Monthly Archives: January 2010

Column: Bias in surveys, etc.

A manufactured crisis; the conventions of opinion writing; coping mechanisms for survey laggards. Published on January 12, 2010.

Yesterday’s editorial piqued my curiosity. “Not least, the history of the Court itself belies [Rep. Matias] Defensor’s contention that the office of Chief Justice had never been vacant, not even for a day.” Good thing the Supreme Court maintains one of the better government websites.

On, we can find a list of the country’s chief justices, going all the way back to Cayetano Arellano. There are a few mistakes on the list that even a non-lawyer can spot and which can easily be remedied, such as Manuel Moran’s date of retirement (May 29, 1951, not 1966) or the order of Roberto Concepcion’s successors (Querube Makalintal came before Fred Ruiz Castro). But in it too, Defensor can find the perfect rebuttal to his arguments. Continue reading


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Column: The curse of singing journalists, atbp.

Today’s column. Considering my many friends in the ABS-CBN newsroom, not exactly easy to write. But as one of them pledged, All is fair indeed in love and war. Published on January 5, 2010.

I CAN’T GET IT OUT OF MY HEAD, RUNS ONE typical comment in one of the many available YouTube versions. Watching ABS-CBN’s “Ako ang Simula” music video, we can easily see why. It is catchy, powerful, unforgettable. It is also wrong.

It blurs, in the name of good citizenship, the already heavily smudged line between journalism and entertainment. Continue reading


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Obama sightings

A couple of friends asked, so here goes nothing. The best I could manage, at around 10:26 pm on Friday, December 18, was this scruffy shot.  

Fortunately, about 40 minutes earlier, the first time Barack Obama used the back of the press conference room at the Bella Center in Copenhagen as emergency exit, an AP photog was doing his job.

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Les bidonvilles de Manille

Last November, the Japan-based correspondent of Le Monde, Philippe Mesmer, spent several days in the Philippines researching Ondoy/Pepeng stories. Because of something he thought I wrote, his host set up a meeting with me; I also invited him to an Inquirer Briefing on the great flood. 

Last week, he sent me copies of the two stories Le Monde published. They are in French, and because my scanty knowledge of Romance languages can only take me so far (in other words, all nuance escapes me), I have had to “read” them in Google translations.

But in case a French reader happens to drop by (in the wooly world of the Internet, one never knows), I thought it might be an interesting exercise to re-publish (with Philippe’s permission) at least one of the stories here. (With links to the online translations.)

Dans les bidonvilles de Manille, où six millions de pauvres survivent Continue reading

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Column: Saving Rizal

Published on December 29, 2009.

AT LEAST TWICE A YEAR, I SEIZE THE CHANCE to write about Rizal. As an opinion writer, I have long since come to the conclusion that the Philippines is incomprehensible without reference to the patriot and polymath. I have also belatedly come to realize, in the last two years or so, that Rizal is indispensable to an understanding of the modern democratic project.

One quick example: the classic arguments for a free press are derived from American constitutional history. But I have only lately come to appreciate the difference in Rizal’s own home-grown arguments (and those of Del Pilar too) for freedom of the press.

It is vital, then, to save Rizal both from the “veneration without understanding” that Renato Constantino warned us against a long time ago, and the “understanding without relevance” (to coin a phrase) that alienates younger generations.

* * * Continue reading

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Column: ‘Why is China acting this way?’

Published on December 22, 2009.

COPENHAGEN—THE QUESTION IS THIRD ON a list of eight, proposed in a fit of charity by the Washington Post last Friday, on the last day of the contentious UN Climate Conference. I think it captures nicely the easy, often unremarked assumption of the governments of the developed world, and reflected in coverage of much of the Western press, that China was the stumbling block to the ultimate success of the climate talks.

It wasn’t. China was certainly a crucial player, one of only two countries in my view with an effective veto on the entire process, but to suggest that the United States or the European Union served the world’s needs, while the Chinese acted merely to protect their national interest, is to grossly misrepresent reality. Continue reading

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Column: ‘On the new and never previously seen star’

Published on December 15, 2009.

COPENHAGEN—IT SEEMS LIKE A NO-BRAINER. If the prevailing scientific consensus points to human responsibility for much of global warming, then mankind must do something to stop it. That is the hope that animates summits like the 15th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, now on its second and crucial week in this sunlight-starved, metal-gray city.

But humanity is divided, or organized, into nation-states, and it is a truism that nations negotiate with their national interests in mind. This is the reality that makes the negotiations in the Bella Center, the sprawling conference venue, both necessary and intricately difficult.

The United States is a nation-state, only more so. Continue reading

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