Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: October 2020
Wednesday, 28 October 2020 09:27

The end of Trump

NEXT week Joe Biden will be America’s president-elect. He is not the best choice but anyone from the Democrats’ stable of “presidentiables” would be better than Trump. All the polls reflect the dominance of Biden in the popular vote. But the American system is somewhat complicated in that the winner is determined by the Electoral College, not by the plurality of the popular votes. Recent cases point to two Democrats who lost the US presidency through this mechanism — Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Al Gore in 2000. There were other similar outcomes in US political history, in the presidential elections of 1824, 1878 and 1888. But I leave this to history buffs to play around with. With 50 million voting early and after presidential debates where both candidates clashed — Trump vomiting lies and conspiracy theories and Biden sheepishly appearing presidential — polls predict Biden winning both the popular and the 270 electoral votes.

Conspiracy theory – failure of elections
But conspiracy theories (CT) abound regarding possible impediments to the winning Biden’s assuming his seat come Jan. 20, 2021. Trump has been laying the groundwork for his continued stay as president for a second term. He has been insinuating all along that he will be cheated massively by the Democrats through the mail-in ballots. Traditionally, a large number of minority voters — principally the black community, overwhelmingly Democrat — vote through this method while the Republicans vote on the day of the election itself. With this Covid-19 pandemic, pundits theorize that hordes of Democrat voters would stay home on November 3, having mailed in their votes weeks and days beforehand, avoiding the crowds at the polling places.

Without evidence of mail-in voting fraud, even in past elections, Trump has of late been sabotaging, with his complicit postmaster-general, the flow of the delivery of the ballots to and from the mail-in voters’ addresses. The counting of the November 3 ballots after the poll closing may reflect earlier Republican voting patterns giving Trump the lead — especially in the “swing states.” Trump can then declare an early victory, agitate for a stoppage in the counting before being swamped by the results of the mail-in ballots. Any controversy to stop the counting due to a perceived mail-in fraud may have to be litigated by the Supreme Court, where Trump has the majority — so the CT goes.

Since his call to arms to “Liberate Minnesota! Liberate Michigan! Liberate Virginia!” from the lockdowns — legally mandated preventive measures against the spread of the pandemic — sympathetic militia in full battle gear responded. These right-wing Trumpers also came in droves, many from out-of-state, as a counterforce against the “Black Lives Matter” protests in Portland, Oregon and other cities, exacerbating violence in the streets. At the first presidential debate, he primed his white supremacist cohorts “Stand back and stand by” and encouraged them to congregate in the polling places, not so much as poll watchers observing the voting process but perhaps to intimidate Biden sympathizers.

America’s winter of discontent
Analogous to the British crisis of 1978-1979, America’s would be much worse. The United Kingdom’s widespread trade union labor strikes and the ensuing economic and political turmoil may pale in comparison with what could happen in the United States. With the pandemic still raging, unemployment at an all-time high, the economy in shambles, America’s global reputation in tatters and above all these, the government presided over by a xenophobic president, the transition to a Biden presidency may not parallel that of England’s Margaret Thatcher taking over in the aftermath of the downfall of Prime Minister James Callaghan’s Labor Party. America’s six weeks lame-duck period between November 3 and the constitutional transfer of power on Jan. 20, 2021 may be the most volatile, putting the world in great peril — another defining moment for American democracy, or its final demise.

American expansion
America began to enforce its concepts of governance in the Philippines at the turn of the last century with its first taste of colonialism in the wake of Spain’s defeat. Its political doctrine of Manifest Destiny arrived in the mid-18th century, originally applied only to expanding its territory over North America, became its burning impetus in acquiring dominions, spreading democracy and capitalism worldwide. It reflected a smug and sanctimonious certainty of America’s correctness, of the superiority of the American system of governance and the firm belief that the people of the world would like to become Americans.

With its star in the ascendant after World War 1, the US has obdurately imposed its ideals and models and its political structures, consequently dominating economies as well. It assumed the role of a self-appointed policeman not without spilling blood — having caused and/or participated in five major wars since 1945 — Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. It has involved itself in wars against terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia, among others.

The rot within — four years of the Donald
It is inevitable that America will go into decline — the way other empires did — British, Spanish, Portuguese and the ancient Greek, Macedonian and Roman, among others. Great empires fall from within, rarely from conquest. And the inevitability of the fall of US hegemony is presaged by the ascent of a chauvinistic leader embodying the decay within. President Trump paradoxically embodies the polarization of America, the seeds of its impending demise.

In 2016, I watched him descend that Trump Tower escalator with trepidation, bursting into America’s consciousness during the primary debates — observing with disdain mixed with awe and alacrity his scorched-earth performance with nary a sense of civility, armed only with an overpowering ego and blatant narcissism.

Excerpts of an article I wrote, “OMG! Trump won!” (TMT, Nov 29, 2016):

“I have been entertained by the Donald from the time I read his book on The Art of the Deal through his shenanigans in New York with his flings and wives; his reality TV career and even his presidential run during the primaries. I never thought he was serious about anything except for advancing his brand, lest of all his presidential ambitions. But last Wednesday morning…I had a surprise coming — no, I was shocked! All the major US polls were wrong, the Fil-Am community was wrong, the whole world was wrong! Only the Donald was right.

“Tapping on the fears of the white disinherited forgotten voters, those at the peripheral, at the background of the American dream, Trump sure knew the winning combination to the presidency by accentuating the great disparity in the system, the long battle of financial insecurity and meager incomes. He also advocated for ‘massive tax reduction’ of those at the middle and working classes; this despite allegations of his own tax avoidance which surfaced during the campaign period.

“Trump’s notions of racism, disrespect for women and minorities and his preaching of hate may seep into US foreign policy psyche and may depart from decades-old American values.”

I asked myself then. Will this man foreshadow a new American era? Or is he a portent of its downfall? After four years, all my conjectures came to pass. My questions are no longer rhetorical.

To be continued

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 21 October 2020 10:01

Ramifications of WPS and Sabah

Last of 2 parts

IN my past two columns, we visited the only two issues of foreign policy significance impacting Philippine sovereignty. Both were concerns even before we were formally constituted a country. And both involved claims of territories; one validated by operations of international protocols defining our boundaries as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or Unclos; and the other through a colonial legitimate acquisition of territory and cession of sovereignty effected by treaty and convention. The former delimits West Philippines Sea (WPS) territories within 12 to 200 miles as our exclusive economic zone or EEZ within which the Philippines has control over fisheries, their exploitation thereof and of the natural resources (oil/gas) within. But such has been negated by China usurping these Philippine-owned territories. The other through the machinations of once mighty Great Britain and Malaysia. Both have infringed on Philippine sovereignty.

The Philippines undertook similar civilized approaches on these territorial claims with different results. We sought relief at the international Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. We were gifted a victory over the disputed territories in declaring China’s “nine-dash line” encroachment upon our islands as illegal (“West Philippine Sea redux,” TMT, Oct. 7, 2020).

On the Sabah dispute, the International Court of Justice, upon the instigation of one of the parties (Malaysia) refused to allow the Philippines its proverbial “day in court.”

Prejudicial subsidiary case?
In late 1998, Indonesia and Malaysia both notified the Court of Special Agreement to rule over which of the two states have sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan, two islands off the coast of North Borneo (Sabah). The Philippines in March of 2001 requested permission to intervene in the case as it naturally wanted to safeguard its own claims to dominion and sovereignty over North Borneo (Sabah). Although a different case altogether, whatever decision the international court hands down on the case may have repercussions on our legitimate concerns. The Philippines made it clear that it had no interest in the two islands, except their implications on our claim to North Borneo (Sabah). The court, however, rejected the Philippine application for permission to intervene upon Malaysia’s prodding. Thus, the Philippines could not know whether its interests may in fact be prejudiced. A request for legal and legitimate relief was blocked.

Kiram ‘invasion’
It was the arrogance of Malaysia that precipitated Marcos to act as he did on Operation Merdeka (“Sabah is ours…but,” TMT, Oct. 14, 2020). Years of frustration prompted the descendants of the Sultanate of Sulu to take matters into their own hands. A claimant to the Sulu Sultanate, Kiram 3rd and his brother Agbimuddin Kiram raised an army of 200 heavily armed men and in 2013 infiltrated Lahad Datu, a town in Sabah “in an effort to assert the former Sulu Sultanate’s claim to the state.” Where Marcos aborted his own “Jabidah” plan, the Kirams recklessly proceeded, resulting in an unmitigated disaster. This Keystone Cop of a “mini-invasion” simply illustrated the tragic incompetence of the major Philippine actors — shades of the infamous “Bay of Pigs” fiasco of US President Kennedy in 1961, the botched CIA-orchestrated invasion of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

In the Sabah fiasco, President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino 3rd and his intelligence apparatus were oblivious to the plans, thus unable to dissuade the Kirams. And the Armed Forces were in no position to help the Kirams in this wild adventure — as indeed the Philippines should not. President PNoy may have taken the right decision, but he suffered criticisms from Malaysia and may have jeopardized further negotiations. The “Royal Sultanate” became a laughingstock, as many Filipinos in Sabah and the Philippines were ambivalent.

Bitter lessons learned
As in the WPS conundrum, the Sabah debacle points to a sad truth — the Philippines is a weak state, politically and militarily. These territories are ours by historical right, yet we are unable to hold on and keep them. Our neighboring countries know pretty well we don’t possess a reliable, credible, and effective deterrent even for self-defense. There was a time when we had the respect of our neighbors. Now we don’t. And we have been sheepishly arrogant about our diplomatic and foreign relations with old reliable allies where we have existing defense treaties.

Even our defense policies are antiquated. An archipelago with shorelines longer than that of the US to protect, our armed forces development advanced in the wrong direction. We are biased toward fighting decades- old communist and Muslim insurgencies which in advanced countries fall within the purview of police work. So, our focus is on our armed forces oriented to fight our kin within, not the actual and imminent outside threat. Invariably, we don’t have the wherewithal, ships and maritime assets to patrol and guard our territories. Compared to our Asian neighbors, our military strength has deteriorated since we were under American tutelage. To exacerbate the situation, we continue erroneously to rely on America and its military equipment detritus even after we booted their bases out of Clark and Subic. Malaysia, militarily weak at the height of our konfrontasi over North Borneo, now possesses an armed force tremendously more advanced than ours. We lost our chance to take back Sabah.

As to our defense against conventional external threats, our mindset is still attuned to an obsolete National Defense Act promulgated 80 years ago when we were a commonwealth and protected by the US defense umbrella. The current Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza has been making a case for changing “…the military structure to one that is more responsive to current and future non-conventional threats.” But our civilian government and its bureaucracy are set on different priorities.

Rafael Alunan 3rd, chairman of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations, is among the few progressive politico-military strategists who has been reciting the same mantra for years to modernize the armed forces. This distinguished cabinet secretary of two presidents, has this to say: “…At least 2 percent of our annual GDP should be dedicated to retooling and modernizing our uniformed services until we attain optimal goals.” He understands the exigencies of the threats in the WPS against our fisherfolk and more importantly, the civilian component of the defense of our coasts. He has thrown the idea that to enforce maritime laws President Duterte caused the formation of 300 maritime Cafgu ships on a joint maritime task force of BFAR and Coast Guard vessels. This is the hard lesson learned when we lost Panatag Shoal/Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough) to China’s maritime militia in a confrontation in 2012.

“This new defense posture would also be credible enough to persuade Malaysia to internationally sponsored negotiations to seek a lasting and fair solution to the North Borneo (Sabah) issue. The need to modernize our armed forces is not meant to project a new belligerency. As Alunan puts this succinctly, “… we need to protect our national interest to further the nation’s economic growth and sustainable development. We extend our hand of friendship, but we will defend our interests.” This is an apt message to both China and Malaysia in the WPS.

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 14 October 2020 10:30

Velasco takes top House post

TWO numbers encapsulate how Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has debased the House of Representatives in order to keep his post and why about 184 congressmen refused to accept his resignation when he offered to do so in September in a sickening charade. These are 24 and P1.6 billion.

Without an ounce of shame, Cayetano had increased the number of deputy speakers to 24. Yes, 24 deputy speakers. A deputy speaker title is not just an honorific. And they’re not just taking on additional work for love of country. A deputy speakership generates, by one estimate, an additional P5 million monthly in the form of allowances, honoraria, and “research” and “representation” expenses.

We just don’t know how much really and the integrity of this pillar of democracy is such that how it uses its P14-billion budget (for 2020) is secret, and even the Commission on Audit does not disclose its audit of Congress. Not a single congressman I contacted bothered to reply to me when I texted them to find out how much in funds the deputy speakers get from occupying that post. So much for transparency and integrity.

Cayetano appointed deputy speakers and 50 more vice chairmen of for each committee — the Appropriations committee, for instance, now has 37 vice chairmen from 21 during Pantaleon Alvarez’s speakership. Giving congressmen millions of pesos in additional funds has been Cayetano’s signature way of ensuring the loyalty of the House to him.

This brings us to that second number: P1.6 billion, which is the cost to us taxpayers of Cayetano’s way of buying congressmen’s loyalty in his first year in office. It could cost us P2 billion in the budget for next year if he gets his way.

It was Cavite Eighth District Rep. Abraham Tolentino who inadvertently disclosed this huge cost to us in 2019 when the House budget was presented when he said: “We did not expect after the State of the Nation Address that there will be additional deputy speakers. We did not expect that there will be additional vice chairs on appropriations and ways and means. We did not expect either that there will be newly created committees.”

To spread around his largesse as much as he could, Cayetano ordered eight more standing committees to be set up and four special committees on such questionable issues as “strategic intelligence” and “creative industry and performing arts.”

Communist cadres
The fact that even the communist cadres in Congress (aka Makabayan bloc) haven’t criticized Cayetano makes me very suspicious that he has struck some kind of agreement with them, indirectly helping the enemies of the state.

The impact of Cayetano’s virtual pay-offs was demonstrated when even a feisty party-list congressman declared that he and most of his colleagues loved the Speaker and wanted him to stay during that drama-skit they staged on September 30, where Cayetano offered to resign. The arrival of his rival Lord Allan Velasco the previous day had reminded Cayetano that under their term-sharing deal brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte, he should step down on October 14.

That congressman, representing a rather dubious never-before-heard-of party-list, is a member of 10 committees, chairman of one and vice chairman in seven, each of which gives him funds for research, representation and honoraria.

Bulacan Rep. Antonio Sy-Alvarado, who seconded the motion to call for a confidence vote for Cayetano, is in 11 committees, is chairman of the powerful Good Government and Public Accountability, (the so-called blue ribbon committee) and vice chairman of four committees.

Known to be Cayetano’s close ally, he would most likely be kicked out of those posts when Velasco becomes speaker.

During the term of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte under the Yellow administration, there were only six deputies, purportedly to represent the three major island groups and the National Capital Region, plus two VIPs of that regime, for example the late Henedina Abad, the wife of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s brain- and money-trust Florencio Abad

Alvarez, the first speaker in the Duterte administration, appointed 12 deputies, purportedly to prepare for the creation of a federal republic, which would have 12 states, with two more of his allies put there. Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo chose not to rock the boat.

As soon as Cayetano assumed the speakership, though, he increased the number of speakers to 19 and a few months later to 24, without bothering to give any justification for such a preposterous set-up. Apparently, from the start of his speakership, his plan was to get the Congress’ gang-leaders under his vassalage that they would even defy Duterte, who brokered the term-sharing deal.

But Cayetano has grossly missed the tectonic shift in Philippine politics. As demonstrated by Pulse Asia’s report that 91 percent of Filipinos trust Duterte, this President has become just like the Caesars in the Roman Republic of yore: he doesn’t really need to bribe Congress for it to back him.

Cayetano thought that Duterte owed him as he was able to deliver the head of ABS-CBN Corp. to him on a silver platter a few months ago, with his close allies like Michael Defensor and deputy speaker Rodante Marcoleta expertly shredding to ribbons the broadcast firm’s claims to integrity and corporate citizenship.

Cayetano’s hubris was such that he was even willing to have a reenacted national budget for next year — that is, the budget for this year will be that for 2021 — which will be the result of his move for the House to adjourn last week and convene only on November 16. He obviously thought that would give him time to find ways to block Velasco’s move to take over as speaker.

But that gives little time for both the House and the Senate to finalize a new budget. For Duterte, that was totally unacceptable as the 2020 budget — which would be the same for next year because of Cayetano’s greed for power — had not taken into account the huge expenses needed to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Last Thursday in a televised address, Duterte angrily ordered the House to convene a special session from October 13 to 16 to finalize the 2021 budget, lecturing the House: “Think of the Filipino in the hospital now because of the pandemic, needing medicine; think of the Filipinos dying because he doesn’t have the medicine.”

Being Speaker has gone to Cayetano’s head, and he has forgotten that he is in that post solely and only because Duterte ordered the congressmen to put him there. This episode is another confirmation of the truth of the adage, “Whom the gods choose to destroy, they first make mad.” I’m certain one of Duterte’s p***ng**as in his televised address was meant for Cayetano.

With the President livid over what he has done, and if he still has some reasoning functions in his head, Cayetano should pack up and leave and take his 24 vassals with him on his way out.


After I had finished writing this column, veteran newsman and Cayetano friend, Sunday Punch publisher Ermin Garcia, whom I had asked to comment on the issue the other day,finally sent me his views on the issue. With my deadline close, I decided not to integrate it to my column and instead publish it verbatim, as follows:

“Cayetano is not hanging on. He. would never embarrass President Duterte. He got pissed off with Velasco with his black ops about having no palabra de honor since mid-September when the date of turnover is not till October 22, while insisting on his September 30 date.

“The last straw was when Velasco violated the understanding as directed by Duterte that it should be Alan who should make the announcement as a sign that he’s keeping his word on the term-sharing. But Velasco made the announcement even before Duterte left the place — evidently to embarrass Alan — that he was told off by the President. The decision to suspend session was to avert series of grandstanding on amendments that would delay passage of budget and attribute failure to him. This is why he now welcomes the President’s call for special session because Velasco will no longer be able to resort to delaying tactics. Expect him to resign after the budget…or accept a motion to make the post vacant.

“Btw, re Velasco’s meeting with the President last week, his PR was Duterte asked for the meeting with him. I asked [Palace] spokesman Harry [Roque Jr.] about it, and he said it was Velasco who requested for the mtg. This guy is scheming, manipulative.”

Published in News
Wednesday, 14 October 2020 09:57

We own Sabah, but…

THE West Philippines Sea (WPS) was dragged into center stage with the stunning speech of President Rodrigo Duterte before the United Nations General Assembly resurrecting the 2016 arbitral award that he unilaterally set aside while trying to extract from Chinese President Xi Jinping much-needed resources for his Build, Build, Build infrastructure program. It is now apparent that his gambit failed. That speech sends a message to China in no uncertain terms, of the primacy of the rule of law. But the WPS is not the only international issue that involves Philippine territorial claims. One such predicament, the Sabah question, has been festering, striking at the gut of our nationhood even before we were a formally structured country. Each past Philippine administration has tried to pass this on to subsequent regimes unable to provide solutions or too politically complicated to handle.

Sulu sultanate and Sabah
The now defunct Sulu sultanate are a collection of provinces that are now part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). But its claim to Sabah, transferred constitutionally to the Philippine Republic, is legitimate. As a backgrounder, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Sultan of Brunei who owned a large part of Borneo gave a chunk of this territory to the Sultan of Sulu, who in turn gave part of this to another Sultan, eventually passing this on to the Dutch — becoming part of Indonesia. What was left of the territory still owned by the Sulu Sultan, known as Sabah, was leased to the British North Borneo Company (BNBC) in 1878. An annual lease was paid to the Sultan of Sulu and his heirs at an annual rate of 5,000 Malaysian dollars, later increased to 5,300 Malaysian dollars.

Complications started long before World War 2 when three colonial powers, the British, the Dutch and Spain, began to shed their colonies in the Far East and Southeast Asia, allowing them the seeds of self-government. Indonesia emerged from the Dutch holdings, Malaya (later the federation of Malaysia) evolved from British tutelage and Spain had to cede Filipinas to the new kid on the block, the United States, when the former lost the Spanish-American war.

Annexation by Malaysia
Controversy arose when Sabah, under lease to BNBC, a private company, was given British crown colony status in 1946 after WW2. After the British let go of its colonies in Southeast Asia, Malaya, Singapore and Sarawak and Sabah in Borneo joined the Malaysian Federation when it was constituted in 1963. But even before Malaysia incorporated Sabah into its federation, President Diosdado Macapagal’s administration formally revived the Philippines’ longstanding claim to the territory (the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu had ceded full sovereignty, title and dominion over Sabah to the Philippine Republic). It was unsuccessful as Malaysia declared it as a “non-issue.”

“Malaysia cited the Oct. 23, 2001 decision of the International Court of Justice on a case where the Philippines asked the tribunal to intervene on the matter. In that case, Judge Thomas Franck offered the opinion that Manila’s historical claim to Sabah is not sustainable, especially after people in the disputed area (Sabah) exercised their right to self-determination in accordance with international law.” (The Manila Times, JJ Ismael, Aug. 30, 2020)

The Philippine position is unequivocal, that we never relinquished our sovereignty. Upon the “annexation” of Sabah by Malaysia, annual rent payments continued — stopping only when the Sulu Sultan Esmail Kiram asked for an increase in the lease payments and when the Sabah territorial issue was raised by the Philippine government.

Autonomous initiatives
Unlike the WPS problems with China where the arbitral award bestowed legitimacy to our claims, we never had a clearly similar decision handed down over our Sabah claim. But what separates the two issues is that with the latter, we resorted to unilateral actions with unexpected consequences. President Marcos in 1967 decided to wrest Sabah from Malaysia by stealth, initiating a clandestine operation called “Operation Merdeka.” The concept was to destabilize Sabah, fomenting an uprising from within, principally among the large community of Filipino Tausug and Sama clans living there, persuading them to secede. The ensuing unrest would then give the Philippines the pretext to intervene. The chances of success would rest on two assumptions: Sabah was a newly structured political unit and incorporated into a still weak Malaysian federation; and the Filipino community that Marcos was confident could be persuaded to support Philippine initiatives.

A Filipino commando unit code-named “Jabidah” was trained to infiltrate and destabilize Sabah. From Sulu, young Muslims were recruited and trained in Simunul in Tawi-tawi. Such well laid plans for the Philippines’ first-ever unilateral initiative at solving an international conflict began to fall apart from within the Philippines itself with deadly political repercussions.

Rumors began to leak in the Manila media of a massacre of a group of young Muslims in Corregidor (where the recruits had been transferred from Simunul). Marcos did try to hide Operation Merdeka from the public, but the political opposition then blew the whole thing out in the open. Reportedly these recruits were killed for various reasons: from the recruits refusing to continue their training upon discovery of the real reasons for it; to their resort to mutiny because of the poor living conditions and delay or non-payment of allowances.

A feeding frenzy ensued in the media, producing a cascade of political dominos swamping the Marcos regime and forcing Marcos to shelve what could have been the best alternative for a final solution to the Sabah question in the Philippines’ favor. The Filipino Muslim communities were in an uproar over this reported massacre of their young. Cotabato political leaders joined Datu Udtog Matalam in the Muslim Independence Movement. Libya’s Muammar Gaddhafi, one of our major oil suppliers, expressed concern. And there was a general noise from Muslim countries in the Middle East. With all these plus the left’s growing communist insurgency, Marcos declared martial law in September of 1972. And the shit hit the fan!

Fake news
It turned out that there may not have been a “Jabidah Massacre” after all. It could have been an elaborate hoax. Tomes have been written since then arguing both sides (TMT, Tiglao, March 19, 2018; Marites Dañguilan Vitug and Glenda M. Gloria, Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao, 2000).

But the damage had been done. Deception or not, the whole affair given wide latitude in media, awakened the long dormant but simmering anger on the disparities between the minority Muslim and majority Christians — igniting the Moro insurgency. This found articulation in the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), subsequently the Mindanao Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and, eventually, BARMM. The creation of the latter may be a blessing in disguise as it gave impetus for our minority Muslim group’s yearning for the creation of their “bangsa” through self-determination while its umbilical cord is still tied to one Filipino nation. This could be the template for empowering the regions outside the purview of our highly centralized government — a longing for decentralized structure towards an eventual federal system of government.

But the Sabah question remains unresolved. This government, its hands tied down bythe slow pace of justice, may have to pass this on to the next administration, ad infinitum. But under the Constitution, Sabah is ours. We can take it through the exigencies of international law. Or by other means!

(To be continued)
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:43

West Philippine Sea redux

THIS pandemic turned out to be a convenient alibi for critical concerns to be shunted to the back burner. Foremost of these are the political reforms and constitutional revisions central to restructuring the institutions and mechanisms to eliminate the systemic rot causing the centuries-old ills of society, stark poverty, corruption in the bureaucracy and the myriad government deficits. We were hoping all along that the President, aware of the magnitude, understood fully well the need to lay the groundwork upon which subsequent reform-oriented political leaders may follow through; instead of resorting to palliatives tangential only to his agenda for change — pagbabago. In exasperation he has threatened to resign, overwhelmed particularly by corruption in the bureaucracy. And he has been reduced to refereeing the internecine conflict between two weak and whining, egotistical congressmen for the House speakership. What was then a matter of a “gentlemen’s agreement” turned out to be an oxymoron at the very least. But the latest is that one of the protagonists will not give in, supported by a congressional majority. This barefaced move has reduced the Deegong into a lame-duck president.

Coming from Mindanao, the periphery almost forgotten by central government and simply thrown scraps, he could have developed a wider horizon and a vision that goes beyond the tip of his nose correcting age-old iniquities. He has not. He was fixated and chained to his centerpiece program of eradicating the drug menace. A noteworthy endeavor had it not been for his “tokhang” deteriorating into a human rights disaster.

Thinking and acting globally
His aspirations to rise above his parochial concerns as a successful mayor ascending to the heights of a national leader of stature with global perspective did not fly. His earlier display of political will turned out to be mere theatrics (the Duterte doctrine on a “whiff of corruption” for one). Although this is not entirely of his own doing, it is a malfunction of the leadership apparatus. His inability to surround himself with lieutenants and alter-egos that could complement his strengths and rectify his weaknesses has been an utter failure. Except for a handful, he didn’t choose his people well.

His penchant for populating government’s higher echelons with factotums and sycophants was patently ego-driven; some choices no doubt influenced by his fetish for the military uniform with characters possessing the mindset of a homogeneous clique. These are people proficient in the use of force possessing a demeanor of warriors; the President “fancies himself to be one among them.” Again, as I have said in my past columns, this is not to disparage the patriotism of these former generals. Many are decent exemplary leaders suited for a specialized purpose. But this government, or any republican and democratically structured political entity, was meant to be civilian.

But we have gone over these matters ad nauseam these past four years. In the twilight years of this presidency, in fairness, I am compelled to review a near disaster he has managed to convert into a singular triumph.

West Philippine Sea
Praises have been thrown the President’s way for that powerful speech before the United Nations General Assembly. It should go down in the books signaling his coming out in the global scene — four long years after the arbitral award. He might have been biding his time all along waiting for the right moment. “The award is now part of international law beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.” And it did come. Proclaimed to the right audience — the family of nations — but directed toward China, it was not so much as to confront and shame as to challenge the rising hegemon on the exigencies of the rule of law. This speech affirmed the Philippine position and it carries a heavy weight – although in no way did the president detract or add to the legitimacy of the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. The universality of the ruling applied to all aggrieved parties and claimants in the West Philippine Sea, isolating China as the culprit, but marking the Philippines as upholding the prerogatives for the beleaguered Asian states.

And this, coming on the heels of President Duterte’s “urong-sulong” posture on diplomacy — pivoting away from the US towards China, and a reversal, pivoting back towards the US. The DDS — Die-hard Duterte Supporters — would credit this to Duterte’s strategic genius as the Yellows will dismiss this as a fluke “tsamba” It doesn’t matter really, as the Deegong has put China on the defensive, and for whatever it’s worth, this identified China as a usurper of islands in the West Philippine Sea.

The intervening four years when Duterte played China’s game and was tentative in taking the high ground took a toll on the country’s position and even self-respect. And the President was not entirely at fault as Xi Jinping was playing his “mendicancy card,” dangling the financing of the Build, Build, Build program and other goodies that a developing economy salivated for, which unfortunately did not materialize. In short, we’ve been had.

A serendipitous legacy
In a webinar with former justice Antonio Carpio this Tuesday, sponsored by the Ateneo de Manila and Davao classes ‘60 and ‘61, he revealed some interesting insights. The United States will not come to our rescue if the Philippine Navy initiates aggressive acts even against our Chinese-usurped islands already in Beijing’s possession. Only when China attacks or sinks a Philippine Navy vessel will this trigger the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). This is precisely the reason why the floating junk of a warship, the BRP Sierra Madre, is still in the active status as a Philippine Navy vessel. It was deliberately run aground in one of the islands of the Spratlys manned by the Philippine Marines to assert our sovereignty. Any aggressive move by China to dislodge this vessel to occupy the rest of the islands will trigger a response from the US through the MDT. China may have to wait for the decaying vessel to sink by itself before sending civilian vessels over like they did in April 2012 at the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough). The monumental bungling of the Aquino 3rd administration at that time cost us Panatag. (Rigoberto Tiglao, The Manila Times, June 18, 2018.)

But the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China, the Philippines and the US-based Forum Energy Technologies for the extraction of gas and oil at the Reed Bank, where the Philippines get to own 40 percent to 60 percent of the deal may be a game changer. Although within China’s nine-dash line, this could be a template for some sort of solution to the West Philippine Sea conundrum. The MoU may be silent on Philippine sovereignty. Justice Carpio even advanced the notion that the Deegong will leave a legacy as the implementer of the arbitral award.

And if all parties wait long enough without armed conflict, global warming may occur, melting the ice caps causing the seas to rise. This could drown all the China-usurped islands, leaving the Philippines in control of the 200-mile (370 kilometers) exclusive economic zone or EEZ. This may come in the next five to six decades, when all the major West Philippine Sea dramatis personae would have died out. Tongue-in- cheek, but this could be the final solution.

Published in LML Polettiques