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.

Continue reading

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Column: Memo to business, civic leaders: Sereno IS the red line

Sereno ADMU

Sereno at the Ateneo de Manila, May 26, 2017. Unimpeachable sources say this commencement speech gravely offended President Duterte, and may have sealed the Chief Justice’s fate.

Rereading this column, which was published on November 7, 2017, I am filled with a deep sadness, not only because of what was done to Chief Justice Sereno, but also and even more to the point because of what was done to the country. With the encouragement of President Duterte, a majority of eight justices justified the unjustifiable. If the Supreme Court itself can remove an impeachable official outside of the impeachment process, what can stop it from, say, agreeing with the House of Representatives that it can convene as a constituent assembly without the participation of the Senate? Sereno was the red line.

I think I now understand why Speaker Bebot Alvarez and the leadership of the House of Representatives insist on restrictive rules on cross-examination, in the Duterte administration’s campaign to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. It isn’t, as I imagined, an attempt to humiliate her by forcing the head of a co-ordinate branch of government to conduct the cross-examination in her own impeachment case herself, or to subject her to direct questioning by all committee members as well as by a cartoon villain of a complainant.

Rather, the restrictive rules are meant to protect the fatally defective complaint’s witnesses and resource persons, especially — I am reading between the lines here — Associate Justice Teresita de Castro. The impeachment case against Sereno does not allege a single impeachable offense, but it does rest on an explosive but misleading memo written by De Castro. But the full context of the memo is not flattering to De Castro, and any counsel for Sereno who is expert in the art of cross-examination will swiftly surface the embarrassing details. (The exact same thing will happen to De Castro if the impeachment reaches the Senate.)

Alvarez may be able to protect De Castro in the House; as a matter of political expediency, he will treat her as a (very) friendly witness. But unless I have been misinformed, Alvarez has no influence over the Senate. Can President Duterte persuade enough of his political allies in the Senate to promulgate new impeachment trial rules to protect sitting justices from the indignity of a hostile cross-examination? That’s a risk De Castro will have to take. Continue reading

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Column: Government by the obscene

Andanar EU

This column was published on October 31, 2017. Remember the insane sexual banter Martin Andanar and Salvador Panelo thought made them look Duterte-like? “All they have really done is focus attention on the obscenities that have become characteristic of this administration. This is not a distraction from anything; rather, it is a concentration of perception.”

The recent scandalous public utterances of Secretary Martin Andanar and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo may have been scripted, designed to help deflect public attention from hidden wealth and drug smuggling allegations haunting President Duterte and his family, or they may have been launched, like other controversies, in an attempt to distract the public from its growing anxiety over extrajudicial killings. It doesn’t matter. We see through the statements and have not forgotten that only the poor caretaker of the warehouse where shabu linked to influential people in Davao was stored is in detention; we continue to monitor the President’s responses to the controversy over his bank accounts, and remember (at least I do) that when he visited the Inquirer in August 2015 he told us that he had “only P4 million” in the bank.

But the obscenities Andanar and Panelo used, whether deliberate or inadvertent, also reflect one aspect of the Duterte presidency which has begun to lose its sinister sheen: the use of foul language as format and substitute for policy. Some people still laugh, or titter, when the President fails in public appearances to “limit [his] mouth,” to use his own euphemism; I would think that part of this audience response can be attributed to nervous laughter, and part to a genuine appreciation of his colorful language. But I am not the only one to sense a general fatigue over his outrageous remarks. I’m sure part of this is resignation to the new normal, but if I’m not mistaken many people have learned to tune out the President’s bombardment of F-words, insults and rape jokes, to choose not to bear witness to his linguistic airstrikes. Like any entertainer whose performance is based on shock appeal, even a charismatic but tediously repetitive President will lose his audience.

All this makes the two secretaries’ scandalous statements not only sleazy but also lame. Continue reading

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On ‘distraction’

A recap: 14 thoughts (or tweets) on the “God is stupid” issue, the “Catholic veto,” and on the attention economy.

 

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‘All governments lie’: 15 theses

Varsi TPSF

The Varsitarian covered The Political Science Forum.

I took part in The Political Science Forum at the University of Santo Tomas on February 23, 2018; my jump-off point for discussion was the following set of 15 theses (since slightly edited).

1.All governments lie.

2.They lie out of necessity, to protect state secrets, or to gain an advantage in negotiations. They lie in an attempt to advance the public interest.

3.But they also lie when in a panic, to save face or to defend their principals. They lie to benefit public officials’ private interests.

4.In a democratic setting, there is no place for organized disinformation directed against a government’s own citizens.

5.Governments are not to lie, systematically, to their citizens.

6.Unfortunately, the Duterte government is breaking new ground in this regard.

7.Disinformation is false information intended to deceive.

8.Fake news is Deliberately fabricated information designed to Deceive, Disguised in a news format. The 3Ds.

9.On three critical issues, the Duterte government is either withholding vital information, or intentionally misleading the people.

10.First issue: EJKs. The government refuses to come clean about the casualty toll in the so-called war on drugs.

11.Second issue: The new alliance with China. The government declines to hold China to account.

12.Third issue: The rehabilitation of the Marcoses. The government ignores both history and jurisprudence.

13.The machinery of disinformation includes the agencies in charge of the administration of justice.

14.The machinery has a hands-on leader, the President himself, who is a primary source of disinformation.

15.The machinery of disinformation relies on an outsourced army: DDS social media.

The Varsitarian covered the forum.

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Column: What are we in ‘werpa’ for?

Charot!

The inimitable, irrepressible Ethel Booba. This is one petmalu tweet.

Column No. 465, published on October 24, 2017. I argue that the Duterte administration is trying to “capture total control of the political infrastructure,” and point to five worrying developments.

Sen. Chiz Escudero is a political cipher; I always find myself questioning my understanding of his place in contemporary politics. Is that really all he stands for? I always think he is better than some of us give him credit for — and then he says something again that suggests he is not an idealistic young man with a vocation for politics but rather a privileged politician with a readiness for realpolitik.

At a “kapihan” at the Senate last week, he tried to paint a portrait of political normalcy: “Isn’t this like what the past administration did, threaten the former ombudsman with impeachment, who then resigned? Impeach the sitting chief justice, who was [convicted]? Jailed three sitting senators and his predecessor (referring to President Benigno Aquino III’s predecessor, President Gloria Arroyo)? No one said we were headed toward dictatorship then,” he said in Filipino.

That’s because we were not in fact headed toward dictatorship then. We fail our democracy when we use our UP education and Georgetown degree to argue for false equivalence. Continue reading

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Column: Digong, ‘pataka’

Sona 2017:Joan Bondoc

Bullshit artist, bully pulpit. (2017 State of the Nation Address. Inquirer|Joan Bondoc)

Had fun writing this analysis of President Duterte’s rhetoric from a Bisaya perspective. The comments on the website and on Facebook  (well, many of them) were fun to read too. Here’s the link to the original column, published on October 17, 2017.

As I have written before, there is a real difference between the way the President speaks in private and the way he responds to the presence of a microphone in public. In private, he is courteous, thoughtful, funny; in public, he is a bullshit artist. Continue reading

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Column: Death and Duterte

Published on October 10, 2017.

The drop in President Duterte’s satisfaction ratings was almost across the board — except in Mindanao, and in the ABC socioeconomic demographic. I must emphasize one fact: Despite the falling numbers, the President continues to enjoy majority approval for his performance, and also across the board. All the same, the drop in his ratings is substantial and a cause for worry in Malacañang as well as for his political allies in the Senate and the House.

That Mr. Duterte’s approval numbers in Mindanao are statistically unchanged, at 82 percent, is no surprise; he is the first president from Mindanao and won overwhelming support from Mindanaons in the 2016 election. But why was there an increase in his satisfaction rating in the ABC classes, in the Social Weather Stations survey, from 65 percent in June to 70 in September? The same survey found that in class D his rating dropped by 10 points from 78 percent to 68, and in class E his rating plunged by 19 points, from 80 percent to 61. Continue reading

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Column: Justice for Leila is justice for all

When I saw the news release (available on the Senate website), announcing Sen. Leila de Lima’s selection as Amnesty International’s “Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender,” I thought it was a good time to finally upload this column, originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on October 3, 2017. 

On Aug. 21 last year, waxing expansive in the wee hours, President Duterte shared the secret to his work as a city fiscal. “I learned a lot during my prosecution days. We planted evidence,” he said. “We arrested persons but we released them. But (switching to an example) telling him that it was this person who squealed on him and then when he goes out but killing, we would say it was this fellow who really did it, who did you in.”

It is important to note that the President was volunteering this information in a late-night-into-early-morning news conference he had called. The reason, he suggested, for what we must call out as an illegal tactic was practicality. “We first planted the intrigues, so that we would know where they were or where they came from.”

Continue reading

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“Pero sir, kailangan pa ba ang mga abogado ngayon [But, sir, do we still need lawyers today]?”

It was expected. My own sources told me it was inevitable. And yet when the news broke, half an hour or so ago, that the Supreme Court had removed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from office by granting the quo warranto petition against her, I was still staggered by the enormity of it all. This was eight justices deliberately turning their back on the rule of law, to spite a leader they did not like (and in the process play the witting pawns in a game of authoritarian chess). I also shared the sense of loss and confusion many members of the legal community immediately expressed, and then remembered this letter of Sen. Jose W. Diokno to his son, a month after the declaration of Martial Law in 1972.

[Update: Esquire Philippines has the complete version. I didn’t even realize my copy was incomplete!]

“Dear Popoy,

When you asked me about a month ago, for a list of books that you could read to start studying law, I was loathe to prepare the list because I felt that you would be wasting your time studying law in this “new society.”

I am still not sure that it would be worth your while to do so.

A few days ago, while chatting with a soldier, he asked, in all seriousness and sincerity, “Pero sir, kailangan pa ba ang mga abogado ngayon?” And in a way that perhaps he did not intend, he raised a perfectly valid question.

A lawyer lives in and by the law; and there is no law when society is ruled, not by reason, but by will—worse, by the will of one man.

A lawyer strives for justice; and there is no justice when men and women are imprisoned not only without guilt, but without trial.

A lawyer must work in freedom; and there is no freedom when conformity is extracted by fear and criticism silenced by force.

A lawyer builds on facts. He must seek truth; and there is no truth when facts are suppressed, news is manipulated and charges are fabricated.

Worse, when the Constitution is invoked to justify outrages against freedom, truth and justice, when democracy is destroyed under the pretext of saving it, law is not only denied—it is perverted.

And what need do our people have for men and women who would practice perversion? Continue reading

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Doing journalism in a dangerous time

PJRC 2018

The real highlight of the first part of the Philippine Journalism Research Conference, held at the main campus of the University of the Philippines, was the McLuhan Fellows Roundtable with Tess Bacalla, Lynda Jumilla, and new Pulitzer prizewinner Manny Mogato; the thoroughly engaging discussion was moderated by Kara David. They struck the true keynote; I merely picked up the tune, and some of their themes. 

It is a privilege to speak at the Philippine Journalism Research Conference, and a pleasure to be back at the University of the Philippines; I was very happy here, when I taught a class in opinion writing for a few semesters. Some of my students became my colleagues at work and in the industry; I hope some of you will become journalists too. Not just from UP, but from the University of Santo Tomas, from Visayas State University, from Southern Luzon State University, from Ateneo de Manila, from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila, from Wesleyan University, from De La Salle University in Dasmarinas—and I’m just listing the schools where this year’s finalists are from. We certainly need you and others like you in other schools. We need you, in our newsrooms and in the field, in this turbulent, dangerous time.

I would like to raise three baseline questions today, and the first of these is specific to our time: What does it mean to be a journalist, or to do journalism research, in the Duterte era?

It means fighting back against “fake news” and other forms of disinformation. It means doing journalism at a time of hyped-up hostility against journalists. And it means countering the brazen lies about journalism, press freedom, and free speech that President Duterte and his subordinates propagate. These lies become myths, and are used to justify all manner of suppression of dissent and criticism. We must, all of us, each of us, debunk them. Continue reading

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The Pope and the Protectors

Worldcomday2018

At about 45 minutes long, it was the longest speech I had written—I teased the participants (some 200 nuns, third-order members and other lay persons active in ministry, plus a handful of priests and seminarians) that it was going to be like doing penance, except it would be them doing it. But I was grateful for the chance to reflect at necessary length on Pope Francis’ Message on “fake news”—and on the journalists (“the protectors of the news,” he called them in English) whose special responsibility it is to inform the public. It was my first time at the central house of the Pauline community in Pasay City, but as I told Sister Pinky Barrientos, I felt immediately at home.

[Good afternoon.

You honor me with your invitation. Thank you; I am delighted to be here. I received Sister Pinky’s invitation with a mixture of optimism and a creeping sense of fear—the exact combination of feelings I get when a priest invites me to confession! Only, in this case, and because I prepared a rather lengthy speech, it would not be me, but you in the audience, who would do the penance. My apologies in advance!]

My focus today is on “The Pope and the Protectors of News.” My perspective is that of a believer, in both the purpose of journalism and the faith that gives life purpose, but firstly, principally, my point of view is that of a practitioner—I am a practicing journalist and a practicing Catholic. Continue reading

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“In the real world”

NSPC 2018

It was my privilege to serve—on February 19, in Dumaguete City—as this year’s keynote speaker at the National Schools Press Conference, the annual and massive enterprise an education official called the “Olympics of campus journalism.” Channeling Rizal, I had a few things to say:

Maayong buntag sa inyong tanan.

Secretary Briones, Governor Degamo, Mayor Remollo; education officials, distinguished guests, teachers and coaches and parents; not least, the 5,000 student delegates to the National Schools Press Conference: Good morning. It is my privilege to join you at the largest annual journalism-related conference in the Philippines, the “Olympics of campus journalism.”

As a journalist who believes in the necessity of journalism, in the role of a free press in a developing democracy, I am happy to see so many young campus journalists here, with the proverbial pen in their hand and idealism in their eyes. As a newspaper and online editor who has had the opportunity to serve as a judge in division-level press conferences, I am—like you—thrilled to finally take part in the national finals.

I had the chance yesterday to tell someone that I was at this year’s National Schools Press Conference. My friend, who is now a lawyer working at the Senate, immediately replied: “Wow I remember back in high school I joined that and made it to editorial writing nationals. Didn’t win though haha. Very good training ground!”

There was no mistaking the enthusiasm in my friend’s voice, or the joy he felt in reliving happy memories of press conferences past. I am moved to say to all of you: Stop. Take a deep breath. Look around you. Remember the details of color and sound and scent. Enjoy the moment. You are making a memory that will last a long time, and for most of you, that memory, win or lose, will be a happy one.

Congratulations! Continue reading

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Column: “After the rallies, what next?”

Stride

In which I propose a four-part framework for unified action against Dutertismo. Published on September 26, 2017—but posted only now, in Perugia, Italy, on the fourth day of the International Journalism Festival. (No coincidence that the elements of the framework are based on the active nonviolence approach we learned and practiced during the years of struggle against Ferdinand Marcos.)

The actor Pen Medina* delivered a scorching speech at the Sept. 21 rally in Luneta; he was right to hold to account the so-called “dilawan” for their role in creating an elitist system, but he was wrong to gloss over the militant Left’s participation in the current elite. The truth is: The excessive form of Dutertismo is an attack on our democratic project, on our fundamental Filipino values of fairness and generosity and truth-telling, on our deeply religious culture’s reverence for life — and the Left’s silence on official misogyny, its hypocrisy on the Marcos burial and its failure to fight extrajudicial killings from the start also make it complicit.

But who comes with clean hands to the table of unity? Not even our greatest heroes were free of stain. The people must come together to stop these continuing attacks on life, liberty and the truth that finally sets us free. The objective of this unified action (I wish to be clear) is not ouster; it is to undo the culture of violence, to arrest the drift toward strongman rule, to extract accountability for all the lies, all of which threaten to redefine the Filipino.

In my own view, the most urgent need of the moment is to end the killings. Full stop. We are not, we are better than, a nation of killers.

How do ordinary citizens and conscience-stricken public officers alike resist the violence, the authoritarian tendencies, the lying? Here, the work-in-progress of continuing consultations, is a four-part framework which I find useful, and which I think of by its acronym, SENT. Continue reading

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Column: “The unfortunate Aguirre: A Filipino tragedy”

Aguirre 101116

In October 2016, Justice Secretary Aguirre was a guest on our radio/Facebook show INQ&A. (We got tired and stopped after some 40 episodes.)

Some readers were puzzled by my seeming sympathy for a justice secretary actively weaponizing the rule of law. But I saw in his descent into the depths the story of many other Filipinos who had lost their way. Today’s scandal over the proposed dismissal of charges against confessed drug lords shows the new lows he and his men have plumbed. Published on September 19, 2017.

At some level, I knew writing this installment in my occasional series on unfortunate appointments was inevitable, but I resisted because I’ve interviewed Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and I thought I glimpsed the essential decency in the man. (Teddy Locsin once wrote about this occupational hazard, of encountering the difference between disagreeable policy and agreeable personality.) Aguirre told me, to my face, that he would not file a case against Sen. Leila de Lima without obtaining the necessary bank documentation, what he called a paper trail. He said he knew from 40 years in litigation that he needed that kind of evidence, and he did not want to lose. That he proceeded to file the case anyway — based on what we can call a finding of improbable cause — proved to me that he was under severe pressure from President Duterte to put De Lima behind bars, even if only temporarily. Continue reading

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Column: “The father of EJKs”

Bulagta

I had forgotten all about this: In response to this column on Ferdinand Marcos and EJKs, some blowhard with a private Disqus account had some dark thoughts about the columnist: me. (Note: “bulagta” means sprawled, lifeless, on the street.)

In which I offer a definition of “extrajudicial killing,” and traced its practice to Ferdinand Marcos. Published on September 12, 2017.

Benigno Aquino III, the former president, was wrong to say last month that the killings that have characterized the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs could not be called extrajudicial. His reasoning is pedantic. “If you say there is extrajudicial killing, then it means there is judicial killing. But I remember, we do not have the death penalty, so there is no judicial killing. Therefore, there is no extrajudicial killing. No judicial, no extrajudicial,” he said in Filipino.

He was not ignoring the bloodbath that is drowning the country; he was merely trying to be precise about terms. But I’m afraid his understanding of judicial killing is too narrow. The “judicial” in extrajudicial does not refer to capital punishment alone, but to the legal exercise of the violence that, in modern societies, is supposed to reside with the state alone.

The troops fighting the Maute Group in Marawi, the police units involved in the raid on Mamasapano, the National Bureau of Investigation agents pursuing kidnap-for-ransom gangs — they and others like them had or have the legal sanction to kill, if necessary. (The more accurate term then is “extralegal.”) Continue reading

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