Epitaph on a Tyrant

Always ahead of the curve, Lourd de Veyra circulated this six-line poem some time ago; it is a reflection on the nature of tyranny. (W. H. Auden wrote it in January 1939, and I believe was referencing Adolf Hitler.) We can listen to Auden himself recite the poem, here.

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

Leave a comment

Filed under Readings in History, Readings in Politics

Column: ‘Remove China’s illegal structures’

South China Sea expert Jay Batongbacal, at the Defend Democracy Summit. June 12, 2017.

 

Published on June 13, 2017.

I meant to write on Rizal and President Duterte, but taking part in the Defend Democracy Summit at the UP School of Economics on Monday brought me face to face with the human toll of the Duterte administration’s irresolution in defending the West Philippine Sea. We must make time to understand the Duterte era from a historical perspective; on Thursday, the Inquirer and the De La Salle University seek to do just that, with a historians’ forum on Philippine independence and the rise of China. But today—today I want to talk about Norma and Ping and the fishermen in Zambales they represent. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: ‘Who lost the West Philippine Sea?’

Antonio Carpio, Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Updating, again. This column was published on June 6, 2017. I took the photo of Justice Carpio on June 5, about half an hour before he conducted a group interview with the Inquirer.

This could be the question that will haunt us in our old age. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio asked the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Monday to imagine that moment, years from now, when our children and grandchildren will sit us down and ask us: “Who lost the West Philippine Sea to China?”

It is our “civic duty,” Carpio said, to raise the alarm today about the imminent loss of our territory and our waters, to forge a national consensus on what needs to be done, and to defend the West Philippine Sea. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media

Column: Why does the President misremember his oath?

On a worrying choice of words. Published on May 30, 2017.

When President Duterte arrived from Moscow, a day after he imposed martial law on all of Mindanao, he gave a speech explaining the rationale for his exercise of extraordinary power and then conducted a news conference. In response to a question about the rules of engagement now in place in Mindanao, he gave an extended answer, which included the following statement:

“You know, I have always maintained that my duty, my sacred duty to preserve and defend the Filipino, does not emanate from any constitutional restriction.”

“It is in my oath of office. I beg to disagree with anyone. In this oath of office which I promised to God and to the people that I will protect and defend the country.”

(I am using the official transcript provided by the Presidential Communications Operations Office.) Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: On the ICC and Duterte’s ‘sensitivity’

Published on May 23, 2017.

On April 24, lawyer Jude Sabio submitted a “communication” to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, seeking an investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly masterminded or committed by President Duterte and 11 other officials. We do not know what will happen to Sabio’s action; the procedures are detailed for all to see or study on the ICC website, but for the Philippines, this is a case of first impression.

For some members of the political opposition, the ICC might also prove to be the court of last resort. The impeachment complaint Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano filed against the President was disposed of in a matter of hours; there was no “prejudicial questions” maneuver to create at least the semblance of deliberation (as in the first impeachment complaint filed against President Gloria Arroyo in 2005). While ICC prosecution does not require the state that is party to the Treaty of Rome to exhaust all remedies (the ICC prosecutor has “motu proprio” powers), it can also step in when “the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution.” Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: The Catholic (as) fascist

Published on May 16, 2017; provoked by online encounters with friends who are devout Catholics and support President Duterte’s signature campaign, the misleadingly named “war on drugs.”

I was born into a Vatican II household. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say I belonged to a family that in the 1960s took readily to the new emphases, the changes in the liturgy, in short the opening of windows, made possible by the historic ecumenical council. Looking back on those transition years, I can remember Masses in Cagayan de Oro or in General Santos City where the priest still faced the altar, rather than the congregation. We were aware of the changes and willingly took part in them; we were certain of our Catholic identity, encouraged by the modernizing faith we professed, and tolerant and respectful of other faiths.

It took me some time to realize that there were other kinds of Catholics—resistant to what Pope John XXIII called, in his opening speech before the Second Vatican Council, the “medicine of mercy,” partial instead to the old prescription of “severity.” Perhaps I oversimplify; I must have met relatives and strangers alike who were “catolico cerrado,” who believed in “sola scriptura,” or who were, as the expression goes, more papist than the Pope. But Catholic fundamentalism was first an academic problem for me, in college and right after it, before it became a personal one.

Now it is decidedly personal. Catholic fundamentalism, like other religious fundamentalisms, is open to fascism and helps enable authoritarianism. And I have some friends and acquaintances who do not see any disconnect between their Catholic faith and their support for the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs. Continue reading

Leave a comment

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

Column: On impeaching VP Leni

Time to play catch-up again. I’ve 12 columns (three months’ worth) to post; here is the first. Published on May 9, 2017, in what already seems like a different era.

The administration allies pushing for the impeachment of Vice President Leni Robredo suffer from two disadvantages: the absence of a substantive basis on which to ground their complaint, and the presence, the counter-example, of a substantial complaint. I mean, of course, the impeachment case filed by Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano.

Whatever one may think of President Duterte, or of the courage or duplicity of his political opposition (take your pick), I hope we can agree that the Alejano filing is a serious undertaking. It does not only assert the violation of high crimes (the essence of an impeachment initiative); it also offers testable proof. For instance, in detailing an entire pattern of words spoken and actions taken to adopt what Alejano called “a state policy of inducing policemen, other law enforcement officials, and/or members of vigilant groups into … Extrajudicial Killings,” he asserts that Mr. Duterte was liable for:

“making the killing of drug suspects and other suspected criminals as one of the principal bases of promotion and/or retention of Police Commanders such that Police Commanders in whose areas there are no reported killing of suspects are under threat of being replaced.”

It is a chilling charge, but it can be proved or disproved. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

At the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. July 9, 2017, 2:45 pm.

Leave a comment

Filed under Panorama

Piazza del Duomo, Firenze. April 10, 2017, 4:06 pm.

Leave a comment

June 15, 2017 · 4:36 pm

The 7 No’s of Dutertismo

Saguisag 060817

On June 8, I joined a “forum on civil liberties and democracy” at De La Salle University on Taft Avenue called “Gathering Hope”—and came away a little more hopeful. Part of the reason I showed up was to see Rene Saguisag, the great civil libertarian of our time, in action again. I was fortunate to sit beside him, and took a couple of pictures of him in mid-speech (at that point when he was recalling an old story about a mischievous boy and a grandfather figure, whose moral the grandfather summed up in the following wise: “The answer lies in your hands”). Continue reading

Leave a comment

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

Column: ‘The unfortunate Bato dela Rosa’

The fifth in my occasional series of “unfortunate appointments” is the first on a non-lawyer; as it happens, the government’s chief law enforcement official. Column No. 440, published on May 2, 2017.

Bato in Davao

Bato in Davao, at the massive thanksgiving rally for President-elect Duterte. June 4, 2016.

No chief of the Philippine National Police has brought as much disgrace and discredit to the institution he heads as Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, a likeable enough police officer promoted beyond his capacity and competence. His chief claim to fame was his total support for the presidential candidacy of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, whom he worked with closely when he was Davao City police chief; the main reason he remains head of the country’s 170,000 police officers is the President’s complete trust in him.

There are at least three reasons why Dela Rosa has seriously damaged the institution he leads. As early as January this year, these reasons were already clear to any observer of the PNP’s performance and indeed to any genuine friend or ally of the President’s. In the aftermath of the scandal over the kidnapping and killing of the retired Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo right inside PNP headquarters (the crime took place in October, but came to light only in January),  one of the President’s closest political allies, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, called on Dela Rosa to resign. In the agitated statement Speaker Alvarez released on Jan. 20, after the full scale of the scandal became clear and threatened to bring the President’s so-called war on drugs to a permanent and premature end, the three reasons can already be discerned.

Now, in the wake of the revelations last week about the hidden detention cells inside Manila Police District Station No. 1, and especially after Dela Rosa bombastically offered what Sen. Panfilo Lacson rightly called an “incomprehensible” and “very arrogant” defense of the secret jail, it is time to revisit Alvarez’s position.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: If not Duterte’s ouster, what?

Like many, I do not want the military to oust President Duterte; that attempt at a cure (to speak figuratively) may prove to be worse than the disease. Like many, I only want our democratic processes to function, our checks and balances to work, our politicians to grow a spine worthy of the dignity of their office—so that everyone, Duterte included, can be held accountable not only by history but in real time. The lesson from the history of democratic polities is clear: The consent of the governed depends on limits placed on government. Published on April 25, 2017.

I have written in this space before: There is no conspiracy to oust President Duterte, and there are no destabilization attempts against his administration. What is the “point,” then, of all the criticism? To ask the question is to misunderstand the role of a free press, an unco-opted opposition and the democratic project itself. In our different ways, we criticize to hold him accountable.

Let me limit myself to the responsibility of journalists. Continue reading

Leave a comment

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

Column: ‘Why prefer a dictatorship to freedom?’

The second column prompted by the IJF17 panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism.” Published on April 18, 2017.

As it turns out, more research exists on authoritarian followers than on authoritarian leaders. I do not know this paradox for a fact, but I believe someone who does: the psychologist who is a leading scholar on authoritarianism, Bob Altemeyer. I was led to his work by a presentation Alexa Koenig of UC Berkeley made at the International Journalism Festival two weeks ago; I have since read his “The Authoritarians,” available for free online. It makes for instructive reading. It helps explain our experience under martial law, and why we may yet again find ourselves on the road to authoritarian rule.

The paradox can be explained simply. As Altemeyer writes: “The psychological mystery has always been, why would someone prefer a dictatorship to freedom? So social scientists have focused on the followers, who are seen as the main, underlying problem.” Continue reading

Leave a comment

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

Column: The authoritarian and his followers

The first of three columns prompted by a panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism” at the 2017 International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. (I might add a fourth column, one of these days.) Published on April 11, 2017.

 

One difference between the Marcos years and today: Today there is deservedly more attention paid to the role the public plays in empowering authoritarian regimes. A panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism” at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, which it was my happy task to moderate, brought this difference home to me.

Alexa Koenig, who serves as executive director of UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, began by outlining a useful framework for understanding the subject. Yavuz Baydar, a prominent Turkish journalist living in exile since the postcoup total crackdown by President Reycep Erdogan, drew lessons from his country’s degeneration into a “robust authoritarian regime.” Tamas Bodoky, a Hungarian investigative journalist who founded the watchdog site Atlatszo.hu (“transparent” in Hungarian), described “defining features” of emerging authoritarianism, based on the Hungarian experience under Prime Minister Viktor Orban. I presented five theses on the Duterte presidency. Continue reading

1 Comment

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

Summer, Bataan. April 30, 2017, 5.02 pm.

Leave a comment

May 28, 2017 · 8:48 am

Column: Becoming blind

Published today, April 4, 2017 — but in a different time zone, and in a different frame of mind.

I find the phenomenon of willful blindness in the Duterte era vexing, and would like to take a closer look. To begin: There are degrees of not seeing.

Some are born truly sightless, or qualify as legally blind. Different institutions would have different definitions for legal blindness, but I think the nontechnical phrasing used in Merriam-Webster comes close to a common basis: “having less than 1/10 of normal vision in the more efficient eye when refractive defects are fully corrected by lenses.” (That means that seriously visually impaired people who can see well enough to drive with the help of corrective lenses are not, in fact, legally blind—a common misconception.)

Some are blind because they are unable, or unwilling, to question what they see. Continue reading

Leave a comment

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

Column: Should Leni dine with the President?

Published on March 28, 2017.

Here’s a sign of our parlous times: An invitation to dine with the President of the Philippines has become politically fraught. Instead of the privileged act of mutual courtesy it has traditionally been (the President honors the citizen with the invitation, the citizen pays his or her respects to the President by accepting the invitation), it is now a simplistic political test. If you show up (say at a private dinner with senators), you will be seen as an ally of the President’s. If you are seen laughing at some of the President’s risqué or offensive jokes, you will be criticized by his critics. And if you are the duly elected vice president, you will be warned about the risks of falling into a trap.

In keeping with the schizophrenic quality of some of President Duterte’s rhetoric, the invitation to Vice President Leni Robredo and her three daughters came after he both ruled out the possibility that she was involved in any destabilization campaign against him and also suggested that she was eager to replace him. It also comes in the wake of the controversial dinner between the President and the members of the newly reconstituted majority in the Senate.

Should Robredo accept the President’s invitation? Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

INQxIJF17

En route (literally) to the 11th International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. According to the Etihad flight path map, we are currently flying over Turkey — an appropriate place to begin any discussion about journalism as it is practiced today (or not allowed to).

The programme features some 600 speakers, panelists, authors, performers. (It is the biggest journalism conference in Europe.) Here’s the link to the PDF version of the programme.

The panel discussion I will moderate is scheduled for April 6: Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism.

A sign of the times: The panel includes journalists from Hungary, the Philippines, and yes Turkey, and a human rights expert from the US.

2 Comments

Filed under Readings in Media

Column: The Duterte camp’s internal contradictions

Prompted by the last line of the previous column. Published on March 21, 2017.

I use the word “camp” advisedly, because the fundamental inconsistencies exist not only inside the administration but also among its political allies in and with the administration’s support apparatus. Here are 10 internal contradictions that may pose a threat to the harmony, unity, or even viability of the Duterte camp.

Dominguez vs. Lopez. I cannot recall an instance where a sitting member of the Cabinet testified against another member before the Commission on Appointments. But that’s exactly what Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez did a week ago, expressing his opposition to Gina Lopez’s appointment as environment secretary. It was an extraordinary scene, one of the President’s alter egos coming out publicly, methodically, against the confirmation of another of the President’s alter egos. The President has renewed his public declaration of support for Lopez. But people close to the President say that in fact he wants Lopez to read the handwriting on the wall and gracefully resign her appointment. Whatever the true situation, it is unusual for a policy difference like the administration stance on mining to be fought, in the CA, by dueling secretaries. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: Destabilization? Opposition can’t even unite

“Criticism of the President is not destabilization.” Published on March 14, 2017.

A concerted campaign to destabilize the Duterte presidency exists—but only in the opportunistic minds of political entrepreneurs like Sandra Cam or the anxious imaginations of political virgins like the President’s diehard devotees. I can also include the likes of the smart, articulate political veteran Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, whose fortunes now depend completely on his erstwhile running mate.

They have one thing in common: no real power in the Duterte administration, only access or the promise of access to the inner circle. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: Pacquiao misunderstands ‘spiritual renewal’

Pastor Manny Pacquiao takes center stage, again. Published on March 7, 2017.

Yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, the following trended on Twitter: #DDSBigReveal, Lascañas, Senate, Manny Pacquiao, Davao Death Squad, and Spiritual Renewal. The six trends were all related to the Senate hearing conducted by the committee on public order to assess retired policeman Arturo Lascañas’ dramatic accusations against President Duterte.

The last, in particular, referred to the witness’ explanation for changing his testimony. Last October, before the Senate committee on justice, he denied the existence of the Davao Death Squad. It was just “media hype,” he said. On Feb. 20, at a news conference in the Senate, and then yesterday, under oath a second time, he said he had been forced to lie the first time because his family’s safety had not yet been secured, but that he really wanted to tell the nation what he knows about Mr. Duterte’s alleged personal liquidation squad because of a “spiritual renewal.”

I can understand why several senators questioned Lascañas’ conversion story. (I use “conversion” here to mean, not a moving from one religion or denomination to another, but rather a turning—that’s the root of the word—from one path to another.) It goes to the issue of motivation. Why change one’s mind, and perjure one’s self? The senators are right in assuming that neither should be taken lightly. Lascañas does have some serious explaining to do.

But I think one reason “spiritual renewal” trended on Twitter yesterday is people reacted to the narrow view some of the senators held about that religious experience. Continue reading

Leave a comment

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

Column: Duterte’s math: the ‘tokhang’ surrender fallacy

The politics of the so-called war on drugs is addition. Column No. 431, published on February 28, 2017.

Before the Duterte administration resumes its so-called war on drugs in earnest, we should ask ourselves: Is the “surrender” of a “drug personality” addition or subtraction? Let’s say there are 1,000 residents in a barangay. The local police and barangay officials agree that an estimated 100 residents are into drugs, whether as user or as pusher. If 50 residents surrender to the police when the authorities conduct what is now known as a “tokhang” drive, how many drug personalities will the barangay now have? Is it now 50, because the number of 50 surrenderers has been subtracted from the estimate? Is it still 100? Or is it 150, because the number 50 has been added to the base?

Allies and supporters of the President have called on those who criticize the war on drugs for its high death toll to consider the bigger picture—starting with the number of surrenderers. On Jan. 18, the Philippine National Police spokesperson gave an update: Since the national “tokhang” plan went into effect (it is officially known as Oplan Double Barrel), the police have visited some 6 million houses, and processed over 1 million surrenderers.

What does it mean to surrender? Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

One difference between Congress and the Senate, Philippine edition

A memorable phrase from prominent political analyst Mon Casiple, our guest in tonight’s INQ&A radio/Facebook program: “In the House [of Representatives], a congressman has one eye on the President. In the Senate, a senator has one eye on the presidency.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Politics, Spiral Notebook

“Law in the land died …”

“Law in the land died. I grieve for it but I do not despair over it. I know, with a certainty no argument can turn, no wind can shake, that from its dust will rise a new and better law: more just, more human, and more humane. When that will happen, I know not. That it will happen, I know.” — The great Jose W. Diokno, who died 30 years ago today

From the Diokno.org memorial website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Readings in Politics, Spiral Notebook, Uncommon Quotations

Column: The unfortunate Calida, ‘16th Justice’

Published on February 21, 2017.

I have not met Solicitor General Jose Calida, but his reputation precedes him. He likes, shall we say, to cut a figure. Arriving at a function in a convoy with flashing lights; deliberately ignoring his candidate’s vice presidential running mate at a campaign rally; going around town telling officers of the court he is replacing Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and soon. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when he justified his startling intervention in Janet Lim Napoles’ serious illegal detention case with yet another act of immodesty.

“It is up to the Justices of the Court of Appeals to assess the weight of our pleading. And, modesty aside, the Solicitor General is considered as the 16th Justice of the Supreme Court,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Of all the things he said in that disturbing news conference, this was in my view the most upsetting.

In the first place, no solicitor general publicly refers to himself as the unappointed member of the Supreme Court; it just isn’t done. The boundaries that divide the work of the executive’s chief lawyer from the work of the judiciary are not only constitutionally determined but also ethically set.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics