Published on March 15, 2016.
I HAD the privilege of giving a talk at TEDxADMU on Sunday. The topic had seized my imagination: “How to train your outrage.” Here, with your indulgence, is an extended excerpt:
What is this outrage culture we are living in, and what do we do about it?
The Urban Dictionary actually has a definition. The outrage culture is where people “bend over backwards to be as offended as possible.” Ryan Holiday of the Observer defines it by its product, “outrage porn,” and describes it by its characteristic: “perpetual indignation.” Jon Ronson wrote an entire book about its corollary, Internet shaming, which “targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive.”
The outrage culture, then, is that state of constant offendedness, or at least a heightened sensitivity to take offense, which results in what we can call virtual outrage: outrage that is itself insensitive, one-dimensional, skin-deep—and ultimately self-regarding. It is opinion, not as Ego, but as Id. Continue reading
Published on March 8, 2016.
A MONTH into the official campaign period, we can say confidently that there is real movement in the surveys and that the presidential race remains a tight one. This is the central paradox of the 2016 elections, and it may well be solved in the same way Zeno’s famous paradox was solved: by walking.
In the closest presidential contest since 1992, it may be the campaign which has logged the most kilometers, and put in the most hours on the road, that will win in the end.
The tightness of the race seems to me to be magnified by the composite nature of some of the voter allegiances. I have been puzzling over this aspect of the race for some time, but I do not know if I have found the right language with which to describe it. Consider this a first pass.
Let me start with the obvious: Each of the candidates has a core following, a base of support that will vote for them no matter what. If we anchor our count on the last eight Social Weather Stations surveys going back to November/December 2014, we can for purposes of discussion equate each candidate’s lowest rating as the size of his or her loyal base. In this view, both Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sen. Grace Poe have a support “floor” of 21 percent; we can extrapolate from this number and say that a fifth of voting-age survey respondents will vote for Binay and Poe, each, no matter what. Former interior secretary Mar Roxas has a floor of 15 percent, while Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte enjoys a core support of 11 percent. (In the first of these eight SWS surveys, Duterte actually registers only a 5-percent rating, but that poll was taken before the mayor became serious about his presidential ambitions.) Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has a support floor of 2 percent.
Published on March 1, 2016.
I HAVE many friends in Rappler, and I think highly of the work of a good many members of the Rappler staff. In fact, just three weeks or so ago, I found myself in the position of recommending a senior editor from the online-only news organization for a prestigious fellowship.
But I vigorously take issue with Rappler’s decision to sue Commission on Elections Chair Andy Bautista; the case is not only based on a highly selective reading of the facts, but also wrapped, self-justifyingly, deceivingly, in the mantle of freedom of the press and public interest.
What is essentially at issue here is Rappler’s unarticulated assumption that, because it is an online-only news organization, it deserves lead-organizer status in all three presidential debates. Continue reading
Published on February 23, 2016.
I wanted to devote today’s column to the astonishing handpicked hypocrisy of the Rappler lawsuit against Commission on Elections Chair Andy Bautista, but perhaps another day or another format. For now I wish to write about some of the sidelights I witnessed at the first presidential debate last Sunday in Cagayan de Oro.
Let me start at the beginning, and with a confession: When the program started, I was overcome by excitement. (I don’t think I am betraying confidences if I say that my seat mate in the front row, Comelec director James Jimenez, was uttering his “Oh, wows,” too.) The fact that all five presidential candidates were in attendance, standing at their No Bio, No Boto lecterns and ready to make the best case for themselves, inside a campus in my hometown and before a live TV and online audience, struck me as a small but significant victory for our imperfect democracy.
A top political strategist advising one of the presidential candidates described the series of Comelec debates (the next one is on March 20 in Cebu, the third on April 24 in Dagupan) as a “game changer.”
I do not know whether that is in fact the truth, but it has the potential to be true. The failure to attend last Sunday’s debate would have been damaging for any of the candidates, especially when one considers that that failure would have been witnessed by tens of millions of Filipinos who watched the show in their homes, at their workplaces (on their phones, according to some of the sales clerks in Centrio Mall), even (quite literally in the case of supporters of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gathered in Divisoria in Cagayan de Oro) in the public square.
Published on February 16, 2016.
PROTOCOL AND prudence require the Vice President of the Philippines to be protected by a close-in security detail. Will these gentlemen be included in the list of 10 staff members each presidential candidate is allowed inside the venue of the first official presidential debate, in Cagayan de Oro City? Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla wanted to know.
Remulla is the kind of natural politician who will stand up in the middle of a meeting to literally pick up a seat or two and bring them to the table, just to make sure women at the meeting are not left standing. The polished way he asked the question made his request—he wanted the security men to be added to the list—sound even more reasonable than it probably deserved to be perceived.
Are we making an exception for Vice President Jejomar Binay’s security men? Akbayan party-list Rep. Barry Gutierrez retorted immediately. Continue reading
Published on February 9, 2016.
EVEN A stranger passing through the Philippines must know that the official campaign period for national positions at stake in the May 2016 elections starts today. This might be a good time to review our readings of the major presidential candidates, but now from the point of view of their vulnerabilities. In the series of “path to victory” columns I wrote last year between Aug. 4 and Sept. 8, I did touch on the question of losing, but only briefly—and from the perspective of the respective campaigns.
How can a candidate lose the presidential race? That is to say, which of a candidate’s weaknesses are election issues? I would like to worry this question in a new series of columns. Let me start with Sen. Grace Poe, whose fate now rests with the Supreme Court.
In “Grace Poe’s path to victory” (Opinion, 8/25/15), I ventured that the 2013 Senate topnotcher had “the twin disadvantages of a newcomer. She has not yet had time to plant firm roots for a nationwide network of her own, and she faces residency issues. (Because she is a foundling, her Filipino citizenship cannot be in question; the law is clear. But then again, the Supreme Court found a way to justify Renato Corona’s midnight appointment as chief justice, and Juan Ponce Enrile’s petition for bail in a nonbailable case.)” Continue reading
Published on January 26, 2016.
I share the view that the resumption of the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano tragedy is politically motivated, but not the view that this turn of events was unexpected.
Mamasapano, not “Yolanda,” is the Achilles heel of a still-popular President. A dispassionate reading of President Aquino’s political fortunes will show that the great controversy over the fate of Tacloban City in November 2013 did not in fact seriously affect his approval or satisfaction ratings.
His handling of the Mamasapano crisis, however, had an almost immediate impact on his popularity.
This is how I understand the Social Weather Stations survey data. In December 2013, Mr. Aquino had an overall satisfaction rating of plus-49 percent, with plus-50 percent or more in Luzon outside Metro Manila, in Mindanao, and in the Visayas which was still reeling from the supertyphoon. (Metro Manila, traditionally unforgiving of incumbents, came in at 22 percent.)
Published on January 19, 2016.
AT A corporate retreat of the UN Development Programme and its project partners in Tagaytay City last week, I had a chance to very briefly revisit an idea I first proposed in 2009, as a way to understand Philippine presidential elections.
In “The 20-percent presidency,” I offered five theses to frame my reading of the 2010 vote. The third thesis posited that “There are two kinds of presidential mandates: the 20-percent presidency and the 40-percent presidency.” I wrote: “The inevitable multi-candidate race in 2010 will follow either of two templates: the 1992 elections, which saw four evenly matched candidacies (with two more viable enough to end up with at least 10 percent of the vote), or the 2004 elections, which were marked by two candidacies of relatively equal strength. (With a little help from Garci, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won with 39 percent of the vote, against Fernando Poe Jr.’s 36 percent.)”
As we know, Benigno Aquino III won the 2010 contest, with about 43 percent of the vote. That made him the third post-Edsa president to secure a 40-percent mandate, after Joseph Estrada and Arroyo, and left Fidel Ramos (with 23 percent of the vote in 1992) as the only member of the exclusive 20-percent club.
Will Ramos induct a new member into the club after the May 9 vote?
Published on January 12, 2016.
LET US, for the sake of argument, grant that Election Commissioner Rowena Guanzon is right about the sequence of events that led to her filing a comment, on behalf of the Commission on Elections, in the Supreme Court on Thursday. Does that justify her controversial conduct after Comelec Chair Andres Bautista demanded an explanation for her action?
Bautista issued a memorandum on Friday ordering Guanzon and the director of the agency’s legal department to cite “under whose authority the comment was filed.” He said he found Guanzon’s action “not only irregular but personally disrespectful”; he added that, if he found their answer unsatisfactory, he would be “constrained to inform the Supreme Court that the filing of the comment was unauthorized.” He gave them 24 hours.
To be scrupulously fair, Bautista late on Friday already told reporters that Guanzon had filed the comment without his clearance or that of the commission, and had affixed his signature without his having read the comment.
But, and again for the sake of argument, even if Bautista should not have been as forthcoming with the media (and who would want to argue that?), does the Comelec chair’s candor justify Guanzon’s scorched-earth response?
Published on January 5, 2016.
It’s been four months since Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte visited the Inquirer, and I see no reason to change my original view: He is deeply conflicted about running for the presidency. His increasingly scandalous conduct on the campaign trail—call it the politics of mutual outrage—confirms me in my view. He is looking for a way out.
I realize this reading runs against the grain. There is even a popular or at least trendy view that the famous mayor and his political brain trust masterminded the entire “Duterte-serye” of the last few months: The coyness of a now-on, now-off, now-maybe-perhaps-possibly-on-again campaign is thought to be deliberate, strategic.
“It keeps him in the news,” I have heard even news veterans say—as though being perpetually in the headlines and on TV newscasts in the last 18 months has been an unadulterated asset for, say, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. We should all be wary of imposing the frameworks we are most familiar with on reality. It doesn’t seem to me the case that his newsworthiness explains Duterte’s undeniable mass appeal. In the exact same way that American media initially misread the ridiculous Donald Trump’s insurgent campaign as fed by the oxygen they freely provided, we may have some members of the Philippine media who look at Duterte, not as the vanguard of a kind of insurgency, but as a creation of the news cycle. Continue reading
Published on December 29, 2015.
A text message Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc sent me about a year ago captures for me both her trademark wit and the character of our working relationship. On Jan. 6, I sent her an advisory, that an event I was helping organize in the run-up to the Pope’s arrival was surprisingly moving forward and pushing through. “In the last 2 days, we got unexpected confirmation from the 2 main PH bishops that they will take part in our Inquirer Conversations on the papal visit,” I texted. I gave the details, and then aired the hope that, despite the late notice, she could still grace the forums. The first one was in a mere four days.
Her reply: “Noted with excitement but with trepidation!”
I have been mulling over that phrase, in wonder and with gratitude, since the sudden, shocking news of her death. Like many, I was driven to look for traces of her life on mine; it was inevitable that I was led, too, to the text messages she was so assiduous in writing.
She encoded our universe in so many other ways, of course. At this point I must apologize; we see the beloved through the prism of our experience; there will be too many “I”s in the following account, but it cannot be helped.
Published on December 15, 2015.
PARIS—One striking difference between the climate negotiations held in Copenhagen in 2009 and those that ended on Saturday night in this city was the new prominence given to the moral dimension. In the six years since the last attempt to forge a universal and binding agreement to arrest global warming failed, evidence of the serious consequences of climate change has mounted, putting a new emphasis on the vulnerability of the poor and the unprepared.
To the arguments from politics, economics and science have been added moral or spiritual imperatives. Pope Francis’ much-heralded encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,” has been invoked many times on the road to a Paris agreement. His special envoy to the Paris negotiations, Cardinal Peter Turkson, spoke often and pointedly about meeting the needs of the climate-vulnerable with compassion and solidarity. Other spiritual leaders also made themselves heard.
Published on December 1, 2015.
PARIS—The question, raised again and again on French TV hours before the climate change talks in this city commence, can be understood even by those of us who cannot read or speak French. Is success possible, for the ambitious 21st Conference of Parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change?
The ambition, in procedural terms, is for the 195 countries and the European Union (the “parties”) to agree on a new, legally binding treaty that will limit greenhouse gas emissions below the 2-degree Celsius threshold. In substantive terms, it is nothing less than to save the planet.
Is success possible? The last time the international community came close to reaching agreement on a new treaty applicable to both developed and developing economies, to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, was in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009. But that conference ended in turmoil and uncertainty, in large part because of the contest of wills between China and the United States, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters. Continue reading
Published on November 24, 2015.
The killing spree in Paris the other week has concentrated our attention, yet again, on the fragility of the human condition. Death, we remember of a sudden, comes like a terrorist in the night.
The murders in the fabled city made a heavy and terrible impression on many people around the world—not because the citizens of Paris are better than those of Beirut or more deserving of our sympathy than the residents of Baghdad, but simply because more people are familiar with the City of Light. France has been the most visited country for years, and Paris—the center of the European world for a good part of three centuries, and an enduring global icon of culture and civilization—remains among the most visited cities in the world.
In “War and Peace,” Tolstoy captures the Russian aristocracy’s obsession with the French, and Paris, even as his sprawling country is sucked into the Napoleonic wars. In the letters Rizal wrote his family during his first European sojourn, his fascination with the world capital was obvious, like a schoolboy crush. In his second European period, he conducted himself like a seasoned lover, his affection for the great city sure and familiar and practical.
In literature as in life, Paris is a symbol—and when the news spread of the attacks the other week, many of us saw that image, personal to many, bathed in unexpected blood. Continue reading
Rooting through my files yesterday, I found the presentation deck I prepared for the first of my two lectures at the Yuchengco Museum in 2011. I remember the thrill of the moment — it was among the first public lectures I gave after I had written my book on Jose Rizal’s influence on Southeast Asian nationalism — but I had all but forgotten the slides.
I started with a famous painting, zoomed in on a much less famous but illuminating illustration, and discussed three episodes tracing Rizal’s influence. (I included possibly the most celebrated example of all.)
I’ve attached a PDF version of the slides — all 48 of them!
Published on November 17, 2015.
ROOTING THROUGH my notes while doing research on the first Jesuit pope, I realized I had not yet shared the following remarks I made at a Province Forum of the Philippine Jesuits last year. Perhaps they may still be of some use:
Let me start from where I work: Journalism needs more Jesuits. I do not mean the profession needs more Jesuit columnists like Fr. Joaquin Bernas or Jesuit bloggers like Fr. Joel Tabora or Jesuit entrepreneurial advise-dispensers like Fr. Javy Alpasa. Or at least I do not mean that necessarily; it is also true that we in the media can always do with more Jesuit-produced content. The rotating column God’s Word Today is yet another good example; it has the advantage of being written by Fr. Jett Villarin and Fr. Manoling Francisco, among others. It only suffers from the disadvantage of appearing in the wrong newspaper!
What I really mean is that journalism needs more Jesuits as subject experts.
Published on November 10, 2015.
LIKE MANY other Filipinos, I went to register for my biometrics on the last possible day. It wasn’t the original plan, of course, and in fact I did go to the first special registration conducted in our barangay hall and also to another one held in a nearby mall. Both times, however, I was late; by the time I got in, the cut-off for the line had already been reached. No excuses—I should have gone months earlier, when it would have taken a few minutes, perhaps less than 10, to complete the entire exercise.
Instead, I ended up going to Quezon City Hall at dawn on Saturday, Oct. 31, where I waited in line for nine and a half hours. Like I said, no excuses.
But standing in line confirmed key lessons I learned from queueing for other purposes, in other places. I do not mean to place the hard-working staff of the Commission on Elections, or the staff of Quezon City Hall, under a harsh light; indeed, some of the lessons were confirmed by what they did, not by what they failed to do. I do want to offer constructive criticism, for the next time a government agency or a private institution needs to manage, and engage, a queuing crowd. Continue reading
Published on November 3, 2015.
I GOT the sense that the earth made an extra revolution or two last month; so much history was being made.
In the Philippines, the middle of October was the time for prospective candidates to file their certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections. Despite the carnival-like atmosphere and the unprecedented number of applications for president, the filing period brought clarity to the country’s favorite pastime of politics.
Of the many words that filled the airwaves and the column inches and the digital pages, those of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte were the most awaited and the most analyzed. He had to decline the presidential draft that has been following him for the last several months not only once (at the start of the week) but twice (in the last hours of the filing period). On Monday, Oct. 12, he read a statement that repeated his many attempts to decline the draft, and then added: “We have a problem in the family, and in the order of things, you do what is closest to your heart.” (This was what he told the Inquirer last August.) Continue reading
Published on October 27, 2015.
In 2013, in “Marcos was the worst,” I compared Gloria Arroyo and Joseph Estrada to Ferdinand Marcos in terms of “fiscal dictatorship” and outright corruption, and called them “rank amateurs.” There was simply no comparison.
As I wrote then: “Marcos institutionalized corruption on such a scale we continue to feel its effects today. In his 20 years in power, the country’s foreign debt metastasized from about $1 billion to over $25 billion; in a statement released last year, [the Freedom from Debt Coalition] repeats the estimate that as much as a third of all that debt, about $8 billion, went into his pockets or those of his cronies. The country will continue paying for all that debt until 2025.”
The point I sought to make was that Marcos, by far, was the most corrupt man in Philippine history.
In 2014, I followed up with a consideration of Marcos’ subversion of the Supreme Court of his time. In “Marcos was the worst (2),” I related his “consulta” with incumbent justices, which was his way of lobbying them to rule in his favor. “The discussions did not only reek of legal and ethical conflicts; they were patently illegal, deeply unethical—and subversive.” But the truly troubling thing was that “the sessions with [Fred Ruiz] Castro (or other justices) did not end in 1971. In the same way that Marcos’ suspension of the writ was a trial run for the declaration of martial law, his meetings with the justices paved the way for more secret consultations” after martial law had been declared. Continue reading
Published on October 20, 2015.
BONIFACIO BEGAN to eat his simple fare, and while thus employed he heard a rifle shot that made him start. He put down the bowl and looked blankly at his uncle-in-law. His heart beat loudly, savagely against his breast.
“What was that, Uncle?” he asked, fidgeting nervously. “Did they kill my brother?”
“No, my son,” the old man answered laconically.
“Well, how is he doing? Please feed him, too,” he implored, fearing that his brother was suffering from hunger. Continue reading
Published on October 13, 2015.
If Teodoro Agoncillo was the Moses of the class-conflict theory of the Philippine Revolution, the historian Renato Constantino was its Joshua—he led their followers into the promised land. Since the late 1960s, the rich-versus-poor theory has become mainstream fare, even conventional wisdom; despite the efforts of the director and the cast of “Heneral Luna” to add layers of nuance to their interpretation of history, for instance, the movie’s narrative momentum leads easily to a confirmation of the Agoncillo-Constantino thesis. It is the frame that fits most conveniently.
To Agoncillo’s pioneering work, Constantino added structure and consistency; unfortunately for the Philippine revolutionary experience, it was the structure and consistency of a Marxist ideology. In groundbreaking, icon-shattering lectures and essays such as “Veneration without Understanding” and “The Miseducation of the Filipino,” and in forceful textbook-length arguments like “A Past Revisited,” Constantino advocated, in the words of his most perceptive critic, “the importance of the correct understanding of the Filipino past in order to have insight into the problems of the present.” The scholar John Schumacher, SJ, summed up the historian’s driving impulse: “[H]e has expounded on the pernicious role that the official view of the Filipino past inculcated by colonial historiography and the American educational system has had in disfiguring in the minds of Filipinos the true story of their past.”
It is a profound irony, then, that Constantino sought to recover that “true story” using a Marxist framework, which the revolutionaries themselves did not use and which the revolutionary experience disproved.
Published on October 6, 2015.
The most influential Filipino historian of the 20th century was the formidable Teodoro Agoncillo, who wrote “The Revolt of the Masses” and changed our view of history. Not all of his influence, however, was salutary or, in truth, properly historiographical. He wrote some bad history.
As the provocative success of the historical epic “Heneral Luna” should prove, his driving idea that class conflict defined the Philippine revolution and explains its ultimate failure has come to be so dominant, so second-nature to any discussion of Philippine history, that it has even come to wrap one historical figure he did not deem heroic in the one-size-fits-all mantle of class-conscious heroism.
I mean Antonio Luna, of course. In the course of a series of conversations with Ambeth Ocampo, which Ambeth has been kind enough to recall in these pages, Agoncillo once waxed eloquent against Luna’s betrayal of the first phase of the revolution (“Luna not only did not join the Revolution of 1896, he was a traitor!”) before reaching a thundering conclusion: “As a matter of fact, I do not consider Luna a hero. How did he become a hero? He never won any battle, papaano mo sasabihing hero iyan [how can you say that’s a hero]?” Continue reading
Like hope, the idea of using this blog more actively springs eternal. After 15 months of inactivity, I’m thinking of starting again — first, by uploading a whole basket of (deplorable?) columns. The last two posts were the first of five Newsstand pieces on or occasioned by the groundbreaking “Heneral Luna.” Let me pick up where I left off.
Published on September 29, 2015.
In “Heneral Luna,” the actor Alvin Anson portrays Jose Alejandrino—the revolutionary general whose memoirs serve as a supplemental source for the acclaimed movie. Those memoirs, published in 1933 and translated into English in 1949, offer the fullest portrait of his good friend, the mercurial Antonio Luna. It gives us vivid impressions (to borrow Luna’s favorite literary style) of his student days in Europe, his tumultuous year with the Army of the Malolos Republic—and, in 1896, his hour of treason and cowardice.
A two-paragraph section in Alejandrino’s “The Price of Freedom” and titled “Antonio Luna in the year 1896” makes for necessary reading.
“It appears in official documents that in this period Luna committed the greatest error of his life in denouncing the existence of the Katipunan and in revealing, during his imprisonment after the first outbreak of the rebellion, the names of some of his friends affiliated with the Society. Later, he explained however to me his aforesaid acts by saying that with the physical and moral tortures which he suffered during his imprisonment, and upon being assured by the Spaniards that he had been squealed upon by his own friends, denouncing him as an accomplice in the rebellion, his violent character made him lose his better judgment. And having fallen for the scheme woven by the Spaniards, he declared that those who had denounced him were more guilty than he.
“The events of 1896 separated us from each other, he having been prosecuted and later on sentenced to suffer imprisonment in Spain, while I left the country for China and Japan [on official missions for Emilio Aguinaldo to procure arms for the revolution]. We were able to see each [other] again in Kabite toward the month of July, 1898. He was returning home after having served his sentence in the Model Prison of Madrid, and he brought with him in his baggage books on military strategy and tactics and treatises on field fortifications. Above all, he brought with him a desire to atone for his past mistakes.” Continue reading
The first of five columns provoked, or inspired, by two viewings of Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna.” Published on September 22, 2015.
Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna” is a masterpiece of filmmaking; we should all see it. But it is, primarily, art; only, secondarily, history. Learning to distinguish one from the other is an exhilarating, necessary, education.
The “but” in the lead is a testament to the movie’s persuasive power. Much of this power lies in the astute casting, in the sweeping cinematography, in the compelling pace of the storytelling; some of it rests on the familiar structure of the narrative: of one against many, of country before self, of nation above class, of good versus evil.
The movie begins, and ends, with a disclaimer about creative license. Tarog’s reimagining of parts of Philippine history has inspired spirited discussion in the classroom or animated conversations over coffee or beer, about the shape of our history and about our own role in the shaping. (I overheard one conversation between early-twentysomethings; they were hoping that, perhaps, just perhaps, box-office results would lead to a trilogy of movies—a trilogy about Philippine revolutionary heroes, not comic-book or Young Adult characters!) Continue reading