Published on August 18, 2015.
FOR A couple of seconds, right at the end of the President’s annual address, I thought I saw her hesitate—as if the waves of applause that greeted her had stirred a familiar thought, as if she half-wanted to say something more.
She certainly seemed pensive at the very end; it was a triumphant speech, but from where I sat, she did not seem to bask in the final, uproarious standing ovation. She waited for the applause to wind down, and then said, very simply, almost inaudibly, ‘Thank you.’
Perhaps she felt, at the end of the briefest of her five State of the Nation speeches, that she had not done enough, that in spite of all the staff work and President’s time that had gone into the speech, she had nevertheless come up short. Continue reading
Published on July 28, 2015.
IN JULY 2005, at the lowest point in Gloria Arroyo’s presidency, she went to the Batasan for the State of the Nation Address rite not so much to defend herself, as to test her political allies’ defenses. She received an enthusiastic welcome.
To witness the outpouring of support, to hear the lusty cheers and to see the outstretched hands, for a leader who only a couple of weeks before had considered resigning because of an election fraud controversy, was to learn a crucial lesson in political resilience.
The political class respects power, recognizes it, rallies to it—and nothing adds sheen to power like surviving a crisis.
I am reminded of this fundamental fact of Philippine politics because of the spreading notion that President Aquino is “losing clout,” is becoming a “lame duck,” as he begins his last year in office.
This notion runs counter to Philippine political experience. Continue reading
Published on March 24, 2015.
I think highly of Sen. Grace Poe, and have suggested in an earlier column that she should not be dissuaded from running for president next year, in the same way that Jaime Cardinal Sin dissuaded Sen. Gloria Arroyo from contesting the presidency in 1998. But the Senate report on the Mamasapano incident Poe shepherded is disappointingly political.
Instead of politics understood as the art of the possible, the politics both implied and asserted in the Poe report is the entitlement of the privileged: the view of the center, in this case truly deserving of the insult “Imperial Manila”; the view of the toniest, most select branch of the political class (where politicians acquire their knowledge of combat through the painstaking process of movie-watching); and, not least, the view of the surviving kin of the 44 police Special Action Force troopers who died in Mamasapano (not those of the civilians who died in the crossfire, nor those of the 120,000 who perished in the “Mindanao conflict” since the 1970s).
This is a report that makes room for the viewpoints of most senators, but sadly allows very little room for the fate of innocents. I respect the discipline and courage and ultimate sacrifice of the Philippine National Police’s elite troopers, but I cannot subscribe to the unexamined assumption of Poe and her fellow senators that they were lambs led to the slaughter. Continue reading
Published on March 10, 2015.
Can psychoanalysis explain politics and through it perhaps history itself? From time to time, we may feel tempted to reach for our idiot’s guide to Freud or Jung to understand what makes, say, a senator like Ferdinand Marcos Jr. say truly head-scratching things.
For instance, he once tweeted: “Kahit na maging maayos ang usapan natin sa MILF, kung hindi naman kasama [sa peace agreement] ang BIFF, bakit pa tayo pipirma ng BBL?” His tweet raises the question whether he understands that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is in fact the outcome of arduous negotiations with one insurgency movement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and not with other separatist movements, such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the relatively new splinter group. “Even if our discussion with the MILF is in order, if the BIFF is not included, why should we sign the BBL?”
Does a childhood trauma perhaps explain why Marcos would wish to include a third party in a two-party negotiation? Is there a hidden or unacknowledged motive in his use of an impossible criterion for signing off on the new law implementing the peace agreement with the MILF? Continue reading
Published on August 5, 2014.
The scholar Herbert Docena wrote something truly provocative in these pages two or so weeks ago. He asked whether there was any difference between “the schemes cooked up by the likes of Sexy, Pogi, or Tanda” and President Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). In his view, both were forms of corruption, even though only the plunder allegedly committed by the likes of Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile involved personal gain.
The problem, he suggests, is that we understand “personal gain” too narrowly. “But does someone have to directly gain from the use of public funds to be corrupt? What if the benefits are more indirect or intangible? And what if the benefits are more widely shared with members of one’s class? Is that no longer corruption?” Continue reading
Published on July 22, 2014.
The law is too important to be left to lawyers alone. Every citizen has the right to join a discussion involving legal issues, especially if the Constitution is at the heart of it. I am certain Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law and a constant critic of his namesake President, would agree. Like me, the columnist erroneously described as a priest-lawyer is not in fact a member of the Bar.
To be sure, as anyone can see from his biography posted on the Central Books website, he has at least two doctorates, including one in jurisprudence from a school in California. But even if he didn’t (and this is the point), his commentaries would still be welcome. So perhaps that should be our first thesis, if we make a concerted attempt to understand President Aquino’s intemperate reaction to the Supreme Court’s adverse ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP): The law is too important to be left to lawyers alone.
Second thesis: The Aquino administration was right to file a motion for reconsideration, even though the possibility of reversal is small. I did not think it was worth it the week I read the ruling, but have since come to understand that the administration was bound to file the motion, for political reasons. The idea as I understand it is not simply to exhaust all legal remedies, but for the administration to rally the demoralized with a vigorous defense. The President’s speeches on July 14 and 15, however, were too aggressive, and rightly seen as threatening. Continue reading
Published on May 27, 2014.
Apparently there is a scientific term that explains why children engrossed in something—playing a game on the tablet, say, or reading the comics—seem to ignore anyone talking to them at the same time. The word is “inattentional blindness,” reports a BBC piece on a recent experiment, and it describes a familiar phenomenon characterized by “a lack of awareness, especially outside the immediate focus of attention.”
It is related to the development of the primary visual cortex. “The capacity for awareness outside the focus of attention develops with age, so younger children are at higher risk of inattentional blindness,” Prof. Nilli Lavie, of University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, told the BBC. It was Lavie who conducted the recent experiment at the Science Museum in London.
Reading about the concept of inattentional blindness reminded me of the Aquino administration’s approach to the achievements of the administration that preceded it. (Yes, at this point it bears repeating: There were achievements, buried under all the corruption scandals and the all-consuming struggle for legitimacy after “Hello, Garci.”) Mr. Aquino’s presidential campaign in 2010 was based on the simple appeal that he was Gloria Arroyo’s opposite. He was not alone in capitalizing on her unpopularity (and that of her husband); depending on how one reads the votes for Manny Villar, as much as 90 percent of the voters who cast their ballots voted “against” Arroyo.
But four years into his term, President Aquino has stuck to the black-or-white reading of recent history that resonated so loudly with voters in 2010. His address before the World Economic Forum on East Asia last Thursday may be usefully thought of as the epitome of that mindset. Continue reading
Published on March 25, 2014.
Earlier this month, the Pantheon project website of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab went live. Pantheon, or at least its first version, is an impressive but necessarily incomplete attempt to measure “the global popularity of historical characters” (this and other project-descriptive quotes are from the Methods section of the website). It uses two measures.
By the “sophisticated” measure Pantheon calls the Historical Popularity Index (HPI), the most popular person in history is the great philosopher Aristotle, followed closely by his famous teacher Plato. Jesus Christ only comes third—allowing the New York Times Magazine to reference John Lennon’s infamous quote in its story on Pantheon: “Who’s More Famous than Jesus?”
But who are the most popular Filipinos according to Pantheon? Continue reading
Published on February 25, 2014.
The idea that most Filipinos are deeply disillusioned with the People Power revolution is merely conventional, and needs to be empirically tested; I think the reality is somewhere between benign ignorance (many see Edsa 1986 only as an event in history, the occasion for a school holiday) and active acceptance (some continue to see it as a source of genuine change). At least that is how I interpret the 2011 Social Weather Stations finding that 20 percent of voting-age Filipinos embraced Ninoy Aquino as a genuine hero, next only to Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio. Aquino’s martyrdom makes full sense only in relation to what happened a thousand days after his assassination, on Edsa.
My view, it almost goes without saying, should be subject to validation, too. Continue reading
The closest a column of mine has come to going viral (over 5,500 shares, some 3,000 Facebook recommends on Inquirer.net). This was published on September 10, 2013 — a day before the late, still-unburied dictator’s birthday.
GLORIA ARROYO practiced what the Freedom from Debt Coalition called “fiscal dictatorship”—impounding allocations at will and realigning items in reenacted budgets without congressional authorization. (Those who visit her at the hospital where she is detained may continue to deny reality, but it was this control of the budget that allowed the pork barrel scam to flourish.) Joseph Estrada centralized jueteng operations right in Malacañang. (He also forced the Social Security System to buy stocks for which he received a P180-million commission.) Compared to Ferdinand Marcos, however, Arroyo and Estrada were rank amateurs.
Published on July 26, 2011.
A YOUNG person relatively fresh out of college posted something on Facebook yesterday, several hours before President Aquino addressed the 2nd joint session of the 15th Congress. Her status update struck me, because it seemed emblematic—of much of what is wrong in our political culture. Continue reading
Every now and then I use my column space in the Inquirer to run someone else’s counter-argument. This one, published on August 17, 2010, was, as we have learned to say these days, a real winner.
It is a pleasure to cede today’s column space to Herbert Docena’s elegant, carefully considered reply to “‘Politico,’ ‘Inglisero,’ ‘hacendero’”—last week’s first attempt to classify the types of criticism leveled, this early, against President Aquino. I do not agree with all of Herbert’s points, and with one key assumption of his, but all that is for another time. It is to his instructive reply (I’ve deleted a few passages, to fit the available space) that we first ought to pay attention:
Your proposed typology of the criticisms against President Aquino is very much welcome at a time when his overwhelming popularity seems to be suffocating such criticisms. I fear, however, that I may have failed to express my idea lucidly enough so as to avoid interpretations that diverge from my own intended presentation. Continue reading
Published on April 20, 2010. The first paragraph, written at about the time the “Noy-Bi” campaign took off, now reads like it was composed in another country, or another time.
I THOUGHT Christian Monsod’s heavily nuanced presentation at last week’s Inquirer Briefing was tonic for the battered Filipino spirit. Essentially, he located several sources of hope for the generally successful conduct of the country’s first nationwide computerized vote on May 10, including the improbability of a multi-party conspiracy to engineer a general failure of elections. One aside of his got my particular attention: He raised the possibility that the vice president-elect could be proclaimed first, ahead of the next president, and in a matter of days. This would stop the succession problem in its tracks. Continue reading
Published on January 19, 2010.
This is not an essay in religious psychology, but only a look—via Fr. Joaquin Bernas’ precise theses, John Rawls’ “overlapping consensus” and the underlying philosophy of TV’s “CSI”—at what may well be Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s true legacy.
* * *
I thought yesterday’s column by Father Bernas put paid to the debate over whether President Arroyo should name Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s successor. In 19 succinctly stated points (which he all but apologized for, saying he was forced to “write in telegraphic style” because “there are so many issues involved”), the foremost constitutionalist answered virtually all concerns raised in the debate. For instance: “The only instance I can think of where the presence of the chief justice might be indispensable is when the President is on trial on impeachment. But I cannot see that coming any time soon.”
Like many other political journalists, I am a layman forced to wrestle with legal and constitutional implications on a regular basis. Father Bernas’ theses-style approach, therefore, is useful for cutting through the clutter. For instance, an Inquirer editorial a few days ago took a few paragraphs to assert that Rep. Matias Defensor’s seeming desperation contrasted with the Constitution’s “massive calm.” Father Bernas disposed of Defensor’s panic in two sentences: “The original period proposed for filling vacancies in the Supreme Court was 60 days; it was extended to 90 days without debate … Thus even the Constitution believes that the vacancy can wait 90 days.”
After studiously avoiding the Inquirer for several years, President Arroyo visited the newspaper again on February 2. As was her preference, and our custom, she brought dinner too. In the beginning, she was seated between Sandy P. Romualdez and Marixi R. Prieto, president and board chair respectively, but over the course of the 90-minute dinner Sandy gave up her seat for Letty J. Magsanoc, the editor in chief, and MRP (as she is known in the newspaper) insisted on offering her seat to Joey D. Nolasco, the managing editor. Hence, this shot. Note the improvised nameplate for Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, who sat to my left. He said he happened to be working overtime at the Palace, when the President saw him and asked him to join her for dinner at the Inquirer. (He didn’t seem put out, and indeed proved to be an engaging dinner companion.) To my right sat the formidable Medy Poblador, now accoutered with the rank of cabinet secretary. At the start, Sandy welcomed the President, and said she understood the terms of the discussion to be “no-holds-barred but off the record.” GMA immediately cut in, eyebrows raised: “I didn’t say no-holds-barred!” That night, we kept it light.
Published on November 3, 2009.
In the run-up to the 2010 elections, I hope to write in-depth pieces on the leading candidates, paying particular attention to their electoral strategies. I have already begun conducting one-on-one interviews. I will supplement these with the usual tools: tracking the candidates on the campaign trail, conducting background research on their campaign staff and organization and, well, just plain hanging around. Continue reading
Published on July 28, 2009.
THE ADDRESS. Here, outside the Batasan’s Session Hall, listening to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s ninth State of the Nation Address, I realize something about the character of the Arroyo SONA: It is, essentially, a stump speech, full of symbolic head-patting: “For standing with me and doing the right thing, thank you Congress.” And righteous chest-thumping: “The state of our nation is a strong economy.” And political cheap shot-making: “If you really want to be president,” she said in obvious reference to Sen. Mar Roxas, “don’t say bad words in public!”
This choice of rhetoric is no mere defense mechanism, conditioned by the crisis of 2005. This, for better or worse, is how the President thinks the political class is governed.
* * * Continue reading
Published on April 7, 2009
No, this is not an attempt to add to the literature of “warm spit”—the practice, begun by the Americans, of minimizing the importance of the second-highest office within the gift of the electorate. In the first place, John Nance Garner’s famous quip (the US vice presidency is not worth “a pitcher of warm spit,” he said) may have had some traction during his time as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second wheel; it does not apply to the United States today. Al Gore reinvented the office, and the imperial Dick Cheney used it as base to assert an over-aggressive executive.
Secondly, the charge of political irrelevance does not apply with as much force to Philippine politics. Even the famously self-effacing Sergio Osmeña continued to dominate Visayan politics under Manuel Quezon’s shadow. And ultimate political power was also always within sight. Since the Commonwealth era, six of the country’s 12 vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency: Osmeña, Elpidio Quirino, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Some thoughts about knights in dull, dented armor, with some interesting links; published on January 27, 2009
Who needs martial law, when you have the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002—and Jovito Palparan in the Dangerous Drugs Board?
As any private lawyer worth his salt will tell you, the circumstances behind the dismissal by the Department of Justice of the case against the so-called Alabang Boys are most curious. There may really be something to the allegations, aired by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in both congressional hearings and news conferences, that state prosecutors dismissed the case for several million reasons (only a fig-leafy few of them legal).
But what has happened since the news first broke, last month, is that the sordid story became a morality tale. The opposition’s often hostile treatment of witnesses from the DOJ is easy to understand; they are stand-ins for, effigies of, the controversial justice secretary. But even administration congressmen on the House committee on dangerous drugs have self-evidently chosen to side with the PDEA—reducing the state prosecutors to splutter in defense of their strained English grammar, their selective legal reasoning, even (in the case of state prosecutor John Resado) their unusual personal circumstances. Continue reading
The following passage from Barack Obama’s inaugural address (solid, but without Lincolnesque lift, as I hope to discuss one of these days) must have been aimed at the Putins and Mugabes, but I won’t be surprised if Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will find herself perceived (by her critics and perhaps by others too) as being in the subset of the admonished.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.