Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: March 2024
Thursday, 28 March 2024 09:52

We are being played

First of 3 parts

MY recent three-part columns described the incipient clash of two political dynasties, the Marcos and Duterte clans, employing surrogates in their opening gambits. House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, a Marcos cousin attempting to inject himself this early as a wannabe heir to the Marcoses through a people's initiative (PI), a constitutional change attempt under the guise of economic amendments, shifting government from the unitary-presidential to the parliamentary form. This system gives him a better chance of heading a government over Vice President Sara Duterte, heiress-apparent to the unitary presidency.

For the Marcoses to gain the upper hand, this entails the defanging of the powerful media empire of religious charlatan Apollo Quiboloy, Duterte's alter ego, who has proven himself to be a major political player himself with his captive votes. The Senate and House hearings are theaters of the absurd where these spectacles unfold.

But as I have maintained all along, America, who in some surreptitious way is very much involved, is indifferent to this dynastic rivalry per se. Its only concern is which side promotes its role as a global hegemon. Marcos predisposed toward serving American interests trumps that of Duterte's whose dislike for America was displayed from the start of his regime, exacerbated by idolatry toward Xi Jinping. So, to tilt the balance in Marcos' favor, the Duterte family's powerful ally, Pastor Quiboloy, is held hostage with a warrant of arrest and a possible extradition.

America's FBI and CIA and the US justice system are put in play, not to mention a direct threat to Duterte himself with the ICC cases hanging over his head. This is America's retribution, a long-held grudge on the Deegong's pro-China stance versus BBM's pro-American tendencies. The dramatis personae are all in place. But as in any major drama unfolding, there are behind-the-scenes impresarios.

To complete my hypothesis, I introduce in this latest series the concept of "deep state," which, unbeknownst to many Filipinos, is part of our peculiar American contemporary colonial legacy. The analogous questions: Do we have similar organisms in the country, and if so, what are they, and how do they figure in our political and cultural dynamics? And who among the emerging ruling dynasty will they lean to?

The deep state

For the uninitiated, the term "deep state" had existed in America for decades but was exposed to public scrutiny only during the incumbency of President Donald Trump. This refers to a clandestine circle of influential individuals within and outside the US government, lodged in the military, intelligence services, and other institutions that wield significant power over the political system, shaping government policies and decisions on every facet of American life.

This shadowy network mainly operates outside the democratic process, pursuing an agenda that may not align with the interests of the general public. The revolving door between the private and public sectors reinforces a symbiosis, allowing these people to populate sensitive positions in government in every incoming US administration while being anchored to private sector interests.

The genesis of the deep state has its roots in the early days of the Cold War when the US government established a vast national security apparatus to combat communism. Over the succeeding administrations, it metamorphosed into a "secret government" involved in orchestrating coups in many countries, manipulating elections and other covert operations, and advancing America's and/or their own private interests. Adherents of the concept see the deep state as a necessity for maintaining stability and continuity in a global multi-polar world, hewing close to the American-Western ideals of democracy, free trade, and liberal capitalism. Opponents and skeptics see it as a threat to democracy and the rule of law.

Deep state's influence on PH

President Ferdinand Marcos (the elder), in the early days of his presidency, was the darling of America as he championed anti-communism. Snatched from Spain, the Philippines became America's first colony ever and a bastion of America's version of democracy and freedom.

In a paternalistic relationship, America had always guided the Philippines until the time that Marcos Sr. decided to unshackle the country from democratic liberal capitalism, consolidate political power and establish a dictatorial regime. The Constitution was suspended, and Congress was dissolved. Political opponents, journalists and activities were arrested; the media was censured, suppressing dissent. All anathema to America, particularly to the deep state that acts as America's puppeteers. Marcos allowed his cronies to pervert capitalism, turning it into a "kleptocracy," amassing wealth and power while stifling competition and economic growth in the country. Corruption was massive.

He went further off-script with his martial law regime fraught with human rights abuses. America's deep state began to sour on him, and President Reagan baited the confident Marcos into holding a "snap presidential election" that could legitimize his martial law regime.

Corazon Aquino won the presidency.

Richard J. Kessler, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, had this to say: "The transition in the Philippines from Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship to Corazon Aquino's transitional democracy is viewed by many as one of the great foreign policy successes of the Reagan administration. According to one National Security Council official... 'Those of us involved in this policy who are Asianists, not politicos or pundits, knew what we were doing.' Further, he noted, 'The Philippines was going to be a crisis, and we recognized it over two years ago.'

"Other analysts have suggested President Ronald Reagan handled the crisis skillfully by permitting professional diplomats to guide events to their final solution: Marcos' departure from Malacañan Palace aboard US helicopters on Feb. 25, 1986. According to this view, with widespread violence averted, months of political turmoil came to the best possible end. But a chauffeur service for failed dictators should not be confused with a foreign policy."

This was the hand of the American deep state operating!

PH version of a deep state

In the best Filipino tradition of "gaya-gaya," we have adapted the deep state concept to our homegrown political culture. Unlike America, which was created to advance America's hegemony, the Philippines has no hegemonic ambitions nor the capacity for one, but we modified some of its trimmings and nuances.

One unique difference is the people who wield power in our country have been imbued with our distorted version of political leadership, an offspring of an incubus marriage of 100 years of an imposed American set of democratic traditions with 300 years of Spanish colonial influence: both distorting our original traditional sultan and datu hierarchical structural relationships. These practices mutated into our current system as political patronage (polpat).

Our electoral processes, for instance, are the overarching environment upon which polpat incubates, procreating generations of viruses spreading through our system of governance. Paradoxically, democracy can't exist without elections, except that in our culture, we managed to debauch the same.

Today, polpat has become more pervasive, permeating all levels of governance from the presidency down to the barangay, fomenting systemic corruption in all public and many private institutions.

Our version of a deep state is a trinity of symbiotically interrelated groups — the elected officials themselves, headed by the president/patron, the political dynasties from whence they spring forth, and the oligarchy — all overarched and stitched by patronage politics.

(To be continued)
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 20 March 2024 22:22

Geopolitical ramifications of dynastic clash

Last of 3 parts

THE first and second parts of this series depicted the incipient clash of the Marcos and Duterte dynasties as a mere backdrop to the geopolitical dynamics, a minor curtain raiser of playing the world stage. America finds itself in a state where its hegemony is threatened by old and new nemeses Russia and China but mainly exacerbated by its own internal dynamics and weaknesses (this will be taken up in future columns).

America's global credibility and prestige are in question as, in the recent past, it has been confronted with several global conflicts threatening its hegemony in Europe and Asia. It has escaped being bogged down deeper in the Middle East with its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, but the damage to its reputation as a global superpower and purveyor of the light of democracy suffered incalculable damage. The Afghanistan debacle and the swift takeover of the Taliban was a tragic mirror image of its defeat in Vietnam and the takeover of the Viet Cong during the Johnson-Nixon years.

The aftermath of its virtual withdrawal from Iraq after its precipitate intervention to eliminate weapons of mass destruction based on faulty intelligence while promoting democracy post-Saddam was a study of American hubris and incompetence. It resulted instead in sectarian violence and the birth of the terrorist IS, tarnishing America's image as a force of stability in the region.


And just recently, the Republicans have threatened to defund the Ukraine war, potentially emboldening Russia to further escalate its military actions in the region. This could lead to increased instability in Eastern Europe and strain US relations with its European allies that support Ukraine.

And the US was recently blindsided by Israel's response to Hamas, unable to rein in an ally in the total destruction of Gaza and the decimation of its population. With the end of the conflict not on the horizon, more instability and violence could further damage US influence in the Middle East, impacting its already capricious relationships with allies in the region.

Trump presidency

In November of this year, the US may have President Trump back in power if he hurdles all those civil and criminal cases hanging over his head. And if MAGA does triumph, Ukraine will be the first casualty — a feather in Putin's cap. Trump's perceived coziness to the Russian dictator could result in driving the final nail in Zelenskyy's coffin.

A second term for Trump could lead to further alienation of the Palestinians and spell the death throes of any progress toward a two-state solution. It may be noted that Trump, in an in-your-face move against the Arabs and Palestinians, caused the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem during his watch when even Israel was not expecting the same. And his belligerency may further precipitate violent reactions from Iran and Hezbollah and those Arab states which are just itching for a fight on the side of Hamas to expel the Israeli forces now decimating Gaza.

And PH participation?

"Suma total," these are the geopolitical dynamics that need to be imputed into the equation of the seemingly local and harmless Marcos-Duterte rivalry. BBM's actuations toward America are in far contrast to Duterte's anti-American and pro-Chinese/Russia proclivities. With BBM's kiss-ass "friends to all, enemies to none" foreign policy, he is proving himself to be a better bet to America for its hegemony. Duterte's kowtowing to Xi Jinping, his histrionics from the time he assumed the presidency, and his slanderous remarks against President Obama while America was putting in place its Pivot to Asia strategy were dangerous, amateurish, puerile and reflected ignorance of geopolitics and the course of history. As in most of his decisions that did not involve illegal drug eradication and extrajudicial killings, they were precipitated and made on the fly.

US bases — America returns

The expansion of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) upon the assumption of BBM to power not only reaffirms the mutual cooperation with America but, more importantly, assures America that this time, the US and the Philippines under the Marcoses are on the same page. The additional EDCA bases bolstering the US strategic maritime containment restricting sea access for Russia and China, isolating both in the East and South China Seas and away from the Western Pacific by the second island chain, has always been the cornerstone of America's defensive posture in Asia — and the major impetus to the US Pivot to Asia.

And the role of the Philippines to hold the line — bleeding for America, if we must — is now even made more critical with China constructing unsinkable "aircraft carriers" with their artificial islands at the Spratlys. The additional four EDCA sites in the Philippines — US virtual military bases — have tactically tightened the sea lanes in the Bashi Channel, the main route for China's forces to encircle Taiwan in case hostilities break out. ("TMT Bashi Channel — where we go to war"! TMT, June 7, 2023.) Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, its largest container port, less than a hundred miles from the tip of Northern Luzon, handles 62 percent of its cargo volume. US forces will have to supply Taiwan through Kaohsiung from US pre-positioned logistics in bases in the Philippines and Japan and the main route for America's reinforcements from Guam and Hawaii.

Thus, with the pro-American BBM clearly singing America's tune, the next generations may spell the permanent return of the Marcos political clan, whose members are now ensconced in critical elective positions, more numerous and better placed than even during the time of the dictator.

BBM may need to play a game similar to what his father did with his anti-communism during America's post-WW2 red paranoia. Ferdinand Makoy and his martial law regime and avid pro-Western stance held the fort for America during the Nixon-Reagan years. And with the Marcoses firmly entrenched as America's alter ego in Asia, Philippine surrogacy of American and Western ideals is assured.

Cuidao, BBM-DU30-Quiboloy

Although not major cogs now in the scheme of things, Duterte's and Quiboloy's plight simply reflect the ability of America to exact its pound of flesh. Quiboloy's criminal cases, extradition, and even the ownership of SMNI are now hanging in the balance. And so are the cases at the ICC against former president Duterte. Former presidents have never been immune to the wrath of America and allies in the West who hold the levers of international justice. Many have been hauled before the courts: Omar al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan, indicted in 2009; Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Ivory Coast, in 2010-2011; and Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, convicted in 2016.

More egregious scenarios are sitting presidents deposed with the involvement or support of the United States in various regions around the world: Manuel Noriega of Panama; Salvador Allende of Chile; Jacob Arben of Guatemala; Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti; Mohammad Mossadegh (Iran); Ngo Dinh Diem (South Vietnam); Saddam Hussein (Iraq); and Muammar Gaddafi (Libya). The list goes on.

These are cautionary tales for BBM and the Marcos political dynasty!

Published in LML Polettiques

Second of 3 parts

BORROWING from the playbook of President Duterte, the current Philippine Congress, now under the direction of the Marcoses, has moved to defang the SMNI, Pastor Quiboloy's flagship, threatening to withdraw its congressional franchise — a not-so-subtle move by Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, the self-appointed Marcos heir to contest the 2028 presidency. Romualdez comes with an impeccable bloodline, a son of Kokoy Romualdez, Imelda's favorite brother and martial law billionaire who at one time was named by Forbes as the 30th richest man in the Philippines — whose wealth Cory's Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) claimed to be ill-gotten. Martin's cold-blooded political acumen may be gleaned from the ouster of his erstwhile ally, then House senior deputy speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA), an avid supporter of VP Sara. It may be noted that Martin was the campaign manager of Sara when she ran for vice president.

Now, we run full circle. VP Sara, the heiress-apparent of the fledgling political dynasty from the South, is a hindrance to the Marcos clan seeking to consolidate its hold on the country. It is imperative that she be dislodged from her current high perch, which could catapult her to the presidency in 2028.

Qiboloy's continuing travails

In the meantime, the dismantling of Quiboloy's media empire may have been relegated temporarily to the backburner pending the outcome of the Senate hearings on Quiboloy himself, where he is more vulnerable as sordid testimonies have reached salacious proportions meant to denigrate his person. This could be a much better strategy toward the eventual dismantling of SMNI by exposing Quiboloy's decadent, prurient and undisciplined appetites, as shown by a parade of young women-victims, incongruously called "pastorals — they who serve," ministering to the "Son of the Father" with daily evening full-body massages and providing testimony not only to this debauchery but outright accusations of sexual molestation and even rape.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, champion of women's rights, is blind to the irony of having these women relive their experiences, humiliatingly marching them in front of cameras, knowing full well that these hearings, "in aid of legislation" will not in any way establish the innocence or guilt of Quiboloy. This is the wrong venue. The courts are. This circus is designed simply to titillate and entertain the masses. The PR mileage for the senator and her cohorts is incalculable.

However, this hearing has hit a snag as Quiboloy, under threat of contempt, ignored a subpoena and refused to appear before the Hontiveros committee. This snub, a slap in the face of the Senate, reflects the inutility of secular power before the bizarre, self-professed majesty of the "Son of God." But Quiboloy's allies — Senators Padilla, Bong Go, Imee Marcos and Cynthia Villar — came to his defense, a shrewd investment for future electoral votes — if Quiboloy goes scot-free.

So, the Senate is in a quandary as to what to do about this rebuff. Will he be declared in contempt and detained if caught? To the ASOG, this could be a welcome development better than any telenovela, as this will, in his disturbed mind, precipitate the second but virtual crucifixion of the "Appointed Son" — enhancing his reputation among his alleged 6 million members worldwide.

My kingdom is also of this earth

In his February 21 rant, Quiboloy went ballistic in taking the side of the Dutertes with rhetorical and non-sequiturs obliquely accusing BBM, Liza and the first family of having sex orgies and drug sessions in Malacañang on Tuesdays and Fridays. And even hiring a voodoo expert from Africa and witchcraft from India.

He is now in hiding for fear of assassination and CIA "rendition," a euphemism for kidnapping similar to practices during US President Dubya Bush's administration when al-Qaida terrorists were "renditioned" to Guantanamo in Cuba — a US base — to be investigated and oftentimes tortured, skirting US mainland laws.

And the ASOG has the bravado to demand that BBM, Liza and Martin Romualdez step down, having lost the Filipinos' trust. And in dramatic fashion declared, "I am no longer alive — I am a living dead! I will lead this country for justice and fear of God! I have already seen my mansion in heaven — where I had been countless times."

Apparently, Quiboloy is carving another role for himself aside from his heavenly mandate — a secular leadership of the Filipino people, perhaps heading an uprising of some sort.

These rantings curiously are a common phenomenon to beleaguered, demented religious cult leaders seeking faux martyrdom. BBM laughed these all off and dismissed these histrionics. Somehow, BBM has to resolve this nuisance with his Senate and congressional allies.

America — the 'miron'

Overarching all these, America's not-so-subtle sanction slowly tightens the noose around Quiboloy's neck. A warrant of arrest has been unsealed by a California judge, paving the way for Quiboloy's extradition to the US for alleged crimes involving sex trafficking, child abuse, and sexually abusing young girls and forcing them into prostitution. Some of Quiboloy's co-defendants are already in FBI custody, under indictment; some have confessed, and trials may begin soon. It may be noted that in 2021, Quiboloy's private plane was seized in Hawaii, but it has been returned to him since. However, the $350,000 in small bills found in the plane were confiscated. Apparently, the offices of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) in mainland US and Hawaii have been closed, and their properties have been sequestered.

The extradition request will have to go through the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for evaluation before going to the Department of Justice (DoJ). This could be accelerated as the DoJ has refiled a case of sexual abuse, which was already dismissed in Davao in 2020. This will strengthen the request for extradition. It may take some time before Quiboloy is extradited to the US — if ever. But this is ultimately BBM's call. In another development, the Deegong has been appointed as administrator of properties belonging to the KOJC.

Closing scenario

At the end of the day, in this internecine political fight between Filipino political dynasties — the Marcoses and Dutertes, with their surrogates Sara, Martin and Quiboloy — are all minor actors, playing supporting roles as far as America is concerned.

America really doesn't care who wins in the end between these two protagonists as long as Uncle Sam's interests are ascendant and protected. The Marcoses have the upper hand now. But any deviation from this scenario that America has long preordained for its role in Asia will spell the survival of any system of government. BBM only knows this too well, having witnessed the decades-long relations of his father with Uncle Sam until Makoy outlived his usefulness. The same can be said of the Dutertes, seeing how the Deegong is now fighting tooth and nail against the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the resumption of the investigation of his human rights cases on the extrajudicial killings (EJK). The political cognoscenti can see the hand of America with the acquiescence of the Marcoses on these bold moves now that Duterte is himself vulnerable.

Next week: The geopolitical ramifications of the clash of political dynasties.


Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 07 March 2024 01:59

Clash of dynasties

First of 3 parts

THERE was no mincing of words. Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, Appointed Son of God (ASOG), on Feb 21, 2024, called for "... President BBM [and First Lady Liza] and Speaker Martin Romualdez to step down from your posts. You are no longer worthy to be our trusted leaders." These echoed Davao Mayor Baste Duterte's demand for BBM to resign in a prayer rally in Davao last January 28. And in an expected ad hominem by the Duterte himself, he described BBM as "basag" (a drug addict)! And an appropriate counter-response by BBM is that it must be the fentanyl drug talking. These displays of uncouth behavior by these personalities reflect deeper roots — just the latest salvoes of two political families attempting to seek control of the political space. This clash of dynasties could be the Philippines' political narrative for the next generation, with implications reaching far beyond the local towards the geopolitical dynamics. (This will be discussed in the second part of this series.)

The intertwining

The Marcos family, an older but discredited dynasty from the North, is out to regain its preeminence established by its patriarch half a century ago when Ferdinand Sr. sought to restructure Philippine society through his martial law regime. They were booted out 38 years ago by the now defunct dynasty that failed to sustain its hold on power but gave birth serendipitously to the current dynasty from the South — the Dutertes — when Cory Aquino appointed the Deegong to the lowly post of Davao City OIC vice mayor. The Cojuangco-Aquino dynasty had no sons and daughters in positions of power, unlike the Marcos and Duterte clans. Both houses have their issues in elective posts: president, senator, governor and congressman for the former, and for the latter, vice president, congressman and mayor, but more importantly, the living founder who manages to retain an 80 percent national approval rating. These families understand only too well the path to dominance and what it takes to get there — the sheer determination to accumulate raw power, wealth and pelf and the distribution of largesse to its allies, blind loyalty only to its own, and destruction of its rivals and perceived enemies.

The next election cycles will determine the ascendancy of either in their respective regions — the Ilocano-Tagalog-Pampangueño North and the Bisaya-Muslim South — with the Philippines' 80 or so political dynasties scrambling all over each other to strike political alliances. Roughly, Metro Manila, Bicol and the Visayas could be fertile battlegrounds. But in every election, political alliances and rivalries are always in flux.


The Deegong, possessing a proclivity for authoritarian rulers, always had sympathy for the Marcoses; his father, Vicente, was governor of Davao and was later appointed by the elder President Ferdinand Marcos to head the Department of General Services. After years of the Marcos Sr. cadaver on public display, Duterte allowed him to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. For this, the Marcoses owed the Dutertes big time. But in 2022, daughter Sara, in her naiveté gave in to BBM to run as his vice president instead of vying for the presidency — which she could have won handily then — opening the doors wide open for a Marcos, finalizing its resurgence. Big mistake! As in any political dynasty rivalry, one must eventually dominate. A crack in the UniTeam forged primarily by Senator Imee and Vice President Sara started to appear when Sara's desire to assume a high-profile role in BBM's Cabinet as secretary of defense was not granted. The education department portfolio was a poor substitute. And to add salt to the wound, Sara's VP office was stripped of P500 million and the DepEd of P150 million in confidential intelligence funds (CIF).

'Intelligence funds' are nebulous purposed confidential funds originally for the use of surveillance by police and defense agencies for security purposes. The practice of allocating these funds to civilian agencies and favored local government units (LGU) has skirted the guidelines for disbursements and liquidation of the same as they are exempted from the Commission on Audit's (CoA) standard procedures. More often than not, they are unaudited and may be deemed unconstitutional. These lucrative funds have been used anomalously as campaign funds bloating the personal coffers of powerful politicians, mayors/governors, and agency heads. BBM's own office (OP) was allocated P4.5 billion — half of the P10.64 billion CIF in the 2024 budget.

Her father, the Deegong, who understands the uses of these funds, went ballistic.

A surrogate in a political circus

Both dynasties have surrogates spearheading the fight. On one hand is the powerful speaker of the House who has his eye set on succeeding cousin BBM to the presidency while the Marcos children need to be ripened — Congressman Zandro or Governor Matthew of Ilocos Norte. The speaker, more a Romualdez than a Marcos, has a slim chance against Sara in winning the next presidency. Martin could only become numero uno with a shift from a unitary to a parliamentary system — a pipe dream of Congress' not-so-hidden agenda for a Charter change under the guise of constitutional economic amendments through a people's initiative. And these convoluted amendments/revisions are now opposed by the very proponent of a shift to a parliamentary-federal system — the Deegong who rode to presidential triumph on federalism. Such hypocrisy is however par for the course for the type of politics practiced in this country.

And this is where the ASOG is entangled in the web of political intrigue. A staunch supporter and religious adviser to the former president, his Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), which operates two television networks and owns 17 radio stations all over the country, is a powerful mouthpiece and propaganda arm, shades of the defunct ABS-CBN that Duterte caused to close during his watch. SMNI, with its flagship in Davao but with tentacles all over the country, has been the political mecca where opportunistic politicians of every color, particularly senators and those vying for national office, go on a pilgrimage to seek his endorsement and in return are financially rewarded.

SMNI is something that Romualdez and the Marcoses must silence and eliminate. They don't have an equivalent tool. What better way than to hit the ASOG at his most vulnerable? His messianic delusions and an undisciplined enormous appetite for power, gold and women.

He has been placed by America's FBI on its "Most Wanted List." He is now an internationally marked man facing charges of sex trafficking, cash smuggling, money laundering, and even possible illegal drug trafficking in the US — a fugitive with a warrant of arrest. Internally, Quiboloy is facing an investigation from an obscure Senate committee that is now producing sensational headlines of minors being sexually assaulted and even raped, but the wrong venue for resolving innocence or guilt — just a circus as an overture to the coming elections.

An attempt to consolidate

Thus, what is happening today is an attempt by two political dynasties to lay the groundwork for a political fight for the 2025 mid-term election as a prelude to the control of power for the next presidential elections in 2028. And beyond marks the ascendancy of the next generation from either of the North or South political dynasties. Unless another comes to the fore.

Published in LML Polettiques