Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: February 2020
Wednesday, 26 February 2020 15:00

The ‘Chinafication’ of the Philippines

THIS is not to disparage the Chinese. I have Chinese blood. Also, what attracted me to my girlfriend ages ago was her having kutis porselana, mala-Intsik (porcelain-like skin, just like the Chinese). And she had “Chinita eyes (Chinese-like eyes). And I married her! This would put me squarely in the camp of the Chinese. Working as a partner of a Harvard Business School grad of Chinese ancestry who propelled me to my first real serious stab at business, I imbibed in some sense a trait called “dugong Intsik ”(Chinese blood). This is simply translatable to the noble traits of hard work, persistence and a healthy, but grudging respect for and perhaps fear of authority, especially the Bureau of Internal Revenue. These types have been fleecing Chinese businessmen perhaps even from the time of the Spanish regime, when the Sangley or Intsik were confined to the Parían — outside the walls of Intramuros.

So, today, this article is about the Chinese. But I am not referring to the Chinese of my ancestry, nor to the so-called Chinese-Filipino, whose appellation is as irrelevant and incongruous as Tagalog-Filipino or Bisaya-Filipino or Bol-anon Filipino. I am referring to the newfound darlings of the Deegong, the POGO-Chinese from mainland China. For the uninitiated, POGO stands for Philippine offshore gaming operations, the online platform that caters mainly to the mainland Chinese — satisfying their compulsive craving for gambling. This type of online operation is illegal and prohibited in China under threat of capital punishment, something that the Chinese understand and respect. But not here in the Philippines, their base, from which they serve online Chinese gamblers offshore.

Upside — money in
Why this is so is simply pecuniary. These gaming operations annually contribute some P551 billion to the economy — and growing (P504 billion in salaries, P11 billion in office rentals and P36 billion in housing rentals). To appreciate the magnitude of this contribution, POGO has overtaken in less than three years the take from the information technology and business processing operations estimated at P466 billion annually. Government figures report that there are now an estimated 150,000 POGO workers in the country, although Leechiu Property Consultants estimate more than three times that, which explains the mini boom in real estate rentals. You need to house these sudden influx of Chinese workers.

For a developing economy like ours, an annual injection of P500 billion is not peanuts. Considering President Rodrigo Duterte’s populist policies, this amount can very well be used toward the alleviation of poverty and expansion of social services. But there is a downside, which could cancel out the economic gains and may even exacerbate the problems it is intended to solve.

Downside — criminality
A recent Senate hearing has revealed the invasion of illegal POGO workers through our airports, facilitated by syndicates of tour operators, travel agencies and our own Bureau of Immigration (BI) with bribes called “pastillas (milk candy) payola.” As always, the Filipino ingenuity for creative criminal gimmickry come into play. The Deegong in a pique, kicked out these BI employee,s but spared its top honcho, Commissioner Jaime Morente, incongruously vouching for his integrity: “…Si Morente, mahal ko ‘yan kasi chief of police ‘yan dito… mabait ‘yan (Morente, I love him because he was chief of police here [in Davao City]…he’s nice.”

These “smuggling of warm bodies” from China is just the tip of the iceberg. These could have been going on these past years, bloating the number of legal and illegal Chinese POGO workers in Metro Manila. The entry of POGOs don’t really create that many jobs for the Filipinos since central to these online gambling is proficiency in various Chinese language (Mandarin or Fookien). These Chinese-speaking POGO workers are not interchangeable with Filipino workers and therefore will not substantially increase direct Filipino employment.

An adjunct to this proliferation of non-Filipino-speaking workers is their inability to blend into the local culture making them vulnerable to exploitation, especially from their own kind. Kidnapping for ransom of these highly paid workers is becoming rampant. Although mostly within their tight-knit community, this burdens Philippine law enforcement agencies, which must uphold the rule of law. Reports are trickling down that the mainland Chinese and Hong Kong triads could be the perpetrators. And with the appearance of these transnational syndicates, peripheral criminal activities are not far behind.

Sex trafficking
To serve the carnal desires of these 500,000 non-Filipino-speaking POGO workers, human trafficking for the sex trade has been on the rise. Foreign women, especially those speaking Chinese, catering to the erotic cravings of these well-paid workers are being imported — and housed in grandiose apartments in some exclusive and gated communities. This POGO-related sex market has become the new growth industry competing with the red light district on Burgos Street in Makati. From the Senate hearings conducted by Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros, concomitant crimes are rearing their ugly heads. Our police are being recruited to protect these sex dens. These are lucrative sidelines augmenting the policemen’s pay. Even barangay (village) officials are now beginning to get into the act, involved in recommending good rental properties within their communities and protecting the same for whatever nefarious activities are being cooked up. This rot can’t be contained for long. In time, they will spill over towards the greater population beyond the POGO communities.

The Department of Finance declared that the POGOs failed to pay the correct taxes amounting to P21.6 billion last year, or had been able to avoid paying the correct amount with the help of the solicitor general’s opinion supporting the same.

The flood of POGO workers looking for places to stay has artificially driven real estate values, especially in the urban areas, beyond the means of the locals — driving them far from their work.

But, tragically, our government is allowing in an underclass of temporary, overpaid foreign workers who are perceived to be raucous, arrogant and disrespectful of our culture, steeped in the ethos of a gambling industry that is not even allowed in China. They are a far cry from our overseas Filipino workers, who are acclaimed the world over and whom we are proud of.

Where are you leading us?
We are all aware of the Deegong’s bromance with China. We may recall his declaration of “China, Russia and the Philippines against the world.” There is no doubt about Duterte’s sincerity in pivoting away from old ally America, veering away even farther with his unilateral abrogation of the United States-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement. We will grant him that license as truly a legitimate response against US infringement on our sovereignty — not the cancellation of a favorite senator’s US visa. We will even excuse his non-use and non-pursuance as a weapon of our triumph at the United Nations arbitral award against the nine-dash line of China that encouraged and precipitated the encroachment on our exclusive economic zone and island territories.

But, Mr. President, we Filipinos must draw the line against the welcoming of the POGOs to our shores. By these precepts, criminality and immorality are tolerated in our midst — and for what? Mendicancy! We are a poor country. But we are not that poor as to allow the dregs of Chinese society and the practices that she herself has declared illegal to be rammed down our throats.

China didn’t do this to us! You did!
Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 20 February 2020 11:16

Scrapping VFA: Much ado about nothing

THIS comedy by Shakespeare is very apt for what’s happening in the Philippines today. In this Shakespearean comedy, rumors, gossip, lying and speculations are the pervading themes that override reality. At the turn of the 15th century, real news traveled slowly but rumors traveled fast. In old medieval Europe town criers were the purveyors of news and happenings from all over, and thanks to the invention of Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 that precipitated the printing revolution, these archaic newspapers were read in the town square after which, the parchment or paper was nailed to a wall in the Town Hall or Guildhall (English), Rathaus (German) or Hôtel de Ville (French) to be perused further by a few literate citizens. Townspeople, few of who could read or write, relied on the town crier’s take on the news that was of course bloated by his biases. But before the town criers’ advent, snippets of events and happenings of highly filtered news were already being discussed in the taverns and inns from whence rumors and gossip emanate. One can just surmise how each citizen injected or detracted some important details as they journeyed from mouth to mouth. Era of fake news In a parallel universe, contemporary history mirrors the past except that we have social media to accelerate dissemination of information, news and rumors through the internet. And we have a modern phrase describing these disorders as each individual has the autonomy to add, subtract or even invent details: fake news. It therefore behooves one to acquire a modicum of intellectual honesty to separate the chaff from the grain, an attribute that is instilled in people only through education, absorption of good values and the ability to reason things out in a logical manner. But we are an imperfect species molded by our individual biases, personal experiences and emotional aptitudes. The downside is that we become skeptical of events, proffered news or even opinions presented in social media. The upside is that these induce debates, dialogues and clash of ideas. Skepticism, if not carried to extreme, has its values. Take for instance the current hot topic, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States. A senator’s US visa canceled Starting with an incongruous knee-jerk reaction from President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD), triggered by the cancellation of the US visa of his favorite ex-policeman, now Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the Deegong decided to scrap, right there and then, the VFA agreement with the US. And the s**t hits the fan. Our government talking heads have been contradicting each other all over the place on how to handle this newly minted “policy,” which is an offshoot of a presidential tantrum. Witness the Keystone Kops-like bungling of his Cabinet: “Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that no official order has been issued to formally notify the United States of the Philippines’ intention to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement.” Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo announced that Duterte had instructed Executive Secretary Medialdea to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr. to send the notice of termination to the US government. But Medialdea said he had not received any order from the President. Branding the information as fake news, Lorenzana said Locsin had not yet been ordered by the President to make such a move. “There is no inconsistency. I was quoting [the President based on] what he told me. If he has not given the instruction yet to ES (executive secretary), it does not mean the information I shared [with] media is untrue. It only means ES has not yet gotten the directive from [the President],” Panelo said. What the President wants kuno Then the ex-cathedra assertion! “…the President said he wants the VFA with the United States terminated…” The magic phrase “the President wants…” is what cloaks Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, the Deegong’s erstwhile palace gofer, and now gofer senator, with mystique. Even before as the President’s number one staff/confidant, no one dared to question or verify such alleged statements from the President. I have often mentioned in my past columns that PRRD intermittently blurts out not-so-well thought-out pronouncements without the filter or advice of his palace coterie. This VFA decision was such a one. Perhaps, his advisers are too intimidated to contradict the President or are simply ignorant or unaware of what the President has in mind. But there is Sen. Bong Go to translate. Whatever! This is not the way to run a government. Obviously there was no policy analysis to gauge its repercussions on different levels: foreign policy, defense establishments, regional security and even our decades-long filial relationship with America. Presidential declarations by definition are always official, especially when involving policy and should at least be subject to a thorough review by several experts in various fields. It is obvious that in this case, there was none. The President was simply creating policy “pa oido, oido” (off the cuff) As an afterthought, the more reasonable cabinet members have called for a deep review and thus coat the presidential faux pas with a face-saving explanation as being the result of Duterte’s long-term assessment of the sporadic transgressions on Philippine sovereignty by America — not the invalidation of the US visa of his favored senator. To get into the act, the Senate came up with a hurried “sense of the Senate” resolution to cover for its castration in its role as guardian of treaties and agreements from which the VFA, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and Mutual Defense Treaty emanate. And that circus of a hearing simply reinforced the contradictions of the cabinet on their positions vis-à-vis the President’s. True, the United States regards VFA as an executive agreement and thus not subject to US Senate approval; on the other hand, Duterte can terminate the VFA on the same basis simply as an executive agreement. But for whatever reason then, the Philippine Senate ratified this agreement in May of 1999, perhaps overlaying it with the majesty if not the force of law. Ergo, the Senate’s position, fearfully docile, just had to kowtow to the President’s. Caregiver vs caretaker A leftist insensitively disseminated a blog that went viral. That people around Duterte are now categorized in two camps: the “caregiver vs the caretakers,” alluding to the good senator, a habitué of the palace as the caregiver. The second designation reinforces the role of the more senior cabinet members as government custodians, referring to PRRD’s lingering incapacities to personally steer the ship of state. These are perhaps just pure speculations and unkind to the President. Methinks the President is still in control of the levers of power and his faculties. But his style of leadership allowing his subalterns to run around the place like headless chickens leaves something to be desired. In all this hullabaloo, the more important dramatis persona was almost forgotten. Apprised of the Deegong’s move — controversial at least for Filipino and American bureaucrats on both ends of the Pacific: “It’s fine by me. If they would like to do that, that’s fine, we’ll save a lot of money!” Ha ha ha! The Donald had the last laugh and trumped them all.
Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 20 February 2020 10:16

Scrapping VFA: Much ado about nothing

THIS comedy by Shakespeare is very apt for what’s happening in the Philippines today. In this Shakespearean comedy, rumors, gossip, lying and speculations are the pervading themes that override reality. At the turn of the 15th century, real news traveled slowly but rumors traveled fast. In old medieval Europe town criers were the purveyors of news and happenings from all over, and thanks to the invention of Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 that precipitated the printing revolution, these archaic newspapers were read in the town square after which, the parchment or paper was nailed to a wall in the Town Hall or Guildhall (English), Rathaus (German) or Hôtel de Ville (French) to be perused further by a few literate citizens.

Townspeople, few of who could read or write, relied on the town crier’s take on the news that was of course bloated by his biases. But before the town criers’ advent, snippets of events and happenings of highly filtered news were already being discussed in the taverns and inns from whence rumors and gossip emanate. One can just surmise how each citizen injected or detracted some important details as they journeyed from mouth to mouth.

Era of fake news
In a parallel universe, contemporary history mirrors the past except that we have social media to accelerate dissemination of information, news and rumors through the internet. And we have a modern phrase describing these disorders as each individual has the autonomy to add, subtract or even invent details: fake news. It therefore behooves one to acquire a modicum of intellectual honesty to separate the chaff from the grain, an attribute that is instilled in people only through education, absorption of good values and the ability to reason things out in a logical manner. But we are an imperfect species molded by our individual biases, personal experiences and emotional aptitudes. The downside is that we become skeptical of events, proffered news or even opinions presented in social media. The upside is that these induce debates, dialogues and clash of ideas. Skepticism, if not carried to extreme, has its values. Take for instance the current hot topic, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

A senator’s US visa canceled
Starting with an incongruous knee-jerk reaction from President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD), triggered by the cancellation of the US visa of his favorite ex-policeman, now Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the Deegong decided to scrap, right there and then, the VFA agreement with the US. And the s**t hits the fan. Our government talking heads have been contradicting each other all over the place on how to handle this newly minted “policy,” which is an offshoot of a presidential tantrum. Witness the Keystone Kops-like bungling of his Cabinet:

“Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that no official order has been issued to formally notify the United States of the Philippines’ intention to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement.”

Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo announced that Duterte had instructed Executive Secretary Medialdea to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr. to send the notice of termination to the US government. But Medialdea said he had not received any order from the President.

Branding the information as fake news, Lorenzana said Locsin had not yet been ordered by the President to make such a move.

“There is no inconsistency. I was quoting [the President based on] what he told me. If he has not given the instruction yet to ES (executive secretary), it does not mean the information I shared [with] media is untrue. It only means ES has not yet gotten the directive from [the President],” Panelo said.

What the President wants kuno
Then the ex-cathedra assertion!
“…the President said he wants the VFA with the United States terminated…” The magic phrase “the President wants…” is what cloaks Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, the Deegong’s erstwhile palace gofer, and now gofer senator, with mystique. Even before as the President’s number one staff/confidant, no one dared to question or verify such alleged statements from the President.

I have often mentioned in my past columns that PRRD intermittently blurts out not-so-well thought-out pronouncements without the filter or advice of his palace coterie. This VFA decision was such a one. Perhaps, his advisers are too intimidated to contradict the President or are simply ignorant or unaware of what the President has in mind. But there is Sen. Bong Go to translate. Whatever! This is not the way to run a government. Obviously there was no policy analysis to gauge its repercussions on different levels: foreign policy, defense establishments, regional security and even our decades-long filial relationship with America. Presidential declarations by definition are always official, especially when involving policy and should at least be subject to a thorough review by several experts in various fields. It is obvious that in this case, there was none. The President was simply creating policy “pa oido, oido” (off the cuff)

As an afterthought, the more reasonable cabinet members have called for a deep review and thus coat the presidential faux pas with a face-saving explanation as being the result of Duterte’s long-term assessment of the sporadic transgressions on Philippine sovereignty by America — not the invalidation of the US visa of his favored senator.

To get into the act, the Senate came up with a hurried “sense of the Senate” resolution to cover for its castration in its role as guardian of treaties and agreements from which the VFA, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and Mutual Defense Treaty emanate. And that circus of a hearing simply reinforced the contradictions of the cabinet on their positions vis-à-vis the President’s. True, the United States regards VFA as an executive agreement and thus not subject to US Senate approval; on the other hand, Duterte can terminate the VFA on the same basis simply as an executive agreement. But for whatever reason then, the Philippine Senate ratified this agreement in May of 1999, perhaps overlaying it with the majesty if not the force of law. Ergo, the Senate’s position, fearfully docile, just had to kowtow to the President’s.

Caregiver vs caretaker
A leftist insensitively disseminated a blog that went viral. That people around Duterte are now categorized in two camps: the “caregiver vs the caretakers,” alluding to the good senator, a habitué of the palace as the caregiver. The second designation reinforces the role of the more senior cabinet members as government custodians, referring to PRRD’s lingering incapacities to personally steer the ship of state. These are perhaps just pure speculations and unkind to the President. Methinks the President is still in control of the levers of power and his faculties. But his style of leadership allowing his subalterns to run around the place like headless chickens leaves something to be desired.

In all this hullabaloo, the more important dramatis persona was almost forgotten. Apprised of the Deegong’s move — controversial at least for Filipino and American bureaucrats on both ends of the Pacific:

“It’s fine by me. If they would like to do that, that’s fine, we’ll save a lot of money!” Ha ha ha! The Donald had the last laugh and trumped them all.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 12 February 2020 11:17

Trump’s irrational acts

THE Republican-controlled United States Senate, as expected, has voted to acquit President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial. His winning reelection, however, is not assured. The American people will now have to pass final judgment this coming November. He got away with his machinations, collusions and plain bullying of his own White House coterie and political party colleagues. Trump’s compulsion to tell lie after lie, great or small, simply boggles the mind, desensitizing it from any sense of urgency. George F. Will, the Washington Post columnist, put it succinctly: “Since he entered politics in 2015, he has enjoyed immunity through profusion: His nonstop torrent of lies, distortions, slanders and historical claptrap has prevented prolonged scrutiny of anything. This has helped him weather the impeachment squall. Millions of Americans respond to yet another batch of presidential mendacities about yet another sordid presidential action by thinking: This is not news. They are, in some sense, correct.”

Monumental errors in judgment
Trump in some odd way doesn’t really care about employing such method to his madness. He is playing to his fanatically loyal base with formidable captive votes that can inflict punishment on Republican party-mates who do not toe the line. This form of terrorism is so discombobulating that they forfeit whatever residual political decency they may still possess to escape Trump’s version of retributive justice. Thus, he will take this Senate exoneration as a license to further wreak havoc upon the American public, its cherished institutions and the principles of democracy and freedom upon which the American republic is anchored. And sadly, he will lay waste the remaining vestige of whatever global role the US has arrogated upon itself this past century.

And this is what bothers the world today. The Cold War paradoxically produced a period of uneasy peace — a state of non-war, nevertheless. America’s role as the foremost superpower extended that global hiatus after the end of the Cold War, except for spasmodic regional conflicts, particularly in the Middle East. But Trump’s recent acts have further unbalanced what was already a teetering world order. These acts of unilateral withdrawals from international agreements hammered out over the years by allies, protagonists and responsible nations of the world are reflective of an unhinged behavior and may lead to a dangerous tipping point. The first of these two illogical acts was Trump’s abrogation of the Iran Nuclear Deal signed by the United Nations’ five great powers and Iran; the other was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a pact between 200 nations to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, principally carbon dioxide (CO2) to mitigate climate change. These two agreements were the crowning foreign policy achievements of President Barack Obama, the bête noire of the current US president.

Withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal
As candidate Trump, he fancied himself as the “ultimate deal-maker” targeting the Iran deal negotiated and signed during Obama’s administration, pronouncing it flawed. European allies and his own senior and experienced elective and appointed officials in the highest echelon of government dissuaded him on this Iran-deal path — to no avail. Trump’s decision to withdraw will not only isolate America from its European allies, but would embolden the hardliners in Iran to push through with nuclearization, putting Israel and Saudi Arabia in peril and eventually making the world less safe.

An analogous issue was the subsequent assassination of Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani. In the past, from President George H.W. Bush, to Bill Clinton to George “Dubya” Bush and Barack Obama, America avoided similar confrontation with Iran as “…the risks and the potential complications were deemed too great.” But Trump’s decision, now seen as an impetuous one, was carried out right in Baghdad, on Iraqi soil, technically an ally of the US. Consequently, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel 5,000 US troops as a reaction to this violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. These series of impulsive acts, the withdrawal from the Iran deal and the violation of Iraqi sovereignty have far serious consequences that are yet unfathomable; impacting the continuation of Iran’s developing nuclear capability; the continued unwelcome presence of American forces in the region; and the resurgence of the Islamic States and al-Qaeda. Robert Malley, the president of the International Crisis Group has this to say: “We are historic interlopers. We come and we go… the notion that we could sustain our forces in a multi-front, multi-year, unpredictable struggle in the Middle East — given the politics in this country, and the fact that most Americans don’t think this is of vital interest — is illusory.”

Hammering out the Paris Agreement
Former US vice president Al Gore’s 2006 opus “An Inconvenient Truth” awakened the world to the growing dangers of global warming. He had been saying this all along since the 1980s, but these generally fell on deaf ears. His controversial loss to Dubya Bush in the 2000 elections may have been a blessing in disguise, as he was free to roam the planet and push his advocacy on climate change mitigation. His passion coupled with his charisma have put earth’s predicament at center stage. Eleven years after his movie-documentary came out, there is incontrovertible proof that the world’s climate is changing dangerously for the worse and could reach a tipping point — an irreversibility that will condemn the present generation and those yet to come. This was the theme of his 2017 follow-up film “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” The hypothesis was simple. Mother Earth is warming, and this is mainly caused by human activities through greenhouse gas emissions. And science supports this. The consequences are catastrophic. Empirical evidence show that all these are now happening directly affecting the balance in nature, inexorably leading the planet to the edge. Weather patterns become more unpredictable and more violent. Polar glaciers have receded and melted, and the seas are rising, flooding low level cities and countries.

It took a while for the developed countries and the leading economies to wake up to the dangers to the planet. But they reluctantly did. Two hundred countries began to parley over a two-year period to hammer out a pact to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. As one of world’s largest emitter of CO2 in the last 150 years, the US agreed to reduce fossil fuel emissions nearly 30 percent by 2025. No other country can play the role that America can. Thus, it risked its prestige and position as the leading economy to lead the negotiations thus forced to hold the moral high ground. China, the largest culprit and India decided to sign the pact.

Paris climate conference
What the 200 countries agreed on in the UN Climate Conference in Paris was “…to speed up transition to renewable energy so the entire world can bring down the pollution levels while continuing to reduce poverty.” These are toddler steps, nevertheless ones towards the right direction. This was signed Nov. 30, 2015. On Nov. 8, 2016, Trump was elected president. On June 1, 2017, the US exited the Paris Climate Agreement. Our generation and the next ones have been put in jeopardy by the acts of a madman.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 05 February 2020 11:25

DU30 on a rampage

AFTER the ignominious retreat of the water concessionaires, throwing away P10 billion that they won in the Singapore arbitration, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the Deegong, Du30 or PRRD, drew blood. There is nothing that arouses the killing instinct of a predator than the taste of first blood. Ayala and Pangilinan are now the prey. And having watched them scamper with their tails between their legs, he will go for the kill. Not literally, but an unequivocal warning that he wants those contracts “renegotiated” on his terms under pain of their losing outright the lucrative contracts or the prospect of a prison term — as if these oligarchs have no choice.

But they have a choice, always! The decades spent accumulating billions of pesos under different regimes and difficult political climates have taught them special survival skills. And they know how to apply these competences to deadly effect. The President knows this, the rest of the oligarchy knows this, the politicians in the pockets of these oligarchs dependent on their largesse know this; only the Duterte diehard supporters (DDS) and the avid fist-bumpers are blind to this. They indulge in the vicarious thrill of the President’s dominant position over the oligarchy, egging him to finish them off. But the Deegong understands very well that a threat can best be effective only if it remains one.

The water concessionaires may notch this one up in PRRD’s win column — for now. But time is on their side, not the President’s, and more importantly, the systemic anomalies of governance that produced the oligarchic class in the first place, will kick in sometime under the guise of the rule of law, protected by a flawed Constitution. Or they may just call DU30’s bluff, with both sides indulging in a zero-sum game. No winners, but we the people are the losers. And government may be compelled to once again take over the water distribution. And we are back to the pre-1997 scenario. No water! Expensive, if you have a trickle coming out of the faucet.


Impending death of a flawed firm
And now the Deegong in his lust for the kill is going for the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN television network. This one is different. The family’s high-profile public role through the decades, lording it over the political environment, making and breaking politicians, has produced enemies. And their ties to Benigno “Pnoy” Aquino 3rd’s administration and his despised cohorts make the DDS hordes salivate. In this script, the Lopez family has conveniently painted itself the “kontrabida.” It has become vulnerable, far from the old days of the formidable founders Don Eñing and Don Nanding and the respected but feared Geny Lopez Jr. — now financially impaired with its allies in Congress in suspended animation. Much as these elected officials have long suckled on the corrupted breasts of the Lopezes, they are thoroughly intimidated by the Deegong’s paralyzing congressional processes to calendar and discuss the extension of the franchise that will be terminated in two months. This simply reflects the moral castration of these two legislative houses and the extent of the President’s hold over this branch of government that was meant as the third pillar of the revered “check and balance” principle towards a working democracy.

War vs oligarchy or a squeeze play
But where is the President going on this one? He is on a roll, but he needs to lay a definite pathway for us to see our way clear through, if he needs our support, the backing of the countless legitimate businessmen and the elite “with conscience” and the greater majority of the masses. This is imperative, if truly this is a real war against the oligarchy, not a “moro-moro.” We can’t be hostage to a fight between colossal egos only to find out in the end that a new face of the oligarchy is being shaped. We have had precedents on this: when Ferdinand Marcos eliminated the old order but replaced them with a new — his own cronies, who in turn were replaced and co-opted by the Aquino-Cojuangco regime. Because of the basic defects in our system of governance, every regime becomes a revolving door. Is the current fight of DU30 against the oligarchy a legitimate one or is this a “squeeze play” analogous to the Roberto Ongpin episode? To recall, this Marcos crony has survived Cory and flourished during the Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and PNoy regimes. Singling out Ongpin from among the many oligarchs and even the bigger ones is a puzzle. As part of the Marcos cabal, he was already tainted. Yet from the very start of his regime, DU30 was fixated — in the Deegong’s words “…Roberto Ongpin, an oligarch must be destroyed.” Was the PhilWeb Gaming Corp. and this particular oligarch part of some mysterious “quid pro quo”? His flagship almost collapsed at the stock market when the Deegong started his tirades. With valuation clearly on a free-fall, it was picked up from the bottom for a pittance — at more than 50 to 80 percent discount, by a Marcos in-law Greggy Araneta. And a little more than a year after the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) revoked PhilWeb’s gaming privileges, Pagcor issues a “provisional license’ to the now Araneta-owned PhilWeb. Currently the business is thriving. Could this be a template for the next round of skirmishes with the disfavored oligarchs for the favored ones? One wonders! But now Malacañang is silent on this episode and Ongpin’s other businesses continue to thrive: his Alphaland Group of Companies are making money all over the place.

What is the Deegong’s endgame?
All these theaters will have a deadly long-term effect on the economic health of the country. Our excellent economic and finance managers have been everywhere slicing the Deegong’s perorations into palatable soundbites and witticisms to mitigate the damage. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia declared the water dispute as simply “an isolated incident.” I can surmise Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez squirming awkwardly explaining these naïve presidential statements against foreign investors. “…I don’t care if the foreign investors leave…be my guest,” PRRD declared.

These confusing statements and mixed signals coming from the President are already getting our local investors biting their fingernails. These will have terrible impact on the much-needed foreign direct investments (FDI). Rumblings are beginning to be heard regarding government transgressions against the “sanctity of contracts and inviolability of agreements” and may precipitate an exodus of foreign capital and moneys to other countries in the region. According to the Central Bank’s recent figures, “…FDI had declined for seven straight months compared to the year-earlier period…”

Admittedly, we have more than decent growth figures under DU30’s tutelage, thanks in part to the low-profile economic team that has so far managed to pull the brakes on the PRRD’s populist impulses. But these declarations of war against the oligarchy and corruption, building blocks to his legacy, will all come to naught, a collapsing structure, if he can’t convince the people that he holds the high ground against the Lopezes, Ayalas, Lucio Tans, Ongpins and this avatar of the Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim; and that these are not mere rhetoric and opening gambits to the creation of a new order — his own favored oligarchy.

Published in LML Polettiques