Column: What we (still) don’t know about Antonio Luna

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

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Column: Apolinario Mabini vs General Luna

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

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A revolutionary movie

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Column: “If the news is that important, it will find me”

Excerpts from prepared remarks read at the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines Summit on September 10, 2015, and published on September 15. 

I wanted to begin by revisiting our most recent collective trauma: [last] Tuesday’s traffic apocalypse.

One photo of the scene on Edsa went viral; [on Thursday], it [was] front and center of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It was also the Top Story on [in the] morning.

Traffic PDI

As far as I can tell, it went viral on Twitter through @orangemagTV, an events magazine.

But it started as a photo taken by a 29-year-old man, now known to many simply as MykJosh.

The photo has since taken on a life of its own—including [a] seasonally appropriate version. Merry Christmas!

I thought I’d start with these images because they illustrate my theme: The evolution of media roles, from standard to search to social. I think this framework best makes sense of the chaos, the clutter, the constant change, reshaping the news and information landscape.

At least, it makes the most sense to me …. Continue reading

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Column: Duterte’s path to victory

The last of the “path to victory” series, published on September 8, 2015. 

I think Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is genuinely conflicted about running for president. His “big announcement” yesterday afternoon categorically renouncing a presidential bid must have dismayed his emerging network of supporters; at the same time, he must have been acutely aware that a genuine draft is extremely rare in Philippine politics. Did he do the right thing?

Last month, I tried to assess the election prospects of Mar Roxas and Jojo Binay: two declared candidates for whom not running is not an option. (It is a mistake to think that Binay will avoid a presidential campaign to ease the political and legal pressure on his family; becoming president is the vice president’s best defense.) I also tried to weigh the chances of a reluctant Grace Poe; as a first-term senator, she has the option to run again for the Senate in 2019. Duterte falls in this second category; he is on his seventh term as city mayor. Having taken a break from running Davao City in 1998 by serving in Congress (where he says he was bored beyond tears) and then again in 2010 (when he served as vice mayor), Duterte can look forward to two more terms in City Hall.

Also, and even though he doesn’t look it, he is already 70; he is just a few years younger than Binay. When he visited the Inquirer several days ago, he was forthcoming about where the strongest resistance to any presidential plan lay: his family. The summary he offered of his family’s main argument was in metaphorical Bisaya: Why are you even thinking of running, when you’re starting to walk with a limp? When he left the newsroom past midnight, after more than three hours in the hot seat, he did seem to have a slight but detectable kink in his walk. Continue reading

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Column: The Iglesia’s show of weakness

Written on the afternoon of Monday, August 31, 2015, an hour or so after the Iglesia Ni Cristo protesters left Edsa, and published the following day. The lucky timing led to over 60,000 page views of the original column (my 360th, as it happens), and about 17,500 shares on Facebook. Plus hundreds of very interesting comments.

Wow. What just happened?

As I write this, the smoke has cleared from the Iglesia Ni Cristo protest action on Edsa. The protesters have gone home; the intersection of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue and Shaw Boulevard, the main site of the mass action, has been tidied up; the major satellite rallies in Cebu and Davao have been called off.

Protest organizers eagerly declared “victory” when they announced the end of the protest, saying the thousands of church faithful who had taken to the streets can now go home because the Iglesia ni Cristo had reached an “agreement” with the government. What that agreement stipulates they did not say. Neither (as of the time of writing) has the government.

I am skeptical that any agreement has in fact been reached—aside from the strictly logistical understanding needed to allow the protesters to leave Edsa in orderly fashion. Of course I could be wrong, but it does not seem likely to me that a famously stubborn president like Mr. Aquino, buoyed by renewed popularity and unfailingly loyal to his friends, would abandon Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the altar of political expediency. Continue reading

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A teaser video

A series of climate change special reports by the Inquirer Group, coming next month.

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Poe campaign: Royal passage stuck in real world

This 3,000-word feature, part of the Inquirer’s Charm Offensive Revisited series, ran on the front page of the May 5, 2004 issue—a week before the presidential elections. (This version differs slightly from the piece as published; I edited three or four infelicitous passages, made a couple of corrections, changed one translation.) 

Air of unreality

Fernando Poe Jr. is a king running for president. This explains his candidacy’s mass appeal; it also explains his campaign’s increasingly unappealing prospects of victory. An air of unreality marks his bid for the presidency.

Flashback to two Tuesdays ago. At the back of the makeshift stage constructed in the middle of Librada Avelino Street in Pandacan, Manila, campaign organizers call for more security about 10 minutes before Poe arrives. Local campaign supporters wearing blue vests are marshaled into the area, and they join the others already linking arms. With their bodies, they mark off a path for Poe. But the moment Poe exits his vehicle (a new Toyota Land Cruiser without license plates; he is, as is his wont, riding in the front seat), a frenzy difficult to capture on television spreads through the crowd. The pushing and shoving is claustrophobic. Even the supporters doubling as security shout and scream his name. “FPJ! FPJ! FPJ!” In their fervor, some forget to link arms.

Is this a political campaign? More like fans’ day for the popular movie actor known as “Da King.”

But the same unreality marks the rest of his campaign. His leaders belittle the surveys which Poe once ruled. These are being manipulated, says Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Poe’s personal campaign manager. They are the work of “analysts in air-conditioned offices,” Poe’s running mate Senator Loren Legarda says over a midnight meal. How do you measure your progress in the campaign, if you don’t believe in the integrity of these surveys? “We conduct our own,” says ex-Senator Ernesto Herrera, one of Poe’s candidates for the Senate.  Continue reading

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Column: Grace Poe’s path to victory

Published on August 25, 2015.

I want to deconstruct the instructively skewed political analysis of self-described “observer” Serge Osmeña, senator of the Republic, but this exercise will have to wait. Having started with a reading of Mar Roxas’ possible “path to victory,” and having followed that up with a look at Jojo Binay’s still very viable track, I am bound to consider Grace Poe’s own chances of winning.

Can Poe win? The objective answer is clear: Yes, she can. Will she win? As the current frontrunner, the odds are in her favor; if experience is any guide, however, it is in fact still too early to tell. We should have a better idea by early next year.

Reducing these banal facts to writing will strike many as an overbelaboring of the obvious. Surely the trends are clear? As recorded by both Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia, the trend lines since the second half of 2014 have been on the up and up for Poe, downward for Binay, a roller-coaster ride for Roxas. The smart money must be on Poe. Continue reading

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Column: A hollow victory

Published on August 18, 2015.

FOR A couple of seconds, right at the end of the President’s annual address, I thought I saw her hesitate—as if the waves of applause that greeted her had stirred a familiar thought, as if she half-wanted to say something more.

She certainly seemed pensive at the very end; it was a triumphant speech, but from where I sat, she did not seem to bask in the final, uproarious standing ovation. She waited for the applause to wind down, and then said, very simply, almost inaudibly, ‘Thank you.’

Perhaps she felt, at the end of the briefest of her five State of the Nation speeches, that she had not done enough, that in spite of all the staff work and President’s time that had gone into the speech, she had nevertheless come up short. Continue reading

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“Sons and Daughters of the Church, Citizens of the Republic”

On Sunday, the country’s influential Catholic bishops issued a set of six reminders to guide Filipino Catholic response to the ongoing protest actions by the Iglesia ni Cristo. The title of the circular, written by the first rector of the only Catholic shrine built on a historic protest site, accurately sums up the dual basis of the bishops’ reflections.


Sons and Daughters of the Church, Citizens of the Republic

Catholic Response to the Iglesia ni Cristo Rallies

What do we Catholics do as our brothers and sisters of the Iglesia ni Cristo throng around the EDSA Shaw area?

We, your bishops, offer you these guidelines:

1.   PRAY WITHOUT CEASING for a peaceful and just resolution of the present dispute, in a manner both pleasing to God and in conformity with the democratic convictions enunciated in our Constitution.

2.  BE CHARITABLE AT ALL TIMES AND IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.  Jesus, the Lord, willed His disciples to be known by their love.  No Catholic should fan the flames of dissension by rumor-mongering and by inflammatory statements.  Let all be kind in disposition, respectful in speech and prudent in action.

3. SEEK ENLIGHTENMENT.  We appeal to our Catholic lawyers, jurists and law professors to contribute to the on-going discourse in a constructive manner, without condemnation.  We seek to be enlightened on what the fundamental law of the land provides, the boundaries of the freedom of religion and the rights and the prerogatives of State.

4.  RESPECT HOLY SITES.  The EDSA Shrine is a Catholic center of worship.  It is a church.  There is a Catholic priest assigned to it.  We ask that all respect the sacred character of the Edsa Shrine.

5.  ABIDE BY THE LAW.  Unless it is convincingly shown that a law offends moral precepts, obedience to the law is a Christian duty.  Sons and daughters of the Church cannot be less observant of the law than other citizens of the Republic.

6.  NO TO OPPORTUNISM.  No politician should gain political ground by abetting dissension or, worse, fostering disregard of the Constitution and the law.  Neither is it morally correct for any political party to aim at gaining an advantage by controlling a religious sect known to propose to its members a chosen set of candidates.

If we turn to the Lord in sincere prayer, then, we are firm in the faith that all wounds shall be healed.

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, August 30, 2015


Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, CBCP


Postscript: Three Inquirer stories on the CBCP statement, three different angles

Catholic bishops call for charity, warn against opportunists

CBCP tells Catholics: Don’t attack Iglesia members

CBCP to politicians: Don’t take advantage of Iglesia protest

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Column: Binay’s path to victory

Column No. 357. Published on August 11, 2015.

We should ask the same questions of the first declared candidate for president that we asked of the second. Thus: Can Jojo Binay win in 2016? Despite the recent loss of his frontrunner status, the objective answer must still be yes. Will he win? We should have a better idea by March next year.

Again, these answers are a belaboring of the obvious—except that President Aquino’s endorsement of Mar Roxas as his preferred successor has colored partisan analysis by sharpening the contrast between the two political rivals. There is now a palpable sense of excitement among Roxas’ supporters, especially among the true believers, that because the endorsement was announced at the right time and in exactly the right way, momentum is on Roxas’ side.

That remains to be seen. The plans of Sen. Grace Poe, the popular political newcomer who topped the Senate elections in 2013, are very much a factor; indeed, Roxas and his chief lieutenants are still busy wooing Poe to join his ticket as vice presidential candidate. (I think even the seating arrangement at the head table in the so-called show of force by Roxas’ political allies in Greenhills, San Juan, last week was designed with Poe in mind: Roxas was seated between Mr. Aquino on his left and two prospective running mates on his right, the popular actress and accomplished politician Vilma Santos-Recto, governor of Batangas, and civil society favorite Rep. Leni Robredo.)

And Binay is not exactly standing still. A week after the President’s State of the Nation Address, he offered his own “true” take on the national situation; he used the occasion to deepen his criticism of the administration he used to serve.

Can he win? The necessary conditions are there. Continue reading


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Women at the Gemaldegalerie

I went to the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin in June last year, before the start of a study tour of German media institutions, to see its pair of Vermeers. (Part of my bucket list.) Along the way, other works of art caught my eye — including these two profiles of “jungen Frau,” done in the 15th century. They seem to me to be very much a part of their time, and at the same time thoroughly modern, of our time. The first looks familiar because it is by Botticelli; that is to say, it reminds us of Botticelli’s women, but because it is in profile we are not certain at first. The second is by one of Botticelli’s masters, Antonio del Pollaiuolo; we stare at it because we think it looks like someone we know (the actress Gwyneth Paltrow, perhaps, stepping back in time); only later do we realize that we were staring because it — she — was beautiful.

ProfileYoung frau

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Column: Roxas’ path to victory

Published on August 4, 2015.

CAN MAR Roxas win? The objective answer is yes. Will he? The most realistic answer is: It’s too early to tell.

I find myself belaboring these obvious points, because the theory—or the narrative, if you will—that Roxas is a sure loser is making the rounds again. (For a couple of days after President Aquino endorsed Roxas as the Liberal Party candidate for president in the 2016 elections, the news and social media environment for Roxas turned decidedly favorable. Call it the endorsement bump.) But some of the same people who thrill to the possibility of a Miriam Defensor Santiago presidential run (which would be her third), or declare confidently that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has the right strategy and enough money to lay claim to the presidency, sweepingly discount Roxas’ chances because of his “low” ratings. But in the June 2015 Social Weather Stations survey, only 4 percent of the respondents saw Santiago as one of the three best leaders to succeed President Aquino, while only 3 percent listed Marcos. About a fifth of the respondents, or 21 percent, included Roxas in their list. Continue reading


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Column: Aquino a lame duck?

Published on July 28, 2015.

IN JULY 2005, at the lowest point in Gloria Arroyo’s presidency, she went to the Batasan for the State of the Nation Address rite not so much to defend herself, as to test her political allies’ defenses. She received an enthusiastic welcome.

To witness the outpouring of support, to hear the lusty cheers and to see the outstretched hands, for a leader who only a couple of weeks before had considered resigning because of an election fraud controversy, was to learn a crucial lesson in political resilience.

The political class respects power, recognizes it, rallies to it—and nothing adds sheen to power like surviving a crisis.

I am reminded of this fundamental fact of Philippine politics because of the spreading notion that President Aquino is “losing clout,” is becoming a “lame duck,” as he begins his last year in office.

This notion runs counter to Philippine political experience. Continue reading

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Column: Turning Filipino misery into hope

Published on July 21, 2015.

THE LAST two columns—a consideration of the returning Filipino’s frustration that the Philippines is “being left behind,” followed by a discussion of the “deadly” Filipino habits that help explain why—lead us to the necessary question: What can we do about it? The several hundred comments on both Disqus and Facebook (I have tried to read every single one) have mostly been thoughtful if pained responses: elaborations of the argument, illustrations from personal experience. Continue reading

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Column: Filipinos, what are we doing wrong?

Published on July 14, 2015.

THE HUNDREDS of comments in response to last week’s column, on “The misery of the Filipino,” were largely empathetic; many shared the same deep sense of possibility and the same sense of sharp frustration. The response inspires me to take the next step and ask the unavoidable question: What are we doing wrong?

A Malaysian academic swears some of the best medical doctors in Singapore are Filipino. (I think some of the best bankers, too.) A Thai media executive investing in digital believes, or rather simply assumes, that his regional website should be developed by “creative” Filipinos. A famous New York City-based newspaper designer describes a Filipino colleague as “the best art director in the world.” I know a Filipino manager who is the consultant of choice of one large American enterprise doing business in different parts of Africa. Many of us can offer our own examples of Filipinos doing excellent work abroad.

The pattern of excellence can assume large-scale form, on the level of entire countries or industries. Indonesian companies have Filipino corporate executives working at the highest levels. Some of the world’s best universities have Filipino students at the top of their class or doing pioneering research work. Filipino architects have helped shape the skyline in Brunei; Filipino engineers have helped tame the deserts of the Middle East; Filipino mariners have helped define the modern maritime industry.

And yet, back home, this pattern of excellence is difficult to find. The continuing MRT fiasco and the unresolved scandal of the Mindanao blackouts are defining failures of the Aquino administration, but the cause of the “misery of the Filipino” I wrote about—“the unhappiness of a citizen seeing her country being left behind”—is not merely political, goes beyond the lifespan of single administrations. The endemic corruption, the absence of “gleaming infrastructure” to match those of neighboring countries, even the lack of discipline at traffic intersections or indeed on any road where jeepneys and tricycles can load or unload passengers anywhere, at any time: These and similar conditions of life in these islands go way back, some right past Rizal’s generation. Continue reading

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Column: The misery of being Filipino

Published on July 7, 2015.

TRAVEL BROADENS the mind; for the Filipino tourist or scholar or worker abroad, it must also deepen the misery of being Filipino. Do not get me wrong; Filipinos are a famously happy people, with an extraordinary capacity for both work and play. I can also attest, from my own happy experience, to the resurgence in patriotic pride since the late 1980s.

Whether it was the People Power revolution in 1986 which electrified the world, or the 1991 Southeast Asian Games we hosted and nearly won, or the decade and a half of uninterrupted economic growth since 2001; whether it is the worldwide fame of a boxing all-time great, or the phenomenal rise of a completely new industry in business process outsourcing, or the determined challenge against an expansionist superpower in the West Philippine Sea, or the continuing celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of a heroic generation—I share the sense that many Filipinos are proud of their country, with an uncomplicated sense of pride. It is a pride different in degree from the identity-anxious nationalism of the 1960s, different in kind from the sham Filipinism promoted by a dictatorial regime in the 1970s.

At least that is my sense: There is today a greater clarity about our place in the sun. Continue reading

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Column: Grown men, whining

Published on June 30, 2015.

Two “opinion pieces” made the rounds and generated enormous controversy in the last few days. One was a Facebook post by a University of the Philippines professor; the other a sharply worded dissenting opinion by a famous justice of the US Supreme Court. Both, in my view, offer instructive examples of extremist thinking — that is, of a lived philosophy or ideology taken, in one particular, unfortunate instance, to the extreme. In their desperation of the moment, both the leftist sociologist Gerard Lanuza and the right-wing jurist Antonin Scalia came off sounding like grown men whining. Continue reading

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Column: The most subversive text of the year

Column No. 350, published on June 23, 2015.

For a good many of us, “Laudato Si” (Praised Be) will be the most subversive text we will read all year, or indeed for many years. The extraordinary eco-encyclical from Pope Francis contains explosive truths, not about the science of climate change, but about the persistence of poverty, the excesses of a market economy, the fetish for technology and the technocratic solution, the consequences of middle-class aspirations, the failings of the media, even the role of the human in a “rapidifying” world.

“Laudato Si” offers the kind of radical reading that subverts our assumptions, challenges our deepest convictions, makes us see anew. The lengthy document attempts to give a truly global treatment of the ecological catastrophe we all face; some or many of the notes the Pope strikes will be familiar to us, but taken together, the whole acquires a resonance unheard since “Gaudium et Spes” signaled the reconciliation between the Church and the modern world. Continue reading

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Column: When does opinion become an unpublishable stupidity?

Published on June 16, 2015.

I wish to revisit a topic that colleague Oscar Franklin Tan and I have debated in recent weeks: the role of commentary in the so-called free market of ideas. I have the sense that while we are both believers in free speech, we define the terms of the argument differently. To be more precise, we may have different ideas of what passes for publishable commentary in newspaper opinion pages.

The argument has not lost its appeal for me since Oscar first raised what I called his “seductive” but “untenable and misguided” appeal to Inquirer editors to screen out controversial opinion pieces like those contributed by retired Court of Appeals justice Mario Guariña III; I have continued to review my own response, borne out of the experience of working in opinion sections in three newspapers, including in particular almost a decade and a half with the Inquirer, to check my biases and trace the consequences of my position. But I am led to return to the subject because Oscar’s criticism of an opinion piece, in another newspaper, raises an even more uncomfortable question. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘the real world’

Published on June 9, 2015.

THE hit HBO series is as real as fantasy gets. The world imagined by the novelist George R. R. Martin and translated into compelling television by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss is both celebrated and condemned for its controversial “realism”—conspiracies are hatched in brothels, money and beauty are traded as political capital, the well-meaning are put to death.

For a show that includes ice-treading zombies and fire-breathing dragons, “Game of Thrones” is widely seen as a brutally frank dramatization of life’s hard truths. The powerful and ambitious are Machiavellian in their scheming; the state is Orwellian in its dependence on spies and informers; life itself is Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and (as in the story of the good, well-meaning Ned Stark) always at risk of being suddenly shortened.

Scholars of international politics have taken to the show. Leading journals such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy have mined the series (and sometimes the books on which the series is based) for lessons on international relations (IR) or political alliances or the nature of power itself. Continue reading

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Column: PH politics is a 600-year-old ‘balete’ tree

Published on June 2, 2015.

IT IS an imposing sight. The massive balete tree in Maria Aurora town, in Aurora province, is about as tall as a 15-story building and at its base is as wide as a three- or four-bedroom house. Tourists visit it by the busload, drawn by a simple superlative: It is known as the largest balete tree in Asia.

There is some slip-sliding, sometimes, and local guides also call it the oldest—but that title probably goes to the balete tree in Canlaon City, in Negros Oriental, which has an estimated age of 1,300 years, or more than twice as old. (I have not yet been to Canlaon myself.) But the tree in Maria Aurora is an extraordinary sight; first there is its sheer size; then there are the thousands of hanging roots that have descended (the tree starts as an air plant) to form an incredibly dense curtain right around it; and then there is the gap, just big enough to accommodate a crouching adult human, in the middle of the tree.

It takes only a couple of minutes to walk through the tree. The roots inside have been smoothened over the years, from contact with tourists’ suddenly helpless hands and wayward limbs, but being inside the tree, and looking up from within its hollow core at a hall of roots, is an eerie, unforgettable experience. Continue reading

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Column: Is the Philippine flag ‘unconstitutional’?

Published on May 26, 2015.

THE RESISTANCE to the Bangsamoro Basic Law has shifted to the battleground of constitutionality. We still hear the occasional demand for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to show its sincerity as a partner in the peace process by making amends for the Mamasapano incident—but now that congressional committees have started voting on the controversial measure, the question of MILF sincerity is no longer a determining or even perhaps an influential factor.

Even supporters of the bill recognize the shift in the debate; Rep. Rufus Rodriguez’s strategy to win the bill’s passage at his committee level, for instance, was premised and pushed (and publicized) on the perceived need to align key provisions in the BBL with the Constitution.

We can all agree on one principal reason for the change: It is an attempt to base the debate on firmer ground, on the solid logic of constitutional law rather than the volatile emotionalism of post-Mamasapano blame-mongering. Continue reading

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Column: The four deans: partisanship, not journalism

Published on May 12, 2015.

LAST WEEK, “the present and past deans” of the UP College of Mass Communication issued “Fact or Fiction?” a strongly worded statement expressing “its [sic] grave concern over the highly unprofessional coverage of the Mary Jane Veloso story by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.” In particular, the deans (only four of them, not all of those who have served in the position, as the definite article seems to imply) criticized the Inquirer for the reports it carried in two issues: those of April 29 and 30.

There is no quarrel, I have no argument, with the first point of criticism. (And please allow me to be clear: What follows is my personal opinion, not the position of the newspaper that has been home to me for almost 15 years.)

“In its April 29 headline and story (‘Death came before dawn’), the PDI quite dramatically announced the execution of Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia, an execution which it turns out never actually happened because Veloso was given temporary reprieve.” This was a major error, one compounded by the melodramatic and meme-friendly phrasing of the headline. The newspaper apologized for the error twice, first on Wednesday mid-afternoon through a statement circulated on other Inquirer platforms, and then on the front page of the newspaper on Thursday. The apology came with a resolve to do better: “We are revamping newsroom processes to better inform and serve our readers and stakeholders.” Continue reading

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