Self-defeating habits of the anti-Duterte opposition

In “The opposition’s narrow, viable path,” I said I’ll write a companion piece “analyzing self-defeating characteristics of today’s opposition.” I hope this incomplete list will prompt a discussion.

1. Dismissing the value of scientific surveys.

“Call it the paradox of the limited influencer. Surveys are accurate and therefore influential on the aggregate precisely because they do not influence voters in the particular.” (May 14, 2019). Also: If supporters want to convince VP Leni Robredo to run, know that she reads, and heeds, the SWS and Pulse Asia surveys. 

2. Attributing the administration’s sweep of the 2019 Senate elections to a “7-hour glitch.”

“The reality of the 2019 shutout is unflattering to the opposition” (January 5, 2021, where I identify five reasons why). 

3. Ignoring the reality that “politics is addition.”

“Before they can do battle, the political forces that oppose any continuation of the Duterte coalition must first learn to pitch a big tent.” (February 23, 2021)

4. Belittling Grace Poe’s constituency of moderates.

Even Duterte knows the real score. His “sustained criticism of Robredo, Lacson and Poe suggests—as I have noticed in recent weeks among other politicians—that 2022 is very much in the air.” (September 17, 2019)

5. Believing relentlessly in the theory of “distraction.”

“The administration is supposedly strategic enough to create distractions, to keep popular opinion confused and tame. IT ISN’T TRUE.” (September 3, 2019)

6. Placing etiquette (otherwise legitimate concerns about “epal” politics) above effectiveness, in a make-or-break election.

“The opposition should be airing advertisements today, seeding memes and narratives on social media today, working with partners to put up billboards today, forming volunteer groups today. None of this is illegal; and when the stakes are so high, all of these can be justified as a moral response.” (May 11, 2021)

Also see: Myths, misconceptions about 2019 vote.

Leave a comment

Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

Column: The opposition’s narrow, viable path

Today’s column answers a question my column raised last week, and which some readers responded to by email. My reading of the situation, in sum: Go early, go big, go local, go—and others will follow. Published on May 25, 2021.

I argued last week that Vice President Leni Robredo “has a narrow but viable path to the presidential palace—if she wants it.” I believe that way forward also applies to the possible presidential candidacy of Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon. Allow me to trace the outline of that path.

As the Danish saying goes, it is, of course, difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. But in August and September 2015 I tried to discern the “path to victory” of four potential presidential candidates: Mar Roxas, Jojo Binay, Grace Poe, and Rody Duterte. The columns were attempts not so much at reading omens as analyzing factors that could spell victory in the May 2016 vote.

The following factors help define that narrow but viable path in 2022:

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: VP Leni’s crucial pandemic response

Last week’s column continued the occasional series of readings I’ve made of the opposition’s election prospects. Tomorrow’s is yet another in the series. Published on May 18, 2021.

Let me put some order into these thoughts, by numbering them.

1. Vice President Leni Robredo should be the next president of the Philippines.

2. I say this even though, judging from the only credible nationwide survey at the moment, her numbers remain disappointing. The question to which No. 1 is the answer is very particular: Who should succeed President Duterte?

3. The question is not: Who can succeed him? If it were, other names would rank ahead of hers, at this time.

4. But this is not to say that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno, or Sen. Manny Pacquiao have a lock on the presidency. Robredo has a narrow but viable path to the presidential palace—if she wants it.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Four leads

For the group case study on colleague Gil Cabacungan Jr.’s plagiarism charge against Rappler, I gave the following leads from Twitter:

1 Comment

Filed under Readings in Media

Case study: Cabacungan vs. Rappler

I asked my current class in Media and Politics to analyze the plagiarism issue against Rappler started by my former Inquirer colleague Gil Cabacungan Jr. last April, as the subject of their first small-group case study. Their case study reports (submitted a month ago today, and returned the second week of May) proved to be well-researched, and their analysis solid and straightforward—so much so that I asked my students’ permission if I could post highlights of their reports in public. Take a look.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Readings in Media

Column: Can the opposition win the Senate?

I spoke to a group of diplomats today about the 2022 elections. We spent much of the time talking about the presidential race, but I did refer to this column, and its reading of the factors in play, more than once. Published on May 11, 2021.

If the elections were held today, the answer would be a clear No. The latest available election preference numbers, the Pulse Asia survey conducted between Feb. 22 and March 3, 2021, show that only two, or perhaps three, among the 15 candidates with a statistical chance of winning could be classified as opposition—if the elections were held last February or March.

That would be former vice president Jojo Binay and Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, who rank 14th and 15th. The “perhaps” applies to Sen. Ping Lacson, ranked 9th; he is nominally with the Duterte political coalition, but has been increasingly critical of administration policies.

But the elections are a year away. Could opposition candidates win a majority of the 12 Senate seats at stake? The answer is a definite Maybe, It Depends.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

“Higit tayong dakila”

A Filipino translation of an important passage in a letter from Rizal to Del Pilar.

Rizal, writing to Marcelo del Pilar on May 28, 1890:

Apelo al patriotismo de todos los filipinos para dar el pueblo español una prueba de que somos superiores a nuestra desgracia, y de que ni somos embrutecibles ni se pueden adormecer nuestros nobles sentimientos con la corrupción de las costumbres.

Encarnacion Alzona’s familiar English translation, published in 1963:

I appeal to the patriotism of all Filipinos to give the Spanish people proof that we are superior to our misfortune, and that we are neither brutalizable nor can our noble sentiments be lulled by the corruption of customs.

Last February, I asked Fr. Albert Alejo SJ, the poet-priest better known as Paring Bert, if he could kindly translate the passage into Filipino. He replied to me late on February 25, 2021, with this moving, powerful translation:

Nais kong gisingin ang pagkamakabayan ng tanang Pilipino. Patunayan natin sa bayang Kastila na higit tayong dakila kaysa ating kasawiang-palad, at di tayo malulupig sa lupit, ni mapamamanhid ng nakaugaliang katiwalian ang ating mga damdaming marangal. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Readings in History, Readings in Rizal

Column: Who is Xi, whom Duterte loves?

This is a late post; it was a long week. I wanted to connect an important lecture I listened to last December with Duterte’s latest display of treasonous conduct. When he described real-world affairs as “usapang bugoy” (quick translation: not “tough talk” so much as “talk among toughies”), who was the biggest bugoy in Duterte’s line of sight? Published on May 3, 2021.

Minxin Pei is a prominent China expert; he is also a leading scholar on democratization in developing countries. Last December, he gave the prestigious Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World. Building on his earlier research, including “China: From Tiananmen to Neo-Stalinism,” which ran in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Democracy, Professor Pei focused his lecture on what he called “Totalitarianism’s Long Shadow Over China.” This lecture has now been published in the April 2021 issue of the same influential journal.

Long story short: His analysis of Xi Jinping as undisputed leader of China is deeply concerning. The first since Mao Zedong to amass the three most powerful positions in China—general secretary of the Communist Party, chair of the Central Military Commission and thus commander in chief of the military, and president with no term limits—Xi is a direct threat not only to democratic polities around the world but to the democratic prospects of China itself.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: Is DOH manipulating the data?

RIGHT? A screen cap of the column, as published on Inquirer Mobile.

Published on all Inquirer platforms on April 27, 2021.

In the last few days, some statisticians and data scientists I follow on Twitter have been raising a warning flag about Department of Health (DOH) statistics. Yesterday, the total number of COVID-19 cases recorded since the start of the pandemic some 14 months ago topped 1 million. That’s a grim milestone, and worrying enough. But the real source of discomfort has to do with the remarkable drop in the number of active cases.

From 203,710 active cases on April 17, the total fell to 77,075 on April 25. (It dropped further yesterday, to 74,623, with 11,333 recoveries and 8,929 new cases recorded.) This should call for, if not a celebration, then at least a round of congratulations. This is good news, right?

“But DOH reported more than 93,000 [new] cases in just the past 10 days, higher than today’s [number of] active cases,” Edson Guido, a PhD candidate in economics at the University of the Philippines and data analytics lead of ABS-CBN, wrote on April 25.

If I understand him correctly, that means that — even assuming that all 93,000 new cases are mild and asymptomatic — all those 93,000 new cases by the DOH’s own standards must still be considered active on the 10th day. (The standard guidance today is if you test positive but do not show any symptoms, you must isolate for 10 days.) Why was the total number of active cases pegged at 77,075? Puzzling, to say the least.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media

Column: The government is a vacuum

Three warning signs that the national government is losing control of the situation on the ground: Stirrings of unrest provoked by the President’s failing response to the worsening pandemic or by the President himself. Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, INQ Plus, and Inquirer Mobile, but (sigh) not in Inquirer.net, on April 20, 2021.

The national government is losing control of the situation. Consider the following:

Military unrest. Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana denied rumors that “a group of retired and active military officers” was withdrawing their support from President Duterte. Lorenzana’s denial was categorical and comprehensive.

There is no reason to doubt Lorenzana, but the fact that “military unrest” has yet again become a category of possibility is largely the fault of President Duterte. When he emerged on April 12 after another prolonged absence, he took the extraordinary (but also characteristic) step of highlighting a deeply unflattering criticism against him, that he is inutile, and turning it, in his telling, into a weapon against his critics.

Any adequate translation of the President’s Filipino would capture another of his characteristic turns of speech, changing his first-person usage to the third person: “Will I last this long? Will I last this long in this goddamned position if I were inutile? Would the military allow me to govern when that is how you govern? [If] you did nothing?”

This was not the first time the President made the anti-democratic argument that his mandate as president was at the pleasure of the military. Even earlier in his term, when he was at the unquestioned height of his popularity, he would tease the top brass, telling them to form a junta, or to tell him to step aside if their patience had run out. It must be that the President actually believes this, that the military can force him out. The argument is sincere, but nevertheless it is profoundly anti-democratic.

Now that public discontent in the middle of the pandemic can no longer be disguised or denied, the President has again resorted to what is in fact the residual professionalism of the military leadership as proof of his competence. Irrational, but it leads logically to the inevitable consequence: Rumors of military unrest. Expect the rumors to continue.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: Deadly incompetence is the red line

The column I wrote for tomorrow’s issue ran too long; I had to edit it down by about 20 percent, to fit the space reserved for me. I thought I’d run the longer version here, now, and post the shorter version tomorrow. To be published in the Inquirer on April 13, 2021.

On March 28, the Department of Health’s daily Covid-19 report recorded 9,475 new cases, 11 new deaths, a total of 105,568 active cases—and a 72-percent use rate of ICU beds in Metro Manila, the pandemic’s worst-hit region. The national government reluctantly ordered a return to Enhanced Community Quarantine status for the region plus the neighboring provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal: the so-called “NCR Plus.”

On April 11, the DOH daily report recorded 11,681 new cases, 201 new deaths, a total of 146,519 active cases—and an 86-percent use rate of ICU beds in Metro Manila. On the same day, the national government ordered a LOWERING of the NCR Plus status to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine.

As people on social media say these days: Make it make sense! 

How can the national government relax its guard and lower quarantine status of the worst-hit areas when the numbers, prepared by its own health department, do not show an improvement but rather a worsening of the health emergency? 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: The ivermectin surge

Published April 6, 2021.

I have nothing against ordinary citizens who believe that the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin can prevent infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus or, once they are infected, can cure them of the COVID-19 disease. The administration has so badly mismanaged the worst health emergency in the country’s history that ivermectin presents, for some reasonable individuals, a reasonable alternative with a reasonable risk factor. 

But the current reality is: The medical, scientific, and pharmaceutical consensus is overwhelming. Ivermectin is not recommended as preventive medicine for the virus or as treatment for the disease. The World Health Organization has advised that evidence from a total of 16 controlled trials is “inconclusive,” and that, “until more data is available,” the drug should not be used outside of clinical trials. The country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned the public “against the purchase and use of ivermectin veterinary products against COVID-19” and that “ivermectin is not approved by the FDA for treatment of any viral infection.” It added that “the registered ivermectin products in the country for human use are [only] in topical formulations under prescription use only. This is used for the treatment of external parasites such as head lice and skin conditions such as rosacea.”

Contrary to the overhyped idea that a debate among medical practitioners is “raging” in the country, only a handful of medical doctors have come out openly in favor of the use of ivermectin for COVID-19 cases. The consensus among medical societies is that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to recommend its use in the pandemic. And the Philippine Medical Association reminded its members that prescribing unregistered medicines to patients, which runs counter to the paramount principle of doing no harm, constitutes “an unethical act.”

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

Column: But, SP Sotto, who is to blame?

Published on March 30, 2021.

Senate President Tito Sotto has been the true leader of the Senate in the last five years. He heads a large bloc of politically aligned senators, enjoys a real rapport with almost every member of the chamber, and, with his fourth term almost completed, shares with Minority Leader Frank Drilon the distinction of having served the longest among incumbent senators.

He could have been Senate president from the first day of the 17th Congress if he had wanted the post. I wrote in “How Pimentel became Senate president” (7/26/16) that he, together with Loren Legarda, then a senator, “began to reach out to [Koko] Pimentel. They had also done the math, and recognized that Pimentel had the best chance of putting together a working majority.” But other senators told me Sotto was simply not yet ready to move his bloc behind his own candidacy. When he finally replaced Pimentel in 2018, I acknowledged, in “Du30’s facial powder and the limits of political will” (8/28/18), that in the Senate under President Duterte, “Sotto is an independent power, and the center of an influential power bloc … [who does] not really need the President’s blessing to win the leadership of [his] peers.”

A summary of his current standing among his peers may be read in “Let Leila join Senate teleconferences” (5/12/20): “Despite his residual reputation as a political lightweight because of his background in show business, Sotto actually enjoys his peers’ respect for his readiness to protect the Senate’s institutional dignity. After he was elected president of the Senate in 2018, he paid a long, cordial, and productive visit to De Lima. When the police suddenly showed up in the Senate’s parking area later that year to arrest Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, he strongly criticized the lack of courtesy and allowed a stand-off that lasted for weeks. And earlier this year, he defended the right of the Senate committee on public services to hold a hearing (aired nationwide) on the ABS-CBN franchise over the vociferous objection of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.” We can add more examples.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: It’s Duterte who should resign

Published today, March 23, 2021, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, under a different head: Time for Duterte to resign. It really is.

On the day the number of new confirmed Covid-19 cases reached a startling high of 7,103, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was in Paranaque City, once again cutting a ridiculous figure with his meter stick. The following day, March 20, the number hit 7,999 cases, the worst single-day total since the pandemic started a year ago. Duque told reporters: “Hindi naman natin alam na papalo ng ganito kataas [We really did not know it would go this high]. So we have to make the adjustments.”

The public was certainly ready to. Calls for Duque’s resignation mounted again, for at least the third time in the country’s worst health emergency. Filipino Nurses United expressed its collective hope that “leadership be replaced by a more competent Secretary of Health.” Fellow columnist Kay Rivera, a medical doctor, summed up the case for resignation. “In maintaining his position under the President’s inexplicable trust, he continues to display an insensitivity and willful ignorance that continues to cost health workers, and the rest of the public, dearly. How many more must call for Duque’s resignation?”

That Duque said he and by extension the government response team he leads did not expect the recent surge is another compelling argument for resignation. The daily totals had in fact been steadily, worryingly, rising:  

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: Can democratic forces make common cause?

Published on March 16, 2021.

It should be a no-brainer, right? It’s right there in the name we use to identify the various groups: pro-democracy. But while preserving what remains of the democratic space is the primary objective, the bitter truth is “democracy” and “rule of law” are not winning messages. Even in the “snap elections” of 1986, Cory Aquino did not defeat Ferdinand Marcos on a restoration-of-democracy message; rather, the message after 20 years of Marcosian misrule was, simply, change. “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na.”

The idiomatic English equivalent, “We’ve had enough, this is too much, it’s time to change it,” lacks the punch of the original, but it has the advantage of reminding us that the last five years of abuse, bloodshed, cruelty, democratic erosion, and failure have brought us back to 1986: We really have had enough of the incompetence; the brutality is too much; it really is time to reject the incumbent.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

Column: Who protects the lawyers?

Published on March 9, 2021.

The attempt on the life of lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen in Iloilo City on March 3 was particularly brutal: He was stabbed with a screwdriver in the head and in other parts of his body, and when paramedics brought him to the hospital (as veteran correspondent Nestor Burgos reported) the blue and yellow screwdriver was still embedded in his left temple. The human rights lawyer is now in stable condition; he is the fourth member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers to survive an assassination attempt under the Duterte administration. But assassins on a motorcycle did reach a founding member of NUPL, Benjamin Ramos; he was shot dead in November 2018 in Kabankalan City.

Ramos was one of 56 lawyers killed since July 2016, when President Duterte took power. NUPL itself prepared a list; in July 2020, its list had 50 names on it, with Jovencio Senados, a senior city prosecutor in Manila, the latest victim entered into it. Rappler has updated the list to 56; Winston Intong of Malaybalay, Bukidnon, the 56th and latest victim, was killed in January 2021.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: ‘The University is under siege’

Published on March 2, 2021.

Last week, at the 3rd National Conference on Democracy and Disinformation hosted by the University of the Philippines Visayas, new UPV chancellor Dr. Clement Camposano joined the program not only to welcome the participants but to serve as a resource person himself, later joining in the rough-and-tumble of the Q&A. It was my first time to hear Camposano, who has degrees in political science and a PhD in anthropology, speak. I had the distinct sensation that I was seeing an important public intellectual we should all heed take his place in the national spotlight. Camposano was clear and courageous (the courage sharpened by the clarity of his thinking); but he was also insightful, original in his approach to the problem of disinformation, gifted at answering questions and using the rolling phrase. He spoke on the role of campus journalists, but I would like to run extended passages to highlight other themes he struck. The entire speech can be read on the new website of the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, at fightdisinfo.ph.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media

A documentary on Edsa

Leave a comment

Filed under Readings in History, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

Column: Who is opposition?

Potent issues can be raised against President Duterte’s misgovernment, in the long run-up to the 2022 elections. Are the politicians who raise them, or work behind the scenes in raising them, part of the opposition? Who IS opposition? Simple questions, necessitating complicated (but possibly big-tent-pitching) answers. This week’s column, out on all Inquirer platforms except (inexplicably) on Inquirer.net. Published on February 23, 2021.

I continue to think that while President Duterte remains truly popular, this popularity, as measured by surveys, is a thin kind of popularity. I do not mean that it is not real, or that it doesn’t have sticking power. It obviously is real, and it obviously has lasted for years. By thin, I mean that the President has not been able to change longstanding attitudes about crucial issues among voting-age Filipinos—even if those issues stand as obstacles to his political agenda and threaten to define his historical legacy.

The clearest example is his brazen pivot to China. Despite years of Palace praise for the Chinese superpower and undisguised warnings about Beijing belligerence, despite many unprompted testimonials to alleged Chinese business largesse, public worry about China remains high. It’s the same case with extrajudicial killings, which (separate from support for the President’s so-called war on drugs) continues to prompt fear among Filipinos. It’s also the same case with “RevGov,” which continues to fail to make a substantial dent on decades-long attitudes favoring democracy. It’s very much the case with the government-provoked shutdown of the ABS-CBN network; most Filipinos continue to support both the network and its return to regular business. It’s even the case with the Duterte administration’s attacks on press freedom, which has failed to undermine majority support for the media. (I would even add the manifest government incompetence in securing COVID-19 vaccines.)

Taking up any of these issues, running against Malacañang on them, would allow candidates to gain real traction. Would politicians running on these issues be considered opposition? A simple question, but our answers may actually say as much about us as about the politicians in question.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: Martyr Leila, convenor Leni

In today’s column, I pay tribute to Sen. Leila de Lima, who marks four years in unjust detention next week; I also call on Vice President Leni Robredo to convene, at the soonest possible time, all political forces who want to “take our country back” from the Duterte/Marcos regime. Published in all Inquirer platforms on February 16, 2021.

Last week, for the first time since the pandemic collapsed like a straightjacket on an unprepared country, Sen. Leila de Lima attended her ongoing trial for alleged conspiracy to commit drug trading. It was the first time she was seen in public in almost a year, and I must admit that seeing the images of the opposition senator that filled social media on Feb. 9—wearing a mask and a face shield, extending her right arm for the remote thermometer, waving at her physically distanced supporters—moved me deeply.

In a personal way, it reminded me of the Nelson Mandela moment many in my generation remember best. When the great South African dissident was released in 1990 after 27 years in prison, I was struck by how imposing, how regal, he looked. Like many others, I guess, I expected him to look like a broken man, diminished by injustice, but instead he radiated strength. When he emerged, dapper in his suit and dignified in his bearing, he looked like he had mastered fate itself.

It has been a year or so since I last visited Senator De Lima in her detention quarters in Camp Crame; having seen her graciously receive her visitors, speak forthrightly after Mass, display a lively sense of humor, keep up to date with the latest news affecting her beloved country, and write her notes and letters in bright blue ink, I knew that the rank injustice she has suffered had not broken her. Many of those who visit her to comfort her in her time of need leave feeling comforted instead, by her air of serenity, and at the same time strengthened by the unmistakable steel in her soul.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: AFP’s anti-communism is for real

The military establishment in the Philippines is not red-tagging or red-baiting in order to deflect attention away from the incompetence or venality of the Duterte administration. It is doing so because anti-communism IS the military agenda. That it is doing so in a self-evidently self-defeating manner is only another one of history’s many twists. Published in all Inquirer platforms on February 2, 2021.

I have read some arguments that frame the red-tagging spree the defense establishment is engaged in as part of the usual strategy of distraction. This is a mistake, because the anti-communist ideology of the Armed Forces is embedded in the military sector’s DNA. To understand the present situation, we should test the limits of hyperbole and say this is something every soldier believes.

It is ALSO true, of course, that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s unilateral abrogation of the UP-DND agreement of 1989, or the irresponsible mislabeling of individuals as communist rebels by the AFP, or Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr.’s return to his reckless habit of red-tagging some of the country’s most prominent universities—that these and other such incidents have served to deflect some attention away from the government’s anemic pandemic response.

But it would be a mistake, a blunder, to read the anti-communist hysteria the military is indulging in today as merely distracting in nature. The military thinks that 1) the greatest threat to national security remains the long-running communist insurgency, and 2) it is finally in a position to deliver the death blow to the insurgency, perhaps in a matter of mere months.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: Lorenzana lost his way

What happened to Secretary Lorenzana? And what does it all mean for the battle of the soul of the military? Published on January 26, 2021, in all Inquirer platforms.

I’ve met Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana only once, briefly, on the sidelines of an event. He was sharp, attentive, and willing to listen, as his reputation led me to expect. Former and current government officials who served or continue to serve at very high levels of government had told me Lorenzana was a straight shooter, a man they respected and that the country could rely on, and because I trusted them I trusted their judgment.

This sense of the man was tested over the years, but by and large I thought that my sources had called it right. My columns reflected that thinking.

In “Destabilization? Opposition can’t even unite” (3/14/17), I described Lorenzana as a “grownup” in the administration, who had the poise and stature to say that criticism of the President “is not destabilization.” In “Duterte’s secret” (12/5/17), I described his adherence to the Constitution as “more intuitive” than that of lawyers: “as soldiers they know they may have to die for it.” In “Ranhilio and the limits of ‘federalism’” (8/14/18), I included him among three Cabinet secretaries pushing back against the administration’s federalism campaign. In “Locsin and other small men” (6/18/19), I noted that it was Lorenzana who was first to issue “a forthright, indignant statement” on the Chinese ramming of the fishing boat Gem-Ver. And in “Duterte heard, but did he listen?” (8/4/20), I defended his action on the “distress signal” sent by the country’s medical societies, that warned about the administration’s “losing battle” against the pandemic, as in fact the deed of an official “acting in good faith.”

To see Lorenzana throwing all this goodwill away, by gratuitously and unilaterally abrogating the 1989 agreement between the University of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense, and then by doubling down on its rationalization, is distressing. First, because the abrogation is a terrible mistake, with serious implications for the country’s democratic project. And second, because his role in it, and his apparent solicitation of support from various Armed Forces units to rush to his defense after he came under heavy public criticism, raises uncomfortable questions about the military’s role as a moderating influence on the administration.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: The public rotting of Harry Roque

Unfortunately, this column is not on Inquirer.net (again). But it was published today in other Inquirer platforms, including the main one, in the newspaper. There really IS much going on, but I thought it was instructive to try to understand how a highly educated man like Secretary Harry Roque can abandon his former principles so dramatically, and so completely. It’s a morality lesson, yes, and a cautionary tale for the democratic project. Published on January 19, 2021.

Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

Column: Bishops, help stop this morbid dance

Column No. 630 is an appeal to the Catholic bishops, who will gather for their semi-annual meeting this month, to issue a pastoral statement against the latest attempt to game the Constitution. Today’s column (January 12, 2021) was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, reproduced on INQ plus, and carried on Inquirer Mobile—but, for the second time this year and the 16th time since last year, Inquirer.net declined to run it.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: How to take our country back

The first column of the new year is a follow-up to the last column of the last year. I had been meaning to join the discussion on what the political opposition can do, specifically, to stop the accelerating decay of democracy in the Philippines, not only in the run-up to the 2022 elections but today and well after the next presidential vote. I have found myself, however, needing to answer important prior questions. In “Take our country back,” I argued that the constituency for a “politics of return” is greater that we might too readily assume. In today’s column, “How to take our country back,” I argue that “political purists” cannot lead, or indeed cannot help create, this larger constituency. I criticize two dangerous delusions some in the opposition hold (or are held by).

Unfortunately, Inquirer.net declined to run my column again—the first time this year, and the 15th time overall, since last year. But it was published today (January 5, 2021) in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, reproduced on INQ Plus (as a faithful reader tells me, on PressReader too), and carried in our popular Inquirer Mobile app. (Of course, I also post my columns here, and on my Facebook page.)

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics