Monthly Archives: January 2006

And before you know it

Damn. Is it the end of the month already? I had certainly expected to post more often; the start-up phase of Inquirer Compact (“published in Metro Manila, distributed in provincial Luzon”) was winding down, and I had (or so I thought) already made the necessary adjustments. Oh, well. Something’s cooking, and I hope I will be able to post even at the office, from my desk, during working hours, real soon.

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Blood thirst

Senators have crossed party lines to condemn, rightly, Sec. Mike Defensor’s It-will-be-bloody-if-they-try-a-coup comment. ButI did not hear the reason which, in my view, justifies the condemnation most.

As usual, Sen. Ralph Recto had the catchiest phrase:

"Fighting fire with fire will only burn the house down," Recto said. "This reminder also goes to those who plan to bring this government down violently. Our overheated politics needs to cool down."

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the young Defensor’s tough talk would only sharpen opposition against the President:

"That is a statement of a war freak and it does not calm down tensions. On the contrary, it stokes the fires of resentment among the people," Pimentel said.

Sen. Mar Roxas came closest to what I thought should have been said:

"The use of force by a state presupposes that there is a moral basis to resort to such violence. Malacanang must exercise extreme caution as it contemplates the use of such force. With waning public support, it may find itself in a situation it may be unable to control, which in turn may result in its collapse," Roxas said.

All true, of course. Roxas may have been skating on thin ice when he hinted at the administration’s lack of moral basis to use violence; I suppose he was referring to the use of force against mass demonstrations, which cannot be supported; but an armed response to any attempt at an armed takeover of government? Surely that is both an act of necessity and reason.

The reason why Defensor’s we’ll-fight-fire-with-fire declaration is all wet is more fundamental: The very threat of violence puts more pressure on the military (and the police); they bear the state’s instruments of sanctioned violence. But the resolution of the still-simmering political crisis must take place within the public square — with the armed services watching from the sidelines. The "bloodbath" strategy is an unwitting invitation for those we entrust with our guns to come marching in, and ultimately make our decisions for us. 


Filed under Readings in Politics

A casualty

Last year I had written of (but not "off") the Liberal Party as one of the casualties of the political crisis. This news report reminds me of the cost the party — much rejuvenated in the last few years — has had to endure in the last few months.

THE grand old man of the Liberal Party, former Senate President Jovito Salonga, offered to patch up his splintered party as the feuding factions went their separate ways in celebrating the group’s 60th anniversary on Thursday …

“Today we are divided once more but it is my hope and prayer that like brothers, we can disagree without being disagreeable, we can differ without being difficult,” said Salonga, the party’s chairman emeritus. “If I can serve as an instrument of reconciliation between the two camps, I shall be most happy.”

Salonga has the unique distinction of being the only person to run for the Senate thrice, and topping the list of Senate winners each time. Despite the three-decade-old shrapnel from the Plaza Miranda bombing that still lodge in his body (and the heartache of losing a presidential election for lack of money and machinery), Salonga remains remarkably sharp, his mind wonderfully lucid.

But who will listen to an old hand who does not wield power but only influence — and the off-putting, moral kind, at that?

Addressing the political crisis that has gripped the nation for the past eight months, Salonga said that if Ms Arroyo was right in saying she won the May 10, 2004 presidential election fair and square, “there should be an end to the senseless squabbles and bickering” crippling the nation.

“But if the truth is otherwise, then justice must take its normal course,” he added.

Sounds about right, yes? The equivalences in his statement, read for him by Quintin Doromal at the Liberal Party’s 60th anniversary rally in Manila (that is to say, before the faction led by Manila Mayor Lito Atienza), seem to strike the balance one would look for in a neutral reconciliator. But if I may hazard a guess, his parallel phrasing will not sit well with the other Liberal faction, that led by Senate President Frank Drilon.

Why? Salonga’s lawyerly stress on justice taking its normal course is precisely what the Drilon faction was worried about when it called on the President to resign. Let me be more exact. Salonga places a great importance on the constitutional processes, and assumes that the remedy will take time. The faction led by Drilon does not share Salonga’s sense of patience; if anything, they would describe Salonga’s course of action as lacking the right sense of urgency.

A pity. I thought the Liberal Party was well on its way to becoming a politically cohesive force that decided on the basis of party policy, not personality.


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The shape of things to come

Between you and me, I would rather get caught up in the intense build-up (or hype, depending, I guess, on which side of the Gulf of Mexico you’re on) over the Pacquiao-Morales rematch, but the resurfacing of the simonpures of Philippine politics in the immediate wake of renewed restiveness in the military (for instance, Ernie Maceda, eternally "so young"), is terribly distracting.

But at least there is a political lesson we can learn from the boxers. (Incidentally, the best place to start reading up on the upcoming fight is Pacland, an aggregator site run, if I’m not mistaken, by Winchell Campos. It links to all articles it can find about Pacquiao, including online analysis by boxing experts.)

The lesson? Well, Morales has apologized in advance to the entire Filipino nation, because he said there was no way Pacquiao could win. Pacquiao, for his part, has broadcast the results of his study of Morales’s latest fight: Now he knows where the great Mexican fighter is vulnerable, he told reporters. The comments, of course, are strictly psy-ops: the idea, made famous by Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, who perfected a stark-raving-foaming-at-the-mouth-mad act before his first bout with Sonny Liston, is of course to unnerve the opponent before the fight.

The claim that the four Magdalo mutineers who escaped last Tuesday were helped by their brothers in the service is only to be expected; it may very well be true, in fact it is the simplest explanation for their escape, but repeating it over and over again is of course psychological warfare. To update Sun Tzu for the John Mayer generation: Make your enemy think you are, well, bigger than your body.

Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes, who speaks for the Magdalo mutineers, has warned that the escape was only "part of things to come." He could very well be telling the truth; he could also be improvising, hoping that by saying things were moving, things would begin to move.

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Weather report

The weather plays a part in military strategy. Politicians have finally caught on to that. That is why I think the country is looking at a tumultuous next two months. The weather, as both People Power uprisings have shown, is perfect for massive public demonstrations. I do not mean to be facetious, but one important reason Edsa I and II succeeded is because the air was, well, nippy.

There are other factors in play, of course — factors which make the restiveness among junior officers even more of a concern. The US government’s investigation into the Aragoncillo spying case, which implicates both Sen. Ping Lacson and ex-president Joseph Estrada, will move to the next level soon. Erap already has a defense ready.

"His only fault was for being overly concerned about his relatives and fellow Filipinos," said Estrada, who acknowledged receiving information from Aragoncillo by e-mail last year.

"Even if he was already at the FBI and a naturalized American, he still has a Filipino heart," Estrada told The Associated Press by telephone.

The Senate resumes its hearings on the election-related wiretaps today. Ex-senator Gringo Honasan (who if sources are right has some explaining to do to the Magdalo mutiny leaders) is scheduled to be one of the witnesses, thus guaranteeing the hearings a closeness of attention (especially within the armed services) that it otherwise wouldn’t have. The following bit is doubly interesting though:

Senate sources on Wednesday said that former senator Gregorio Honasan was invited to the hearing.

But Honasan expressed reservations because the issue of the escape from prison of the soldiers in the failed Oakwood mutiny of 2003 "has become too complicated and too hot to handle," the source said.

Now what would a Senate hearing on wiretaps have to do with the Magdalo fugitives?

Not least, there is the specter of yet another internal crisis in the Arroyo administration, again involving the scandal-tainted First Gentleman. The speaker is Jovito Salonga (who really should have been elected president in 1992); the subject is Mike Arroyo’s alleged intercession, on behalf of certain cases, with the previous Ombudsman.

"I confronted him [Marcelo] by phone and later personally. He did not deny it," Salonga said, quoting Marcelo as saying, "Kaya po gusto ko nang mag-resign dito. Hinihintay ko na lang ang desisyon doon sa Erap case (That’s why I want to resign. I am just waiting for the decision on the Erap [Joseph Estrada] case)."

All this, and more, when the temperature is in the low 20s.

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Interesting times

I do not necessarily agree with Sen. Joker Arroyo’s candid assessment, that the Arroyo administration is only one scandal away from collapsing, but I do think that, contrary to Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s assurances, the administration is headed for more trouble. It suffers from the Chinese curse; it is living in interesting times.

The escape of four of the Magdalo mutineers is troubling, because it raises questions about how much support the new generation of military adventurists enjoys from within the Armed Forces. There are other factors, of course, but the question of internal support  is not the least of them.

(Military adventurism? Yes, I still see any attempt by members of the armed services to forcibly enter the public square or hold it hostage — that would be the Oakwood formula — as misguided and ultimately anti-democratic.)

When the news of the escape spread, late on Tuesday night, speculation was rife that there was more to it than met the eye. The mutineers’ counsel, Roel Pulido, even suggested that the lives of the four officers involved were in danger. The Army was about to transfer the four mutineers from their detention area to a smaller building, but the transfer, Pulido said, was illegal. It wasn’t until early this morning that Pulido finally received a phone call from one of the escapees, confirming the escape.

The Army chief has raised the possibility that Pulido in fact helped the mutineers escape.

Army chief Lieutenant General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. yesterday insinuated that Pulido was an accomplice in the escape.

"The allegation that the escape of Captain Rabonza et al. is theatrics orchestrated by the Army is bereft of truth. Such allegation by one Attorney Pulido is in fact meant to cover his possible complicity in the escape," Esperon said at a news conference.

Complicity? Esperon again, in a related Inquirer story.

"We’re looking at possible angles. What’s important here is this occurred while one Attorney Pulido was negotiating at the detention center," the Army chief said at a news conference.

Pulido is not amused. In interviews, he has said he rushed to Fort Bonifacio precisely because he had heard about the planned transfer.

Pulido related in the pleading that on Tuesday afternoon, one of the four soldiers informed him that they were to be transferred to the ISG compound, and that a certain Major Baluyan "threatened" them that "they would be bodily carried to the intelligence compound if they refused to move."

The lawyer said that upon his arrival at the CMU to check on his clients, four Army officers whom he identified as General Rafael, Colonel Fajardo, Major Baluyan and a certain Major Tolentino told him that Esperon had ordered them to transfer the four soldiers.

The "pleading" mentioned above refers to the case Pulido has filed against Esperon et al because of the allegedly illegal transfer. I can already see Esperon’s defense: The proposed transfer may not have been sanctioned by a court order, but he thought it was necessary precisely because the Army had gotten wind of the escape plan. (Thus the legal issue is joined, yes?)

But the escape of the four mutineers did not happen in a vacuum. It follows the escape of Capt. Nick Faeldon, a mutiny leader who has launched a virtual campaign and seems destined to reap virtual results, last month. (Dean Bocobo has the scoop.) Tellingly, Tuesday’s escape came only hours after Navy Lt. Trillanes, the spokesman of the Magdalo mutiny, gave a remarkable news briefing after his court hearing in Makati City: remarkable because of what he said (he called on the people to choose between the President and generic "change," saying the Armed Forces would support its choice) and how he said it (he was under heavy guard, but he was allowed to hold forth on the state of the world).

Now there is no question about sympathy from the ranks and his fellow officers: Trillanes enjoys that. But does he, and by extension the other Magdalo leaders, enjoy the active kind of sympathy, the kind that allows escapees to hide right under the noses of the generals?

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More gifts

Some of you gave this writer the best possible gift last year: the benefit of close reading. I have not been as quick with 50-word replies to the comments that sometimes find their way here as I would have liked, but I do agree with Dean Bocobo, when he said somewhere (I think in one of those comment threads he frequents, like a regular at a neighborhood coffee shop) that comments are integral to the blogging experience.

Four comments, or — rather — themes in the comment threads, have exercised me greatly; I look forward to writing and reading more about them in the coming year.

Edwin Lacierda’s provocative question, about the role of a patriotic military in a rambunctious democracy, continues to sound in my ear. Its latest version is dramatic indeed: What will happen if, say, the entire  Southern Command withdraws its support for the Arroyo administration?

Jojo Abinales was I think the first to point to it: the phenomenon of effective local support for the national leadership. As DILG Sec. Angelo Reyes’s latest proposal shows (more power for mayors, as anti-terror czars), the wooing of the locals remains very much on the minds of the people who run Malacanang.

Mario Taguiwalo’s continued pursuit of civil society’s holy grail — the truth that will get us off our butts, out of our lazy chairs, into the sometimes-empty streets, and up the high walls of the powers-that-be; in other words, the truth that in the knowing will galvanize us into action and set us all free — remains bracing, an adventure even more impressive because of the alternatives.

Not least, Dean Bocobo’s observation about the innumeracy that marks traditional journalism is a constant challenge, especially at a time when a survey culture is emerging.

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Among other wishes, I asked for the Ultraelectromagnetic Jam CD, and on Christmas eve I got it. Of course, I got ribbed for it; it did not fit in with the rest of the wish list (Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote, music or movies of the Beatles, Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores, you get the picture).  But I had heard some of the tracks on radio, and realized I liked them. Not least, I thought it would be a neat idea to catch up on the latest Pinoy bands, by listening to their covers of Eraserheads songs — that is, the very songs written and popularized by the (defunct) Pinoy band that started the latest (and from the looks of it, permanent) OPM wave.

The CD’s a blast. (Its concept also appeals to my rather literary sense of creative conceit.) The Eraserheads’ natural melodic gifts are winning, and their songs of innocence (think of Barbie Almalbis’s Overdrive) and experience (Kitchie Nadal’s Ligaya, which, as Jove Francisco wrote, sounds like she really had fun in the doing) get just the right play. Paolo Santos is an excellent teller of tales, and Magasin is both a good fit and a distinct example. And Rico J. Puno? When I first heard of the CD, I thought he was, well, out of place — or was it out of time. But his Huling El Bimbo is just right; who better to sing the song, after all, than the one who rose to stardom at the very time El Bimbo was lord of the dance?   

As it turned out, Ang Huling El Bimbo was the last song I heard in 2005.

I also asked for any book by David Sedaris, my interest having been provoked by something good friend Gigi Santos had written (and a story I had read in a year-old issue of the New Yorker). I got his latest collection of stories (or essays, depending on which newspaper is doing the reviewing): Dress Your Family in Curdoroy and Denim.

He is not laugh-out-loud funny, in the same way, for instance, that Jose Rizal is in parts of Noli me tangere, or Peter de Vries can be (to this day I still remember the opening line, or at least the gist of it, of a de Vries romp called I Hear America Swinging, which I read maybe 20 years ago: "I walked up to the bartender and asked, ‘Do you serve zombies?’ And he said, ‘Sure, what will you have?’" Of course, if you have to explain that a zombie is a particular, potent kind of cocktail, the joke is lost.)

But Sedaris is genuinely comic. And like Jessica Zafra, he also has perfect pitch. There isn’t a single story (or essay) that does not begin exactly right. His prose is elegant, elegiac even, but all his 22  stories (or essays) are elegies of an outrageously dysfunctional family. Elegies, or eulogies: In many stories (or essays: at the start of the book a disclaimer declares that the "events described in these stories are real. Certain characters have fictitious names and identifying characteristics"), the last notes struck are unexpectedly mournful, or filled with a sense of time’s inexorable passing. Good stuff.

I also received Gabo’s latest (and possibly slimmest) novel. Garcia Marquez, for my money the greatest novelist alive, is famous for his opening lines. I remember exactly how he starts the incomparable One Hundred Years of Solitude, that day Colonel Aureliano Buendia discovered ice; I also remember how Love in the Time of Cholera begins its subtle magic, with the scent of bitter almonds. The first sentence of Memories of My Melancholy Whores is similarly unforgettable; it is also Garcia Marquez’s most incorrect, politically; most daring, literarily. "The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin." The reader cannot help but wonder: How will, how can, a writer like this redeem himself? I hope to find out in the next few days.


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