A memorable phrase from prominent political analyst Mon Casiple, our guest in tonight’s INQ&A radio/Facebook program: “In the House [of Representatives], a congressman has one eye on the President. In the Senate, a senator has one eye on the presidency.”
Monthly Archives: February 2017
“Law in the land died. I grieve for it but I do not despair over it. I know, with a certainty no argument can turn, no wind can shake, that from its dust will rise a new and better law: more just, more human, and more humane. When that will happen, I know not. That it will happen, I know.” — The great Jose W. Diokno, who died 30 years ago today
From the Diokno.org memorial website.
Published on February 21, 2017.
I have not met Solicitor General Jose Calida, but his reputation precedes him. He likes, shall we say, to cut a figure. Arriving at a function in a convoy with flashing lights; deliberately ignoring his candidate’s vice presidential running mate at a campaign rally; going around town telling officers of the court he is replacing Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and soon. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when he justified his startling intervention in Janet Lim Napoles’ serious illegal detention case with yet another act of immodesty.
“It is up to the Justices of the Court of Appeals to assess the weight of our pleading. And, modesty aside, the Solicitor General is considered as the 16th Justice of the Supreme Court,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Of all the things he said in that disturbing news conference, this was in my view the most upsetting.
Published on February 14, 2017.
Last week the largest fast-food chain in the country “broke the internet”—as people have learned to say these days, with enthusiastic and forgivable exaggeration. Jollibee released three television commercials with compelling storylines, all variations-with-a-twist on a theme of love, and Filipinos had a collective sob. I liked the ads; I think they have the potential to teach us something we often forget about love’s true and varied nature. They also make me, a political journalist, realize that Jollibee has the unusual opportunity to remind us about yet another kind of love—but I’m getting ahead of the story.
Make that “stories.”
The three commercials are part of a continuing series of narratives each “inspired by a true story.”
Published on February 7, 2017.
After the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued its pastoral letter on extrajudicial killings, one of President Duterte’s closest allies took direct aim at the bishops. “Sinners [that] they are, the Catholic Church has no moral ascendancy to judge what is right and wrong,” Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said via SMS. “They are simply a bunch of shameless hypocrites.”
It is good that the Speaker, by all accounts a straight talker and a practical man, was clear about his antecedents, because anyone else paying attention to Philippine politics would have thought he was referring to his own chamber of Congress. Having engineered the most recent wave of political turncoatism in our history, he is no stranger to accusations of hypocrisy. What is a majority composed of newly elected or reelected politicians who changed political parties for power and convenience, after all, but a bunch of shameless hypocrites?
But Speaker Alvarez is a power center in the administration, not only because he is one of the handful of true believers who pushed a reluctant Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to run for president, but because he shares the President’s core beliefs. His broadside at the Catholic bishops, generalized to include the entire Church, springs from the same source as the President’s contempt for the religion of his strong-willed, sainted mother. That the Church has “no moral ascendancy”—this is the authentic Dutertismo note. Continue reading
Published on January 31, 2017.
The details are still scarce, but the big picture is clear: Upon instructions of President Duterte, the chief of the Philippine National Police has ordered a temporary stop to the administration’s so-called war on drugs. This is a good thing. Even if it is only temporary, it is welcome news, because it means—very simply—that fewer poor people will die in police shootings in the next several days.
I had joined my voice to the chorus of concern about the killings continuing even as the country hosted the Miss Universe beauty pageant, for only the third time in the competition’s history. We urged a temporary stop to the killings, to avoid the demoralizing, indeed immoral, spectacle of an entertainment extravaganza conducted against the backdrop of antipoor violence.
This much was clear to many of us from the start: Mr. Duterte’s war is being waged largely against people who are guilty of the crime of poverty. Take a look at the casualty lists; read the news stories; listen to the witnesses. Very many of the killed were poor. To have more of them die in the streets—without benefit of due process, under the murkiest of circumstances—while the world’s most beautiful women paraded in their swimsuits and evening wear made for an even greater scandal.
Published on January 17, 2017.
From where I stand it is clear to me that there is no conspiracy to oust President Duterte; what there is is growing resistance to Dutertismo. Those are two entirely different things.
On previous occasions I have identified three troubling aspects of the Duterte presidency: the high number of killings in the war on drugs, the hasty pivot away from the United States and toward China, and the rehabilitation of the Marcoses. As best as I can tell, these are the sources of rising public discontent, and the proof is accumulating both in the surveys and in the streets. The same polls that show a general support for the war on drugs reveal an equally robust majority concerned about the killing of mere suspects; a majority also mistrusts both China and Russia, countries the President likes because they share his contempt for human rights. The corpses, mainly of poor Duterte voters, continue to pile up in the alleys, while anti-Marcos protesters have taken to the streets and will do so again.
But to appreciate that there is no conspiracy, all one needs to do is take a look at the disarray of Duterte critics, who cannot agree on messaging, plan a sustained program of political action, or even unite behind Vice President Leni Robredo. There ARE movements, or stirrings at least, but as far as I can tell they are issue-oriented: fighting the culture of death, including the proposed lowering of the age of criminal liability; determining the future of the Philippine-American military relationship, especially in discussions within the armed services; campaigning against the Marcoses’ return to power.
All these are legitimate political exercises; only those who equate criticism with ouster plans would see them as destabilizing. Continue reading
Published on January 10, 2017.
I am one of many Filipinos who look up to Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. She has done her beauty-contest-besotted country proud, not simply because she won the biggest prize of them all, but because of how she has conducted herself during her year-long term—her reign, in pageant-speak—as Miss Universe. Poised, smart, well-spoken and, to use her own meme-spawning phrase, confidently beautiful, she understood the most important albeit least known part of the beauty queen’s job description: diplomacy. She put that to good use when she championed the idea of the Philippines hosting the Miss Universe 2016 pageant.
The politician-businessman Chavit Singson is mainly responsible for pooling the resources that allowed the country to host this year’s competition, but Wurtzbach played a key role. Something she said at the pageant’s “kick-off” party last December is worth repeating: “It started with an idea and I asked Paula (Shugart, the president of the Miss Universe Organization) if it’s okay for me to, during my interviews, during my homecoming, if it’s okay that I mention that we would like to host the next Miss Universe competition here because, who knows, it might actually happen!”
I am sure there are others like me who supported the idea, not only as an initiative to shine the light on the Philippines, but as an opportunity to temporarily stop the killings in President Duterte’s war on drugs. Our reasoning was: Surely the administration would signal to the police, and to the vigilantes who read the same cues, to observe a ceasefire in the ongoing war while international attention is focused on the country. After all, when the competition is in full swing, women from around 90 countries will be competing for Wurtzbach’s crown in different locations in the Philippines. Who would want glamorous images of beautiful women in tourist spots in the news every day, side by side gritty pictures of dead suspects on the streets? Continue reading
Published on January 3, 2017.
A look at the most-read opinion pieces published by the Inquirer last year shows that politics, especially political anxiety over the Duterte presidency, was the dominant concern of our readers. It also shows a healthy mix of the types of opinion that resonated with the audience: columns, of course, but also an editorial, a contributed commentary, a letter to the editor—and a vivid illustration of the digital “long tail.”
But let me begin with a word about the limits of this overview. I am using statistics from the online consumption of the opinion pieces (both web and mobile). I am limiting myself to only the Top 10 pieces read online, which together account for almost one-twentieth of all Opinion traffic. I am basing the ranking on page views, as tracked by Google Analytics (not on share numbers, which can help show consumption only on social media). And I can tell you that all these 10 opinion pieces enjoyed a minimum of six-digit traffic.
(I can also add that traffic increased substantially over 2015 levels, for both Opinion and the website as a whole.)
Published on December 27, 2016.
Today marks President Duterte’s 180th day in office; by one measure, his famous campaign pledge to crack down hard on crime and illegal drugs in six months has reached its deadline. Of the 6,000-plus Filipinos who have been killed in the President’s war on drugs, however, many have been clearly innocent: children caught in the crossfire, victims mistaken for other people. Tomorrow, the Catholic Church remembers the Holy Innocents—the first-born children massacred on Herod’s orders in the jealous king’s attempt to kill Jesus. It should also be an occasion for Christians throughout the country to reflect on the true costs of Mr. Duterte’s war, and to harden our opposition to it.
I have argued before that because “Christianity believes in the possibility of redemption,” any initiative which does not respect this belief, such as the President’s all-out offensive, mocks the Christian faith. “I realize that …. it is certainly the duty of the policeman to protect the community from criminals, even to the point of shooting them. But the police killings in the war on drugs share a common characteristic: Except for the odd case, all of the suspects were shot in the head or in the back. There was no attempt to disarm or to maim, if the suspects were in fact fighting back.” (We should note that this is exactly how ex-president Fidel Ramos criticizes Mr. Duterte’s war, as an abandonment of long-standard rules of engagement.) The way the war on drugs is conducted, however, “does not only run counter to the best practices of effective antidrugs campaigns in the world, or to the constitutional guarantees of due process and the protection of human rights, but it is also, strictly speaking, unchristian.” Continue reading
Published on December 20, 2016.
If they haven’t yet, President Duterte’s friends and allies need to organize an intervention. He has been shooting himself in the foot even more than usual these last several days; his closest friends should recognize this self-destructive behavior for what it is: both compelling proof that the messenger is running away from the message, and a cry for help.
The President’s many variations on the theme of giving up are not the cause for concern. All presidents have spoken of the terminal loneliness of the job; every president since Marcos has said something about how forbidding or fundamentally unfriendly Malacañang is. Mr. Duterte’s repeated expressions of regret or wistfulness about running for office and winning the presidency—summed up in his ejaculation, “Susmaryosep! If you only knew, if I could just take it all back”—are perhaps more poignant than those of other presidents, but they follow a pattern. They are, in a word, familiar.
It is rather the President’s statements, where he speaks against his own interest, that should concern his friends and allies. This conduct is not normal. Continue reading
Published on December 13, 2016.
I was one of two Inquirer employees who had the privilege of speaking on behalf of this year’s service awardees in simple rites last week. Please allow me to share excerpts from my response:
… The first of the [seven] “life hacks” I learned at the Inquirer is: Stay humble. I learned this lesson well working closely for over a dozen years with longtime Opinion Editor Jorge Aruta. His approach to editing is exactly the same as his approach to life: Know what’s important, and keep a light touch…. Very few people know that he was, as I wrote back in 2012, one of the most influential opinion journalists in Philippine history. His example of serene confidence and sincere humility continues to inspire me.
… the Inquirer has grown its various audiences and kept its agenda-setting leadership in part through doing new things. The second of the life hacks I learned then is: Stay hungry. I think of Tess Samaniego … who has created a new advertising lifeline for the Inquirer. How did she do it? She looked at the landscape with new eyes, and was able to imagine new possibilities. Continue reading
Published on December 6, 2016.
In recent weeks, I had a chance to meet with student leaders involved in organizing the mass actions to protest the Marcos burial, and I came away deeply impressed. One group, in particular, stood out for how they embraced the complexity of the issue (it wasn’t simply the Marcoses trying to deceive the Filipino people again, although there was that); they understood that President Duterte was pivotal (none of the other post-Edsa presidents had green-lighted the burial), but intuited that Gloria Arroyo was also possibly another, crucial factor.
They were clear about the help they needed, especially in processing the terabytes of information they were receiving, both online and off. But one of the students shared an organizing principle that helped guide their decision-making process on Nov. 18, the day the Marcos family carried out the burial. “At what scale,” he said they had found themselves asking, “will we make an impact?”
We didn’t ask penetrating questions like these when it was our turn to take to the streets a generation ago; I believe this generation is in very good hands. Continue reading
Published on November 29, 2016.
At a forum hosted by the Asian Media Information and Communication Center last Friday, I had a chance to paint a picture of the conditions journalists labor under when covering President Duterte. With Marites Vitug’s own take, it was meant to prompt discussion:
President Duterte is an unusual subject, different from most other presidents, in many ways. A large part of the challenge of covering him can be explained by these differences. Let me cite four related pairs of unusual.
He was a truly reluctant candidate. This helps us understand why, six months after the election, he can still startle with unexpected talk about his readiness to give up his post. He is the only president who speaks of resigning if certain policies are already set in place, who talks of sitting down with alleged coup plotters, who pledges to leave the presidency if his critics can meet certain (admittedly impossible) requirements.
Published on November 22, 2016.
We should join the mass actions to protest the Marcos burial—especially the ones called for Nov. 25 and Nov. 30—because the times call for it. Our dignity as free Filipinos has been challenged, our sense of heroism, of honor even, has been gravely insulted; the democratic project itself is under threat. Allowing the dictator’s remains to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, a national shrine, undermines the constitutional order.
We must show up in force in protest sites across the country.
We should protest the miscarriage of justice that is the Supreme Court decision in the Marcos burial cases. It is an abhorrent outcome not because it favors the Marcoses but because it is manifestly unjust; it disregards settled jurisprudence, minimizes the import of history, bends over backward to accommodate the incumbent President, and above all self-emasculates the judiciary, in order to favor the Marcoses. I have criticized the careless thinking and cowardly positions of Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta’s unfortunate majority opinion, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa’s comprehensive rebuttal (every point of Peralta’s is dealt with, decisively) ends with the following deeply moving reflection. Continue reading
Published on November 15, 2016.
There is none so blind as he who refuses to see. Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta’s ponencia in the Marcos burial cases will go down in history as the cowardly rationalizations of a willfully blind man; he deserves the opprobrium coming his way. He still has six years to serve in the Supreme Court, but his legacy will be forever defined by this badly written, ill-thought-through, deliberately obtuse majority decision.
Peralta’s opinion begins: “In law, as much as in life, there is need to find closure. Issues that have lingered and festered for so long and which unnecessarily divide the people and slow the path to the future have to be interred. To move on is not to forget the past.” This New Age-speak is nonsense, misleadingly so, because closure does not come from any Court ruling but from a ruling that is truly just.
The opinion ends with a similar lame attempt at an overview: “There are certain things that are better left for history—not this Court—to adjudge. The Court could only do so much in accordance with the clearly established rules and principles. Beyond that, it is ultimately for the people themselves, as the sovereign, to decide, a task that may require the better perspective that the passage of time provides.”
Published on November 8, 2016.
Despite what its various spokesmen say, the new order is not markedly different from previous administrations in the fight against corruption, or the drive to fill the infrastructure deficit, or even the pursuit of peace. I write this knowing that excellent people are in charge of certain key departments, including Ernie Pernia at Neda, Liling Briones in Education, Judy Taguiwalo at DSWD. I realize that Vice President Leni Robredo has been given the room she needs to make an impact in housing. I know that peace stalwarts like Jess Dureza and Irene Santiago are hard at work to build on what has been done before.
But if there is a difference, an improvement, in these matters, it is a difference in degree. And as far as the anticorruption campaign goes, the new administration may be said to retrogress. (See third concern below.)
On three concerns, however, it is clear that the Duterte administration is fundamentally different from other post-Marcos administrations. Change has come, in three deeply unsettling ways:
Published on November 1, 2016.
Last week, fresh from his triumphant visit to Japan, President Duterte revealed, among other things, that God had talked to him about his cussing; but then he also let his disdain for human rights advocates slip out again. In one of those stream-of-consciousness free associations that punctuate his unscripted remarks, during his post-arrival news conference the President complimented the latest Filipino beauty queen, Miss International Kylie Verzosa, and then added a gratuitous insult.
Let me use ABS-CBN’s more complete version (but with my translation): “Of course, I am happy. I am always happy if our beautiful women win all the titles. Kasi Pilipino tayo [Because we are Filipino], it gives us konting hambog (a little to brag about). It lifts the [spirit.] Parang mayabang tayo. Kita mo, magaganda mga Pilipina [Like, we can be proud. You see, Filipinas are beautiful],” Mr. Duterte said. Then he said: “Pero kayong lahat diyan sa human rights commission, mga pangit (But all of you there at the Commission on Human Rights, you are all ugly).”
The President was his usual bantering self, and the unexpected punchline had many people laughing, but it is a mistake to think that he was also not dead earnest. Since the CHR, under then chair Leila de Lima, investigated him in 2009 for possible human rights violations in relation to the killings attributed to the so-called Davao Death Squad, he has harbored a sense of resentment against the constitutional agency. Continue reading
Published on October 18, 2016.
If the Supreme Court did not exist, an Inquirer editorial once argued, it would be necessary to invent it. We can add a corollary: If an occasion demanded its invention, it would be the series of legal issues arising from the Marcos dictatorship. Ferdinand Marcos rose to power through skillful use of the means of democracy—the same democracy he and his wife then subverted when he imposed military rule and assumed absolute power.
The Marcoses, to steal one of Philip Larkin’s unforgettable opening lines, “they f*ck you up.”
I use the present tense, because even though Marcos himself died a quarter-century ago, many parts of the legal and political and cultural edifice he built persist to this day. So yes, the Marcoses continue to mess with our mind—and proof lies in President Duterte’s unrepentantly legalistic view that nothing bars him from ordering the burial of the dictator’s remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (and honoring his campaign promises).
Published on October 11, 2016.
Last April, ex-President Fidel Ramos told me and a few others, with a twinkle in his eye, that he was voting Ro-Ro: not Roxas-Robredo, but Rodrigo Duterte and Leni Robredo. It was about time we had a president from Mindanao, he said. He also said he felt partly responsible for the Duterte candidacy because he had encouraged it as far back as the early 1990s, when he was president.
This is a debt of gratitude Mr. Duterte recognizes. The very first words he said at his inaugural address were in honor of his benefactor: “President Fidel Ramos, sir, salamat po sa tulong mo (thank you for your help) making me President.”
On the 100th day of his presidency, Mr. Duterte received a startling gift from Ramos: a strongly worded column in the Manila Bulletin, summing up the first 100 days as “Team Philippines losing badly.” Continue reading
Published on October 4, 2016.
I HAPPENED to be in the Senate’s main session hall when Sen. Manny Pacquiao questioned the controversial witness and self-described Davao Death Squad hitman Edgar Matobato on Sept. 22. I had a ringside seat to what Sen. Ping Lacson later called “a splendid interpellation.” The chair of the committee on justice and human rights, Sen. Dick Gordon, was also effusive in his praise.
What, exactly, did the eight-time world boxing champion do?
Pacquiao managed to entrap Matobato in a web of the witness’ own making. He began with a seemingly tangential question. What is your basis for trusting a person? he asked Matobato, in Bisaya (which Sen. Migz Zubiri then translated, in English, for the benefit of the rest of the committee).
What are the other reasons that would make you trust a person, or make you believe him? Pacquiao asked in Filipino.
If he treats me well, the witness replied.
If a person keeps changing his word, would we still trust him? Pacquiao asked. Continue reading
Published on September 27, 2016.
LAST FRIDAY, President Duterte revisited his quarrel with the European Union and said, among other things, that he did not care for the act-like-a-statesman argument.
“Tapos hindi daw ako statesman. Excuse me? Hindi daw ako statesman. Ang pagkaalam ko, tumakbo ako ng presidente, wala mang posisyong statesman doon sa ’min, bakit mo ko pipilitin maging statesman?” Duterte said. (“And I’m no statesman? Excuse me. I’m no statesman, they said. What I know is, I ran for President. There is no position of statesman there at home. Why will you force me to be a statesman?”)
Then he added, in English: “I never took a course of statesmanship and I do not intend to be one.”
But in fact the President must learn to act like a statesman because it comes with the job. His new position is not only head of government but also head of state. It is in that second, higher capacity that he is expected, not only to meet the timeless meaning of statesmanship (not thinking of the next election or the next Senate committee hearing or the next news cycle) but also the more time-bound one: speaking carefully on behalf of an entire nation he represents. Continue reading
Published on September 20, 2016.
On Monday, one of the honorary chairs of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry stirred some controversy when he spoke on President Duterte’s war on drugs. CNN’s Claire Jiao tweeted two of businessman Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr.’s statements. First: “Foreign investors go to a country for income. They don’t care if 50% of Filipinos are killing each other.” And second: “We have declared a war on drugs. The deaths are just collateral damage. We have to accept it.”
The current chair of the country’s largest business association, Benedicto Yujuico, expressed the same view. Jiao tweeted the PCCI executive’s statement, too: “Most Asian gov’ts think our war on drugs is good. It’s the Western nations bringing up human rights.”
All these make for dismaying reading, because in a previous life I worked closely with PCCI staff, and in the late 1980s even sat in on a few PCCI board meetings, when it was under the leadership of the redoubtable Aurelio Periquet Jr. I found the directors amiable, public-spirited, forward-looking—not the crass caricature that their recent statements make Ortiz-Luis and Yujuico out to be.