Category Archives: Newsstand: Column

Column: Hope is an accumulation of decisions

Gene Sharp

A 2017 overview on Gene Sharp in JSTOR Daily, by Matthew Wills. https://daily.jstor.org/a-refusal-by-subjects-to-obey-gene-sharps-theory-of-nonviolence/

“A great political lesson: that all repressive systems, all governments, legitimate or otherwise, all tyrannies, all foreign occupations are able to continue only because they receive the support of those they rule.” Practical wisdom from Gene Sharp, in my last column of 2017. Published on December 26.

“Your Program on Nonviolent Sanctions at Harvard has always aroused much interest but also skepticism. Much of the skepticism about nonviolent methods was swept away by the success of the Filipino people in obtaining elections, in unveiling the fraudulent methods to distort the popular verdict, and finally in ousting Marcos in February 1986. How do you explain this shift?”

In 1986 and 1987, Gene Sharp, one of the principal theorists of nonviolent resistance and the director of the Program on Nonviolent Sanctions in Conflict and Defense at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs at the time, gave a wide-ranging interview to Afif Safieh, then a visiting scholar in Harvard.

His answer to the introductory question attempts an overview of the Edsa Revolution; it is largely accurate, and still makes for bracing reading:

“The Philippines struggle had a number of distinct features. It was a very good example of the withdrawal of the pillars of power. The Filipino people withdrew legitimacy from the regime when it became clear that the elections were a fraud. There were plans for economic resistance and noncooperation against the supporters of Marcos. Diplomats abroad began resigning. The population became nonviolently defiant. Finally, a major part of the army and its officers in effect went on strike. They did not turn their guns in the other direction or bomb the presidential palace. They went on strike and said that they were doing it nonviolently. So the army itself was taken away. Then the church called on people to demonstrate and protect the soldiers nonviolently. The civilian population formed vast barricades of human bodies surrounding the mutinous officers and soldiers, in a case that probably has no historical precedent: the nonviolent civilians protected the army. Finally Marcos was left with very little power. You take away the sources of power and the man who was formerly a tyrant becomes just an old man. His choice was not whether to remain in power, his only choice was how he was to leave. And so he left semi-gracefully.

“That teaches us a great political lesson: that all repressive systems, all governments, legitimate or otherwise, all tyrannies, all foreign occupations are able to continue only because they receive the support of those they rule. Even foreign occupiers are supported by their own people, and frequently receive international support. If you can withdraw those sources of power, then the regime is threatened.” Continue reading

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Column: Jet ski joke aside, is Duterte a traitor?

Published on December 19, 2017. “Mr. Duterte, the first lawyer-president since Ferdinand Marcos, does not in fact believe in the power of the law; rather, he believes that law serves power”—I think Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, the target of a synchronized abuse of the law, will agree.

Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza used last week’s House justice committee hearing on the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to deliver a counteraccusation three years in the making: He asserted that it was Sereno, not he, who had committed acts of treason during the preparation of the (successful) Philippine arbitral case against China. He was responding to Sereno’s erroneous claim, in 2014, that then Solicitor General Jardeleza’s policy position on the South China Sea dispute, specifically on Itu Aba in the Spratlys, was disloyal to the country.

Lost in this unfortunate “spectacle of diminishment,” as an Inquirer editorial described the sorry appearance of one retired and three incumbent Supreme Court justices at the hearing, is any appreciation of the present reality: Under President Duterte, and despite the sweeping landmark ruling of the arbitral tribunal in 2016 in favor of the Philippines, the country’s rightful claims to the West Philippine Sea, to parts to the Spratlys and to Scarborough Shoal are at their weakest in decades. Indeed, Mr. Duterte has deliberately weakened them. Clearly, both Jardeleza and Sereno (and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who shared Sereno’s dim view of Jardeleza’s position in 2014) support the arbitral tribunal ruling and want to see it implemented. If they want to accuse anyone of treason, of yielding to the Chinese, perhaps they should point their finger at the President. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Today is a dangerous time to be a Filipino’

UST NCJAPublished on December 12, 2017—and even more relevant today.

How is it a young student can see more clearly than senators or Supreme Court justices?

“Today is a dangerous time to be a Filipino. The country is being led by a President who promotes a culture of killing and impunity — a President who encourages his people, not just the police, to kill drug pushers on sight, and has vowed to protect those who carry them out. More than this, we have a President who has chosen to consider innocent people killed alongside as ‘collateral damage’ and not as victims of murder who deserve justice.” Continue reading

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Column: Duterte’s secret

“… [is] the accumulation of political capital through the systematic abuse of the rule of law. Mr. Duterte said it himself, about using his prosecutorial power to plant both intrigue and evidence. This is how he understands things get done.” Published on December 5, 2017.

The attempt to start a groundswell of public support for a “revolutionary government” failed dismally last week; some supporters of the Duterte administration have not yet come to terms with the brutal political reality, a year and a half since Rodrigo Duterte took office, that campaigning as outsiders is entirely different from governing as the establishment. Does this mean that the existential threat to the constitutional order that was the “RevGov” attempt has ceased to, well, exist?

The answer is No, because here is the truth of the matter: A deep antidemocratic spirit, hostile to the rule of law, characterizes Dutertismo. And this spirit will continue to seek ways to express itself—if not through the self-coup that is a revolutionary government, then through the extension and even expansion of martial law, the weaponization of Congress’ power to impeach, the continuing abuse of the justice department’s prosecutorial powers. Continue reading

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Column: Not rule of law but caprice of power

This column, published on November 28, 2017, ran the introductory parts of my keynote at the closing rites of the second Political Management Training for Young Progressives program conducted by SocDem Asia. The full speech, “The role of the youth in fighting populist authoritarianism,” is here.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of addressing a new class of graduates of a unique political management training program: Young progressives from Southeast Asia who meet twice in a given year for a series of executive classes on both the form of politics (such as “election management and progressive campaigning”) and its substance (“climate change,” “feminism,” “migration”). The program is run under the auspices of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Network of Social Democracy in Asia. Allow me to publish the introductory parts:

I read your program of training, and was impressed by its breadth (16 topics!) and by its rigor. It is a privilege for me to meet you, the political advocates and activists gifted, as your class valedictorian said, with “energy, belief, thoughts, dreams,” who will help shape our region’s future. Continue reading

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Column: Duterte trying to do a Marcos with ‘RevGov’

Published on November 21, 2017.

From President Duterte down to his supporters, we hear the argument that the template for creating a “revolutionary government” was set by Corazon Aquino; why, he asks (they all ask), can’t he do the same thing?

He already raised the question when he visited the Inquirer in August 2015, during his long, coy campaign for the presidency. The idea that the presidency as an office was not powerful enough to fix what truly ails the country, and that a revolutionary government or a “constitutional dictatorship” was needed, was not Marcosian, he said. “Why will I be a Marcos? There is a lesson there in history to look at. Why not follow Cory?”

He repeated the same claim, that Cory Aquino’s revolutionary government was a pattern he can follow, in August 2017, over a year into his raucous presidency, when he started talking up the revolutionary government option again. “For the Philippines to really go up, I said: What the people need is not martial law. Go for what Cory did — revolutionary government. But don’t look at me. I cannot go there.” Continue reading

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Column: ‘RevGov’ is Duterte’s bid for total power

This column, about President Duterte’s fixation on expanded presidential power, was published on November 14, 2017.

Back in 2015, when Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was genuinely conflicted about running for president, he located part of that conflict in what he said was the lack of power of the Philippine presidency. The office, bound by rule and tradition, was simply not up to the task of running a sprawling, dysfunctional nation, he argued. If he were elected, he said in a June interview, “I will give myself six months to one year to do the reforms I want to do. If the system becomes obstructionist and I become inutile, I will declare a revolutionary government.”

He carried the same message to the Inquirer, which he visited in August of that year. “I have to stop criminality and corruption. I have to fix this government. I won’t do it if you want to place me there with the solemn pledge to stick to the rules,” he said. Then he added something truly startling: “The wellspring of corruption is the Constitution itself,” meaning the limits that the post-dictatorship charter placed on the powers of the executive branch lent themselves to graft and dysfunction.

“All money matters and budget appropriation [are limited by the Constitution],” he said.

Continue reading

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Column: Memo to business, civic leaders: Sereno IS the red line

Sereno ADMU

Sereno at the Ateneo de Manila, May 26, 2017. Unimpeachable sources say this commencement speech gravely offended President Duterte, and may have sealed the Chief Justice’s fate.

Rereading this column, which was published on November 7, 2017, I am filled with a deep sadness, not only because of what was done to Chief Justice Sereno, but also and even more to the point because of what was done to the country. With the encouragement of President Duterte, a majority of eight justices justified the unjustifiable. If the Supreme Court itself can remove an impeachable official outside of the impeachment process, what can stop it from, say, agreeing with the House of Representatives that it can convene as a constituent assembly without the participation of the Senate? Sereno was the red line.

I think I now understand why Speaker Bebot Alvarez and the leadership of the House of Representatives insist on restrictive rules on cross-examination, in the Duterte administration’s campaign to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. It isn’t, as I imagined, an attempt to humiliate her by forcing the head of a co-ordinate branch of government to conduct the cross-examination in her own impeachment case herself, or to subject her to direct questioning by all committee members as well as by a cartoon villain of a complainant.

Rather, the restrictive rules are meant to protect the fatally defective complaint’s witnesses and resource persons, especially — I am reading between the lines here — Associate Justice Teresita de Castro. The impeachment case against Sereno does not allege a single impeachable offense, but it does rest on an explosive but misleading memo written by De Castro. But the full context of the memo is not flattering to De Castro, and any counsel for Sereno who is expert in the art of cross-examination will swiftly surface the embarrassing details. (The exact same thing will happen to De Castro if the impeachment reaches the Senate.)

Alvarez may be able to protect De Castro in the House; as a matter of political expediency, he will treat her as a (very) friendly witness. But unless I have been misinformed, Alvarez has no influence over the Senate. Can President Duterte persuade enough of his political allies in the Senate to promulgate new impeachment trial rules to protect sitting justices from the indignity of a hostile cross-examination? That’s a risk De Castro will have to take. Continue reading

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Column: Government by the obscene

Andanar EU

This column was published on October 31, 2017. Remember the insane sexual banter Martin Andanar and Salvador Panelo thought made them look Duterte-like? “All they have really done is focus attention on the obscenities that have become characteristic of this administration. This is not a distraction from anything; rather, it is a concentration of perception.”

The recent scandalous public utterances of Secretary Martin Andanar and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo may have been scripted, designed to help deflect public attention from hidden wealth and drug smuggling allegations haunting President Duterte and his family, or they may have been launched, like other controversies, in an attempt to distract the public from its growing anxiety over extrajudicial killings. It doesn’t matter. We see through the statements and have not forgotten that only the poor caretaker of the warehouse where shabu linked to influential people in Davao was stored is in detention; we continue to monitor the President’s responses to the controversy over his bank accounts, and remember (at least I do) that when he visited the Inquirer in August 2015 he told us that he had “only P4 million” in the bank.

But the obscenities Andanar and Panelo used, whether deliberate or inadvertent, also reflect one aspect of the Duterte presidency which has begun to lose its sinister sheen: the use of foul language as format and substitute for policy. Some people still laugh, or titter, when the President fails in public appearances to “limit [his] mouth,” to use his own euphemism; I would think that part of this audience response can be attributed to nervous laughter, and part to a genuine appreciation of his colorful language. But I am not the only one to sense a general fatigue over his outrageous remarks. I’m sure part of this is resignation to the new normal, but if I’m not mistaken many people have learned to tune out the President’s bombardment of F-words, insults and rape jokes, to choose not to bear witness to his linguistic airstrikes. Like any entertainer whose performance is based on shock appeal, even a charismatic but tediously repetitive President will lose his audience.

All this makes the two secretaries’ scandalous statements not only sleazy but also lame. Continue reading

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Column: What are we in ‘werpa’ for?

Charot!

The inimitable, irrepressible Ethel Booba. This is one petmalu tweet.

Column No. 465, published on October 24, 2017. I argue that the Duterte administration is trying to “capture total control of the political infrastructure,” and point to five worrying developments.

Sen. Chiz Escudero is a political cipher; I always find myself questioning my understanding of his place in contemporary politics. Is that really all he stands for? I always think he is better than some of us give him credit for — and then he says something again that suggests he is not an idealistic young man with a vocation for politics but rather a privileged politician with a readiness for realpolitik.

At a “kapihan” at the Senate last week, he tried to paint a portrait of political normalcy: “Isn’t this like what the past administration did, threaten the former ombudsman with impeachment, who then resigned? Impeach the sitting chief justice, who was [convicted]? Jailed three sitting senators and his predecessor (referring to President Benigno Aquino III’s predecessor, President Gloria Arroyo)? No one said we were headed toward dictatorship then,” he said in Filipino.

That’s because we were not in fact headed toward dictatorship then. We fail our democracy when we use our UP education and Georgetown degree to argue for false equivalence. Continue reading

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Column: Digong, ‘pataka’

Sona 2017:Joan Bondoc

Bullshit artist, bully pulpit. (2017 State of the Nation Address. Inquirer|Joan Bondoc)

Had fun writing this analysis of President Duterte’s rhetoric from a Bisaya perspective. The comments on the website and on Facebook  (well, many of them) were fun to read too. Here’s the link to the original column, published on October 17, 2017.

As I have written before, there is a real difference between the way the President speaks in private and the way he responds to the presence of a microphone in public. In private, he is courteous, thoughtful, funny; in public, he is a bullshit artist. Continue reading

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Column: Death and Duterte

Published on October 10, 2017.

The drop in President Duterte’s satisfaction ratings was almost across the board — except in Mindanao, and in the ABC socioeconomic demographic. I must emphasize one fact: Despite the falling numbers, the President continues to enjoy majority approval for his performance, and also across the board. All the same, the drop in his ratings is substantial and a cause for worry in Malacañang as well as for his political allies in the Senate and the House.

That Mr. Duterte’s approval numbers in Mindanao are statistically unchanged, at 82 percent, is no surprise; he is the first president from Mindanao and won overwhelming support from Mindanaons in the 2016 election. But why was there an increase in his satisfaction rating in the ABC classes, in the Social Weather Stations survey, from 65 percent in June to 70 in September? The same survey found that in class D his rating dropped by 10 points from 78 percent to 68, and in class E his rating plunged by 19 points, from 80 percent to 61. Continue reading

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Column: Justice for Leila is justice for all

When I saw the news release (available on the Senate website), announcing Sen. Leila de Lima’s selection as Amnesty International’s “Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender,” I thought it was a good time to finally upload this column, originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on October 3, 2017. 

On Aug. 21 last year, waxing expansive in the wee hours, President Duterte shared the secret to his work as a city fiscal. “I learned a lot during my prosecution days. We planted evidence,” he said. “We arrested persons but we released them. But (switching to an example) telling him that it was this person who squealed on him and then when he goes out but killing, we would say it was this fellow who really did it, who did you in.”

It is important to note that the President was volunteering this information in a late-night-into-early-morning news conference he had called. The reason, he suggested, for what we must call out as an illegal tactic was practicality. “We first planted the intrigues, so that we would know where they were or where they came from.”

Continue reading

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Column: “After the rallies, what next?”

Stride

In which I propose a four-part framework for unified action against Dutertismo. Published on September 26, 2017—but posted only now, in Perugia, Italy, on the fourth day of the International Journalism Festival. (No coincidence that the elements of the framework are based on the active nonviolence approach we learned and practiced during the years of struggle against Ferdinand Marcos.)

The actor Pen Medina* delivered a scorching speech at the Sept. 21 rally in Luneta; he was right to hold to account the so-called “dilawan” for their role in creating an elitist system, but he was wrong to gloss over the militant Left’s participation in the current elite. The truth is: The excessive form of Dutertismo is an attack on our democratic project, on our fundamental Filipino values of fairness and generosity and truth-telling, on our deeply religious culture’s reverence for life — and the Left’s silence on official misogyny, its hypocrisy on the Marcos burial and its failure to fight extrajudicial killings from the start also make it complicit.

But who comes with clean hands to the table of unity? Not even our greatest heroes were free of stain. The people must come together to stop these continuing attacks on life, liberty and the truth that finally sets us free. The objective of this unified action (I wish to be clear) is not ouster; it is to undo the culture of violence, to arrest the drift toward strongman rule, to extract accountability for all the lies, all of which threaten to redefine the Filipino.

In my own view, the most urgent need of the moment is to end the killings. Full stop. We are not, we are better than, a nation of killers.

How do ordinary citizens and conscience-stricken public officers alike resist the violence, the authoritarian tendencies, the lying? Here, the work-in-progress of continuing consultations, is a four-part framework which I find useful, and which I think of by its acronym, SENT. Continue reading

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Column: “The unfortunate Aguirre: A Filipino tragedy”

Aguirre 101116

In October 2016, Justice Secretary Aguirre was a guest on our radio/Facebook show INQ&A. (We got tired and stopped after some 40 episodes.)

Some readers were puzzled by my seeming sympathy for a justice secretary actively weaponizing the rule of law. But I saw in his descent into the depths the story of many other Filipinos who had lost their way. Today’s scandal over the proposed dismissal of charges against confessed drug lords shows the new lows he and his men have plumbed. Published on September 19, 2017.

At some level, I knew writing this installment in my occasional series on unfortunate appointments was inevitable, but I resisted because I’ve interviewed Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and I thought I glimpsed the essential decency in the man. (Teddy Locsin once wrote about this occupational hazard, of encountering the difference between disagreeable policy and agreeable personality.) Aguirre told me, to my face, that he would not file a case against Sen. Leila de Lima without obtaining the necessary bank documentation, what he called a paper trail. He said he knew from 40 years in litigation that he needed that kind of evidence, and he did not want to lose. That he proceeded to file the case anyway — based on what we can call a finding of improbable cause — proved to me that he was under severe pressure from President Duterte to put De Lima behind bars, even if only temporarily. Continue reading

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Column: “The father of EJKs”

Bulagta

I had forgotten all about this: In response to this column on Ferdinand Marcos and EJKs, some blowhard with a private Disqus account had some dark thoughts about the columnist: me. (Note: “bulagta” means sprawled, lifeless, on the street.)

In which I offer a definition of “extrajudicial killing,” and traced its practice to Ferdinand Marcos. Published on September 12, 2017.

Benigno Aquino III, the former president, was wrong to say last month that the killings that have characterized the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs could not be called extrajudicial. His reasoning is pedantic. “If you say there is extrajudicial killing, then it means there is judicial killing. But I remember, we do not have the death penalty, so there is no judicial killing. Therefore, there is no extrajudicial killing. No judicial, no extrajudicial,” he said in Filipino.

He was not ignoring the bloodbath that is drowning the country; he was merely trying to be precise about terms. But I’m afraid his understanding of judicial killing is too narrow. The “judicial” in extrajudicial does not refer to capital punishment alone, but to the legal exercise of the violence that, in modern societies, is supposed to reside with the state alone.

The troops fighting the Maute Group in Marawi, the police units involved in the raid on Mamasapano, the National Bureau of Investigation agents pursuing kidnap-for-ransom gangs — they and others like them had or have the legal sanction to kill, if necessary. (The more accurate term then is “extralegal.”) Continue reading

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Column: “Dutertismo: New Filipino, or anti-Filipino?”

Duterte Nery CDO Debate | GMA

ALL SMILES. I made a courtesy call on Rodrigo Duterte, then the mayor of Davao City, before the start of the first presidential debate of the 2016 campaign. Cagayan de Oro City, February 21, 2016. (Borrowed from GMA News Online | Thank you to Amita Legaspi)

President Duterte is trying to change what it means to be Filipino—by appealing to his countrymen’s worst impulses. Published on September 5, 2017.

Rodrigo Duterte ran on a simple promise; it is in the nature of political slogans to be conveniently vague, and “Change is coming” was short-term specific (get ready for an untraditional politician) but long-term ambiguous (change was however one defined it). He did stand for something in the public mind: He would be tough against crime and drugs, ready to fill Manila Bay with 100,000 corpses; he would be firm against China, flying the Philippine flag in the Chinese coast guard’s face while riding on a jet ski; he would take care of his people, the same way he paternalistically took care of Davao City; he would negotiate an honorable peace with communist insurgents and with Moro separatists, because he understood their struggle; not least, he would be decisive, unlike President Noynoy Aquino.

Today we can say that the President has kept his promise: Change is here. And it is soaked in blood, submerged in uncertainty, saturated in the brine of betrayal. (I have previously noted that the three main changes under “Dutertismo” were the unprecedented wave of extrajudicial killings, the underprepared pivot to China and the unjust rehabilitation of the Marcoses.) Continue reading

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Column: “Shepherds, your sheep are being slaughtered”

082517 Arzobispado

At the Arzobispado, the office of the Archbishop of Manila, I saw this fascinating chart tracing the “evolution” of the country’s first diocese.

On August 25, 2017, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle convened an assembly of his fellow bishops and priests,  joined by police officers and public officials, politicians and journalists (I was one of the two newsmen who showed up) to discuss the drug problem and the extrajudicial killings. This column appeared four days later, on August 29. It elaborates on the remarks I made at the assembly. 

I sympathize with the Archbishop of Manila, whom I esteem greatly, and the other Catholic bishops who are struggling with the consequences of President Duterte’s brutal war. Their continuing attempt to see the complete picture of the trade in illegal drugs is deeply Christian; it is an instructive example of what the historian Horacio de la Costa, SJ, called a “reasonable faith.”

But it’s been over a year since the so-called war on drugs was launched; thousands of people have been killed — in our history, the most in such a short span of time since the end of World War II. Persistent public anxiety about this war, reflected in survey findings that have been overshadowed by the President’s personal popularity, burst into the open with the senseless, targeted but documented killing of Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old schoolboy. (I wrote on this on Twitter.) That only 6 percent of voting-age Filipinos believe the police are definitely telling the truth when they say a suspect resisted arrest helps explain the outrage. Continue reading

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Column: “Tama na!”

082117 Protest

On my way home from the August 21, 2017 protest action at the People Power Monument, I snapped one more photo of a single lit candle (there were many, scattered around the monument like luminous seeds)—lit in memory of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.

This on-again, off-again blog is on again—even if only to serve a much more modest aim, as an archive of columns (I’m about 30 behind) and speeches (only a handful, since I don’t write everything down). As it happens, this first instalment was personally important; it was a turning point in my own column-writing, centering my criticism of the continuing calamity that is the Duterte government. It was published on August 22, 2017—six days after Kian delos Santos was killed.

The killing of 17-year-old Kian D. delos Santos has stirred us out of our intimidation-induced stupor and shaken an administration built, built, built on fear. From his initials (how do you like them, mga ka-DDS?) to his surname (the same as that of the thoroughfare that birthed a revolution), from the circumstances of his life (a boy with the simple dream of becoming a policeman) to the circumstances of his death (a cynical, cruel dance of death choreographed by policemen), from the courage of the witnesses (who have taken considerable risks to speak in detail) to the character of his parents (who have spoken boldly and with utmost candor), Kian has struck fear among the very people for whom fear is a strategy.

How do we know this? Because even some of the administration’s stalwart allies have publicly condemned the killing. Because the trolls as well as the blogger-defenders of the administration, after a lull that recalled their studied silence when President Duterte went missing in June, have returned with prepared scripts and attacking themes. Because the police has belatedly sought to paint Kian as a runner in the illegal drugs trade. (The former solicitor general, Florin Hilbay, has a term for what the police are doing: the “After Murder Identification of Suspects.”) Continue reading

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Column: Bongbong Marcos’ big new lie

Published on August 15, 2017 but, apparently, germane again, now that former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has accused the Presidential Electoral Tribunal of bias. If you believe that, I have a bridge, in San Juanico, that I’m selling. 

I have read the transcript of the first preliminary conference conducted by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (the Supreme Court convened as an election protest forum) on the Marcos vs Robredo case. I have compared both the direction and the specifics of the discussion with the post-conference statements made by both parties to the election protest—and can only conclude that former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his camp are lying. Continue reading

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Column: Sex with starlets

In which President Duterte calls his predecessor an idiot, tells a rival presidential candidate to shut up, and (joke! joke!) pimps starlets to soldiers. The new normal. Column published on August 8, 2017.

President Duterte returned to Marawi City late last week. By all accounts, it was a happy, triumphant visit with the troops. But, confronted with a microphone, he again indulged his public persona’s vulgar streak. He called his predecessor names (albeit reluctantly), he dressed down a senator who had the temerity to offer him advice — and to the soldiers on the frontline he offered sex with starlets as a consolation prize. Continue reading

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Column: Betraying PDP-Laban in China

With today’s “thematic briefing” which the Chinese Communist Party conducted for the ruling PDP-Laban party out of the goodness of its collective heart, it seems like a good idea to post this column, published on August 1, 2017, to this on-again, off-again blog. (Hey, it’s on again!) The theme of the briefing, it turns out, was fighting corruption; I’m sure we all have something to learn from the admittedly effective but highly selective anti-corruption drive Xi Jinping has unleashed in China to consolidate power. 

Here’s the link to the original column: http://opinion.inquirer.net/106004/betraying-pdp-laban-china

The roots of the current ruling party PDP-Laban are as “yellow” as can be. Lakas ng Bayan was founded by Ninoy Aquino and Lorenzo Tañada et al. to contest the April 1978 Interim Batasang Pambansa elections in Metro Manila; Laban was winning in the count until a news blackout was imposed, and Ferdinand Marcos engineered a victory for his wife Imelda and everyone on her slate. The Partido Demokratiko Pilipino was founded in 1982 by intrepid civil libertarians, many of them from opposition circles in Cagayan de Oro and Davao, including one of Aquino’s fearless candidates in 1978: Mayor Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Continue reading

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Column: The transformations of Rodrigo Duterte

Written on the day of the controversial second State of the Nation Address, and published on July 25, 2017.

Since I first met him in August 2015, I have tried to describe Rodrigo Duterte, the man and politician, as fairly, as completely, as I could. In this column and before various audiences—rule of law advocates in The Hague, student leaders on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, Asian news executives in Bangkok, campus writers in Legazpi, journalists in Perugia, even residents of my hometown of Cagayan de Oro—I have sought to give President Duterte his due.

I have always pointed out that, in private, Mr. Duterte is unfailingly courteous, and thoughtful and responsive in conversation. He makes bold statements (arguing, for instance, that the presidency is not powerful enough) but leavens them with an earnest mien, a healthy sense of humor, even a talent for mimicry. I’ve met him only thrice — a group interview at the Inquirer that lasted for about four hours, a chance encounter at the Naia 2 airport, a presidential debate — but my impressions have found an echo in the recollections of the senators and Cabinet secretaries I’ve interviewed since his election.

I have also always noted that Mr. Duterte is a genuinely charismatic personality; I have seen his effect on an audience of about 50 as well as a massive crowd (the thanksgiving rally in Davao City after his victory) of perhaps 500,000. There is really something there that many people respond to. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has seen this charisma at work, not only in the President’s native Davao but in Tokyo, too, when Mr. Duterte came visiting. It is a mistake to dismiss this talk of mass appeal or reduce it to cult-like conduct. (To be sure, there is that, too.)

But put a microphone in front of him, and (time to look afresh at this tired phrase) all hell breaks loose. Continue reading

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Column: Why Duterte is defending Marcos

Only one conclusion makes sense. Published on July 18, 2017.

I have nothing against the senators who dined with President Duterte earlier this year; those who castigate them, essentially for showing up for dinner, have forgotten the role of the two political branches in our system of government. It would be a real scandal if the President dined with justices of the Supreme Court alone; recent history tells us that the illegal consultations Ferdinand Marcos sought with members of the Court built the constitutional foundations of his authoritarian regime. But lawmakers are supposed to work with the Executive—that is how our system is meant to function, especially when the senators belong to the administration majority.

I also do not understand the absolutist position that critics of the majority take when administration-aligned lawmakers express their outrage or their disgust over the reinstatement of Supt. Marvin Marcos. Sen. Ping Lacson, for instance, gave vent to his frustration over the special treatment for Marcos, the police colonel who oversaw the execution of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa inside a Leyte subprovincial jail last November, by resorting publicly to President Duterte’s favorite expletive. But some of the feedback he got from social media took him to task for enabling the President in the first place — without so much as an acknowledgement that this key player in the Senate majority is now on a collision course with the President.

Politics is addition, and the more voices we hear condemning the extrajudicial killing of a politician by police officers, the better. Continue reading

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Column: How to build consensus in SC

The Judges

RBG in the house. Former President of the Supreme Court of Brazil Ellen Gracie Northfleet, Judge Rosemary Barkett of the Iran-US Claims Tribunal, and Justice of the US Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Column No. 450, published on July 11, 2017. (What a thrill to meet RBG.)

On the eve of the World Justice Forum at The Hague, I asked the guest of honor, the eminent Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the US Supreme Court, about how to build consensus in collegial decision-making institutions. I had the Philippine Supreme Court in mind: One majority decision and 14 separate opinions in a landmark case involving the exercise of extraordinary powers did not seem to me to be a sign of strength, but rather of weakness in the shaping of consensus. I did not say any of this — only that in my impression, building majority decisions could be problematic. She replied, initially, by asking questions.

Do the justices lunch together? she first asked. (Later, she asked a related question: Do the justices have their own dining hall? I confessed that I did not know, but guessed that they did.) Do they live near each other? Most of her questions were in this personal vein. I can remember only two questions that were directly related to the work: How many serve on the Court? (This question may have been asked by Judge David Caron, who sat between us; I am no longer certain.) When I said 15, she asked: Do they work in panels? Continue reading

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