Mark Twain, “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
Published in Fellows Hub
WHEN Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, I was a 19-year-old Ateneo college dropout heading the Manila and Rizal organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

For all its fearful reputation even at that time, the party was merely a ragtag band of hubristic fantasists who thought replicating the Chinese revolution was a cinch. Founder Jose Sison, who saw himself as the Filipino Mao Zedong, was then 33 years old, and the legendary Kumander Dante, 29.

The fledgling party was giddy over the revolutionary flow of the student demonstrations in 1970, and thought it could artificially create such revolutionary fervor again. At the same time, it thought it could provoke internecine strife among the ruling class that would implode its rule.

Two teams of mostly converted-to-the-revolution toughies from the urban poor slums of Tondo and Caloocan — specially recruited for the operation by Sison and his five closest cadres — hurled three grenades at the stage of the Liberal Party’s miting de avance in Plaza Miranda in Aug. 21 1971, injuring nearly all of the party’s Senate candidates and killing nine people.

Sison tasked a New People’s Army (NPA) commander, a veteran Huk from Tarlac, to delay by whatever means his sympathizer, the Liberal Party’s superstar Benigno Aquino Jr.’s arrival at the Plaza. What he told Aquino that made him do so, I haven’t been able to determine. Aquino, though, would have been stupid if he had not concluded after the bombing what group was responsible.

Still, Aquino, and the Liberal Party, went to town blaming it on Marcos, who had become unpopular not just because of the massive student demonstrations against him, but the opposition’s unrelenting demonization of him through their powerful media outlets the The Manila Chronicle and the ABS-CBN radio-television network.

The party’s calculation at the time was that the Plaza Miranda bombing would intensify what in Leninist jargon is called “the split within the ruling class,” so much so that Marcos would soon declare a hated martial law — and create a revolutionary situation chaotic enough for the communists to take over power.

Instead, the bombing finally convinced Marcos to impose martial law, the legality of which he had asked his then-Justice secretary Juan Ponce Enrile to study as early as 1969. After all, there were two nations intent on destabilizing the Republic at that time. (And of course, under the old Constitution, he had to step down in 1973 — a nightmare for Marcos, given that he was accused by the Liberal Party of attempting their assassination in Plaza Miranda.)

In the South, Malaysia had already trained the first Moro National Liberation Front commanders and had been arming that Muslim insurgency, and sending arms and finances through our very porous borders in Sulu. China had started to undertake its plan to arm the NPA with as many rifles as it could use, and had even built a gun factory in Fujian to replicate the American M-14. The factory ironically formed the nucleus of China’s world-renowned Norinco in the 1980s that would flood the world with cheap but quality versions of US and Western arms.

Split the ruling class
The CPP was caught flat-footed when martial law was imposed in 1972. Many of its top leaders were arrested or killed in a few months’ time. By 1977 the communist boss Jose Sison, its top military head Kumander Dante, and most of its core leadership were twiddling their thumbs in army stockades.

The expectation that the “split within the ruling class” would intensify turned out to be monumentally wrong.

Marcos suppressed only a small faction of it that was his avowed enemy years before, consisting mainly of the powerful Lopez, Osmeña and Roxas-Araneta political and economic elite.

Few among the elite sympathized with the Lopezes, which owned the Meralco monopoly, and arrogantly wielded its deadly media weapons as well its political power (Fernando Lopez was Marcos’ vice president).

Even the big guns of the Cojuangco clan, Ramon and Eduardo, cousins of Corazon Aquino, were among Marcos’ loyal supporters. Ramon Cojuangco even allegedly dummied for Marcos’ controlling shares in the telephone monopoly PLDT, which Marcos acquired when the American owners sold the firm to Filipinos in 1967.

Much of the Philippine elite embraced and supported Marcos’ “constitutional authoritarianism,” a drastic departure from the US-imposed system of electoral democracy that had largely failed the nation. After all, strongman or single-party rule was the norm in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, which was seen as necessary to enable these countries to develop swiftly, as in fact the so-called East Asian tiger economies did.

Economy surged
As such, Marcos’ strongman rule was not so strange, and certainly not abhorrent to the ruling elite that preferred peace and order rather than democratic rituals.

Marcos’ “Green Revolution” was based on the production of then revolutionary high-yielding Masagana 99 rice hybrid, which led to low rice prices — to this day the key to the acquiescence of the masses.

Most Filipinos also supported martial law for the “peace and order” it achieved so quickly in its first years, as the economy surged from 1972 to 1980 at an average annual growth rate of 6 percent. The growth rate for 1973, the first full year of martial law, as well as for 1976, was 9 percent, an astounding pace never beaten to this day.

Marcos plucked from the University of the Philippines academe Finance Secretary Cesar Virata and Budget Secretary Jaime Laya, who would lead a corps of technocrats in the bureaucracy. They were given almost full authority and autonomy in running the economy. Philippine business’ revered “Yoda,” Washington SyCip, recommended to Marcos his protégé, Roberto V. Ongpin, who would be the strongman’s very effective trade and industry head. It was during martial law that SyCip’s brainchild, the Asian Institute of Management, established in 1968, grew as a center for Philippine technocrats and big business executives.

Quite ironically, it was Marcos’ technocrats — whom the business community had praised to high heavens — who were responsible for kowtowing to the International Monetary Fund-World Bank economic policies that led to the economy’s collapse many years later. There was, of course, cronyism but the magnitude of this phenomenon didn’t account for the recession that broke out in 1983.

The spark of the eventual economic conflagration actually began in the 1970s, and halfway around the world from the Philippines: In the 1970s, the Arabs took back their oil fields from the Western “imperialists” and found themselves awash in what would be dubbed “petrodollars.”

Western bankers recycled this new money into quick and cheap loans to Third World countries. For the first time, poor countries such as those in Latin America and in Asia were deluged with easy loans purportedly needed to finance their development.

But then, the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979 and the Iran- Iraq War in 1980. These triggered an oil crisis that pushed up interest rates worldwide. The second global oil crisis broke out at roughly the same time and in 1982, Mexico and several other Latin American countries defaulted on their loans, creating the global debt crisis. US and European banks panicked, jacked up their interest rates, which eventually led to the Philippines’ 1983 debt default.

Global debt crisis
Aquino’s return to the Philippines in August 1983 couldn’t have been made at a worse time — and he was keenly aware of this. Interest rates were going through the roof, eating into the country’s dollar reserves so fast that the Central Bank falsified data to conceal their low levels.

The political instability in the wake of the Aquino assassination accelerated the economy’s collapse. In October 1983, the country ran out of dollars to service its loans and defaulted on its debts, financially isolating it from the world. Our trade with the world would become on a cash-basis only.

The GDP collapsed by an unprecedented 7 percent in 1984, and in 1985, the peso’s value crumbled from P9 to P20 to the dollar, and inflation surged by a riot-in-the-streets rate of 50 percent in 1984. No president could have survived such an economic catastrophe.

The elite suddenly became freedom-lovers, even joining street protests to demand that Marcos step down. People power was based on a bad economy’s propensity to convince people to overthrow their government.

The US junked its support for the strongman and undertook clandestine moves to put Cory Aquino into power. It feared that the internecine fight between the pro-Marcos and the anti-Marcos factions would give the communists an opportunity to grab power.

The Americans calculated (wrongly as it would turn out) that its support for the revolt against Marcos would create so much goodwill for it that the Philippines would allow its military bases (deemed crucial in the Cold War with Russia and in the wake of China’s rise) to remain in the country past the Military Bases Agreement’s expiration in 1992.

Just like the US government, the Philippine ruling class cleverly, and rather swiftly, abandoned its support for Marcos just as the Cojuangcos were set to capture political power in 1986.

The narrative of the House Cojuangco and House Lopez, with the Yellow Cult they created, is that of a Dark Lord imposing his will on a hapless people, with a Messiah sacrificing his life to embolden Filipinos to topple that regime in 1986.

That’s an utter fairy tale. It is an old, overused Manichean storyline of the “Lord of the Rings” kind of movies, believed by small or lazy minds to explain the past. But reality is always, and in all ways, more complicated.
Published in News
Wednesday, 18 September 2019 15:43

The clueless President and Palace cordon sanitaire

“PRESIDENT Digong is clueless about what’s happening in his administration. Those around him feed him the good things and set aside the bad…” (Ramon Tulfo, “In My Line of Sight,” The Manila Times [TMT], Sept. 5, 2019). This must be serious — Mon Tulfo, the special presidential envoy to China, calling PRRD clueless. This may not be an affront, but in some ways it contains a kernel of truth masking the incompetence of those who compose the Office of the President (OP). Tulfo may also just be taking a dig at Executive Secretary Salvador “Bingbong” Medialdea with whom he has a running feud.

But in his column of September 10, “Which is worse, being tanga or corrupt?,” Tulfo further obliquely hit DU30 while accusing “…Faeldon is tanga (its English equivalent is clueless or ignorant, but it does not convey the full flavor – RT)”

Clueless or tanga

This is sensitive territory, putting the Deegong and Nicanor Faeldon in the same breath as clueless or tanga. Mon must be careful to place things in context, though I agree with him that DU30 is being made clueless when you have Malacañang people, like “…the ‘little president’… [not] caution[ing] the President against appointing [Sen. Ronald] ‘Bato’ [dela Rosa] or Faeldon to that sensitive post?… I’m told by some Malacañang insiders that Medialdea doesn’t have the verve for work as he always looks sleepy. The President’s mistake, if I may say so, is in not surrounding himself with Cabinet members who are intelligent enough to advise him against appointing bureau directors who are incompetent.”

To put all of these in proper perspective, PRRD being “tanga” is really attributable to his Palace clique “…Presidents do not operate in a vacuum. To do what he thinks he must do, Duterte can only operate through what we call the state, the ensemble of institutions, especially the bureaucracy, that manages a nation. Unfortunately, we have a weak state, and there are already indications that the bureaucracy has been too weak or has even been captured by the elite — even by criminal and provincial elites — as to block Duterte’s reforms.” (Rigoberto Tiglao, TMT, Sept. 11, 2019.)

In-house strategist

To complicate matters, there exists a vacuity of another indispensable person in the presidential coterie; a deep thinker, an analyst, a confidant to the president and strategist combined in one office: the National Security Adviser (NSA). This brings to mind a paragon, the likes of Henry Kissinger who also served as Secretary of State, and intellectual foil to President Nixon (as the internationalist, not the crook), who initiated the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and opened up relations with China. In contrast, PRRD is personally carrying the country’s diplomatic cudgels with China, burdening him with all the awkwardness and forced mendicancy in his dealings with Xi Jinping. We couldn’t help longing for a tandem similar to President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) and his adviser Gen. Jose Almonte, a strategic thinker, who despite his egoism, helped FVR see his way clear through the diplomatic minefield and helped fashion a politico-economic storyline for his regime and beyond. We don’t see this today among the intellectual eunuchs at the Deegong’s OP.

Tulfo and Tiglao’s reflections touch the very core of the OP and has far-ranging effects that impact the body politic. This is where the role of the Executive Secretary (ES) becomes critical.

A gatekeeper

Several columns back I wrote a critique on an excellent book using the same as a backdrop to this administration. “The book, The Gatekeepers (Chris Whipple, Barnes & Noble) is a non-fiction political work describing nine American presidencies from Richard Nixon’s to Barack Obama’s. But the interesting part was that the focus was on their chiefs of staff (COS), from Nixon’s H.R. Haldeman to Obama’s first COS Rahm Emmanuel to his fourth, Denis McDonough.” (TMT, Sept. 28, 2017, “Part 1, The Gatekeepers”). I asked Secretary Ernie Abella, the then-Palace spokesman, to procure several copies and distribute them to the President (if he does read), to the ES and to the Deegong’s circle. If indeed Sec. Ernie procured and distributed them, empirical evidence shows that the lessons of the book were left unlearned, or the books remained unread. Whatever!

Whipple’s thesis is basically centered on the COS, The Gatekeeper. In this administration, the ES acts as one. As I described then, the Philippine presidency is a multi-dimensional office further complicated by an occupant like DU30, an alpha male prone to spew out curses, vomit out misogynic repartee, inanities and statements calibrated for maximum shock effect. Oftentimes, one is befuddled as to the intentions of such presidential histrionics though at the same tempo occasionally spouts a rare gem of an idea — but only rarely. Is this merely for show? Is this his native communicative way to inspire/inflame his base? Or are these simply worn-out apothegms or aphorisms from his presidential script. Invariably this requires an ES/COS who not only is attuned to such type of personality but firm enough to handle the volatility and moderate the profanities. Among his essential attributes should be fierce loyalty, selfless and protective of his principal but with one eye out for the common good, and morally anchored. This is of course herculean for one man; but the ES/COS is precisely what the Deegong needs. This is where the mettle of the Gatekeeper is tested. The President in choosing the right ES/COS could define his administration, and in so doing, also characterize and demarcate the presidency and his legacy. With that, their relationship is a symbiotic one. Unfortunately, both are failing.

Time is of the essence

As I wrote in my critique, “The presidency’s most valuable asset is his time. It has to be hoarded and dispensed with sparingly. He has to have more of it for himself to discern and think through the myriad concerns that bombard the office daily. The ES/COS job is to allow access only to a few important people with ideas that can add value to the Presidency. The dictum ‘bring to my office only solutions, and seldom the problems’ could very well be applied.”

This is not what’s happening. DU30’s pronouncements which have the force of official policies are not well pre-processed, which lays himself bare to contradictions from even his own cabinet and subalterns. The President is a singularly driven man who tends to dominate while his minions cower. From a political management viewpoint, deadlier is the perception that the OP is in a disarray. This government is merely coping.

The Deegong is an excellent parochial politician thrust into the rarefied air of national prominence and global politics. His glaring flaw is surrounding himself with pedestrians as advisers, “recruited into the national political stage, naïve about the arcana of national politics, perforce elevating them to their level of incompetence.” In the second half of his presidency, with eyes toward his legacy, it’s time for a drastic overhaul and an upgrade. Tame your sycophants, “tsokaran” or school batchmates if you must but engage patriotic professionals who can say ‘no’ and “speak truth to power”!

Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 12 September 2019 11:33

Empowering the locals

“We are ready for Federalism, which is the logical destination of the journey that we started with decentralization and devolution. If we truly want to empower the regions, we must federalize!” – Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, speech at Manila International Conference 206

AMONG the principles that stood prominently as a pillar of centrist democracy towards promotion of human dignity, protection of human rights and development of the common good is subsidiarity. In essence, it’s a support system such that society thrives under a wealth of initiatives by its people, performing and making decisions on matters of concern closest to them while government is ready and willing to sustain the effort where it has the capacity and wherewithal.

Does subsidiarity work under present Philippine realities? If the experience of the cooperative movement is anything to go by, I would say subsidiarity as an empowering dynamic for mutual participative cooperation bodes well for the country. The Cooperative Code of Philippines declares it a policy for cooperatives to be “a practical vehicle for promotion of self-reliance and harnessing people power,” recognizing the principle of subsidiarity under which the sector “will initiate and regulate within its own ranks the promotion and organization, xxx relating to cooperatives with government assistance where necessary.”

Government assistance takes the form of decentralization with the passage of RA 7160 or the Local Government Code (LGC) of 1991. After decades of failed decentralization and local autonomy policies, the LGC was enacted empowering LGUs as “front-line governments to address critical gaps in the delivery of services in habitually neglected areas, particularly in aspects of poverty alleviation and in stimulating development activities.” Decentralization hopes to streamline and improve government efficiency with focus on stimulating the “creation of a stable basis for economic development in local and national levels.”

On paper, the LGC looks good covering a “vast and bulky enumeration of policies and mandates,” devolving political, fiscal and administrative powers “to transform local government units into self-reliant communities.” Were the instrumentalities successful in the implementation of this mandate? Chief among the challenges is the problem of LGUs not having matched the demands and responsibilities entrusted to them, many persistently dependent on their shares of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) and disregarding responsibility towards developing their financial capacities. Seemingly, these LGUs are focused on buffering their political stock, while the agenda on poverty alleviation and effective delivery of social services were practically neglected.

There were recommendations of review of many provisions in the LGC but which were hampered by unwillingness of many lawmakers to “shake the establishment” and risk confrontation with LGU leaders potentially holding the key towards their political survival. Herein lies perhaps the greatest obstacle to LGU’s development: a pervasive political patronage system that relies on the support of clannish families heavily indebted to patrons and dynasts. I say, why not make the grassroots leaders more accountable by devolving political and fiscal powers directly to them? This way, they don’t have to be unmitigatedly dependent on their accustomed patrons for financial support. Or why not eliminate them altogether and create appointive positions in the barangay level instead, under a higher local government unit? These local officials are beholden to the LGU executives despite the non-partisan character of barangay polls and elections being generally divisive, it creates a rift in family relationships difficult to mend.

Despite this impasse, a major agenda is taking hold in the continuing efforts for greater decentralization – the installation of a federal system of government in the Philippines. An initiative that the present dispensation haphazardly imprinted into the consciousness of the electorate who put them to power and now fading fast across the horizon with the impending end of their terms, federalism continues to inspire as a beacon of hope that will usher real progress in the country. This, despite the stubborn resistance put up by opposing political forces, mainly “centralists,” who can only come up with unsubstantive and theoretical arguments against it.

Unlike the process of decentralization provided under RA 7160, in which powers devolved to LGUs can be unilaterally taken away anytime, powers granted under a federal constitution are more constant and exclusive and could trigger a constitutional crisis if removed sans legislation. Of course, this can’t be done without revisions in the 1987 Constitution.

The real issues however that prevent the expected “bandwagon effect,” riding on the popularity of the President and his federal agenda, are what centrist democrats described as critical conditions which should be in place while amending the Constitution: First, is political party reform through the Political Party Development and Financing Act (bill still pending in Congress), a law which will penalize turncoatism or switching of political parties, regulate campaign spending and establish a state subsidy to professionalize political parties by supporting their political education and campaign initiatives. Second, is the enactment of anti-political dynasty law, still sailing roughly under a largely dynastic Congress which, if it can’t pass, should be written in the revised constitution as self-executory. Third condition is the passage of the Freedom on Information (FOI) bill, also languishing in Congress, which will allow access to information pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions and compel transparency and accountability in public service. Fourth, is electoral reforms which should ensure clean, orderly and honest elections under a reformed Comelec whose quasi-judicial work and handling of electoral contests should be transferred to the judiciary.

We have hit the middle of the road and there’s no turning back. To again borrow a phrase enunciated by former Senate President “Koko” Pimentel, “At no other time in our history has our dreams of a Federal Republic been closer to reality.” The President will finish his term soon and I hope the good Senator and his party, the PDP-laban still have the fire in their belly and take a serious look-see on their ideology, political ascendancy and capitalizing on their strength and number, push for genuine reforms using the concept of subsidiarity, decentralization, genuine autonomy and ultimately of federalism which would revert back the power of governance to the people, democracy’s real benefactors.

(Renato Gica Tibon is a fellow of the Fellowship of the 300, an elite organization under Centrist Democracy Political Institute with focus on political technocracy. He holds both position as political action officer and program manager of the Institute. He is the former regional chairman for Region 10 and vice president for Mindanao of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines.)
Published in News
Wednesday, 11 September 2019 11:14


Organizations thrive not really on the number of members as to the quality of their leaders. How many of them have gone to the graves never to see the light of another day because leaders failed them.

Mismanagement, lackluster leadership, lack of imagination and incompetence characterize the demise of otherwise good clubs which started with the correct vision and mission statements. This is the tragedy of our country today. It can't produce anymore "statesmen" in place of politicians. We have failed to hone and replicate honest leaders, committed, dedicated and patriotic enough to see beyond their pettiness and short-term personal interests.

Compassionate leaders are gone. In their place are unfeeling oligarchs who only think of how much they profit exacerbated by the presence of transactional politicians holding power. Integrity is an overused principle which they used anyway because it's still fashionable, as a word. Leaders are not as confident today earning the people's trust so they buy their way in to the portals of power.

Will we ever have committed, disciplined, patriotic leaders with integrity? There are a few scattered among the wolves but lack the courage to make a difference. Maybe there will be heros or martyrs but they need our collective prayers. Perhaps, in God's perfect time.

#Leadership principles

Published in Fellows Hub
SINCE DU30 assumed power, there has been a perceptive ideological shift to the right, epitomized first by the “peace and order” mantra upon his declaration of a “war on illegal drugs.” There was his boast that the fish in Manila Bay would be fattened by the carcasses of these criminals. Little did we suspect then that what was thought to be a simple but catchy sloganeering for election purposes would become a reality with the setting up of his nationwide “tokhang” (knock on doors) that was meant to flush out drug users and pushers to get to the drug lords. Indeed, the cadavers piled up in thousands — the innocent and the lawless together. Many indubitably are offenders, but proof of guilt under this regime is extraneous and not determined through the justice system and the rule of law but by the finality of the bullet. Verily, the state applied with precision its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Paradoxically the dumbfounded citizenry is complicit as the popularity of DU30, on whom these people’s blood are on his hands, consistently hovers around 80 percent. And the underling that directed tokhang is rewarded with a Senate seat.

The rightist senator
And this alopecic has now become the darling of the right, sponsoring laws to reinstate capital punishment; threatening academic freedom by allowing an intimidating police presence in colleges and universities; curtailing academic discourse and preventing on-campus leftist recruitment. And as a foretaste to a police state, he calls for the purging of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Fronts (NDF), echoing DU30’s pronouncements that he will crush the communist insurgency once and for all. And the current Philippine National Police chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde invoking dramatically raw policy statements, “We will engage them in all fronts, [in] agriculture, labor, even the health [sector], even [in] academe.” (The Manila Times, Aug 30, 2019).

Old communist groups
History indeed has a way of repeating itself, not in a linear fashion, but obliquely, presenting some segments of similar circumstances over and over again. To recall, in the election of 1946, the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) formed the Democratic Alliance (DA) to participate in the 1946 elections. Osmeña and Roxas were rivals for the presidency. As the communists were in no position to field their own, they chose the lesser evil as the communists and leftists (PKP, Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan or HMB, etc.) abhorred Manuel Roxas as a “Japanese collaborator and a fascist” opposed to Philippine independence. The DA won six congressional seats in central Luzon, but was not allowed by Congress to take its seats, thus providing impetus to the communists to agitate instead for change outside the fold of the law.

Current leftist alliances
In 1957, the Philippine Congress passed Republic Act 1700 (the “Anti-Subversion Act”) criminalizing membership in the PKP and its armed group HMB. A decade later, Jose Maria “Joma” Sison broke away from the PKP-HMB and formed the CPP, with Bernabe “Kumander Dante” Buscayno heading its armed group, NPA.

But after the euphoria of the EDSA People Power revolution and the booting out of a dictatorship that had caused the unprecedented rise of the communist movement, party membership and armed groups, “Pres. Fidel Ramos (FVR), in September 1992, signed RA 7636, effectively ‘legalizing’ the CPP by repealing not only RA 1700, but all the related executive orders issued by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos to this effect.” (People’s Tonight, Aug. 14, 2019)

The CPP-NPA-NDF and their allies in the party-list, may just sit this current one out awaiting the exit of this administration in 2022. They know full well that their existence and survival will not depend on the guns of government or another recent initiatives of this regime, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF Elcac). This mouthful of an acronym seeks the “institutionalization of whole-of-nation approach to attain inclusive and sustainable peace…[and] requires Philippine embassies and Heads of Mission around the world [to commit] to join hands with NTF Elcac because Sison’s terrorist activities have spread to more or less 39 countries.” This smells like another budget extraction gimmick and some inanities coming out of the mouth of babes clueless as to the causes of communist insurgency in the country. And the absurd tactical objective is to target the odd man out of the communist movements, Joma Sison. A Presidential Communications Operations Office undersecretary “…stressed the importance of government missions abroad saying they are the key to ending the spread of the particular brand of terrorism by the CPP-NPA-NDF headed by Sison (Gigie Arcilla, July 1, 2019 PNA). It has not dawned yet on our bureaucracy that Joma Sison is no longer relevant to communist movements in the country. And like the Hydra, cut one head off and one or many will emerge.

The current brand of communism and the attendant insurgency has morphed from the class struggle of old and the conflict between labor and capital along the Marxist theory of “the struggles of the proletariat and their reprimand of the bourgeoisie.” Outlawing the communist party and creating appurtenant schemes, i.e. NTF Elcac, are simply palliatives applying a cure to the symptoms. The communism bogey has been tried successfully years before during the Cold War by the United States, but it is passé now under current Philippine realities.

The party-list
The Left has adapted itself to a pseudo-legal strategy brought on by the loose political environment since the Cory-FVR regimes. For one, they have begun to infiltrate the party-list system and compete with groups and nongovernment organizations tied to the oligarchy and political dynasties to pervert the concept of what was perceived to be a catharsis to their revolutionary zeal via the ballot. Thus, the party-list, which was in some ways a government and society’s concession embedded and protected by the 1987 Constitution, is being used by the Left and the elite to deleterious effect. This should be scrapped through constitutional fiat.

The communist insurgency is now just plain brigandage with nary an idea about the “dialectics of materialism.” True, many are still recruited for cannon fodder among the poor, the destitute and hopeless and from the ranks of the wide-eyed idealistic college and university students easily lured by the romance of the “classic struggles.”

And their ranks will continue to grow as our dysfunctional system of governance exacerbates a chasm among the “haves and the have-nots”; the resulting social injustice; corruption in all levels of governance; and the lucrative partnership of our oligarchy and traditional politicians who ride herd over the citizens. Government must uphold at all times the rule of law.

The high approval rating thus far for the Deegong should be construed by him not as a blind endorsement of his regime but must be seen as a cautionary tale. We Filipinos are a patient lot and have a high tolerance for suffering and as in any cautionary tale, the Deegong can’t afford to test the limits of his discretion nor the people’s patience.
Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 05 September 2019 15:38

Subsidiarity for soup

“Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity.” – Pope Francis, address to US Congress, Sept. 24, 2015

SEN. Manny Pacquiao once remarked, “I eat the same foods almost every day. I have my favorites like Filipino beef broth, chicken soup with lots and lots of rice.” Like the Pacman, we Pinoys love the accompanying broth of piping hot bulalo (beef shanks), native chicken stew, bangus sinigang, goatmeat goulash or just about any soup to go with our staple rice regardless when they’re served front, center or rear of our meals.

In formal banquets, as a means for social interaction, soups are preferably served first “to act as appetizers,” providing ample time for people to talk, discuss and catch on current affairs.

The French eat their favorite onion soup, a popular choice worldwide, at dawn or early part of the morning as a starter course. Observing mores and habits of different races, I find the French approach to their meals compelling and worth emulating. They deem eating as a pleasurable event; they prefer set meals per day, in smaller portions; they relish eating together, whether with family, friends or colleagues and they take their time dining leisurely while seated at the table.

This piece though, won’t be laying out my culinary skills or ideas but would serve as a take-off discussion point for the groundbreaking role of subsidiarity in our country, a principle Centrist Democrats like me consider as vital towards a functional democracy and rule of law, a social market economy with a level playing field and an institutionalized political party system that promote and uphold human dignity.

Our political menu thus, will observe the French’s carte du jour with subsidiarity as starter soup, on this article, to be followed next week by a mishmash on constitutional and political reforms in digestible portions and topped by a copious amount of viewfinder insights on decentralization and autonomy as ideals of good governance with federalism as main entrée, presupposing we’re all seated together on the same democratic table setting, agreeing to disagree if need be. After all, popular democracy as we know it today was inspired by the French Revolution of 1789 with its ideals of liberte, egalite and fraternite, literally freedom, equality and brotherhood.

The word subsidiarity was first coined and formally developed in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by the Roman Catholic Church under the papal authority of Pope Leo XIII as part of its social teachings. It is derived from the Latin word subsidium which means help or support. The principle states that “individuals do not exist for the State but rather the State exists for the well-being of individuals and families entrusted to their care.” In clearer terms, subsidiarity can be understood as essentially a principle of how a society should be ordered and should function. On the lowest level of the organization, individuals and groups make decisions respecting freedom, initiatives and specific roles. The higher level’s help or support is sought only when it is clear that the task cannot be effectively carried out at the lower level. This relationship or support system will serve to safeguard the common good and maintain good order.

In a related encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pious XI states: “It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they (individuals) can accomplish by their own enterprises and industry. Subsidiarity assumes that people are by nature social beings and emphasizes the importance of social group such as the family, the church and voluntary organizations as structures favoring the development of the individual and the vitality of civil society.”

This is the basic concept behind subsidiarity, the idea that decisions should always be taken up, that is, proposed, discussed and approved at the lowest possible level or closest to where they will have a maximum impact. The principle is to help strengthen the existing network, interdependently, starting with members relative to their family; families to their community; communities to a larger government body such as a city or municipality; the latter to the region in an expanded sphere of sovereignty or autonomy and eventually in relation to central government or state.

Interrelated with subsidiarity is the act of the state in dispersing decision-making governance to lower structures, closer to the people, through decentralization, political devolution or administrative de-concentration so that the national level can now focus on more vital government functions of policy-making, coordination and control. Subsidiarity and decentralization are thus intertwined in importance they are almost taken to mean the same thing.

In all my years of work conducting CDPI-sponsored political lectures, I have to admit only a few of the attendees or even regular party members can articulate in a concise and comprehensible way the meaning of the term subsidiarity, perhaps due to the fleeting nature of the seminars and perfunctory interest of participants. Our understanding of political issues is quite limited to electoral practices, concerns about corruption and shenanigans of our politicians and paltry ideas about federalism ranked from woefully inadequate to trifling raw to practically zero. Subsidiarity as an advocacy or ideology would be under radar range and therefore largely unknown to the average citizen.

There is, I believe in the Barangay grassroots level at least, a need for serious and sustainable political education or socialization, a “process by which people learn about their government and acquire the beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors associated with good citizenship.” Parents, teachers, senior citizens, students, workers, church associates, farmers, mass media and popular culture, through their initiatives, should undergo political orientation and become involved in community-based people’s programs, formulating and deciding upon matters that directly affect them, rather than those being dictated by anyone at the upper rung who have vested interests. It’s this concern for the common good and cooperation in the spirit of subsidiarity that Pope Francis talks about.

Subsidiarity soup, anyone?
Published in News
Wednesday, 04 September 2019 11:38

On gifts, bribery and rent-seeking

RECENTLY, the Deegong created a media storm by proclaiming that it is all right for bureaucrats to accept gifts from the public as a measure of gratitude.“Basta kung bigyan kayo, eh tanggapin ninyo. (If they give you a gift, accept it.) It cannot be bribery because it is allowed by law,” he said. This was immediately echoed by a naïve neophyte Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa with a non sequitur: “The President is a very pragmatic individual. Anything that is given in the spirit of goodwill is not a problem.” Huh! What! With that he admitted that he received gifts “…not only lechon, but expensive Lacoste shirts from [his] friends.”

RA 6713 and RA 3019
It was pointed out by Sen. Franklin Drilon that there are laws that cover “gratitude and bribery,” Republic Acts (RAs) 6713 and 3019. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra then requested the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to issue guidelines on policies allowing public servants to accept nominal or token gifts, addressing gray areas to conform to ethical standards.

Civil Service Commissioner Aileen Lizada has a different take “…solicitation or acceptance of gifts by government workers is prohibited…what are allowed under the law are gifts, scholarships, grants and other offers from foreign governments. Lizada said RA 3019, or the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” states that asking gifts in exchange for favors is not allowed.” But she was profoundly silent on the Deegong’s pronouncement that “…it is okay for police officers to accept gifts if it is given out of gratitude or generosity.”

An idiot at PACC
And now comes one of the President’s men at the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), the agency tasked to assist DU30 in his anti-corruption drive, but one perceived to be clueless as to the systemic causes of corruption and therefore its solutions. Commissioner Greco Belgica declared that a gift of P100,000 in value can be accepted by bureaucrats as the amount is insignificant. This statement coming from a sycophant is simply fatuous and morally repugnant. PACC also high-handedly announced lifestyle investigations on two unnamed cabinet members with more yet to come. We are presented with a scenario therefore of ethically questionable people mandated to investigate and watch over the morals of people in government.

Malacañang kindergarten
All this cacophony of statements of the President’s bootlickers and bureaucrats blurting out whatever comes to mind in his defense or translating what they think the President is thinking and proclaiming, are signs of dysfunction in the bureaucracy. And this happens all the time in the palace when PRRD ejaculates out statements, which could be construed as policy — without undergoing the process of analysis for their impact on the body politic. We need some adults in the palace not intimidated by the alpha male prone to bungling pronouncements on what comes to his head, not a coterie of toadies scrambling over themselves spouting legal gibberish to explain what in the first place is presidential gibberish. We need some kind of a chief of staff riding herd over a professional presidential team overlooking the pre-processing of government policies who can tell the President to his face, most diplomatically as one is allowed to, to just shut up!

Moral implications
But the deeper impacts of such bungling are the implications on the President’s proclamations and pursuit of corruption in government. As pointed out, corruption classically starts with such small things as innocuous gift-giving and receiving.

Perhaps the laws on gift-giving/receiving can best be interpreted ethically in an illustration of a real incident a few years ago. In 1981, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, then a Philippine Constabulary officer, rescued the daughter of a billionaire from her kidnappers. The grateful patriarch offered Lacson and his team “a hefty reward which he declined as he did not want his men to develop the mentality of not helping complainants who could not afford to give rewards.” This act was not only a measure of the man’s sense of propriety, but also of a bureaucrat who understands the letter and the spirit of the law. This is what separates Lacson from the rest. But should we hold him as an epitome of the bureaucracy? Why not?

“Our laws should consider Filipino values such as utang na loob, as there are Filipinos who may be offended if their gesture of gratitude is declined…to be clear, revisiting the law is not about providing excuses for accepting gifts. This is about making our laws implementable and more attuned to our Filipino values,” Lacson said. Furthermore, he added, “RA 6713 allows a public official or employee to accept gifts of nominal value as a souvenir or mark of courtesy.” Well and good, but who defines “nominal value”? Certainly not Senator Bato or Belgica, or Lacson or even the Deegong himself. It has to be agreed by Congress and set in a clear, unambiguous set of laws and instructions. One simply cannot legislate a “decent sense of propriety,” especially from a body already perceived to be a temple of impropriety. Just consider the massive leakage of people’s money under a self-instigated legal mechanism of pork barrel allocations and whatever sobriquet “theft” falls under.

Foreign protocols on gift receiving are strictly followed. In US jurisprudence, gifts beyond certain minimal amounts are sent to appropriate government bodies and are not brought home and owned by the recipients. And the US Congress I presume sets the minimum amounts. But here’s our President admitting that he himself has been receiving, as mayor of Davao, large gifts. Will this be the new precedent?

Investing in friends in high places
Prior to sitting down as president, the Deegong has admitted that over their 30-year friendship, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy has been giving gifts to the Davao mayor, from real estate (lots) to expensive SUVs; some he rejected, some he accepted. DU30 gets brownie points for such candor. But aren’t these against the law? Unless of course the gifts by the “appointed son of God” are the proverbial manna from heaven; in which case, refusal could be deemed sacrilegious. Or at least could this not raise the same brouhaha as when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo distributed SUVs to her favorite Catholic bishops?

Gifts are given as signs of gratitude and friendship, true! And this is perfectly accepted in society, especially in our culture. But we have to draw the line between those given to and from the powerful, especially those in the government bureaucracy. These could be construed as bribery or investments in anticipation of future arrangements at “rent-seeking” activities.

Our laws are opaque on these and subject to misinterpretation, particularly when common sense is disregarded. Prudence dictates that when in government, from president down to clerks, gifts giving/receiving should be viewed with a jaundiced eye and frowned upon.

And the President should set the tone. If he is to be trusted and believed by the citizenry that his war on corruption in government is a sincere initiative, then he should be perceived like Caesar’s wife Calpurnia — one who must be above reproach.
Published in LML Polettiques
First of a series on the Aquino-Del Rosario foreign policy fiasco
MORE precisely, not really “us” but former President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his incompetent foreign secretary Albert del Rosario who shot our Republic in the foot by filing in 2013 the arbitration case against China, invoking the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

They didn’t even consult Congress or any other body for this very important foreign-policy move.

If not for President Duterte’s bold move to put the brakes on it, it would have resulted, and I am not exaggerating, in an economic disaster for us — to the advantage of our neighbors like Vietnam, which also have territorial disputes with China, but weren’t as stupid as filing such a case against Beijing and adopting an anti-China foreign-policy stance.

It is another testament to the tremendous power of US media in molding our people’s minds that the arbitration has been projected as a “victory,” exploiting the embers of anti-China xenophobia here. It is part of a huge propaganda machine to portray China as the evil empire in our region (which I will discuss fully in this series), which is a major component of the American “Pivot to Asia” policy that President Obama started in 2011.

It obviously also takes advantage of the “my-country-right-or-wrong” thinking of small, or lazy minds. Indeed, there is much truth in that adage, “Patriotism is the refuge of the scoundrel.”

But we cannot undertake a correct and realistic foreign policy based on massive misinformation on such a crucial issue as our territorial dispute with China.

I promise to publish unedited in this space the arguments that I hope del Rosario, or any of his ghost writers and highly paid academic mercenaries, will present to disprove the points in this piece.

Core claims
One of the three “core” claims made by the Philippines in its arbitration case was that our Bajo de Masinloc Island (Scarborough Shoal) and the seven reefs in the Spratly Island Group occupied by China are not “islands” and therefore under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea do not have the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone entitlement.

The intention of such a claim was that this would invalidate China’s occupation and ownership of these areas, first since Scarborough Shoal, just 130 nautical miles from our mainland, is clearly within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Two of the Spratly reefs held by China (Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal) are within our EEZ and within our Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), which Marcos declared as part of our sovereign territory under his Presidential Decree 1591 of 1978. Five reefs aren’t within our EEZ, but are within the KIG: Fiery Cross, Subi, McKeenan, Johnson and Cuarteron.

The tribunal did uphold the claim that the Chinese-occupied reefs are “low-tide elevations,” and within the Unclos definition do not generate entitlements to a territorial zones and EEZs. The only valid EEZ covering two of these reefs –Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal — are those of the Philippines.

This of course, made the Yellows, and their propagandist Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio ecstatic and jumping all around the country, demanding that the Duterte administration enforce the award or, as del Rosario had the gall to say the other day, he would be betraying the public trust.­­­

For one thing, a crucial point which all of the Yellow writers and even former chief justice Artemio Panganiban have been missing is that the tribunal was totally silent — as it should be — on China’s territorial claims (as opposed to maritime entitlements, such as EEZs), over the Spratlys which it calls the Nansha Island, made not because of just some medieval era maps, but on the basis of declarations made before World War 2, as well as in its 1950 and 1992 laws. (Our claim on the other hand was made in 1978 by a Marcos decree.)

More importantly for this discussion, the Yellows have been absolutely quiet over the arbitral tribunal’s ruling made in connection with the Philippines’ “submission” regarding reefs occupied by China (“Dispotif,” paragraph 1203, section B (7):

“a. That none of the high-tide features in the Spratly Islands, in their natural condition, are capable of sustaining human habitation or economic life of their own within the meaning of Article 121(3) of the Convention;

b. that none of the high-tide features in the Spratly Islands generate entitlements to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”

This means that the tribunal ruled that none of our eight islands in our Kalayaan Island Group — the largest of which, Pag-Asa, have bunkers, semi-permanent residents, and an airstrip — are islands, but are mere “rocks” and do not generate a territorial sea nor an EEZ.

If we are to comply with the tribunal’s ruling to the letter, we have to rename what we have called islands since 1978, as “rocks.” How can a “group of rocks” constitute a municipality of Palawan?

Islands under Unclos are entitled to a 200-nautical mile EEZ. Rocks do not have such a zone and have only a 12-nautical mile territorial sea.

If there had been no such arbitration ruling, we could have argued that Pag-asa — the second biggest feature in the Spratlys — is an island and therefore entitled to an EEZ. This would have extended our existing EEZ, which as of now is measured from baselines in Palawan, and ends near to half of the area covered by the KIG.

It gets worse.

The tribunal’s ruling also means Vietnam’s six islands are not islands; Taiwan’s Taiping Island (the biggest in the Spratlys, with an airport that can accommodate even C-130s, and a tourist hotel) is not an island, and Malaysia’s Layang-layang island (a world-class dive resort) is not an island.

But guess what? The tribunal’s ruling applies only to us, as it wasn’t a court but merely an arbitration panel, the ruling of which applies only to the parties involved in the arbitration. (But the other party, China, had refused to join the arbitration.)

The ruling therefore doesn’t apply to Vietnam’s six islands, and those of Taiwan and Malaysia. They can argue in the future that these islands have a 200-nautical mile EEZ, and that the panel of experts the tribunal contracted to decide what is a rock and what isn’t was wrong.

The ruling applies only to us. The Filipino idiom to such colossal stupidity is more vivid: Kumuha sila ng bato at pinukol sa sariling ulo.

Legal shield
It is as if one landowner brought a case to an arbitration court, to claim that another party has no legitimate claim to an adjacent land he occupies. The arbitration panel upholds his claim, but also rules that the title to his land is just title to a community-held lot he is legally merely overseeing.

The ruling though adds to the legal shield needed by one superpower that wants to maintain its hegemony over the South China Sea and Asia: the US. It can claim that the tribunal ruled that none of the occupants of the Spratlys — especially China, of course — can claim a 200-EEZ nor even a 12-nautical mile territory. If they were allowed to do so, their EEZs would occupy most of the South China Sea, requiring that US warships would need to ask permission to enter. That would practically leave very little international waters in the South China Sea, restricting US warships’ movement.

But that isn’t really the main impact of the arbitration ruling. It is mainly a US-planned, sophisticated and massive propaganda operation to portray that China is an aggressive superpower in Asia (which therefore needs the US to counter it), which absolutely has no valid claims in the South China Sea.

The propaganda operation has indeed been so successful. Imagine, one of our highest ranking diplomats — our ambassador to the US Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez — wrote, in a breach of diplomatic protocol, in his Philippine Star column what is nearly word for word the US messaging in the arbitration plot: “The Philippines obtained a favorable ruling over a maritime dispute from the UN tribunal which invalidated the sweeping claims of China (premised on its nine-dash line… covering some 90 percent of the disputed waters), saying the giant nation had no legal basis to claim historic rights over the South China Sea.”

Duterte should remove Romualdez as a diplomat — by definition his alter ego in the US — for undermining his foreign policy towards China, acting not as an ambassador to the US, but as the US government’s spokesman, and an ignorant one to boot. First, it wasn’t a UN tribunal that made a ruling. The arbitral panel had no connection whatever to the United Nations. See my long piece on this: “Fake news? No such ‘PCA decision’ on suit vs China.”

Second, the tribunal indeed ruled that China’s “nine-dash line” has no validity within Unclos provisions. But Romualdez did not explain — or perhaps it was beyond his comprehension — that China’s claims in the South China are not entirely based on the nine-dash line which the Kuomintang Party first drew on China’s maps. China can just junk that nine-dash line nonsense and still have arguable claims for its sovereignty over the Spratlys.

This issue will be discussed in detail in subsequent instalments of this series.
Published in News
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