Monthly Archives: December 2009

Column: Down in Maguindanao, up in Copenhagen

Published on December 8, 2009.

Something I read in an earlier column written by Neal Cruz continues to rankle. On Nov. 30, he discussed a conspiracy theory two distinguished Muslim leaders had raised to help explain the Ampatuan massacre. Amina Rasul and Nasser Marohomsalic had told him, he said, that they did not believe Andal Ampatuan Jr. was the true mastermind behind the massacre.

The key quote: “These two Muslim leaders think that the implications of the carnage may be deeper than it looks. For in the Muslim culture, women, children, the elders, the weak and the sickly, are accorded the highest respect. And yet they were among those machine-gunned and buried in the mass graves beside the roadside in Maguindanao. That is ‘un-Islamic,’ the two said. So it is possible that the real masterminds are not Muslims.” Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: One on one with Manny Villar

Published on December 1, 2009.
 
“Impunity” will not do. It does not translate well. It seems to me we need a better word to reflect, to evoke, the brazenness, the sheer shamelessness, the “kawalanghiyaan,” of the flagrant abuses committed, perpetrated, indulged in, by those who consider themselves untouchable.
I mean, does “culture of impunity” really capture the scale of the atrocity in the Ampatuan, Maguindanao, massacre? Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Rizal

Column: Rizalian advice: ‘Putoc kong putoc’

I try to confine my Rizal-related column-writing to his birthday and his death anniversary. But pressed for time sometime the last week of November, I used the material nearest to hand. As it happened, the previous day I had been taking notes on Rizal’s correspondence. Published on November 24, 2009.

“Putok” is easy enough to explain to foreigners, although in Father Leo English’s monumental Tagalog-English dictionary, it occupies over a page of entries and choice sentences. English, for instance, makes a distinction between putok and “sabog,” which he defines as the sound of an explosion.

For our purposes, we can agree that putok means “explosion.” (In colloquial Filipino, of course, putok is also and often used to mean, ah, a unit of sexual commerce.) Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Rizal

Column: Pacman, Bisdak!

An example, I guess, of what Frank Kermode calls “knocking copy.” Sad to say, I had too much fun writing this. Published November 17, 2009.

I find myself agreeing with my friend Billy Esposo so often that I thought it might be instructive, and fun, to discuss a subject where we disagree. In two columns last December, Billy made the case that the Pacquiao-De la Hoya fight was not the great fight it was made out to be. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: The Paranaque spillway and its discontents

Published on November 10, 2009.

In Singapore, where I am spending a couple of days, almost all roads lead to the Apec Leaders’ Summit. I am on a mere byway, a well-worn path, but away from all the pageantry. I am consulting experts on Southeast Asian nationalism. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: A history lesson for Chiz

Published on November 3, 2009.

In the run-up to the 2010 elections, I hope to write in-depth pieces on the leading candidates, paying particular attention to their electoral strategies. I have already begun conducting one-on-one interviews. I will supplement these with the usual tools: tracking the candidates on the campaign trail, conducting background research on their campaign staff and organization and, well, just plain hanging around. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: Erap, abandoned

Published on October 27, 2009.

When “Joseph ‘Erap’ Ejercito Estrada” (in the ex-president’s own formulation) declared his intention to run for the presidency yet again, he basked in the genuine adulation of supporters gathered at Plaza Amado Hernandez in Tondo, Manila. Part of his appeal is his sincere and overriding belief that, as he expressed it most recently: “During the lowest point in my life, the poor did not abandon me.”

Without a doubt, many from the constituency he calls his own stuck it out with him during the years he was detained while undergoing a plunder trial. But like many statements Estrada issues or that are issued in his name, this assertion, that he was not abandoned by the poor—his natural constituency, so to speak—needs to be examined. “Walang iwanan” (instead of the Disneyesque “Nobody gets left behind,” perhaps we should translate this into the more assertive “Nobody leaves anyone behind”) is a potent slogan. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: Reimagining Laguna and other suggestions

Published on October 20, 2009.

First, a suggestion that has nothing to do with the challenge of reconstruction. I caught the different news reports on the Catholic Mass Media Awards filed by the ABS-CBN and GMA networks last week, and was (again) disconcerted. As it had done in years past, each network focused only on the awards it received. With the exception of the special Serviam prize awarded posthumously to Cory Aquino, which each network dutifully reported on, the awards rite seemed to have taken place on parallel worlds.

Imagine my distress when I saw that my own newspaper treated the awards in the exact same way: writing only of those prizes we had received. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: An agenda waiting for a president

Published October 13, 2009.

Some thoughts on the vice presidency. Vice presidents do not elect their running mates; if the opposite were true, Joseph Estrada would have been helping Danding Cojuangco measure the drapes in Malacañang in 1992. Presidents do not elect their running mates either; Estrada’s coattails in 1998 did not extend to Ed Angara.

The reason is separate voting, which puts a premium on the popularity of each candidate, rather than on political tandems. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: Processing disaster news

Published October 6, 2009.

Distance magnifies everything, or so we have often heard. We may have used this principle ourselves. The disproportion, for instance, between life as it is lived on the “great island” of Mindanao and as it is perceived through the prism of TV news in “imperial Manila” or the mirror of newspaper pages in foreign capitals can be attributed to sheer distance.

Distance magnifies (to choose only one example) the kidnappings the Abu Sayyaf perpetrates, until the entire island (larger, according to Wikipedia, than the territory of 125 countries) is conflated in public opinion outside Mindanao with the bandit gang. The farther from Mindanao, the tighter the conflation.

In the case of “Ondoy,” however, distance failed to suggest the true scale of devastation. I was out of the country at the time; I feared the worst; and yet my fears did not, could not, imagine the apocalypse that actually came to pass.

Imagination proved unequal to reality.

* * * Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: The basic English of Erap’s reelection

Published on September 22, 2009.

As some readers know, Koko Pimentel is a childhood friend. It isn’t mere friendship that leads me to believe Migz Zubiri stole his seat in the Senate, however; the masses of evidence, and history, are on his side. When he is declared the first winner of a Senate election protest in 57 years, after the great Claro M. Recto, I believe the country’s democratic project will receive a necessary, and generous, infusion of hope.

But Koko and I do not always see eye to eye. Koko thinks pardoned plunderer Joseph Estrada can run for president again; I don’t. Recently, in a lively series of posts to an e-mail group we both belong to, he conducted an intriguing experiment. What does the “basic English” of the Constitution say about the possibility of Estrada’s reelection, he asked the group. The main provision from Section 4 of Article VII is by now familiar: “The President shall not be eligible for any reelection.” But he asked the group to consider the entirety of Article VII as well.

He got some arresting answers. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: Noynoy? I do not know

The intro to my Facebook note: “A confession of semi-ambivalence. Obviously something momentous has taken place, and Noynoy Aquino is duty-bound to divine what it means, personally, for him. That the nation recovered its sense of self during Cory’s funeral points to something greater than the presidency; would a Noynoy candidacy, even a principled, non-traditional run, help in this task of recovery, or get in the way? Published September 8, 2009.”

 

I do not know if Sen. Benigno Aquino III—“Noynoy” to everyone in our republic of diminutives—should run for president. I do know that his mother’s slow death and historic funeral revitalized the political scene, and that it is only in keeping with the noblest tradition of public service that Noynoy thinks he is duty-bound to listen to what the people are saying.
Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Column: The decisive decade: 2011-2022

In which your friendly neighborhood columnist tries to take the long view. Published September 1, 2009.

I would like to suggest that the “long decade” from 2011 to 2022 is shaping up to be a make-or-break period for the Philippines—not so much as a state, but as a nation. These years are rich in “teaching moments,” as we have now learned to say, in the affiliated subjects of nation-building and nationalism. If, as many of us agree, the country’s fatal weakness is an inadequate sense of nationhood, the coming years are a crash course, a get-it-while-it-lasts opportunity, in learning to love the nation. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: Thanks, Kris, but are you sure you want it?

The last of four reflections on the role of the Aquinos in the life of the nation. Published on August 25, 2009.  (Incidentally, in this version, I correct a “floating comma” that swam against the tide in the print and online editions. )

It has since become clear: Kris Aquino’s overwhelming celebrity helped the public rediscover her mother. In Cory Aquino’s last months, her health became a regular topic on Kris’ TV shows. For several Sundays in a row, an intensely curious national audience tuned in to find out the latest in a riveting drama, narrated (and, naturally, starred in) by the one Aquino heir who inherited Ninoy Aquino’s charisma and impeccable actor’s timing. (I understand much the same thing happened on weeknights, too, with Kris’ other gossip show, but I did not have an opportunity to see it for myself.)

The unremitting attention helped the public to come to final terms with Ninoy’s widow, the democratic icon who led the restoration of the democratic institutions savaged by Marcos. The new focus came at a time when the country’s second woman president was roundly seen as yet again devising another way to stay in power. The contrast with Cory, who used her last State of the Nation Address not to confound the critics and tempt the tacticians but to prepare for the transition, could not have been more stark. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: The Aquinos in our life

In praise of Ninoy Aquino’s difficult choices. The third of four reflections on the role of the Aquinos in the life of the nation.  Published August 18, 2009.

Shortly before Ninoy Aquino returned to the Philippines in 1983, after three years of post-surgery convalescence and exile in the United States, the Marcos newspapers began republishing old stories about the leader of the opposition. I remember reading one such article in the Philippine Daily Express (I believe it was a New York Times feature, written after Aquino became the only Liberal to win a Senate seat during the Nacionalista landslide of 1967). The story painted a portrait of Aquino as (in today’s terms) a traditional politician—a brash young man on the make, the scion of moneyed families, the charismatic symbol of a mod decade’s a-go-go culture. (You could say, if you want to, that he was the Chiz Escudero or Allan Peter Cayetano of his time.)

The idea behind republication, I am certain, was to cut Aquino down to size. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: Cory, damaged culture and cacique democracy

The second of four reflections on the role of the Aquinos in the life of the nation, at least since 1972. Published August 11, 2009.

Cory Aquino’s personal qualities helped her assume the mantle of leadership after her husband’s assassination. But what was her legacy, not as leader of the opposition but as first president of the post-Marcos era?

To my mind, the most devastating critiques of the Aquino presidency were written very early in her unexpected term (it is easy to forget how, before it became inevitable, Marcos’ fall from power seemed improbable). James Fallows wrote “A Damaged Culture” in 1987, after spending six weeks in the country; the still-controversial article, a finalist for the National Magazine Award in the United States, appeared in the November 1987 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Benedict Anderson’s “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines,” a sweeping context-setting study, was published in the May-June 1988 issue (No. 169) of the London-based New Left Review. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: How do we know she wasn’t a saint?

The first of four reflections on the role of the Aquinos in the life of the nation. Published on August 4, 2009, three days after Cory Aquino’s death.

In a balanced piece he wrote for Global Post, colleague and good friend Caloy Conde cast the extraordinary reaction to the death of Cory Aquino in religious terms. “She was the closest the Philippines ever had to a living saint. And when she died on Saturday, from colon cancer at the age of 76, Filipinos grieved as though they had just lost one.”

I can readily agree with the second assertion; the first, however, needs qualifying. Surely we have had living saints before, in the sense that Caloy described and that Cory would have understood: a person with a saintly reputation. (My own list would include two exemplary religious three centuries apart: Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, the founder of the RVM Sisters, and Benigno Dagani, a Jesuit missionary in Mindanao.)

The core assumption behind Caloy’s use of the phrase, as I understand it, is perception: Cory was perceived by many to have the qualities of a saint. This emphasis on wide reputation makes sense, in the light of an intriguing note I also read on Facebook, readily dismissing the possibility that Cory was a saint.

How do we know she wasn’t? Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: Presidential English and other forms of flattery

Published on July 28, 2009.

THE ADDRESS. Here, outside the Batasan’s Session Hall, listening to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s ninth State of the Nation Address, I realize something about the character of the Arroyo SONA: It is, essentially, a stump speech, full of symbolic head-patting: “For standing with me and doing the right thing, thank you Congress.” And righteous chest-thumping: “The state of our nation is a strong economy.” And political cheap shot-making: “If you really want to be president,” she said in obvious reference to Sen. Mar Roxas, “don’t say bad words in public!”

This choice of rhetoric is no mere defense mechanism, conditioned by the crisis of 2005. This, for better or worse, is how the President thinks the political class is governed.

* * * Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: Debating Manny Villar

Won’t Manny come out to play? Published July 21, 2009

In the circumstances, I think premature campaigning is not only permissible, but necessary. When the very possibility of regularly scheduled elections hangs in the balance, our democratic project needs all the help it can get. I have shared this view a number of times; the earliest was 18 months ago, in a column titled “In praise of electioneering.” Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

Column: Pope, father-general — and farmer-leader

Published on July 14, 2009

Halfway through Pope Benedict XVI’s third encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” I thought I caught a glimpse of the true guiding spirit behind it. It was, to my surprise, not Pope Paul VI. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column