One thing I love: Whenever I write on religious or theological matters, I almost always receive lengthy, well-considered responses written in a spirit of fraternal correction. Most of them arrive by email, although several come through the door marked “comment thread.” This column, which prompted several such responses, was published on September 18, 2012.
After 45 De La Salle University professors issued a statement in support of the Reproductive Health bill early this month, a distinguished alumnus of La Salle (and Harvard) wrote a powerful rejoinder. I cannot agree with all the points raised by Bernardo M. Villegas (or BMV, as we all referred to him at the Center for Research and Communication where I worked two decades ago), but I thought his response was both muscular and gracious, emphatic and respectful, at the same time. Continue reading
With links to three previous posts. Published on September 11, 2012.
It is already conventional wisdom to say that Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, fell flat—especially when compared to his wife Michelle’s stirring speech on the first day of the convention, or to the master class ex-President Bill Clinton gave on the second day, or to his own soaring words when he accepted the Democratic party’s presidential nomination in Denver, Colorado, in 2008. Okay, maybe, but flat according to whom?
I have been worrying this question since I read Molly Ball’s assessment of Obama’s anticlimactic, “perplexingly lifeless” address in the Atlantic Monthly. I thought his acceptance speech was solid, substantial, not so much sober as sobering. But Ball, whom I read regularly, thought otherwise (and so did many others). Continue reading
Yesterday, at a public function, a Cabinet secretary’s first words to me were, “Not now, Bam”–a playful, slightly imprecise reference to the following column, which was published on September 4, 2012.
Bam Aquino was my student at the Ateneo de Manila all of 17 years ago; he was, in a word, outstanding, the sort of student a teacher remembers long after the last papers have been marked. I still vividly remember the distinction he once proposed, just right after one particular class ended, between “convince” and “persuade”—the first was an appeal to reason, the second an appeal to the will—which I found a little too categorical for my taste then, but whose explanatory power I understand with greater clarity today.
Now Bam wants to run for the Senate; I have no doubt that he would excel in it—but I urge him not to run. Not next year, and not in 2016. Like many others, I believe that the Aquino family has sometimes served as history’s instrument; there is a family legacy we can all reference (even those critics who cannot stand the Aquinos can hold them accountable according to that legacy’s own terms). Continue reading
Published on August 14, 2012.
I would like to explore the idea that an American congressman currently in the news represents the emergence of a new kind of Catholic intellectual, but let me begin with a short note about my kind of Christian politician.
When I saw the Inquirer’s front-page photo of President Aquino visiting flooded areas last week, joined by Risa Hontiveros, Joel Villanueva and other close political allies, I cringed. I thought it was a mistake. The opportunity to join the President as he made his rounds has an undeniable appeal; it was a chance to make common cause yet again with a consoler-in-chief who was also a friend. It was also an opportunity to be of practical service, to physically distribute relief goods or to listen patiently to survivor stories. Continue reading
Published on August 7, 2012.
The Judicial and Bar Council, meeting this week to agree on a short list of candidates for chief justice, would do well to remember one specific untruth Renato Corona said at his impeachment trial. He infamously began his premeditated walkout from the Senate trial by intoning the words, “The Chief Justice of the Philippines wishes to be excused.” But in fact, there is no such office, and therefore no such official.* Continue reading
Published on July 31, 2012.
President Aquino is wrong to think that the fundamental nature of news has changed. But he is entirely in the right when he calls journalists to account according to journalism’s own standards. Unless, of course, journalists think those standards are only meant to be paid lip service.
“Negativity” in the news—the word the President used in his remarks at BusinessWorld’s 25th anniversary rites last Friday—has become the shorthand defining what an ABS-CBN story online would later call his “scolding spree” against the media, even though the real controversy erupted only after the President directly criticized ABS-CBN anchor Noli de Castro at the 25th anniversary party of the iconic “TV Patrol” newscast, later that same Friday. Continue reading
The last column I wrote in 2011, before I left for a year-long fellowship with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. The feedback–to the subject of the column, not to my departure (or so I think!)–was overwhelming. Published on August 9, 2011.
The scene was surreal: the old cheat was visibly moved by the resignation of the young cheat, and praised the young man’s moral courage and sense of dignity. Apparently, there really is honor among election thieves.
For those of us with a long memory, Juan Ponce Enrile is the unlikely but altogether fitting benchmark for Juan Miguel Zubiri’s act of resignation. Even though Enrile did not lose the first dagdag-bawas case filed against him by Koko Pimentel’s father, involving allegations of cheating in the 1995 elections, Enrile did own up to massive election fraud—in 1986, during the heady four days of the Edsa revolution, when circumstance and strategic candor made him admit that he had cheated for Ferdinand Marcos in the snap election.
That made his reluctance to accept Zubiri’s resignation both an acute reflection of Philippine realpolitik, and an apt reminder of the many times our country has lost its way. Continue reading
Published on July 26, 2011.
A YOUNG person relatively fresh out of college posted something on Facebook yesterday, several hours before President Aquino addressed the 2nd joint session of the 15th Congress. Her status update struck me, because it seemed emblematic—of much of what is wrong in our political culture. Continue reading
Another difficult piece to write, because as I say at the very start, I do like Harry Roque. Published on July 19, 2011.
I like Harry Roque. I do not mind that he styles himself, in his own blog, as an activist lawyer, because in fact that is what he is. I remember him best for his prominent role in the effort to impeach Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, at a time when almost all of the political cards seemed to be stacked against the opposition. I met him for the first time at a conference in Hong Kong last year, where we served on different panels; I took to him immediately. I saw him as a family man and a patriot, the kind of affable Pinoy who seeks out other kababayan when travelling abroad.
His latest turn in the headlines, however, outraged me. In an attempt to head off any further debate on the possible uses of Zaldy Ampatuan’s testimony, he irresponsibly politicized the issue by claiming—without any evidence—that the so-called Balay faction in the Aquino administration was behind an effort to draft the former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as a state witness in the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre case. Continue reading
Column No. 200. A second attempt to categorize the types of criticism leveled against the second President Aquino, published on July 12, 2011.
Last August, about six weeks after his inauguration, I tried to distinguish the “types of criticism [already] being leveled against President Benigno Aquino III and his administration” by identifying three patterns in the criticism. That attempt, under the column title “‘Politico’, ‘Inglisero’, ‘hacendero’,” drew a vigorous response from several readers. To the most lucid rejoinder, by Herbert Docena, I ceded my column space the following week. Continue reading
Notes on Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the DNC; third of a series.
On the third night of the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama walked out on stage and up to the podium with a heavy burden of high expectations. According to what has now gelled into conventional wisdom, he came off the stage three-quarters of an hour later with those expectations largely unmet. I am not too sure.
A comparison of his prepared text and his actual remarks (the Washington Post version here, the more complete New York Times version here) shows some differences; he too had responded to the moment as Bill Clinton did, but hardly on a Clintonesque scale. (The instance I remember best—I was following his speech on CNN with a copy of the prepared text—was when he dumped a reference to Google in favor of Steve Jobs.) Continue reading
Second of a series: Notes on Bill Clinton’s magisterial performance at DNC 2012.
Bill Clinton’s nomination speech on the second night of the Democratic National Convention was an outstanding, even thrilling example of political rhetoric. He made the case for Barack Obama’s reelection in an almost scholastic manner: He raised each of the main charges leveled against Obama’s presidency, and then argued masterfully against each of them. That in almost each instance he demolished the Republican view was icing on the cake; the real gift was the conversational but detailed approach to policy he sought to engage his increasingly rapt audience in. Continue reading
I am writing a few paragraphs on Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and I thought I needed to study, and link to, the many stories and reviews and analyses I had read on the three most important speeches at that convention, just to get going. First up, my notes on Michelle Obama’s “stunning speech.”
Michelle Obama’s primetime speech on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, in Charlotte, North Carolina, was cathartic: It purged the party’s remaining hesitations and reservations and misgivings about Barack Obama’s contentious but historic first term and allowed Democrats in the hall and across the United States to rediscover him as the same man who promised “change we can believe in,” four long years ago. Continue reading
A revolving-door problem, and then a sideways kind of announcement. Published on May 31, 2011.
Noli de Castro was vice president for six years and a senator for three. Last November 8, some four months after leaving government service, he reassumed his role as principal anchor of the flagship ABS-CBN newscast, “TV Patrol.”
I have no objection to the so-called revolving door in journalism, the practice where journalists join government service for a time and then return to the profession. Done right, done with circumspection and utmost professionalism, both sides of the door can profit. I think, for example, of Salvador P. Lopez, journalist-turned-diplomat-turned-journalist. Government service benefited from his insight and erudition, his facility with words and his capacity for work. When he returned to newspapering (he wrote regularly for the Inquirer in its early years), his writing was deepened by his experience in government and diplomacy.
But De Castro, simply “Kabayan” (Countryman) to millions of Filipinos, reminds me that there are dangers to the revolving door; for one thing, it can give media’s audience an attack of vertigo. Continue reading
The Inquirer feedback loop just got fat–or it did, about 15 months ago, some time before this column was published on May 24, 2011.
IN RESPONSE to Monday’s editorial on the designation of Mar Roxas as President Benigno Aquino III’s chief of staff, an online reader wrote, in an angry burst of colloquial Filipino: He hasn’t even started yet, and here you are already taking a shot at him! (I can no longer find the comment online, hence the paraphrase.) Continue reading
A White House official’s rational exuberance–and its implications for understanding the Pacquiao-Mosley fight. Published on May 10, 2011.
Buyer beware—that’s the thought bubble that pops up in my head these days when I come across the name of John Brennan, US President Barack Obama’s advisor on counter-terrorism. By my reckoning, the most egregious errors in the first White House account of the daring raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden were attributable to Brennan. The assertion, for instance, that Bin Laden used his wife as a human shield. Continue reading
Published on May 3, 2011.
IT DIDN’T seem possible, even as recently as only the other day, that there will ever be an unambiguous victory in the wars of the Age of Terrorism—and yet there the crowds were outside the White House and in Times Square in New York City, at past midnight, celebrating like it was V-E or V-J Day.
The late-night televised announcement by US President Barack Obama (just before noon, Manila time) that a special US military operation had killed al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden in a firefight in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was electric news all around the world, and generated spontaneous crowds in some US cities. The wars on terrorism will never be as uncomplicated, at least in public perception, as World War II (the “Good War” to those who fought it in countries other than their own). But for a couple of hours, the Age of Terrorism lost some of its ambiguities, and joyful crowds (the one in front of the White House had swollen to thousands of Americans before the revelers headed home) exulted. Continue reading
In which I criticize a noted lawyer’s scorched-earth approach to litigation; I was able to include his detailed answer, which he sent in the middle of Holy Week, in the succeeding column. Published on April 19, 2011.
AN “UNETHICAL lawyer,” now “relishing his return to the limelight,” in the process “betraying principles he fought for in the Estrada impeachment”—if I were to describe Leonard de Vera, Willie Revillame’s counsel, in these terms, he would feel offended, and rightly so. Continue reading
A difficult piece to write, for obvious reasons. Published on March 22, 2011.
IT PAINS me to disagree with the dean of Filipino journalists, at whose last book launch, in October 2008, I had the happy privilege of serving as grateful emcee. But on the issue of the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, I think the eminent Amando Doronila is fundamentally mistaken. Continue reading
A skirmish on Twitter. Published on March 15, 2011
ALMOST THREE weeks ago, Sen. Gringo Honasan and musician Jim Paredes traded taunting tweets. That doesn’t sound like much, but in fact the harsh exchange turned out to be both controversial (it animated online discussion and was reported as news) and consequential (it raised substantial questions, for instance about the nature of historical awareness and public discourse in the Age of Twitter). It also drove home the point that the legacy of Edsa 1986 remains very much a work in progress. Continue reading
The third Egypt + Edsa column, in which I try to make sense of something unexpected that Teddy Locsin, a writer I deeply admire, wrote, for a new website. Published on March 1, 2011.
AT FIRST I did not know what to make of it. Teodoro Locsin Jr.’s rambling essay on the Egyptian revolution for the new TV5 website, Interaksyon.com, manages the unlikely feat of praising people power while burying the spirit of Edsa. Having admired Locsin’s elegant prose and muscular reasoning for a long time, I kept looking for hints, in the essay that bears the time stamp “21-Feb-11, 7:13 PM,” that he was merely joking. I regret to say, however, that “People Power in hieroglyphics” seems to have been written in earnest. Continue reading
The second column on Egypt + Edsa. Published on February 22, 2011.
WE ALL “know” Jaime Cardinal Sin called the people to Edsa exactly 25 years ago today. But he wasn’t the first to do so, and it wasn’t Butz Aquino either, the first leader of the so-called “parliament of the streets” to bring a sizable delegation to Camp Aguinaldo, where a military breakaway group led by Juan Ponce Enrile, then the defense minister, and Fidel Ramos, then a lieutenant general and second-in-command of the Armed Forces, had retreated. It was a group of civic-spirited friends, who rushed to the AFP headquarters to show their support and, once inside, found a reporter from Radio Veritas, who put them on the air. Continue reading