Column: Which PH institutions are pushing back? (2)

WJP ROL 2018 Launch

(Photo from WJP launch announcement)

Published on February 13, 2018.

At the launch of the Rule of Law Index in Washington, DC the other week, forum moderator Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace asked a crucial question. In those countries like Venezuela and the Philippines where adherence to the rule of law has weakened (as measured according to the Index’s eight factors), which institutions were “pushing back”? In my answer, I distinguished between institutions that are pushing back and institutions that are “holding fast” (including a military which abhors the vacuum of politicization and a Roman Catholic Church which, despite its efforts to engage the government policy agenda, is seen by Duterte supporters as anti-Duterte).

What do I understand by pushing back? It might be best to cite specific examples. Continue reading

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Column: Which PH institutions are holding fast?

ROL Index Launch 2018

With Jodi Vittori of Transparency International, exiled Venezuelan mayor David Smolansky, and moderator Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at the launch of the 2017-2018 Rule of Law Index. January 31, 2018. (Photo borrowed from @TheWJP, the World Justice Project’s Twitter account.

Published on February 6, 2018.

At the launch of the 2017-2018 Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project (WJP) in Washington, I joined a panel of speakers tasked to discuss some of its implications. That the Philippines had fallen the most, by 18 positions among the 113 countries polled, was “not unexpected” but still “a shock,” I said. It offers yet more quantitative proof of something I asserted at the World Justice Forum in the Netherlands last July: that the Duterte administration had weaponized the rule of law, and that this weapon has been turned on its own people.

The Index, now on its ninth edition, is based on a massive global survey that incorporates the findings of a General Population Poll (involving over 110,000 household respondents) and the views of over 3,000 legal experts. Because of its scope, the GPP of any given Index consists of a rolling schedule of surveys conducted either in the fall of the previous year or the summer of the current year. For the Philippine data, some 1,008 respondents were polled in late 2016 in three major cities: Manila, Cebu and Davao.

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“The Marcos family’s last gasp”

I wrote this last October for the Asia News Network’s Writers Circle. It ran in several newspapers and news sites, including Vietnam News, the Korea Herald, and the Singapore Straits Times. The Nation of Bangkok published the commentary with a tweaked head: “The Marcos dynasty’s desperate last stand.”

With President Duterte in power, the Marcos family is ascendant in Philippine national politics again. The remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos have been buried at the national heroes’ cemetery; his only son and namesake has a live election protest against the incumbent vice president; his eldest daughter Imee, the governor of his home province of Ilocos Norte, is polling well among likely candidates for the Senate; and his wife Imelda, at 89, is on her third term as representative of the Marcoses’ old congressional bailiwick.

But despite the obvious support of a still-popular president, the celebrity that has attached to the Marcos name, and a slick, long-running, well-funded social media operation promoting the Marcos worldview, the Duterte era may turn out to be the Marcos family’s last gasp. These years may be their last opportunity to win back the presidency, and everything that goes with it.

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Under the Gun: Democracy in the Crosshairs

Eisenhower notice

Keynote at the 10th anniversary of the Eisenhower Fellows Association of the Philippines, on October 5, 2018. [The passages I bracketed in parentheses I did not read aloud anymore, to cut down on the speaking time.] I ran excerpts from the speech in my column of October 9. The opinion piece “The Marcos family’s last gasp,” written for the Asia News Network’s Writers Circle, first appeared in Vietnam News on Saturday, October 6, 2018.

Is the democratic project in the Philippines in the crosshairs?

To ask the question is itself already a sign—of something. I think we can all agree that, generally speaking, we raise medical concerns when we are ailing, not when we are in the full flush of good health. We ask whether our democracy is under the gun, when we sense that it is under threat, or a target.

Sometimes the threat is not obvious. Sometimes it is massive and persistent, but too familiar to be visible. We can take our initial bearings from the man after whom your fellowship is named. President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, famously warned against the “unwarranted influence” on “our liberties and democratic processes” of what he called the “military-industrial complex.”

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Column: Open letter to Grace Poe on ‘fake news’

Published on January 30, 2018.

Dear Senator Grace,

Thank you for the invitation to attend the second committee hearing on “fake news.” I regret to say I have a previous commitment and am unable to attend. Please consider this open letter as my position paper.

1. Distraction? I understand the view of some who think that this inquiry is a distraction, but I do not hold that view. That perspective is based on the mistaken notion that focus is a zero-sum game in the attention economy, that if we pay attention to the problem of “fake news” we can no longer pay attention to other issues, such as the Dengvaxia controversy or the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling scandal. Untrue, and also unhelpful. We need to be able to tell truth from falsehood to make sense of these issues—and “fake news” is designed precisely to weaken that ability, to blur that line. So by all means let us continue this necessary inquiry.

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Column: ‘Our challenge IS President Duterte’

Published on January 23, 2018.

At the “Catholic media in challenging times” forum in San Carlos Seminary in Makati City on Friday, the veteran journalist and former professor Crispin Maslog—he wryly introduced himself as a “centennial,” not a millennial—rose during the open forum not to ask a question but to offer a comment. “I would like to share with you an answer,” he said. He pointed to the theme of the forum blazoned on the backdrop, read it out loud, and said: “I think our challenge is President Duterte.”

He cut to the quick. That is in fact the real reason why we live in challenging times, and why Catholic media organizations—in common with other media and with other sectors of society—are facing a challenge. The election of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte inaugurated a parallel era of anxiety in the Philippines; behind the record high survey ratings of the President are consistent confessions of fear, mistrust, uncertainty. The same surveys that show majority satisfaction or trust ratings for the President and approval for his signature antidrugs campaign show that almost three-fourths of voting-age Filipinos fear they or someone they know will be the next casualty in the so-called war on drugs. A far greater majority, over 90 percent, say keeping suspected drug dealers or users alive is important. Less than one-tenth say they trust the police when the police allege that suspects were killed because they fought back. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Who will rid me of this meddlesome Rappler?’

Published on January 16, 2018, after the Duterte regime’s continuing offensive against press freedom entered a new and more dangerous phase. Please also see: 10-tweet thread I posted on the same day the column came out.

If you squint hard enough, you can pretend that the little you see in front of you is the most important thing to see. If you do it long enough, you can even convince yourself that the little you do see is all there is to see in the world.

This sleight of sight explains the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission, when it ruled that Rappler, the social media network, had violated constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of media entities and revoked its certificate of incorporation. If this revocation stands, Rappler will effectively be shut down — the first time a news organization will be closed by government action since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Continue reading

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Column: Alvarez signals conquest of Supreme Court

Published on January 9, 2018.

Last week, the two PDP-Laban leaders who head the two chambers of Congress cut the holiday chatter short with unsettling messages.

Senate President Koko Pimentel, who is party president, decided it was time to point out an obvious consequence of the ruling coalition’s attempt to revise the Constitution: President Duterte’s term can be extended. On Jan. 3, he said in a text message to reporters: “We can extend the President’s term 1. If really necessary and 2. If he’s amenable to it …”

On the same day, Speaker Bebot Alvarez, the party secretary general, said much the same thing, and then dropped three more bombshells. If both chambers do convene into a constituent assembly as early as this month and complete a new constitution within the year, he told ANC in a mix of English and Filipino, the following may happen: Continue reading

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Column: #FindIca, #FindPH

Published on January 2, 2018.

We can draw two lessons from the Ica Policarpio episode that gripped public attention before Christmas Day. It showed us that in a time of crisis we can follow the lead of the better angels of our nature. And it also proved, yet again, that in a time of crisis we can also turn into the worst version of ourselves.

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Playing catch-up (again)

Will start adding my 2018 columns to this little corner of the web. Coming up: Column No. 475.

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The “first rough draft” AND history

Happy to present a lecture on the relationship (or at least one kind of relationship) between journalism and history to core history students (that is, non-history majors enrolled in history subjects that are part of the core curriculum) at the Ateneo de Manila University yesterday. I thought the questions from the audience were the real highlight; unfortunately, this copy of the lecture is all I got!

Rough Draft Lecture

The “first rough draft” AND history
Journalism as source and resource

LET ME START AT THE BEGINNING—at the beginning, that is, of Jose Rizal’s public career, as leader of the Filipino nationalists.

On June 25, 1884, a banquet was held in a Madrid restaurant to honor the pioneering achievement of two Filipino painters. Juan Luna had just won a gold medal at the Exposicion de Bellas Artes; Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo completed the triumph with a silver medal. Luna was only 26, Hidalgo 29. The previous Thursday, Rizal had just turned 23.

The day after the dinner, a newspaper with moderate leanings, El Imparcial—perhaps today we can render that idiomatically as The Independent—published a lengthy news story about the event. It was 24 paragraphs long, and ran on the front page. Continue reading

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Asian perspectives on disinformation, and other urgent necessities

Notes on disinformation, for a panel discussion on the “Role of Journalists in the Context of Information Disorder and Digital Literacy,” at the Maintaining Credibility and Trust in Journalism collaborative workshop in Bangkok, March 22, 2019:

There is much to be said. Let me just focus on four points. These are not so much direct answers to the main question, about the role of journalists, but rather considerations we need to bear in mind when we attempt to give our answers.

First, it is good to have forums like this. An Asian perspective on disinformation is useful and necessary in several ways. As I have written elsewhere [in a paper that is still being prepared for publication]: “It can highlight the aggressive use of disinformation in the region’s history of colonialism, and … prove that disinformation was a preferred weapon of colonizing forces; it can help correct the America-centric focus of much of the existing literature, by demonstrating a greater variety in the scale and impact of disinformation in different media ecosystems; it can help focus attention on the fatal consequences of ‘fake news.’ Above all, an Asian perspective can help underline the role digital disinformation plays in hastening democratic decay.”

Second, in fighting back against fake news and other forms of disinformation, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. I find the definitions crafted by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan most useful, “in part because they are the result of a lengthy and rigorous process of research and revision and reasoning, and in part because the definitions make intuitive sense.” Thus:

  • “Mis-information is when false information is shared, but no harm is meant.”
  • “Dis-information is when false information is knowingly shared to cause harm.”
  • “Mal-information is when genuine information is shared to cause harm, often by moving information designed to stay private into the public sphere.”

To these definitions, and if you will allow me, I would like to add my own definition of “fake news.” I realize it’s a contested concept, and some of my own colleagues do not think it is even possible to define something so elusive, and not worth the time. My definition of “fake news” is based on the 3 Ds: “It is a deliberate act of fabrication and manipulation; disguised to look, sound, feel like the news; designed to deceive.” Deliberate, deceptive, disguised as news.

Third, we should be careful about limiting the problem of disinformation to the digital space alone. In many parts of Asia, lies and disinformation still travel the old routes. Allow me to give only one example. I have elsewhere noted that: “The latest We Are Social report, released in January 2019, estimates that some 76 million people in the Philippines are connected to the Internet; that’s a 70-percent internet penetration rate. Impressive, but consider the number who are NOT internet-connected. The estimate is at least 30 million people—that’s equivalent to the total population of New Zealand AND Australia, combined. To focus only on the manipulation of digital and social media in the Philippines is to ignore the impact of other media, especially TV and radio, on a large number of Filipinos.” I think the same can be said for other parts of our region.

Fourth, what should we do when government is the main source of disinformation? In most countries, government media resources dwarf those of privately owned media; in many, government media institutions dominate the media landscape; in some, these different platforms and channels are used to shape an alternative reality. As I have written before: “the democratic ideal is not merely consent by the governed, but rather informed consent. [Disinformation] threatens this ideal by seeding the community of the governed with lies and falsehoods, and because of this diet eventually stunting our growth as moral, reasonable, responsible citizens. Hannah Arendt sounded the alarm half a century ago: ‘The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is … people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.’

My four points, in sum: We need specifically Asian perspectives on disinformation. We must build a common language to address the problem. We must not limit the problem of disinformation to the digital space alone. And we need to understand that governments can and do benefit greatly from disinformation.

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“The Shape of Harm”

Cartoon 3

“See here, sonny …”

The Philippines Communication Society asked me to speak on “misinformation and media manipulation” at their annual conference yesterday. I highlighted one recent and horrifying example, gave two reasons why we in the Philippines must not limit the scope of the problem of media manipulation to digital and social media only, and suggested three ways of understanding the threat posed by Rodrigo Duterte’s “narcolists.” (I also showed four cartoons, from 1898.)

We meet a mere three days after the horrifying attacks on the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand—the shock has not yet worn off, the depth of human suffering has yet to be fully plumbed.

What seems clear now is that the world has just experienced what we can call an act of perlocutionary terrorism. Borrowing from the philosopher J. L. Austin, a perlocutionary act is classified by the “… consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience, or of the speaker, or of other persons …”

Austin was classifying speech acts, or more specifically what he called effects of speech, but I am not the first person to say nor will I be the last one to claim that terrorism is also a statement: It is violence as political or ideological statement.

What makes the attacks in New Zealand even more repulsive is that at least one, the attack on the first mosque, was designed and executed as a made-for-media spectacle. As the Washington Post tech reporter Drew Harwell tweeted: “The New Zealand massacre was livestreamed on Facebook, announced on 8chan, reposted on YouTube, commentated about on Reddit, and mirrored around the world before the tech companies could even react.”

The violence was meant to have consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts, or actions of a specific audience scattered across the world: white supremacists, both full-fledged or incipient. It was meant to persuade them, to move them to action. It was, chillingly, meant to inspire imitation. The statement was crafted to be shared and retold. In that sense, it was perlocutionary terrorism.

I hope I will not be misunderstood. When I focus on the aspect of statement, I do not mean to minimize the human suffering inflicted on the Christchurch victims, or to deny the horror of the violence, or to diminish the responsibility, the savagery, of the mass murderers. (The considerations would be the same, if we were to discuss, for instance, the bombing of the Jolo cathedral only last January, which killed 23 persons and wounded 95.)

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Stories, Estorya, Counter-History

ramon reyes lecture pic

Remembering in a Time of Forgetting
The 2019 Ramon Reyes Memorial Lectures

Stories, Estorya, Counter-History:
The Moral Thinker and the Crises of Deliberate Forgetting

Ramon Castillo Reyes was one of the greats. I was fortunate, as a philosophy major in the 1980s, to take his courses in the history of philosophy as well as in ethics. I must admit that, like Fr Reilly’s class in epistemology or Fr Green’s on language, Dr Reyes’ classes provoked me into poetry, not philosophy. I remember writing a poem prompted by Dr. Reyes’ impressions of an old folks’ home in Belgium; Father Reilly caused a poem I wrote in his class to be published in America magazine. So when I received the unexpected invitation to celebrate the memory of Dr. Reyes in the company of the peerless Doc Leo Garcia and the brilliant Ron Mendoza, a spasm, perhaps it was a metaphysical unease, seized me.

How can I pay this remarkable teacher and influential philosopher due honor and just tribute? Continue reading

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Pages from ON THE MARCH: The Jesuits in the Philippines since the Restoration

Editing this book (the second coffee table book on the Jesuits published by Monching Cruz and Manny Engwa, to raise funds for the Philippine Jesuit Aid Association) was a gift, a joy, an answered prayer—and a way to give back and to give thanks to the many Jesuits who served as mentors or colleagues.

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Rizal’s theory of “intellectual tradition”

Another speech I thought I had already posted here. This one was from December 6, 2012, for that year’s Philippine PEN Congress. I ran excerpts in my column of December 11

“Condensados en un libro”
Fr. Vicente Garcia, the Noli, and Rizal’s Theory of ‘Intellectual Tradition’

It is something, when you come to think of it: how many, and how often, priests and friars figure in Rizal’s life and work. The early champions, the first tormentors, the iconic characters, the dedicated enemies, the secret supporters; even, at the end of his life, the eager revisionists.

To discuss one aspect of our session’s theme, of the writer and the Philippine intellectual tradition, I would like to call attention to, or invoke the example of, one of Rizal’s secret supporters: the priest who was among the first to defend the Noli.

I would like to do so because, in Rizal’s extensive correspondence, the letter he wrote the priest seems to me to best sum up his theory of a Philippine intellectual tradition. The basic elements of the general idea weren’t new; they can be found in many of his other letters. But in this particular letter, from the beginning of 1891, we find the most felicitous phrasing of his theory.

First, though, I need to set the context of the correspondence; please bear with me.

ON OCTOBER 6, 1888, writing from Barcelona, Mariano Ponce brought Rizal some needed good news. He told the thrilling tale of “an illustrious fellow countryman, recognized in Manila as a profound theologian and great philosopher,” who had taken a stand against the hated Fr. Jose Rodriguez and parried the Augustinian friar’s attacks on the Noli. (It was well over a year since the first copies of Rizal’s first novel reached the Philippines.) Continue reading

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“ITIGIL ANG SPEKULASYON NG MGA JOURNALISTS TULAD NI JOHN NERI” (sic)

A really late post. I thought I had already posted this speech I read at the annual national conference of the Philippine Association of Communication Educators, held on April 17, 2015 at De La Salle University Dasmariñas; I ran excerpts in my column on April 28, 2015, and then I guess I just forgot. On hindsight, the speech was, among other things, an attempt to understand pre-Duterte (levels of) trolling.

The Quality of Discourse in the New Media Landscape

I want to begin by quoting a comment posted online in response to my column last Tuesday [April 14, 2015]. It is a virtually anonymous comment, and I have mixed feelings about encouraging the practice of cheap, convenient anonymity by referencing it, but this coarseness is now an everyday part of the texture of new media, and you and I have to live with it. So we live and let live, and quote it.

After I argued that it was the PNP’s Special Action Force that should in fact “man up” about its shortcomings in the Mamasapano incident, a commenter using the name caricid wrote:

“Malacañang is very worried and has sent its paid hacks like John Nery to attack the SAF because Malacañang is afraid that SAF will expose the truth regarding PNoy’s issuing the stand down orders that condemned the 44 troopers to their deaths. PNoy and the AFP have involved themselves in this conspiracy to cover up the issuance of the stand down orders. Only the truth will set the spirits of those brave troopers free. Until then, there is no moving on. The likes of Nery and PNoy cannot just make this dastardly crime go away. Justice must be done. Besides, PNoy cannot escape the fact that he gave the green light to this debacle called Mamasapano.”

This is not exactly the kind of insightful response a columnist can’t wait to read over the breakfast table, but I do not know if communication educators like you know just how rampant, how prevalent, this category of response is, in the comment threads. Continue reading

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Column: Hope is an accumulation of decisions

Gene Sharp

A 2017 overview on Gene Sharp in JSTOR Daily, by Matthew Wills. https://daily.jstor.org/a-refusal-by-subjects-to-obey-gene-sharps-theory-of-nonviolence/

“A great political lesson: that all repressive systems, all governments, legitimate or otherwise, all tyrannies, all foreign occupations are able to continue only because they receive the support of those they rule.” Practical wisdom from Gene Sharp, in my last column of 2017. Published on December 26.

“Your Program on Nonviolent Sanctions at Harvard has always aroused much interest but also skepticism. Much of the skepticism about nonviolent methods was swept away by the success of the Filipino people in obtaining elections, in unveiling the fraudulent methods to distort the popular verdict, and finally in ousting Marcos in February 1986. How do you explain this shift?”

In 1986 and 1987, Gene Sharp, one of the principal theorists of nonviolent resistance and the director of the Program on Nonviolent Sanctions in Conflict and Defense at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs at the time, gave a wide-ranging interview to Afif Safieh, then a visiting scholar in Harvard.

His answer to the introductory question attempts an overview of the Edsa Revolution; it is largely accurate, and still makes for bracing reading:

“The Philippines struggle had a number of distinct features. It was a very good example of the withdrawal of the pillars of power. The Filipino people withdrew legitimacy from the regime when it became clear that the elections were a fraud. There were plans for economic resistance and noncooperation against the supporters of Marcos. Diplomats abroad began resigning. The population became nonviolently defiant. Finally, a major part of the army and its officers in effect went on strike. They did not turn their guns in the other direction or bomb the presidential palace. They went on strike and said that they were doing it nonviolently. So the army itself was taken away. Then the church called on people to demonstrate and protect the soldiers nonviolently. The civilian population formed vast barricades of human bodies surrounding the mutinous officers and soldiers, in a case that probably has no historical precedent: the nonviolent civilians protected the army. Finally Marcos was left with very little power. You take away the sources of power and the man who was formerly a tyrant becomes just an old man. His choice was not whether to remain in power, his only choice was how he was to leave. And so he left semi-gracefully.

“That teaches us a great political lesson: that all repressive systems, all governments, legitimate or otherwise, all tyrannies, all foreign occupations are able to continue only because they receive the support of those they rule. Even foreign occupiers are supported by their own people, and frequently receive international support. If you can withdraw those sources of power, then the regime is threatened.” Continue reading

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Column: Jet ski joke aside, is Duterte a traitor?

Published on December 19, 2017. “Mr. Duterte, the first lawyer-president since Ferdinand Marcos, does not in fact believe in the power of the law; rather, he believes that law serves power”—I think Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, the target of a synchronized abuse of the law, will agree.

Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza used last week’s House justice committee hearing on the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to deliver a counteraccusation three years in the making: He asserted that it was Sereno, not he, who had committed acts of treason during the preparation of the (successful) Philippine arbitral case against China. He was responding to Sereno’s erroneous claim, in 2014, that then Solicitor General Jardeleza’s policy position on the South China Sea dispute, specifically on Itu Aba in the Spratlys, was disloyal to the country.

Lost in this unfortunate “spectacle of diminishment,” as an Inquirer editorial described the sorry appearance of one retired and three incumbent Supreme Court justices at the hearing, is any appreciation of the present reality: Under President Duterte, and despite the sweeping landmark ruling of the arbitral tribunal in 2016 in favor of the Philippines, the country’s rightful claims to the West Philippine Sea, to parts to the Spratlys and to Scarborough Shoal are at their weakest in decades. Indeed, Mr. Duterte has deliberately weakened them. Clearly, both Jardeleza and Sereno (and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who shared Sereno’s dim view of Jardeleza’s position in 2014) support the arbitral tribunal ruling and want to see it implemented. If they want to accuse anyone of treason, of yielding to the Chinese, perhaps they should point their finger at the President. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Today is a dangerous time to be a Filipino’

UST NCJAPublished on December 12, 2017—and even more relevant today.

How is it a young student can see more clearly than senators or Supreme Court justices?

“Today is a dangerous time to be a Filipino. The country is being led by a President who promotes a culture of killing and impunity — a President who encourages his people, not just the police, to kill drug pushers on sight, and has vowed to protect those who carry them out. More than this, we have a President who has chosen to consider innocent people killed alongside as ‘collateral damage’ and not as victims of murder who deserve justice.” Continue reading

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Column: Duterte’s secret

“… [is] the accumulation of political capital through the systematic abuse of the rule of law. Mr. Duterte said it himself, about using his prosecutorial power to plant both intrigue and evidence. This is how he understands things get done.” Published on December 5, 2017.

The attempt to start a groundswell of public support for a “revolutionary government” failed dismally last week; some supporters of the Duterte administration have not yet come to terms with the brutal political reality, a year and a half since Rodrigo Duterte took office, that campaigning as outsiders is entirely different from governing as the establishment. Does this mean that the existential threat to the constitutional order that was the “RevGov” attempt has ceased to, well, exist?

The answer is No, because here is the truth of the matter: A deep antidemocratic spirit, hostile to the rule of law, characterizes Dutertismo. And this spirit will continue to seek ways to express itself—if not through the self-coup that is a revolutionary government, then through the extension and even expansion of martial law, the weaponization of Congress’ power to impeach, the continuing abuse of the justice department’s prosecutorial powers. Continue reading

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Column: Not rule of law but caprice of power

This column, published on November 28, 2017, ran the introductory parts of my keynote at the closing rites of the second Political Management Training for Young Progressives program conducted by SocDem Asia. The full speech, “The role of the youth in fighting populist authoritarianism,” is here.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of addressing a new class of graduates of a unique political management training program: Young progressives from Southeast Asia who meet twice in a given year for a series of executive classes on both the form of politics (such as “election management and progressive campaigning”) and its substance (“climate change,” “feminism,” “migration”). The program is run under the auspices of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Network of Social Democracy in Asia. Allow me to publish the introductory parts:

I read your program of training, and was impressed by its breadth (16 topics!) and by its rigor. It is a privilege for me to meet you, the political advocates and activists gifted, as your class valedictorian said, with “energy, belief, thoughts, dreams,” who will help shape our region’s future. Continue reading

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“The role of the youth in fighting populist authoritarianism”

SocDem detail

Detail, from the SocDem Asia website.

I had the privilege of speaking at the closing rites of the second Political Management Training for Young Progressives program, conducted by the Network for Social Democracy in Asia (SocDem Asia), on November 3, 2017. The program—a partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Olaf Palme International Center, and the Australian Labour Party—hosted “young progressives” from six countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines. (Coming in last, I had the chance to reference the remarks of the Thai class valedictorian, the SocDem Asia coordinator Machris, and Aemon of the ALP, who spoke of his party’s ideal, codified in a famous speech as “the light on the hill.”) I tried to present a cogent argument, and ended with a list of five responses we might all learn from Rizal.

I am very happy to be invited to speak at your graduation ceremony—not only because it gave me the opportunity to stand on the beautiful Taal lakeshore for the first time (yes, it really is my first time) and to see the famous Taal volcano this close, but also and more importantly because I believe we are all standing on the slopes of a social volcano, and you are the volcanologists who can study the problem and save the lives of our people at risk.

I read your program of training, and was impressed by its breadth (16 topics!) and by its rigor. It is a privilege for me to meet you, the political advocates and activists gifted, as your class valedictorian Golf said, with “energy, belief, thoughts, dreams,” who will help shape our region’s future.

The world you have chosen to become politically active in is different from the era which politicized me. In some respects, it is the opposite of the 1980s. In other respects, it is the culmination of the historic shifts that started in that decade.

Let me begin in earnest by reading an extended passage from a piece of political analysis. Continue reading

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Column: Duterte trying to do a Marcos with ‘RevGov’

Published on November 21, 2017.

From President Duterte down to his supporters, we hear the argument that the template for creating a “revolutionary government” was set by Corazon Aquino; why, he asks (they all ask), can’t he do the same thing?

He already raised the question when he visited the Inquirer in August 2015, during his long, coy campaign for the presidency. The idea that the presidency as an office was not powerful enough to fix what truly ails the country, and that a revolutionary government or a “constitutional dictatorship” was needed, was not Marcosian, he said. “Why will I be a Marcos? There is a lesson there in history to look at. Why not follow Cory?”

He repeated the same claim, that Cory Aquino’s revolutionary government was a pattern he can follow, in August 2017, over a year into his raucous presidency, when he started talking up the revolutionary government option again. “For the Philippines to really go up, I said: What the people need is not martial law. Go for what Cory did — revolutionary government. But don’t look at me. I cannot go there.” Continue reading

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Column: ‘RevGov’ is Duterte’s bid for total power

This column, about President Duterte’s fixation on expanded presidential power, was published on November 14, 2017.

Back in 2015, when Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was genuinely conflicted about running for president, he located part of that conflict in what he said was the lack of power of the Philippine presidency. The office, bound by rule and tradition, was simply not up to the task of running a sprawling, dysfunctional nation, he argued. If he were elected, he said in a June interview, “I will give myself six months to one year to do the reforms I want to do. If the system becomes obstructionist and I become inutile, I will declare a revolutionary government.”

He carried the same message to the Inquirer, which he visited in August of that year. “I have to stop criminality and corruption. I have to fix this government. I won’t do it if you want to place me there with the solemn pledge to stick to the rules,” he said. Then he added something truly startling: “The wellspring of corruption is the Constitution itself,” meaning the limits that the post-dictatorship charter placed on the powers of the executive branch lent themselves to graft and dysfunction.

“All money matters and budget appropriation [are limited by the Constitution],” he said.

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