Column: Killing suspects is also unchristian

Published on September 13, 2016.

THE VILIFICATION of the United Nations seems to have stopped; now the focus of presidential ire seems to be on the United States. But it is only a matter of time before UN involvement in Philippine affairs comes under attack again; the flawed but functional guarantor of international arbitration and human rights campaigns will necessarily be heard from again.

Here’s a thought, to prepare for the inevitable: The UN is not a remote organization, located half a world away and only distantly connected to goings-on in the Philippines. It is in fact intimately involved in Philippine society. In response to a query I posted about how many people the UN has working in the country, Martin Nanawa of the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in the Philippines wrote back: “We have 1,449 National and 240 International Staff in the Philippines under the UN umbrella, which is spread over more than 25 different Agencies, Funds, Programs, and Organizations.”

That’s a lot of ears on the ground; it is folly, or wishful thinking, to suggest that UN experts do not know what is going on in the Philippines.

* * *

To the policy and legal arguments against the extrajudicial killings at the center of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, I would like to add the religious dimension—not because I am particularly religious or find myself on moral high ground, but because many men and women who fight this war or support it are Christian. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Are they human?’ is a dangerous doctrine

Published on September 6, 2016.

IT PAINS me to write this response to a series of provocative tweets from Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ—because he is a beloved and instrumental mentor to me, and because he has been right, over the years, on issues large and small. But on Aug. 28, the president of Ateneo de Davao University staked out a position regarding President Duterte’s justification of the war on drugs that I cannot agree with and which in fact I find downright dangerous.

I am late to the issue, because while I happened to be in Davao City when he posted those tweets, I had not yet fully recovered from a bout with a particularly nasty strain of the flu. But I did read the tweets in real time. They were posted in reference to a series of statements the President made the previous Friday, Aug. 26.

In the middle of a critique of human rights advocates, the President had stopped and then said:

“In the first place, I’d like to be frank with you. Are they (drug users) humans? What is your definition of a human being? Tell me.”

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Column: The unfortunate Salvador Panelo

Published on August 23, 2016.

IN 1992, Salvador Panelo ran for the Senate. That year, there were 12 six-year terms and 12 three-year terms at stake. Panelo, now the chief presidential legal counsel, ran as one of the 24 candidates of the Marcos political party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan or KBL.

Out of 163 qualified candidates, Panelo came in 125th. Tito Sotto topped the Senate race, with 11.7 million votes. The last of the 24 winning senators was reelectionist Butz Aquino; he earned 3.9 million votes. Panelo had 289,000 votes, less than 8 percent of Aquino’s. Of the 24 KBL candidates, he ranked 13th. The loyalist lawyer Oliver Lozano, who came into prominence after the Marcoses fled Malacañang, earned 407,000 votes.

(Fun fact: In 1992, Gloria Arroyo came in 13th; that is, she won a three-year term. It must have seemed like a disappointment for the first-time politician, but in 1995 Arroyo ran again for a full six-year term and this time topped the Senate race, immediately becoming a viable presidential or vice presidential candidate for 1998.)

Why do I bring up Panelo’s dismal record in his single attempt at national office? Elective office is a bruising affair and it is entirely to Panelo’s credit that, at least once in his life, he threw his own hat into the ring. We should not gainsay his attempt.

But it seems he learned one lesson from his defeat: If he had the appetite for politics but not the personality for elections, he can serve winnable politicians in an advisory capacity. Continue reading

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Column: The President as lawyer

Published on August 16, 2016.

IT HAS been some time—30 years, in fact, or an entire generation—since a lawyer served as president of the Philippines. Before San Beda graduate and city prosecutor Rodrigo Roa Duterte, there was UP graduate and bar topnotcher Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. That time did not end well.

What can we expect from another lawyer in Malacañang? President Duterte has used two constitutionally mandated ceremonies to speak directly to this question; he has also spent some time in his ongoing series of visits to military camps to say something about what we can call his philosophy of law. Believing, as I have written before, that in the democratic project the law is too important to be left to lawyers alone, I would like to put in my two centavos’ worth. (We all should.)

Before 1986, when the Marcoses were chased out of the presidential palace, almost all the presidents were lawyers. There were only two exceptions: Emilio Aguinaldo, the generalissimo who led the successful Philippine Revolution at the turn of the 20th century, and Ramon Magsaysay, the defense secretary who broke the back of the Huk insurgency in the 1950s. All the others were lawyers, and from the start promising ones: Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, and Marcos were all bar topnotchers, a meaningless distinction in other countries but in the Philippines a definite political advantage. Even Jose Laurel, the president of the Second Republic under the Japanese, was also a topnotcher and a heavyweight lawyer.

In the first 50-odd years of Philippine self-government, then, lawyers served as president for 45.

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Column: Understanding Duterte: 40 theses

Published on August 9, 2016.

  1. IT IS a mistake to think of President Duterte as Donald Trump without the orange skin and the ridiculous hair.
  1. He is not only not a bigot, as he himself said; he also has real, quantifiable achievements in his two decades as Davao City mayor.
  1. Even Mr. Duterte’s bitterest critics will not deny these achievements. They may argue about scope and impact, but accept these feats.
  1. In contrast, Trump has built a reputation and created wealth based largely on deception: the shady deal, the lease of his name, the scam.
  1. To be sure, the Duterte record is shadowed by the killings in Davao City, often attributed to the Davao Death Squad.

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Column: On Ira Panganiban’s outburst, I call BS

Published on August 2, 2016.

MY RADYO Inquirer colleague Ira Panganiban posted something provocative on Facebook the other day, and it has since gone viral. Unfortunately, the multiplatform journalist got his facts wrong. Even worse, his assumptions did not only lead to the error; they also raise worrying questions about the true value of a human life. In the spirit of free speech and fair play, and as an admiring friend, I wish to set him straight.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Panganiban wrote on July 30. “Andaming matatalino sobrang ingay tungkol sa pagpatay sa mga pusher at adik!!! (So many intelligent people are making too much noise about the killing of pushers and addicts!!!)”

“These so-called decent and progressive thinkers all cry about the number of killings since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed his post.”

“The Philippine Daily Inquirer even has a running tally of the killings in their pages. The last number I looked at is 400+ nationwide!!! (Sorry PDI kayo lang may running tally eh.)”

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Column: How Pimentel became Senate president

 

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New Senate President Aquilino Koko Pimentel III is all smiles after he was elected with a 20-3 vote on Monday at the Senate. INQUIRER/ MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Published on July 26, 2016.

AS SOON as it became clear, on election night, that Rodrigo Roa Duterte would win the presidency by a landslide, I followed the contest for the Senate presidency with keen interest. In part this was because Sen. Koko Pimentel, the president of the winning party, is a childhood friend and a high school classmate; in greater part, I was interested because I believe that the Senate in a Duterte administration would have to walk the fine line between support for a popular President and resistance against that President’s strongman impulses.

Since May 9, I have followed the contest closely, and have spoken to six senators, several congressmen, and a few political operatives. What follows is what I have managed to piece together; it is possible that I have only in fact described different parts of the proverbial elephant, and not the elephant itself. But it still may be worth a read.

Like many, I was stunned by the speed of capitulation in the House of Representatives. Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez’s capture of the speakership was a political blitzkrieg; about a week and a half after the election, he had already sealed the deal. In contrast, the contest for leadership in the Senate promised to be the most closely fought in decades.

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Turns out the rumor is NOT true 

So: The word that has circulated among legal circles in recent days, about the law school official reportedly caught in a compromising situation, is fake news. The school has dismissed all speculation that the official was on his way out, through an unambiguous memo. And a good friend who knows the spouse says the spouse denies any such incident.

The lawyers have been gulled. Now the question is: What was the rumor for?

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Column: A man of good will

 

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One of my favorite photos of my father: Breaking the fast before going out to vote on Election Day 2016.

Published on July 19, 2016.

MY FATHER died a week ago; we interred his ashes the other day. At the funeral Mass on July 16, as one of his six children, I read the following eulogy (which I have ever so slightly revised). Please allow a loyal son to pay tribute to a good man and a full life:

One of my favorite memories is of my father doing a Steph Curry. In 1974 or 1975, when we lived in Davao City, I accompanied my father to an out-of-town basketball game; it was probably a provincial liga sponsored by Coca-Cola.

As guests, we sat on chairs on courtside, right by the half-court line. At one point during the game, or perhaps it was during half-time, the ball bounced in our direction. He picked up the ball; instead of giving it back to a referee, he took aim and launched it into the air. It found the hoop—and went in.

As you can imagine, it was easy to admire a man like that. In the eyes of an 11-year-old, he could do no wrong. Today, considerably older than 11, I can say in all honesty: He was the first man I idolized, and the only one who didn’t turn out to have feet of clay.

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Column: The unfortunate Mr. Yasay

Column No. 400. Published on July 12, 2016.

IS FOREIGN Secretary Perfecto Yasay a traitor in the making? I may be wrong, but I think the existing jurisprudence holds that treason is a wartime offense; since we are not at war with China, Yasay’s pro-China remarks cannot be treasonous. To quote from Justice Gregorio Perfecto’s influential concurring opinion in Laurel vs Misa: “While there is peace there can be no traitors. Treason may be incubated when peace reigns. Treasonable acts may actually be perpetrated during peace, but there are no traitors until war has started.” Perhaps Yasay’s treason is only in incubation.

The accusation has been leveled at him with increasing frequency since his startling interview with the Manila bureau of Agence France-Presse over the weekend, when he seemed to have adopted an appease-China-at-all-costs policy. He or his office has since issued at least two rejoinders, to clarify his position. In response, AFP released a copy of the transcript of the interview.

It makes for upsetting reading.

The overall impression it makes—I speak for myself and apparently for many others who took to their social media accounts after reading the transcript—is that of an agent who seems to mouth the talking points, but does not understand the objectives, of the principal. In this case, the principal is not President Duterte but the Philippines itself.

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Column: Courage as statement: a newfound respect for Miriam

Published on July 5, 2016.

NOW THAT President Duterte has taken firm control of the reins of power, it is time to shift the focus from the epic of the 2016 elections and the melodrama of a tumultuous transition to the plain prose of governance. But allow me one more look back—this time at Miriam Defensor Santiago’s extraordinary presidential candidacy.

I have criticized the ex-senator in this column more than once, and through her office she has responded forcefully to some of the criticism. I was skeptical of her third presidential run; knowing that the historical record shows that a candidate wins the Philippine presidency on the first try or not at all, I was even suspicious of the motives behind her decision to run again. If she is ailing from cancer, and the surveys show her languishing at the bottom of the field, why even bother to run?

This is not to say that only candidates with a real shot at winning the main prize should throw their hats in the ring; I have voted for candidates who needed Biblical-scale miracles to win, including Jovito Salonga in 1992 and Raul Roco in both 1998 and 2004. But these candidates—Salonga with his running mate Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Roco and his 1998 vice presidential candidate Irene Santiago—seemed to me to represent not only the possible (I kept reminding myself that Salonga was the only senator to top the Senate race thrice, or that Roco was a top vote-getter in 1995 and an early survey favorite in 1998) but also the ideal.

They represented something larger than themselves, or their personal ambition. What did Miriam represent in 2016? It took me a long time to understand; it was only when she entered the debate hall in Dagupan for the third presidential debate, just a few weeks before Election Day, that I finally understood.

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Column: P-Noy and Du30, compared

Published on June 28, 2016.

THE TRANSITION from the Aquino to the Duterte presidencies gives us an opportunity to compare the two presidents. I have chosen the following three points of comparison; others may wish to discuss other reference points. President-elect Rodrigo Duterte comes out ahead in one, President Aquino leads in another. The third is a toss-up, with perhaps the Filipino public ending up losing.

First, their electoral mandate. No one of the presidents elected under the 1987 Constitution has received a majority of the votes cast in their respective elections. The combination of a multiparty setup and a first-past-the-post system all but ensures that all presidents of the Fifth Republic win with a mere plurality of the vote.

Of the five presidents elected since 1987, Mr. Aquino in 2010 won the largest share of the vote: 42 percent. Fidel V. Ramos became president in 1992 with only 23.5 percent. At 39 percent, Duterte’s share is the second smallest after Ramos’ not only since 1987 but in history. Continue reading

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Column: Don’t let ‘Dabawismo’ be Duterte’s ‘Cavitismo’

Published on June 14, 2016.

AS A loyal son of Mindanao, I would like the first president from the “great island” to succeed. But how will success be defined? By measuring the number of corpses of suspected criminals floating in Manila Bay? By forcing through the burial at the heroes’ cemetery of the same dictator against whom his own mother led the protest struggle in Davao? By counting the number of institutions—the Catholic Church, the media, the United Nations, the embassies of our allies—he has criticized?

This is not a made-up list, but a quick look at some of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign promises and postelection pronouncements. News organizations did not invent these statements; they merely reported them as newsworthy, because Duterte himself chose to emphasize them. In his speech at the mammoth victory rally in Davao City, for instance, he spent a lot of time criticizing both the Catholic Church and the media; at one point, he started talking about the Bureau of Internal Revenue—and then promptly dropped the topic when something reminded him yet again of his complaints about the media. And off he went again.

And yet reasonable people, distinguished experts in their own right, have welcomed the advent of the Duterte presidency. In Davao, the president of the Jesuit university, Fr. Joel Tabora, and its leading feminist and citizen advocate, Irene Santiago, have offered cogent reasons for optimism without wishing away Duterte’s language or reputation; in the Cabinet, he has named eminences who were not part of his usual circles, such as Ernie Pernia and Liling Briones, to cite just two outstanding appointees. That a close associate like Mayor Leoncio Evasco remains part of his inner circle, or an advocate-academic like Judy Taguiwalo would accept an appointment, is auspicious, for those looking for signs. Continue reading

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Column: Cayetano on Duterte and the media

 

Published on June 7, 2016.

I have had occasion to criticize Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano directly in this space, but I believe he does not take it against me. He is a rare breed of politician in that sense; he seeks to engage even his (occasional) critics, confident in his ability to make his case. When I had the chance to interview him during the campaign period, the vice presidential candidate was his usual articulate self—he mentioned the fact that I had criticized him before, but only in passing, and only as an example of the difference in our responsibilities: his as a politician, mine as a journalist.

His views on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s criticism of media practices, and in particular of those of national media organizations based in Manila, hold a special fascination for me then. Over the weekend, I heard him express these views thrice: at the “VIP lane” leading to the massive victory rally dubbed “One Love, One Nation” in Crocodile Park in Davao City on Saturday, on stage at that rally, and in an exclusive interview with Inquirer.net (also carried live on Facebook) the following day.

I found his VIP lane version to be the most developed and on point, and I would like to engage with his views as he expressed them then, in a chance interview (the far better term for ambush interview, which came into use during the first Aquino administration) by national and local media.

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Column: Duterte’s China

Published on May 31, 2016.

IN BEIJING, China, this week, as in Siem Reap, Cambodia, four weeks ago, conversations among Asia News Network editors often revolved around, or returned to, the Duterte phenomenon. In the last month or so, some of the most-read stories shared among the 21 member-organizations have been about the unlikely candidacy or unexpected victory, the unsettling rhetoric or unconventional habits, of the Philippine president-elect.

(The most shared story on ANN in the last seven days? “Duterte: My day starts at 1 pm.”)

Often, in these conversations, the first question is: Does he mean what he says? Then the rest follow: Has he had experience at the national level? What is he known for aside from his law and order policies? Who are part of his inner circle? Who advises him on foreign policy? And, inevitably, like a punchline to a familiar joke you see coming: What is his real position on the South China Sea?

It is possible that the seeming inconstancy in the Duterte approach to the territorial and maritime conflict in the South China Sea is strategic. What does it mean when one day he talks about shelving our claims aside in exchange for Chinese bankrolling of major infrastructure projects in the Philippines, and another day he talks about planting the Philippine flag himself in the Spratly Islands? Perhaps it is meant to keep China off balance.

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Column: Duterte and the coming bloodbath

Published on May 24, 2016.

ON NOV. 16, 1999, President Joseph Estrada appointed his then-favorite policeman, Director Panfilo Lacson, as the new chief of the Philippine National Police. The next day, the special operations group that Lacson led before his appointment, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, killed eight men in Fairview, Quezon City, in what some witnesses called a “rubout.” Seven of the dead were later identified as suspected robbers; the eighth, a civilian bystander, was later reported to be the alleged mastermind of the robbery gang.

It was an arresting start to a controversial (and, as it turned out, abbreviated) term. For many, the spectacular violence was seen as precisely a violent spectacle, staged to strike fear among criminals.

Three renowned lawyers immediately raised the alarm. (I quote from an Inquirer editorial written some 10 years after the event.)

“Sen. Raul Roco told a news conference: ‘Lacson must be made to explain: Why, on your second day, did seven people die? How many will die on the third day? What are your projected plans on the 14th day?’

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Column: From wimp to pimp?

Published on May 17, 2016.

IN A wild, improbable campaign with many twists and turns, here is the final, improbable twist:

Rodrigo Duterte is Benigno Aquino III, part two.

The 2016 presidential election turned out to be the 2010 vote all over again. Duterte comes to the presidency with the same mandate, the same level of popular support, that Aquino enjoyed in 2010: Like Aquino, he rode a genuine groundswell to capture 15 million votes; like Aquino, he is comfortably ahead of the second-ranked candidate’s 9-million total; like Aquino, he led a field with at least four strong candidates. (Mar Roxas as the Joseph Estrada of 2016: another improbable turn.)

At this point, the reader who believed that the change-is-coming rhetoric of the Duterte campaign was code for anti-Aquino sentiment would be almost apoplectic. How can the tough-talking man-of-the-people be compared to the mild-mannered, out-of-touch elitist? Surely they are complete opposites!

Not in terms of electoral mandate, they’re not. Continue reading

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Column: Is it, in truth, a protest vote?

Published on May 10, 2016.

Is support for presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte a protest vote, against the Aquino administration? Yes, but also no. The idea that one single factor explains the surge of the controversial mayor of Davao City in the last six to eight weeks of the campaign period—a surge that as of this writing looks powerful enough to bring Duterte all the way to the Pasig River and into Malacañang—is (to borrow the language that critics of Duterte supporters like to use) lazy, even self-indulgent. This reductionist reading tells us more about the analyst than the phenomenon under analysis.

If the plan is to show disapproval of or outrage at the way the administration has mismanaged the MRT system in Metro Manila, or misjudged the immediate response to Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in Tacloban, or mishandled a secret operation that led to the death of 44 Special Action Force troopers in Mamasapano, the candidacy of Vice President Jejomar Binay would have served as an appropriate or adequate vehicle.

When Binay finally resigned from the Cabinet after failing to win President Aquino’s endorsement, he declared himself, in unmistakable terms, the leader of the opposition. In fact, he used the SAF 44 as literal backdrop, and called out the administration (correctly, in my view) for its many blunders.

But, one might argue, Binay was not only running in opposition; he was also proposing to turn the rest of the Philippines into Makati City, the central business district he has governed as mayor for two decades. Wouldn’t this vision thing undercut the protest-vote interpretation?

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Column: Between Mar and Grace

Published on May 3, 2016.

ALLOW ME, for the third time in nine years of column-writing, to list my choices for national positions at stake in the coming election—not as an endorsement but as an attempt at transparency. These are who I am voting for; weigh my opinion writing against my vote.

(To be sure, and as I hope I have proven over the years, voting for these candidates is no guarantee that they will be spared from criticism or their initiatives always assured of support. The true ideal of journalism is not neutrality, but independence from the people we cover or, indeed, vote for.)

I am voting for Leni Robredo for VP, for reasons I have already outlined in “Leni, ‘last man standing’.” She is the last person standing between us and the abyss: a Marcos restoration. It does not look likely, but I continue to hold out the hope that Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who forcefully reminded the public in the April 10 vice presidential debate of the true Marcos legacy, will somehow give way to her.

But I have not yet decided on who to vote for president.

My choice is between Mar Roxas and Grace Poe. Continue reading

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Column: Should we trust surveys?

Published on April 26, 2016.

HATS off to ABS-CBN for devoting three and a half hours of expensive Sunday prime time to the last presidential debate. Many viewers expected fireworks, especially after survey front-runner Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte provoked yet another controversy with his remarks about the 1989 gang rape of Australian lay missionary Jacqueline Hamill, but the five candidates for president stuck mostly to the issues as they understood them. This may have been partially because of the town hall format, which allowed the TV network to humanize pressing issues. But the end result was a civics lesson aired live.

I have seen complaints on social media about the debate being, well, boring, but cannot sympathize with the complainers. We all say we want a real, substantive discussion; now that we got one, just about, we complain about the lack of zing.

This is not to say that the other candidates should not have held Duterte to account for his gratuitous and self-indulgent remarks; that they didn’t was a risk they decided to take and which they may rue in the next two weeks.

I thought there was a lot for voters to consider; the dozen people or so I asked at the gym afterwards all thought the debate did not change anyone’s mind.  That may well be, but I thought we learned even more about the candidates than we may have thought possible.

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Column: Leni, ‘last man standing’

Published on April 19, 2016.

IN TWO debates one week apart, Rep. Leni Robredo has managed to consolidate solid performances with memorable closing statements. In public speaking as in persuasive writing, the point of greatest emphasis is often the close; it’s the last thing that’s heard, and (to use a musical metaphor) the right note can send the audience out through the swinging doors humming one’s tune. Robredo, Mar Roxas’ candidate for vice president, has done exactly that—not once, but twice.

In the CNN debate at the University of Santo Tomas on April 10, part of the Commission on Elections’ inspired game-changer of a debate series, the representative of Camarines Sur’s Third District exceeded the time limit for her closing statement, but just as host Pia Hontiveros was calling her out, managed to smuggle in the following sentence: “Sa amin pong anim (Among the six of us), may the best woman win.”

It was a resounding summation of her performance during the nearly-three-hour debate, which was a little tentative in the first hour, but increasingly confident and emphatic as time passed. It was a different kind of forceful from that displayed by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who repeatedly (and bravely) criticized Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for his family’s fabulous wealth and his pattern of absences from anticorruption hearings. Robredo had added her voice to the criticism (Sen. Antonio Trillanes did, too, at one point), but she was able to avoid sounding strident or glib. This she did in part by offering nuanced answers. Continue reading

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Column: The case against Binay, Duterte, Roxas

Published on April 12, 2016.

ON THE day the campaign period for national positions started, I wrote “The case against Grace,” an attempt to write about the presidential candidates “from the point of view of their vulnerabilities.”

I phrased the objective this way, optimistically: “How can a candidate lose the presidential race? That is to say, which of a candidate’s weaknesses are election issues? I would like to worry this question in a new series of columns.”

It has been two months since that burst of optimism, however, and I have yet to follow through on the plan. Now, with the elections in 27 days, I’m afraid there’s time only for one omnibus column on Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and former interior secretary Mar Roxas. What is the one weakness, the one election issue, that presents the most serious threat to their candidacy? This issue can be summarized in a simple image, or phrased in a single question—a nagging, even unanswerable question. Continue reading

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Column: Will Duterte win Cebu? Is Poe surging?

Published on March 29, 2016.

READER, BEWARE. We’ve reached the point in the long national campaign when partisan exuberance threatens to overwhelm our news feeds, our timelines, even our analytical faculties.

I would be the last person to say that partisans or partisan sites cannot tell the truth; I only wish to add a word of caution. When claims are made, we must set aside the party balloons and campaign confetti, tune out the noise and the roar of the adrenalin rush, to test the statements.

For instance: In the wake of the second presidential debate, held on March 20 in vote-rich Cebu, some extravagant claims were made about a surge in Cebuano support for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. As far as I can tell, these claims were based on anecdotal evidence—not untrustworthy in itself (as journalists we quickly learn that anecdotes can lead to stories) but subject to validation.

It may be that Duterte, who traces his roots to Cebu, is now riding a groundswell of support after his charismatic, entertaining turn at the debate; or is the indisputable beneficiary of the split between One Cebu and UNA, but we need facts to back those assertions.

When someone—an analyst, an advocate, an adviser—says Duterte will now win Cebu, we must ask: How do you define victory? Continue reading

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Column: The most unforgettable debate

Published on March 22, 2016.

FOR THE first time, a presidential debate in the Philippines matched the argumentative tone and reckless rancor of the current American format. Whether this is, in the end, a positive development for our democratic project is an open question.

Don’t get me wrong. As I told friends in TV5, the public witnessed the most unforgettable debate in Philippine political history because the network stood its ground. Congratulations are definitely in order.

The second PiliPinas debate, sanctioned by the Commission on Elections and held on the grounds of the University of the Philippines Cebu, made up for its much-delayed start with a riveting series of sharp exchanges between the four presidential candidates. Vice President Jejomar Binay and former interior secretary Mar Roxas, the two candidates with the most experience in national office, could reasonably claim that their rivals had “ganged up” on them—Binay for the allegations of corruption against him and his family, Roxas for the accusations of Aquino administration incompetence and Liberal Party insincerity.

But there were intense exchanges, too, between Roxas and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, between Roxas and Sen. Grace Poe, and between Binay and Poe. (Duterte had a few choice quips for Binay during the debate, but the most consequential exchange between the two longtime local executives took place before the debate started, when Duterte added his objection to Binay’s attempt to bring documents to the stage.)

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Highs and lows

I was part of a three-person team from Inquirer.net who covered the climate change negotiations in Paris, in December 2015. Belatedly uploading the two columns I wrote there, plus one I wrote before, brought back strong, Seine-filled memories.

“In literature as in life, Paris is a symbol …”
“But five factors suggest that … Paris will succeed.”
“I asked him to say a little more about the central spiritual question.”

Now might be a good time for a quick summing-up.

Our team — Kristine Sabillo, Sara Pacia, and me — wrote over 50 dispatches, posted dozens of tweets, produced several video stories and infographics. Back home, we were backstopped by NewsLab lead Matikas Santos and reporter Marc Cayabyab, and by web designer Sephy Garibay and artist Mok Pusong.

p-to-p

The special site Sephy created featured our Media 21 Asia project on stronger storms and the coping mechanisms of two coastal regions — as well as a Dateline Paris section that allowed us to update our special site several times a day during the Paris negotiations. (All the dispatches are here.)

“The sound we heard, then … must have been a controlled explosion …”
“In a move certain to raise the Philippines’ profile …”
“The Ice Watch does nothing but melt.”

The two-week coverage had many highs and lows; seeing actual Arctic ice melting in the heart of Paris (in front of the Pantheon, in the art installation called Ice Watch), hit me like a great shock. It was many highs and lows, all at once.

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Filed under Readings in Media, Shades of Green, Spiral Notebook