Monthly Archives: July 2015

Column: ‘Tuwid na daan’ requires standards higher than Purisima’s

Published on October 7, 2014.

Director General Alan Purisima, the country’s controversial chief policeman, bought a sport utility vehicle last year worth about P4 million for only P1.5 million. Why did he enjoy such a substantial discount? His answer before the Senate committee on public order a week ago could be fairly summed up as follows: Because he was offered a substantial discount.

If Purisima were investigating a crime, would he accept his own answer at face value? It is an explanation that does not explain, and only fosters suspicions about his dangerous and apparently recently acquired naivete.

A skeptical Sen. Grace Poe gave him polite but pointed advice: “I’m not saying it’s your fault that you were able to get it at a discounted price. But you should have taken a second look at that big a discount… Ask yourself, why is this being given to me at a cheaper price?”

But does the chief of the Philippine National Police really need advice about motives, criminal or otherwise? That the car dealer has no dealings with the PNP, as Purisima said at the Senate hearing, does not make the sweetheart deal aboveboard; the lack of a direct relationship between dealer and organization only means that other relationships may be at stake. At least that is how we expect Purisima and other police officers to think, when a public official is offered a discount large enough to make the sale unprofitable. Continue reading


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Column: Brion’s hand on Abad’s collar

Published on September 30, 2014.

Much has already been said about the incident involving Budget Secretary Butch Abad and a score of student protesters at the University of the Philippines the other week. Inquirer reporter Erika Sauler’s summary sentence, in a report she filed a few days after the incident, can serve as a helpful wrap-up: “As he exited the auditorium [and made his way] to his vehicle, a group of protesters from Stand UP (Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP) ganged up on him, calling him a thief as they threw crumpled pieces of paper, placards and coins in his direction.” Other reports described one protester grabbing Abad by the collar.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue, whether the students were justified in their violent protest or not, the incident seems to me to demonstrate that words in fact have consequences in the real world. Continue reading

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Column: Marcos was the worst (2): The SC

Published on September 23, 2014.

After the Aug. 21, 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing, President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Proclamation No. 889, which allowed the police to make arrests without warrants and to detain the arrested without charges, took effect immediately but was announced to the public only after a few days. It seems clear now that the tactic was a dress rehearsal for the full-scale imposition of martial law the following year.

Marcos, entering the second half of his second and last term, was anxious about how the Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of the suspension of the writ, which had been immediately challenged. So he did what came naturally to him: He subverted yet another democratic institution. Continue reading


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Column: Erasing a life

Published on September 9, 2014.

To buy a new tablet, I traded in my old one. It was an original iPad from 2010, and despite constant use, did not look the worse for wear. (Its case, however, the second in almost four years, was about to come apart at the seams.) To trade it in, I spent a few days scrubbing it of traces of its previous life.

I mean, of course, my life. It is amazing to realize that the tablet as we know it is only four years old, that Twitter is only a seven-year-old tyke, and Facebook, that preteen prodigy, is only 10—and yet the tiniest details of our ordinary lives are caught in the filaments these new media have woven around us.

What seemed like a simple task, to back up the content that I needed and then to remove everything that was “fraught with background” (to borrow Eric Auerbach’s wonderful phrase) turned out to be anything but. In the first place, I could not back up all my files in the iCloud (the Apple service launched only three years ago), and I did not want to. It wasn’t the prospect of spending a little more to access more storage; it was the old nagging feeling (perhaps really just an illusion, in our technology-enabled age of decreasing privacy) that one should not put all one’s files in one basket. Continue reading

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Column: Should he inhibit?

Published on September 2, 2014.

Conventional wisdom and expert judgment share a consensus: Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza will inhibit himself from Supreme Court deliberations on the fate of the Disbursement Acceleration Program. As solicitor general, he had not only argued the case before the Court; he had also submitted the motion for reconsideration.

I do not know whether he will; I am aware that most people would consider a failure to inhibit as conflict of interest writ large; as a citizen, I would rather that Jardeleza (one of my teachers in constitutional law) inhibit himself, not from the deliberations, but from the voting itself.

As a journalist, however, I would like to question the conventional wisdom that holds that, “of course,” Jardeleza must remove himself from the equation. I am prompted to do so by yet another provocative question posed by former law dean Rayboy Pandan on that virtual commons we all inhabit, Facebook. Continue reading

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Column: ‘While there is peace there can be no traitors’

Published on August 26, 2014.

Did Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno overreach?

I have not had a chance to read the supplemental comment submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council in the since-resolved administrative matter involving Francis Jardeleza, the solicitor general at the time and now the newest associate justice of the Supreme Court. But a report in Rappler attributes the following statement to Sereno, also the chair of the JBC:

“Petitioner [that is, Jardeleza] cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of his client, the Republic of the Philippines, as its agent in the Unclos [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] arbitration… His disloyalty to his client is a lack of integrity. And when that client is the Republic of the Philippines, it is treason.” Continue reading

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Column: Roxas, making up for one bad call

Published on August 19, 2014.

To many, Mar Roxas’ presidential ambition is a given. I think, however, that a certain ambivalence attends his desire to occupy the one office that exceeded his father’s grasp. My Exhibit A is Roxas’ failure to run for a Senate seat last year.

I understand that if he had done so, he would have forfeited his election protest against Vice President Jejomar Binay. Was this the actual consideration? It is hard to believe that he would have traded a probable campaign advantage in 2016 for the unlikely prospect of a belated election-tribunal victory.

The last time Roxas won a national election unequivocally, he turned heads. He topped the Senate race in 2004, becoming the first candidate in our history to garner more than 19 million votes. Mr. Palengke (a political persona based on his service as trade secretary in both the Estrada and the Arroyo administrations) was suddenly presidential timber. But that was 10 years ago—an entire geological age in political time. Continue reading

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Column: Ideological shortcuts

Published on August 12, 2014.

Sociologist Herbert Docena’s characteristically astute reply to last week’s column is too long to fit into the Letters page; I am happy to use this space to run it in full. My comments follow:

It is always an honor to be criticized by John Nery, one of our country’s most thoughtful and most gracious columnists.

Nery accused me of taking an “ideological shortcut” in making my argument that the real difference between President Aquino and the likes of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada is that he represents the more sophisticated, because more far-sighted, factions of our ruling classes: He uses public funds not so much to directly enrich himself or his family but to indirectly enrich his clique or his entire class (“What’s the difference?” Opinion, 7/18/14). Continue reading

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Column: Is there corruption without personal gain?

Published on August 5, 2014.

The scholar Herbert Docena wrote something truly provocative in these pages two or so weeks ago. He asked whether there was any difference between “the schemes cooked up by the likes of Sexy, Pogi, or Tanda” and President Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). In his view, both were forms of corruption, even though only the plunder allegedly committed by the likes of Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile involved personal gain.

The problem, he suggests, is that we understand “personal gain” too narrowly. “But does someone have to directly gain from the use of public funds to be corrupt? What if the benefits are more indirect or intangible? And what if the benefits are more widely shared with members of one’s class? Is that no longer corruption?” Continue reading

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Column: 7 theses in the wake of Aquino’s outburst

Published on July 22, 2014.

The law is too important to be left to lawyers alone. Every citizen has the right to join a discussion involving legal issues, especially if the Constitution is at the heart of it. I am certain Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law and a constant critic of his namesake President, would agree. Like me, the columnist erroneously described as a priest-lawyer is not in fact a member of the Bar.

To be sure, as anyone can see from his biography posted on the Central Books website, he has at least two doctorates, including one in jurisprudence from a school in California.  But even if he didn’t (and this is the point), his commentaries would still be welcome. So perhaps that should be our first thesis, if we make a concerted attempt to understand President Aquino’s intemperate reaction to the Supreme Court’s adverse ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP): The law is too important to be left to lawyers alone.

Second thesis: The Aquino administration was right to file a motion for reconsideration, even though the possibility of reversal is small. I did not think it was worth it the week I read the ruling, but have since come to understand that the administration was bound to file the motion, for political reasons. The idea as I understand it is not simply to exhaust all legal remedies, but for the administration to rally the demoralized with a vigorous defense. The President’s speeches on July 14 and 15, however, were too aggressive, and rightly seen as threatening. Continue reading

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Column: DAP and its consequences

Published on July 15, 2014.

I will hazard one reason why only the youth groups associated with the militant Left filed a plunder case against Budget Secretary Butch Abad last week; when the gaping hole at the center of their case becomes obvious even to reporters who are not lawyers, the complainants can always hide behind their mistake by pleading the exuberance of youth.

Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon led other youth leaders in filing the complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman, accusing Abad, the architect of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program, of having “systematically misappropriated, converted, misused, and malversed public funds through his executive issuances and the programs implemented by him as Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management.” Last July 1, the Supreme Court recognized the DAP as effective government policy but ruled, unanimously, that the means by which it was implemented violated the Constitution.

Because of the amounts involved, the youth groups filed a case for plunder. Republic Act No. 7080, the law “defining and penalizing the crime of plunder,” is perhaps best known for its P50-million threshold. But the heart of the plunder law, as passed by the Eighth Congress (that is, the first one in session after the plunder of the Marcos years), is the very Marcosian concept of “ill-gotten wealth.” Continue reading

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Column: Dear Butch

Published on July 8, 2014.

I have written more than once on the integrity and competence of Butch Abad, whom I first met in the early 1980s. He has always seemed to me to represent the virtues of the transformational politics the Jesuit provincial at that dangerous time, Fr. Ben Nebres, asked student activists to envision; nothing in his political career since then has caused me to change my mind. Not his agonizing tenure at the Department of Agrarian Reform, not his quixotic bid for the speakership of the House of Representatives, not his leadership of the Liberal Party at a turbulent time—and certainly not his stewardship of the government’s entire budget apparatus since his good friend assumed the presidency in 2010.

But as architect of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) declared unconstitutional by a unanimous Supreme Court, he is the man most responsible for President Aquino’s worst political loss; the ruling on the DAP, in the words of the Inquirer editorial yesterday (Monday), was “an almost complete defeat for the Aquino administration.” He must bear the full weight of that responsibility, and resign. Continue reading

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Column: The OFW as a nationalist

Published on July 1, 2014.

In the eighth chapter of “Noli Me Tangere,” we see balikbayan Crisostomo Ibarra ride through “Manila’s busiest suburb” in a carriage. The drive turns into a trip down memory lane: “All the noise, movement, even the sun itself, a particular odor, the motley colors, awakened in his memory a world of sleeping remembrances.” (This and other passages from the novel are from the Soledad Locsin translation.)

The memories are those of his life before he left to study in Europe—until he passes a familiar landmark. “The sight of the botanical garden drove away his gay reminiscences: the devil of comparisons placed him before the botanical gardens of Europe, in the countries where much effort and much gold are needed to make a leaf bloom or a bud open; and even more, to those of the colonies, rich and well-tended, and all open to the public. Ibarra removed his gaze, looked right, and there saw old Manila, still surrounded by its walls and moats, like an anemic young woman in a dress from her grandmother’s best times.”

The sight of the landmark prompts more remembering, then, but of an outsider’s life in the cities of Europe and (“even more”) of a traveler’s passage through colonies like Singapore. The expatriate had returned, and found his country wanting. Continue reading

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Column: Five assumptions about 2016

Published on June 24, 2014.

Malacañang may not be ready to admit it, but the 2016 campaign has already started in earnest. I would like to review certain assumptions I used in previous elections, to test whether they remain valid (as I obviously thought then) or they need updating. Continue reading

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Column: Rizal: ‘Ynsic’ or proto-‘Kano’

Published on June 17, 2014.

The Rizal biographer Austin Craig was justifiably proud of the research he conducted into the hero’s Chinese roots. But his reading of Rizal as a proto-American was willfully speculative, deliberately ideological.

The ideology was American benevolence, and to this project the American writer enlisted Rizal as America’s Forerunner. (The phrase is the title of the first chapter of “Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal, Philippine Patriot,” which Craig published in 1913.) The primary premise was civic in purpose: Rizal was the ideal of a tutelary democracy because “he inculcated that self-respect which, by leading to self-restraint and self-control, makes self-government possible.” Craig’s secondary premises, however, were stitched out of the thinnest air. Continue reading

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Column: Why Abad?

Published on June 10, 2014.

There is a concerted effort to pin Budget Secretary Butch Abad to, well, something, anything. Alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles swears she learned her evil trade from Abad (a risible claim that has since been expertly demolished by columnist Solita Monsod). The information that he paid only P8,150 in taxes in the three essentially jobless years before joining the Cabinet, information that was available since at least 2010, suddenly became news. And the datum he himself supplied in his most recent statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, that he has nine relatives by blood or marriage working in the government, has been transmogrified into a sweeping claim of nepotism—with the number now inflated to 11.

I have always known Abad to be an honorable man; in July 2010, at the start of the second Aquino administration, I was moved to defend him (and his wife Dina and their daughter Julia) in this wise: “It pains me to see the incorruptible Abads suffer so much speculative intrigue, when anyone who knows them at all can testify, not only to their commitment to public service, but also to their integrity.”

It has been four years, and I haven’t seen any evidence that would make me change my mind. If the worst that can be thrown at him are Napoles’ attempts at fiction or Rep. Toby Tiangco’s shoot-from-the-hip accusations or PR man/columnist Yen Makabenta’s glittering generalizations, then Abad remains the same man I have looked up to all these years: the competent Catholic exercising his faith as engaged, and honest, politician.

So why Abad? Why this orchestrated campaign to paint him as the real mastermind of the pork barrel scam or (failing that) as the face of daang matuwid hypocrisy? Any citizen sufficiently attentive to recent events would know who the real target is: President Aquino, at a time of intense political drama. But why Abad in particular? Continue reading

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Column: Benedict and Francis on social media

Published on June 3, 2014.

In a column I wrote over a year ago, I teased the country’s two cardinal-electors for asserting, in a news conference they called after they returned from the conclave that elected Pope Francis, that the Holy Spirit did not read social media. It was their good-natured way of expressing just how surprising the turn of events had been: the first resignation of a pope in 600 years, the first pope from the so-called New World, the first pope to be named after Francis of Assisi.

But I thought it was a mistake, theologically, to consider any form of media to be off-limits to God. I traced my argument back to Benedict XVI’s own thoughts on social media. As it happens, in the message he prepared for last year’s World Communications Day, Benedict had chosen to focus on social media. The title of the message was a useful summary: “Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.”

If online social networks are spaces where the evangel can be shared, then by definition it cannot be off-limits to the source of the same good news. Continue reading

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Column: The administration’s ‘inattentional blindness’

Published on May 27, 2014.

Apparently there is a scientific term that explains why children engrossed in something—playing a game on the tablet, say, or reading the comics—seem to ignore anyone talking to them at the same time. The word is “inattentional blindness,” reports a BBC piece on a recent experiment, and it describes a familiar phenomenon characterized by “a lack of awareness, especially outside the immediate focus of attention.”

It is related to the development of the primary visual cortex. “The capacity for awareness outside the focus of attention develops with age, so younger children are at higher risk of inattentional blindness,” Prof. Nilli Lavie, of University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, told the BBC. It was Lavie who conducted the recent experiment at the Science Museum in London.

Reading about the concept of inattentional blindness reminded me of the Aquino administration’s approach to the achievements of the administration that preceded it. (Yes, at this point it bears repeating: There  were  achievements, buried under all the corruption scandals and the all-consuming struggle for legitimacy after “Hello, Garci.”) Mr. Aquino’s presidential campaign in 2010 was based on the simple appeal that he was Gloria Arroyo’s opposite. He was not alone in capitalizing on her unpopularity (and that of her husband); depending on how one reads the votes for Manny Villar, as much as 90 percent of the voters who cast their ballots voted “against” Arroyo.

But four years into his term, President Aquino has stuck to the black-or-white reading of recent history that resonated so loudly with voters in 2010. His address before the World Economic Forum on East Asia last Thursday may be usefully thought of as the epitome of that mindset. Continue reading

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Column: History lessons

Published on May 20, 2014.

The great chronicler of the Propaganda Movement died last Wednesday. That Fr. John Schumacher, SJ, was also the foremost authority on the history of the Philippine Church helps explain his appeal to generations of Filipino Catholics. As the man who succeeded him as Church historian at the Loyola School of Theology, Fr. Tony de Castro, SJ, said in his moving homily at the funeral Mass last Saturday, it was Father Jack who made him realize it was possible to be “faithful to both the Church and the nation.”

To my mind, Father Jack’s “Revolutionary Clergy” was the epitome of that integrated faith. In this underappreciated work, he used the documentary evidence to restore the Filipino clergy to their crucial role as nationalists and revolutionaries: mobilizing support, collecting war donations, advising rebels in the field during the Philippine Revolution.

One does not need to see the Filipino clergy in the same exact way as he did to follow or indeed accept his argument. That the book came out in the early 1980s, at the exact time the Philippine Church was not only hiding dissidents but active in the antidictatorship struggle itself, did not fail to make an impression on me.

I was one of the many whose lives he improved; he played a key part in the research and the publication of my book on Rizal. The other night I reread the letters we exchanged, and was moved all over again by his spirit of generosity. He was unfailingly fair in his scholarship (which is not to say that he minced words; when he had to, he called a spade a pseudo-Marxist, economically deterministic spade). He was also very helpful: thorough in his answers, prompt in his replies. What more could a mere journalist dabbling in history ask for?

I learned very many things from Father Jack (who elected Filipino citizenship in 1976). He was the most learned, most lucid explainer of 19th-century Filipino nationalism I ever met. Herewith, some of the most important lessons I took to heart:

Rizal, Del Pilar were leading a separatist movement. In his preface to the revised edition (1997) of his incomparable “The Propaganda Movement” (published in 1972 by his great friend F. Sionil Jose), Father Jack wrote: “There was a reform movement—not only that of [Fr. Jose] Burgos and his colleagues, but that which lasted from about 1880 to 1885, and a good number of Filipinos in Europe never moved or dared to express themselves beyond that stage. But after 1885, at least, there was also a separatist movement, led chiefly by Rizal, but not confined to him … It is true that the professed goal was assimilation—extension of Spanish laws and government to the Philippines. As the readiness of many later to collaborate with the Americans would show, this was undoubtedly all that some wanted, but for men like Rizal, Del Pilar, Antonio Luna and others, it was the only front behind which they could operate in pursuit of their real goal, independence of the Philippines from Spain.”

Lopez Jaena doesn’t make the cut. In the same preface, he also noted:  “I trust that it is obvious from this book how mistaken is the effort to put Graciano Lopez Jaena on the same plane as Rizal and Del Pilar as the ‘political trinity’ of the nationalist movement. The part Lopez Jaena played was small, and he contributed nothing of permanent value to the vision of a future Philippines. In the end he would renounce the Filipino cause completely in favor of Spanish politics.” [In my view, Mariano Ponce is the true third person of that trinity.]

Our heroes fought for a secular national civic ethic. In 1995, Father Jack called for a deeper study of “The Civil and Religious Ethic of Emilio Jacinto.” He began with some ground-clearing: “Some may question why a Catholic should look to a source of this type for moral values undergirding Philippine society, since the Katipunan was at least harshly anti-friar, if not anti-clerical and anti-Catholic. The simple answer is that, without fully granting that somewhat oversimplistic categorization of the religious attitudes of the Katipunan, the Katipunan was in fact the moving force behind the national revolution in which Filipinos as a people came to participate, and which they have accepted as the beginning of their national existence. Moreover, what the Philippines as a nation, and the Philippine Roman Catholic Church itself, are precisely in need of at this time, is a secular national civic ethic—that is, one not imposing on Filipinos of different beliefs Catholic moral doctrine, but at the same time taking into account the Catholic tradition which underlies so much of the national culture.”

Historians go where the evidence leads them … Footnote No. 30 of the Jacinto paper recorded for the first time a change in his viewpoint. “In the light of a more careful study of Jacinto, as well as of the early labor movement, I feel compelled to revise my criticism of [Reynaldo] Ileto’s inclusion of the Katipunan in his interpretation. Though the ramifications of the subject are too complex to be tested here, I would certainly have to concede that I have insisted too much on the fundamentally secular orientation of the Katipunan in my essay ‘Recent Perspectives on the Revolution,’ ‘The Making of a Nation,’ 186-189.”

… Even if the evidence is against them. In an e-mail exchange over the meaning of the initials Rd. L. M., Father Jack reiterated the Masonic interpretation found in “Propaganda Movement.” I pursued the Malay angle, and when I finally reported to him that I had tracked down the original source, he replied: “If you can find the reference in Leoncio Lopez, that has good prospects of being reliable.”

Truly, as eminent scholar Jojo Abinales wrote after the news of his death spread on Facebook,

Fr. Jack Schumacher was “an exceptional historian.”

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Column: Mapping the humiliation of China

Published on May 13, 2014.

UNOFFICIALLY FROM 1915 to 1926, and then officially from 1927 to 1940, the fledgling republic of China observed National Humiliation Day. “During the Republican period,” writes the scholar William Callahan, “the holiday commemorated May 9th, the day when the Chinese government succumbed to Japan’s twenty-one demands in 1915, which seriously compromised China’s national sovereignty.”

In 2001, the communist government revived the tradition, instituting the third Saturday of September as National Defense Education Day, a holiday Callahan said is informally referred to also as National Humiliation Day. “In this way,” he writes in “History, Identity, and Security: Producing and Consuming Nationalism in China” (2006), the holiday “is one manifestation of the discourse of national humiliation, which recounts how at the hands of foreign invaders and corrupt Chinese regimes, sovereignty was lost, territory dismembered, and the Chinese people thus humiliated.” Continue reading

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Column: Will the US defend ‘a few rocks’ in our sea?

Published on May 6, 2014.

Diplomacy is the art of calibrated ambiguity, and during his first visit to the Philippines last week (he will return next year, barring another American federal government shutdown), US President Barack Obama was nothing if not diplomatic.

On the question of the day, whether the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States would apply in case of an armed confrontation in the West Philippine Sea between the Philippines and China, he was both forceful and ambiguous. Before reporters (and a television audience), he said: “Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China.” At the state dinner, and again before US and Filipino troops the following day, he described the United States’ “commitment to defend the Philippines” as “ironclad.” Continue reading

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Column: China didn’t know where the Spratlys were

Published on April 29, 2014.

In 1933, the French flexed their colonial muscles and annexed nine of the Spratly Islands. When the news spread, the fledgling and troubled Chinese republic faced a basic problem: It didn’t know where the Spratlys were.

A year earlier, the French had staked their claim to the Paracel Islands as part of their colony in Vietnam. The second French claim to part of the Spratlys befuddled the Chinese. As the scholar Francois-Xavier Bonnet of Irasec, the Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia, noted:

“These two claims of the French government confused the minds … not only of the Chinese public and the media, but also the official authorities like the military and the politicians in Guangdong Province and Beijing. In fact, the Chinese believed that the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands or Xisha were exactly the same group, but that the French had just changed the name as a trick to confuse the Chinese government. To ascertain the position of the Spratly Islands, the Chinese Consul in Manila, Mr. Kwong, went, on July 26, 1933, to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey and discovered, with surprise, that the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands were different and far apart.” Continue reading

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Column: Jinggoy et al as Pontius Pilate

Published on April 22, 2014.

I realize that many Filipinos will readily volunteer a comparison they think more apt: Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile and others deeply implicated in the pork barrel scam are Judas. The defining act of the crimes they are charged with is the act of a traitor; that is, someone who betrayed the people’s expectations, the public’s trust.

But it is also possible to argue that the senators and congressmen and their staff who allegedly looted pork barrel funds are, in fact, Pontius Pilate. Allow me to make that argument, but first I must prove another point: Pilate’s liability in the judicial murder of Jesus Christ is not the learned helplessness of a pragmatic bureaucrat (“What is truth?”), but rather the sophisticated use of the political power of a ruling elite (“What I have written, I have written.”) Continue reading

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Column: Even though Mayweather would win

Published on April 15, 2014.

The undefeated Floyd Mayweather has an excellent reason to finally agree to a hundred-million-dollar fight with Manny Pacquiao: The odds are he would win. And Pacquiao has an additional reason to want the fight: The risk of losing is high. Continue reading

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Column: Becoming Asean (four steps at a time)

Published on April 8, 2014.

When I first heard of the idea last June, from Wong Chun Wai of the Star of Malaysia and Pana Janviroj of The Nation of Thailand, I thought it was a neat concept, worth doing—but at that time I understood it on merely conceptual terms. Imagine Southeast Asian newspapers with digital editions or e-papers grouping together, using the tablet space to offer their papers at a uniform rate and to attract advertisers interested in reaching a regional audience. A good idea, I thought, but not something I would necessarily find use for.

Turns out my imagination did not go far enough. In reality, the bundled subscriptions make for a terrific reading experience.

The other Friday, four members of the Asia News Network (Malaysia’s Star, The Nation, the Jakarta Post and the Inquirer) launched the joint subscription initiative. For a discounted rate, a subscriber to one e-paper gets full access to the three other e-papers. (JV Rufino took charge of the Inquirer side.) Last Sunday, I finally started the habit of downloading the other e-papers too—and now I’m hooked. Continue reading

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