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
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
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.
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.
Published on April 7, 2015.
IN THE first two months after the Mamasapano incident, the “face” of the encounter was a collective: The SAF 44. The tragic fate of the 44 Special Action Force troopers who perished in the cornfields of Mamasapano became the main narrative; suave opportunists like Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and born-again politicians like Rafael Alunan rode the public outrage over the “massacre” of the elite policemen, to take direct aim at the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. A TV network even used a hashtag that sought #truthforthefallen44—as though truth were like justice, and took sides. Continue reading
Published on March 3, 2015.
Last week marked a new low point for the opportunistic demagoguery of Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. I was with other journalists covering the inspection tour of various sites in Central Mindanao by the police Board of Inquiry, so I was not able to see an otherwise intelligent young man transform yet again into a hypocritical bully on live television.
But I do have proof that he is a bully and a hypocrite. Continue reading
This column, written in the immediate aftermath of supertyphoon Yolanda or Haiyan, generated intense feedback in the comments thread on Inquirer.net — many of the abusive kind. I guess that’s what happens when a politician is treated, or treats herself, as a celebrity, as a “darling of the media;” the fans come out with their daggers drawn. An interesting experience. Published on November 12, 2013.
I write out of a sense of duty—knowing not only that “politics” is the last thing people want to read about these days but also that other subjects (discussed fortunately in other columns or in the news pages) are, truly, matters of life or death. But Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s “star turn” at the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing last week was so wrong, on so many counts, that letting it slide under a storm surge of post-“Yolanda” media attention would be an injustice. Bear with me.