Monthly Archives: July 2010

Column: Ambassador Pacman’s boxing diplomacy

Published on June 8, 2010. I forgot to include in my short list in the first paragraph one unexpected encounter with a Pacquiao fan: In Hong Kong, a Sri Lankan war reporter asked me: So, do you know Manny Pacquiao? When I told him that as a matter of fact I had covered a training camp of his in Los Angeles, his eyes lit up, and he started talking, in fascinating detail, of Pacman’s most recent fights.

On business trips in recent weeks, I got a first-hand look at the worldwide fame of Manny Pacquiao. Whether it is a banker in Hong Kong or an airline employee in Jakarta or a taxi driver in Singapore, Pacman is now “top of mind,” when talk comes round to the Philippines.

It was in the last encounter, with a pleasantly loquacious cab driver on the (relatively) long drive to Nanyang Technological University [in Singapore] last Friday, that I began to see a pattern—and an idea began to seize me. Continue reading

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Column: Pastor Boy vs Noynoy

Published on June 1, 2010. When this came out, a colleague of mine in the newsroom said to me: “Marunong ka palang magalit.”

The pompous Pastor “Boy” Saycon presumes to teach me a lesson about unbiased sourcing, but all he really wants to say is, when it comes to the Noy-Bi operation and his participation in it, every source is biased—except for him and those who share his view. Thankfully, he has written a demonstrably erroneous letter; we can profit from his errors by parsing it. Continue reading

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Column: Diminishing Noynoy

Published on May 25, 2010.

I FOUND THE MAY 20 column of colleague and friend Conrad de Quiros most instructive. (I have been reading Conrad for over 20 years; I still get a kick, now that I can refer to him as both colleague and friend, each time I do so.) His column of May 20 sought to straighten me out on the rifts that have started to appear on the surface of the Noynoy Aquino campaign. On some points, I stand happily corrected.

His explanation is illuminating, in large part because of the perspective from which it was written. He has provided an up-close-and-personal view whose authoritativeness is unmistakable. My sourcing, on the other hand, is strictly secondary; I was never at the key meetings or most of the events. My sourcing, too, is a work in progress; I am still gathering all the necessary facts. But I do have many sources inside the Noynoy camp, and they come from more than one side. And they include volunteers bewildered by the turn of events, including the sudden emergence, from within the campaign, of the Jojo-Binay-for-vice-president option (Noy-Bi, in current political shorthand). Continue reading

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View from a Surabaya becak

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Column: Uncharitable, unkind

Published on May 18, 2010.

The iconic Conrado de Quiros and the redoubtable Billy Esposo, two columnists I look up to and who have never been less than generous with me, have written recent columns that strike me as more partisan than necessary, or indeed as intended. On the junking of Mar Roxas, Noynoy Aquino’s running mate, Conrad has written much the more nuanced analysis; Billy’s defense of this political maneuver is ruder and rawer, and thus harder to digest. But I hope I am not mistaken in taking their columns (the second part of Conrad’s is in today’s edition) as all of a piece.

I trust they will forgive my temerity. Continue reading

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Column: Voting for history

Published on May 11, 2010.

For accountability’s sake, allow me to explain my vote, starting with the would-haves and wouldn’ts.

I would have wanted to vote for Gibo Teodoro as president; he was the most brilliant candidate, and he ran the only positive campaign. He stuck to the high road, and could rightfully claim, in his miting de avance, that he had not made any unreasonable campaign promises. But he was, he is, on the wrong side of history. He represents the Arroyo administration, which has done more than any post-Marcos government to undermine the institutions of democracy. Indeed, in a twist worthy of Greek tragedy, Gibo’s personal values (delicadeza, old-fashioned chivalry, a sense of responsibility, qualities that recommend him as a person) are the very things that prevent him from taking a harder line against President Arroyo and her excesses—thus proving that, no matter how much he tried to distance himself from her shadow, it continues to loom over him. Lesson: Personal qualities alone are (sadly) not enough. Continue reading

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Column: Risa and Loren

Published on May 4, 2010.

When the history of the 2010 campaign is written, a chapter will be reserved for the pivotal role played by two of my fellow columnists: Conrad de Quiros for articulating the case for a Noynoy Aquino presidency back in August, and Solita Monsod for launching the first legitimate critique of (that is to say, the first non-partisan attack on) the Manny Villar life story. By and large, I think they have called it right.

Conrad’s analysis of Jojo Binay’s ratings surge Monday, however, I found to be a stretch. Continue reading

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Column: One on one with Noynoy

The third profile, after those on Manny Villar and Gibo Teodoro. Published on April 27, 2010.

In Hong Kong, where I am writing these notes, the East West Center of Honolulu is conducting its second International Media Conference. (The first was held in January 2008 in pre-Red Shirt Bangkok.) I am certain I will be asked about Cory Aquino’s son, and his prospects of succeeding to the presidency. But (to keep things in perspective) the discussion on elections in Asia is only one session out of about four dozen, with another session on “Asia’s emerging democracies.” Many of the key plenary or breakout sessions, however, involve the United States, or China, or both. Continue reading

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Column: “Bangkarote”

Published on April 20, 2010. The first paragraph, written at about the time the “Noy-Bi” campaign took off, now reads like it was composed in another country, or another time.

I THOUGHT Christian Monsod’s heavily nuanced presentation at last week’s Inquirer Briefing was tonic for the battered Filipino spirit. Essentially, he located several sources of hope for the generally successful conduct of the country’s first nationwide computerized vote on May 10, including the improbability of a multi-party conspiracy to engineer a general failure of elections. One aside of his got my particular attention: He raised the possibility that the vice president-elect could be proclaimed first, ahead of the next president, and in a matter of days. This would stop the succession problem in its tracks. Continue reading

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“Dirtiest in memory”

On the same day this column came out, Agence France Presse ran the following story. I got my copy through the ABS-CBN news website, which ran the story under the head: “Internet fuels RP election smear campaigns.”

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine politics has plunged to ugly lows ahead of next month’s presidential election as candidates take advantage of the Internet and mobile phones to smear their rivals, analysts say.

Among the worst examples, front runner Benigno Aquino has had to deal with a hoax psychiatric report claiming he is mentally ill and took drugs, while his main opponent, Manny Villar, has been accused of lying about his dead brother. Continue reading

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Column: Black propaganda: Chiz & Jejomar version

Published on April 13, 2010.

It was a real privilege to serve as a resource person at a roundtable conference organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology last week. I hope to set aside some space sometime soon to discuss the provocative insights of eminent economist Emmanuel de Dios, the other guest speaker; for now, allow me to acknowledge the stimulating company of National Scientists Gelia Castillo, Mercedes Concepcion and Teodulo Topacio Jr., as well as (ceteris paribus!) of Deans De Dios and Raul Fabella of the UP School of Economics. Continue reading

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Column: “Shadow of Doubt”: Concurring opinion

The second of a two-part review of the must-read book of the year. Published April 6, 2010.

Last week, I outlined some of my reserv-ations about the must-read book of 2010, Marites Vitug’s “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court.” My attempt to sketch a fuller picture was part of a two-step process. “I thought, borrowing the conceit of legal language, I might devote much of today’s column to a dissenting opinion, as it were,” I wrote then. “Next week, the concurring opinion follows.”

Herewith, the second step. Continue reading

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Column: “Shadow of Doubt”: Dissenting opinion

The first of a two-part review of the must-read book of the year. Published on March 30, 2010.

On the copyright page of “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court,” Marites Vitug’s must-read book-length investigation of the Supreme Court, we find an inadvertent change in the subtitle. SHADOW OF DOUBT, we read, and underneath it: PROVING THE SUPREME COURT.

I think the case can be made that typographical errors are publishing’s equivalent of movie-making’s continuity gaffes, which Graham Greene, in a previous incarnation as film critic, and channelling Jean Renoir (I think it was), referred to as part of the unconscious poetry of films. I certainly like the accidental, new subtitle. It tells us what we need to know about the book: it “proves” the Court, in the sense of trying and testing it. Continue reading

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Grand Old Men

In researching Rizal’s influence in Southeast Asia, I have relied on the generosity of scholars and the good will of fellow journalists, but above all I have come to depend on the work and wisdom of “grand old men.”

Father Jack Schumacher (here autographing a book for me, at a conference room in “JR” — the Jesuit Residence inside the sprawling Loyola Heights campus) is in my view the most learned, most lucid historian of 19th-century Filipino nationalism. I take my bearings on Rizal — a revolutionary spirit with an essentially Catholic sensibility who strove to create a secular, national community –  first from Rizal’s own writings (marked, I have since learned, by crucial “turns”)  and second from Father Jack’s deeply documented work. Continue reading

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Column: Betrayed by the New York Times

Published on March 23, 2010. After this came out in the newspaper, a friend asked me online: Are you still friends with Caloy (Conde, the NYT’s Philippine correspondent)? My answer, then as now, almost four months later, is the same: Why ever not? We both believe in robust public discourse.

My apologies, in advance. The column title above is a shameless attempt at a rhetorical stunt: to show a form of the so-called media filter at work.

Headlines, you see, are an information-compression device. A headline packs an entire story, or more, into a few words. But who was it who said that to summarize was to betray? Sometimes a headline, or a column or a report, or even an entire series, can betray the truth itself, by giving a distorted picture of the subject of the coverage or commentary. A reader who has time to read only today’s column title may likely end up with a distorted picture of the column’s thesis or of the column itself. Continue reading

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Column: One on one with Gibo Teodoro

The second of three “inside-their-head” profiles of presidential candidates, after Villar. Published on March 16, 2010.

I understand that Cathy Yang has left Bloomberg; a great pity. I thought she was one of the best business anchors on air, not because she was one of our own, but because she was the sort of deeply competent but self-effacing journalist the on-air reporting of business news requires. She wasn’t cast in the Betty Liu mold: flick your hair every few seconds, insinuate your personality into the interview, and so on. Maybe that was the problem, at least in the eyes of Bloomberg executives. Well, they need new glasses.

* * * Continue reading

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Column: The credibility of surveys: Tatad’s reply

In response to my critique, Tatad wrote a lengthy letter explaining his attack on surveys of the SWS and Pulse Asia kind. My counter-reply. Published on March 9, 2010.

Ex-Senator Kit Tatad wants an “intelligent debate” on the uses of surveys. I am happy to oblige.

In reply to my Feb. 23 column mocking his new-found anxiety over the perfidy of political pollsters, he wrote me a lengthy letter; I am reprinting it below, albeit with some editing in (missing commas, etc.) and some editing out (three less-important paragraphs, etc., to give me space, about 1,500 characters worth, for my response). But I have refrained from inserting my answers into his letter, reserving them for the end. Continue reading

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Column: Do you trust ‘Villaquino’?

Published on March 2, 2010. As it turned out, core support for Manny Villar proved to be much weaker than I thought. And Erap himself turned out to be “the Erap of 2010.”

The January 2010 Pulse Asia survey tells me the fates of Senators Manny Villar and Noynoy Aquino are intertwined. Of the 10 presidential candidates, only the two of them have majority trust ratings. Randy David has already written about the meaning of this survey, or at least the trust ratings part of it (this is also the survey which found the two leading candidates in a statistical tie). But a poll is a snapshot of public opinion at a certain moment in time; it is defined by its limits. Allow me to draw some necessarily limited tactical lessons from the survey’s numbers on trust. Continue reading

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Column: Tatad and political immaturity

Published on February 23, 2010.

Former Sen. Francisco Tatad is shocked —shocked!—that surveys in the Philippines, the same ones that show him lagging behind in the Senate race, are, in his words, “fatally flawed.” He told a media forum last week: “We are shocked that survey methodologies, techniques and practices that have failed and been completely discarded in the United States and other advanced countries are being used in local opinion surveys without any mention of their limitations.”

His attack came as a surprise to journalists and other survey-users who have made it a habit to read the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia websites when new surveys are released. But Tatad did not mean just margins of error and confidence levels. He meant something even more fundamental: the practice of face-to-face interviews. Continue reading

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Column: We are not Obama’s America

After almost five months of inactivity (!), allow me to resume “blogging” (I have to put that in quotes) by first uploading the missing columns. There was none for February 9, on account of the first Inquirer presidential debate. The following piece was published on February 16, 2010.

Following in the self-critical steps of Amando Doronila, who gave the Inquirer presidential debate a negative review, allow me to criticize the contributed commentary of the controversial marketing executive Winston Marbella, which appeared on Monday’s front page. In the first place, an analyst ready to judge “the Internet and social networking sites” as the “technological weapons of choice” in the 2010 presidential election ought to leave some kind of trail online. Google his name and the name of the think tank he founded, however, and you get—links to Monday’s contributed commentary! Continue reading

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