Monthly Archives: November 2007

Column: Kill the hero

Column No. 20, published on November 27, 2007

A line connects “Beowulf,” the Medieval Old English saga now reincarnated on the silver screen, directly to our own epics, like those that sing of Lam-ang of the Ilocanos and Sandayo of the Suban-ons. That line continues, through the martyr’s narrative that Ninoy Aquino wrote with his own blood, right down to our day.

It is the quest for the hero-protector, or rather the stubborn notion, persisting over the centuries and across civilizations, that one man will emerge to save the people. “He is our hope,” the Suban-on guman sings, “To keep our waters,/ To watch over our springs.”

Lost in the howling wilderness that our politics has led us to, harassed by the Grendels of our own making, we feel that need more than ever: A man, “no one else like him alive,” will yet lead us.

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Between Deadlines: Jamby’s gender problem

The November 24 column features Norman Bordadora, filing from Singapore, on a novel way to interview the Secretary of Foreign Affairs; Abigail Ho on a resurgent Lopez enterprise; Dona Pazzibugan on Jamby Madrigal’s problem with two language-challenged gentlemen; and me, on a detail from a Q&A with priest-turned-governor Ed Panlilio.

The November 17 column features Dona Pazzibugan again (our indefatigable reporter in the Senate) on Migz Zubiri’s run-ins with Alan Cayetano and Kiko Pangilinan, and Tarra Quismundo on Pinoy sightings in the US.

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Column: Is advertising good for democracy?

Published on November 20, 2007

This week, all roads lead to Subic. The Ad Congress, the advertising industry’s biennial extravaganza — part conference of ideas, part festival of winning works, part street party of loud and lively revelers — begins tomorrow in the former American naval base. At one time one of the biggest military installations outside the United States, Subic is a fitting venue to discuss the power of advertising. After all, what is “projection of force” by forward-deployed units if not advertising in its most fundamental form?

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Democracy, only more so

The following remarks were read last Saturday, at the Annual Conference of the American Studies Association of the Philippines, held at the National Computer Center, in the Diliman, Quezon City campus of the University of the Philippines. (Because the conference was running late, and because I was acutely aware that I was mere “front act” to Among Ed Panlilio’s star turn, I skipped some portions of the speech.)

I will post Among Ed’s speech once I get my copy by email.

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JPE, Sirico, JPII

In my column today, I referenced the following, among others:

Juan Ponce Enrile, or Manong Johnny to his fellow senators, is in my view the indispensable Filipino politician of the late 20th century. That is to say, Filipino politics from the 1970s on would not make sense without a reference to him. He was interviewed by PCIJ on the 20th anniversary of Edsa I (note that his own website leads off his biography by noting “his EDSA led revolt”).

During those fateful days at Edsa I, he told the world about the cheating that had been perpetrated in his region to ensure Marcos’s victory.

Fr. Robert Sirico co-founded the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in 1990. The center is named after the famous Lord Acton (famous in the Philippines during the martial law years for his one-line distillation of political science: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”), a truly remarkable man. (Freedom is “having the right to do what we ought.”)

Fr. Sirico’s visit was co-sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in the Philippines, the German stiftung’s busy outpost in this part of the world.

A trailer of the hour-long documentary, “The Call of the Entrepreneur,” can be found here.

Pope John Paul II’s extraordinary encyclical, Centesimus Annus, shows the way forward after the collapse of communism in Europe.

An Acton Institute newsletter from a decade ago contains George Weigel’s initial meditation on the meaning of the encyclical.

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Column: Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition

Published on November 13, 2007

“I am furious at hypocrites, those who pretend to be someone they are not,” Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said the other day. The confessed fake ambush victim (1972) and election fraud perpetrator (1986) was taking aim at Speaker Jose de Venecia (2005), but who knows? Perhaps, despite a public airing of sins during Edsa II, he was yet again in self-critical mode.

Incidentally, those who think that Enrile’s latest broadside at De Venecia (when it comes to the NorthRail project, he certainly seems to have plenty of ammunition) is a ratcheting of their word war should realize that, technically, a ratchet moves in only one direction. In other words, the movement is irreversible. In the buyer’s market that is Philippine elite politics, however, the hidden hand is never too far from the reverse gear.

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Oops, wrong war

Wrong name, too.

I made a mistake in my column today; I realized it a couple of hours after deadline, when it was way too late to do anything.

“Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” was composed by Frank Loesser, not by Irving Berlin (“Annie, Get Your Gun”), as I had all too blithely assumed. It was written during World War II (after the attack on Pearl Harbor), not during World War I.

I broke a basic rule (“Do not assume”), all because, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was positive that my copy of a CD marking Berlin’s 100th birthday carried that particular track. Now if you will kindly hand me that gun …

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Between Deadlines: The deeper meaning of Erap’s red jacket

The November 10 column features Fe Zamora on a National Press Club official’s irresponsible red-baiting, Nikko Dizon on a military website stuck in pre-State of Emergency time, Volt Contreras on Joseph Estrada’s impeccable and intuitive sense of drama, and Leila Salaverria on a jurist with considerable practice in facing off against the powers-that-be.

Note: A quick peek at the Marine Corps site shows that, after reporter Nikko Dizon started asking awkward questions (specifically, why was the website stuck in 2005, when the commandant was Maj. Gen. Miranda — the same general facing court martial for alleged conspiracy to overthrow the administration), the site administrators decided to bring the site further back in time — to 2004, and another commandant!

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Column: A clear conscience is no defense

Published on November 6, 2007

As a political junkie, I enjoyed “Lions for Lambs,” the Tom Cruise starrer that is Robert Redford’s latest and most political movie. It is talky, discursive — and honest about the limitations of words, or of political discourse in general, especially in the age of the younger George Bush, the worst president in US history. (Let me qualify that: The worst two-term president in US history.)

I am reminded of Redford’s first political movie, “The Candidate,” which won an Oscar for best screenplay in 1973. I remember the last scene vividly: After an improbable campaign, Redford’s character has won the Senate race. In the tumult of victory, we see him signaling his campaign manager, and mouthing the words: What do we do now?

In a sense, “Lions for Lambs” (which opens in Manila theaters this Wednesday) is all about the attempt to recover from the trauma of another improbable but all-too-real campaign, another unqualified, undeserving candidate.

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Mendoza’s rebuttal

Good friend Leah Makabenta, a colleague at the newspaper, wrote a few notes on Secretary Leandro Mendoza’s recent visit to the Inquirer, where other details in the whole ZTE-NBN saga got an airing. Her notes, originally meant to run as an item in yesterday’s Between Deadlines column, ran to almost 10,000 characters; we decided to devote the column space to the revised, shorter version instead, and publish it as Commentary.

It certainly makes for provocative reading.

The correspondence makes for almost comical reading. Even as the ZTE deal was in the process of being revised and after the contract was already signed, AHI was still engaged in a rearguard action, arguing that it had submitted all the documents (the DOTC wrote back that it didn’t); supplying Mendoza with a draft letter of endorsement for its proposal to then-director general Romulo Neri of the National Economic and Development Authority; dropping the name of the Speaker; and finally demanding, in hectoring tones, that DOTC officials evaluate its proposal.

AHI did finally get an endorsement from Neri, echoing perfectly the wording and tone of the unsigned Mendoza letter — even before the DOTC could properly evaluate its proposal.

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A Damaged Culture, revisited

Twenty years ago this month, this piece by James Fallows appeared in the Atlantic Monthly — and created a firestorm of controversy in a certain country in the Pacific.

IN THE UNITED STATES THE COMING OF THE AQUINO government seemed to make the Philippines into a success story. The evil Marcos was out, the saintly Cory was in, the worldwide march of democracy went on. All that was left was to argue about why we stuck with our tawdry pet dictator for so long, and to support Corazon Aquino as she danced around coup attempts and worked her way out of the problems the Marcoses had caused.

This view of the New Philippines is comforting. But after six weeks in the country I don’t think it’s very realistic. Americans would like to believe that the only colony we ever had–a country that modeled its institutions on ours and still cares deeply about its relations with the United States–is progressing under our wing. It’s not, for reasons that go far beyond what the Marcoses did or stole. The countries that surround the Philippines have become the world’s most famous showcases for the impact of culture on economic development. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore–all are short on natural resources, but all (as their officials never stop telling you) have clawed their way up through hard study and hard work. Unfortunately for its people, the Philippines illustrates the contrary: that culture can make a naturally rich country poor. There may be more miserable places to live in East Asia– Vietnam, Cambodia–but there are few others where the culture itself, rather than a communist political system, is the main barrier to development. The culture in question is Filipino, but it has been heavily shaped by nearly a hundred years of the “Fil-Am relationship.’ The result is apparently the only non-communist society in East Asia in which the average living standard is going down.

Twenty years on, the question is inescapable: Has anything actually changed?

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Inside look

Lifestyle editor Joanne Rae Ramirez of the Star had dinner with the President recently, together with other female journalists; her column provides a closer look at the presidency in a time of crisis. No surprises there, except for details about the President’s health regimen.

We were led to the Music Room for cocktails. I noticed more mirrors were added to the room, which was elegant and yet cozy. A few minutes past seven, the President walks in, and she looks like she had just come from a vacation.

Hard to imagine she was being threatened by impeachment and being linked to corrupt deals and alleged terrorist bombings. In a sea green pantsuit and open-toed Guccis, her short hair gelled back and diamonds glistening from her earlobes, she looked like a typical wealthy matron hosting a chika-chika dinner for her amigas.

In contrast, this post by Manuel Buencamino (self-described as a member of the "anti-Gloria crowd") offers an unexpected  look into the state of (some of) the opposition. (Scroll all the way down.) I read it only the other day, so it was still fresh on my mind when I read the Star scene-setter.

(The Speaker had invited Manolo and me for dinner when he saw us at the Batasan during the press conference where he passed the impeachment buck to Raul Del Mar. I guess he wanted to feel the pulse of the anti-Gloria crowd. He gave us a peek at the letter about moral regeneration which he delivered to Gloria a few days ago and he asked us what we thought. We told him exactly what we thought – it was bland. We also noticed that his wife Gina was very close to our position vis a vis GMA – hold her accountable now!)

Apparently, dinner is the weapon of choice (even for us in the Inquirer).

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Quote: Rizal country

“Rizal’s achievement in respect of the Philippines is immeasurable; it is impossible to imagine that country without him.” – Austin Coates

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Foren(sic)

I know, I know. The Australian forensic report bolsters the gas leak theory, but this political animal still has his doubts about the true cause of the Glorietta 2 explosion. I explain why in Inquirer Current.

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