Category Archives: Newsstand: Column

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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Column: If Taruc is a hero, what?

Published on July 4, 2017, but perhaps apropos reading for yesterday’s celebration of National Heroes Day. 

The honors paid last month to Luis Taruc, cofounder of the Huks, invites us to think, again and with a greater sense of complication, about our notions of heroism.

An Inquirer editorial tried to anticipate the public’s response to the unveiling of a historical marker at Taruc’s place of birth and to the statement of recognition from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines “that Luis Taruc is a hero” by identifying three types of possible reception. “This pronouncement may strike some as belated but deserved recognition; others may criticize it as insufficiently historical or an affront to the memory of other heroes; still others may wonder what all the fuss is about.”

If not indifference, I would venture that wonder at what all the fuss was about was the majority reaction — but I did see criticism of the Taruc pronouncement. Inquirer columnist Manolo Quezon was one of those who showed his disagreement by circulating a Philippines Free Press cartoon listing Taruc’s many iniquities. I respect Quezon’s position, not only because his grandmother Aurora Quezon was assassinated by the Huks in 1949, but even more so because his work is shaped by a deep understanding of Philippine history.

Recognition of Taruc’s heroism, however, forces us to take a closer look at the different, even conflicting, narratives of heroism we have learned to tell. To make a nation, it takes all kinds of heroes. Continue reading

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Column: But where is the President?

When the President went missing. Published on June 27, 2017.

I understand, from the official daily schedule circulated on Monday by the Presidential Communications Operations Office, that President Duterte will make a public appearance today for the first time in almost a week. The “tentative schedule” (these releases are almost always classified as tentative) shows the President attending the “Eid’l Fitr Celebration” in Malacañang at 7 p.m.

This marks the second time in as many weeks that Mr. Duterte has been missed. He was not seen in public from June 12 to 16, and again from June 21 to 26 — assuming, that is, that he keeps his appointment tonight. (It is the only appointment on his agenda today, according to the schedule shared with the reporters and bloggers who cover him.)

At a general meeting of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines last week that I was privileged to address, a gentleman during the Q&A noted the traditional media’s “failure” to report on the President’s whereabouts. I understood what he meant, and conceded his point (in a word, the media should dig deeper), but I also noted other factors at work that made the President’s first prolonged absence controversial. Continue reading

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Column: What would Rizal say (to Duterte)?

The 2nd In the Shadow of the Dragon forum, held at the auditorium of the De La Salle University Rufino Campus, in BGC.

Published on June 20, 2017.

At an Inquirer forum on Philippine independence and the rise of China, the young historian Leloy Claudio said something in passing which generated some Twitter attention. “If Rizal were alive today, he’d be ‘dilawan,’” Claudio said. He was referencing Rizal’s struggle for civil liberties as an indication that he would be, in today’s reductionist, polarized setting, not a Duterte supporter but an Aquino reformist—that is, a “Yellow.”

We mark Rizal’s 156th birthday at a time when the incumbent President is seeking to overhaul Philippine society itself; as Claudio’s remarks suggest, Rizal today seems more indispensable than ever. I think I know why: He reminds us what it means to be Filipino. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Remove China’s illegal structures’

South China Sea expert Jay Batongbacal, at the Defend Democracy Summit. June 12, 2017.

 

Published on June 13, 2017.

I meant to write on Rizal and President Duterte, but taking part in the Defend Democracy Summit at the UP School of Economics on Monday brought me face to face with the human toll of the Duterte administration’s irresolution in defending the West Philippine Sea. We must make time to understand the Duterte era from a historical perspective; on Thursday, the Inquirer and the De La Salle University seek to do just that, with a historians’ forum on Philippine independence and the rise of China. But today—today I want to talk about Norma and Ping and the fishermen in Zambales they represent. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Who lost the West Philippine Sea?’

Antonio Carpio, Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Updating, again. This column was published on June 6, 2017. I took the photo of Justice Carpio on June 5, about half an hour before he conducted a group interview with the Inquirer.

This could be the question that will haunt us in our old age. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio asked the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Monday to imagine that moment, years from now, when our children and grandchildren will sit us down and ask us: “Who lost the West Philippine Sea to China?”

It is our “civic duty,” Carpio said, to raise the alarm today about the imminent loss of our territory and our waters, to forge a national consensus on what needs to be done, and to defend the West Philippine Sea. Continue reading

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Column: Why does the President misremember his oath?

On a worrying choice of words. Published on May 30, 2017.

When President Duterte arrived from Moscow, a day after he imposed martial law on all of Mindanao, he gave a speech explaining the rationale for his exercise of extraordinary power and then conducted a news conference. In response to a question about the rules of engagement now in place in Mindanao, he gave an extended answer, which included the following statement:

“You know, I have always maintained that my duty, my sacred duty to preserve and defend the Filipino, does not emanate from any constitutional restriction.”

“It is in my oath of office. I beg to disagree with anyone. In this oath of office which I promised to God and to the people that I will protect and defend the country.”

(I am using the official transcript provided by the Presidential Communications Operations Office.) Continue reading

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Column: On the ICC and Duterte’s ‘sensitivity’

Published on May 23, 2017.

On April 24, lawyer Jude Sabio submitted a “communication” to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, seeking an investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly masterminded or committed by President Duterte and 11 other officials. We do not know what will happen to Sabio’s action; the procedures are detailed for all to see or study on the ICC website, but for the Philippines, this is a case of first impression.

For some members of the political opposition, the ICC might also prove to be the court of last resort. The impeachment complaint Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano filed against the President was disposed of in a matter of hours; there was no “prejudicial questions” maneuver to create at least the semblance of deliberation (as in the first impeachment complaint filed against President Gloria Arroyo in 2005). While ICC prosecution does not require the state that is party to the Treaty of Rome to exhaust all remedies (the ICC prosecutor has “motu proprio” powers), it can also step in when “the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution.” Continue reading

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Column: The Catholic (as) fascist

Published on May 16, 2017; provoked by online encounters with friends who are devout Catholics and support President Duterte’s signature campaign, the misleadingly named “war on drugs.”

I was born into a Vatican II household. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say I belonged to a family that in the 1960s took readily to the new emphases, the changes in the liturgy, in short the opening of windows, made possible by the historic ecumenical council. Looking back on those transition years, I can remember Masses in Cagayan de Oro or in General Santos City where the priest still faced the altar, rather than the congregation. We were aware of the changes and willingly took part in them; we were certain of our Catholic identity, encouraged by the modernizing faith we professed, and tolerant and respectful of other faiths.

It took me some time to realize that there were other kinds of Catholics—resistant to what Pope John XXIII called, in his opening speech before the Second Vatican Council, the “medicine of mercy,” partial instead to the old prescription of “severity.” Perhaps I oversimplify; I must have met relatives and strangers alike who were “catolico cerrado,” who believed in “sola scriptura,” or who were, as the expression goes, more papist than the Pope. But Catholic fundamentalism was first an academic problem for me, in college and right after it, before it became a personal one.

Now it is decidedly personal. Catholic fundamentalism, like other religious fundamentalisms, is open to fascism and helps enable authoritarianism. And I have some friends and acquaintances who do not see any disconnect between their Catholic faith and their support for the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs. Continue reading

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Column: On impeaching VP Leni

Time to play catch-up again. I’ve 12 columns (three months’ worth) to post; here is the first. Published on May 9, 2017, in what already seems like a different era.

The administration allies pushing for the impeachment of Vice President Leni Robredo suffer from two disadvantages: the absence of a substantive basis on which to ground their complaint, and the presence, the counter-example, of a substantial complaint. I mean, of course, the impeachment case filed by Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano.

Whatever one may think of President Duterte, or of the courage or duplicity of his political opposition (take your pick), I hope we can agree that the Alejano filing is a serious undertaking. It does not only assert the violation of high crimes (the essence of an impeachment initiative); it also offers testable proof. For instance, in detailing an entire pattern of words spoken and actions taken to adopt what Alejano called “a state policy of inducing policemen, other law enforcement officials, and/or members of vigilant groups into … Extrajudicial Killings,” he asserts that Mr. Duterte was liable for:

“making the killing of drug suspects and other suspected criminals as one of the principal bases of promotion and/or retention of Police Commanders such that Police Commanders in whose areas there are no reported killing of suspects are under threat of being replaced.”

It is a chilling charge, but it can be proved or disproved. Continue reading

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