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
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
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
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.)
Published on March 8, 2016.
A MONTH into the official campaign period, we can say confidently that there is real movement in the surveys and that the presidential race remains a tight one. This is the central paradox of the 2016 elections, and it may well be solved in the same way Zeno’s famous paradox was solved: by walking.
In the closest presidential contest since 1992, it may be the campaign which has logged the most kilometers, and put in the most hours on the road, that will win in the end.
The tightness of the race seems to me to be magnified by the composite nature of some of the voter allegiances. I have been puzzling over this aspect of the race for some time, but I do not know if I have found the right language with which to describe it. Consider this a first pass.
Let me start with the obvious: Each of the candidates has a core following, a base of support that will vote for them no matter what. If we anchor our count on the last eight Social Weather Stations surveys going back to November/December 2014, we can for purposes of discussion equate each candidate’s lowest rating as the size of his or her loyal base. In this view, both Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sen. Grace Poe have a support “floor” of 21 percent; we can extrapolate from this number and say that a fifth of voting-age survey respondents will vote for Binay and Poe, each, no matter what. Former interior secretary Mar Roxas has a floor of 15 percent, while Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte enjoys a core support of 11 percent. (In the first of these eight SWS surveys, Duterte actually registers only a 5-percent rating, but that poll was taken before the mayor became serious about his presidential ambitions.) Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has a support floor of 2 percent.
Published on February 23, 2016.
I wanted to devote today’s column to the astonishing handpicked hypocrisy of the Rappler lawsuit against Commission on Elections Chair Andy Bautista, but perhaps another day or another format. For now I wish to write about some of the sidelights I witnessed at the first presidential debate last Sunday in Cagayan de Oro.
Let me start at the beginning, and with a confession: When the program started, I was overcome by excitement. (I don’t think I am betraying confidences if I say that my seat mate in the front row, Comelec director James Jimenez, was uttering his “Oh, wows,” too.) The fact that all five presidential candidates were in attendance, standing at their No Bio, No Boto lecterns and ready to make the best case for themselves, inside a campus in my hometown and before a live TV and online audience, struck me as a small but significant victory for our imperfect democracy.
A top political strategist advising one of the presidential candidates described the series of Comelec debates (the next one is on March 20 in Cebu, the third on April 24 in Dagupan) as a “game changer.”
I do not know whether that is in fact the truth, but it has the potential to be true. The failure to attend last Sunday’s debate would have been damaging for any of the candidates, especially when one considers that that failure would have been witnessed by tens of millions of Filipinos who watched the show in their homes, at their workplaces (on their phones, according to some of the sales clerks in Centrio Mall), even (quite literally in the case of supporters of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gathered in Divisoria in Cagayan de Oro) in the public square.
Published on February 9, 2016.
EVEN A stranger passing through the Philippines must know that the official campaign period for national positions at stake in the May 2016 elections starts today. This might be a good time to review our readings of the major presidential candidates, but now from the point of view of their vulnerabilities. In the series of “path to victory” columns I wrote last year between Aug. 4 and Sept. 8, I did touch on the question of losing, but only briefly—and from the perspective of the respective campaigns.
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. Let me start with Sen. Grace Poe, whose fate now rests with the Supreme Court.
In “Grace Poe’s path to victory” (Opinion, 8/25/15), I ventured that the 2013 Senate topnotcher had “the twin disadvantages of a newcomer. She has not yet had time to plant firm roots for a nationwide network of her own, and she faces residency issues. (Because she is a foundling, her Filipino citizenship cannot be in question; the law is clear. But then again, the Supreme Court found a way to justify Renato Corona’s midnight appointment as chief justice, and Juan Ponce Enrile’s petition for bail in a nonbailable case.)” Continue reading
The last of the “path to victory” series, published on September 8, 2015.
I think Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is genuinely conflicted about running for president. His “big announcement” yesterday afternoon categorically renouncing a presidential bid must have dismayed his emerging network of supporters; at the same time, he must have been acutely aware that a genuine draft is extremely rare in Philippine politics. Did he do the right thing?
Last month, I tried to assess the election prospects of Mar Roxas and Jojo Binay: two declared candidates for whom not running is not an option. (It is a mistake to think that Binay will avoid a presidential campaign to ease the political and legal pressure on his family; becoming president is the vice president’s best defense.) I also tried to weigh the chances of a reluctant Grace Poe; as a first-term senator, she has the option to run again for the Senate in 2019. Duterte falls in this second category; he is on his seventh term as city mayor. Having taken a break from running Davao City in 1998 by serving in Congress (where he says he was bored beyond tears) and then again in 2010 (when he served as vice mayor), Duterte can look forward to two more terms in City Hall.
Also, and even though he doesn’t look it, he is already 70; he is just a few years younger than Binay. When he visited the Inquirer several days ago, he was forthcoming about where the strongest resistance to any presidential plan lay: his family. The summary he offered of his family’s main argument was in metaphorical Bisaya: Why are you even thinking of running, when you’re starting to walk with a limp? When he left the newsroom past midnight, after more than three hours in the hot seat, he did seem to have a slight but detectable kink in his walk. Continue reading
Published on August 25, 2015.
I want to deconstruct the instructively skewed political analysis of self-described “observer” Serge Osmeña, senator of the Republic, but this exercise will have to wait. Having started with a reading of Mar Roxas’ possible “path to victory,” and having followed that up with a look at Jojo Binay’s still very viable track, I am bound to consider Grace Poe’s own chances of winning.
Can Poe win? The objective answer is clear: Yes, she can. Will she win? As the current frontrunner, the odds are in her favor; if experience is any guide, however, it is in fact still too early to tell. We should have a better idea by early next year.
Reducing these banal facts to writing will strike many as an overbelaboring of the obvious. Surely the trends are clear? As recorded by both Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia, the trend lines since the second half of 2014 have been on the up and up for Poe, downward for Binay, a roller-coaster ride for Roxas. The smart money must be on Poe. Continue reading
Column No. 357. Published on August 11, 2015.
We should ask the same questions of the first declared candidate for president that we asked of the second. Thus: Can Jojo Binay win in 2016? Despite the recent loss of his frontrunner status, the objective answer must still be yes. Will he win? We should have a better idea by March next year.
Again, these answers are a belaboring of the obvious—except that President Aquino’s endorsement of Mar Roxas as his preferred successor has colored partisan analysis by sharpening the contrast between the two political rivals. There is now a palpable sense of excitement among Roxas’ supporters, especially among the true believers, that because the endorsement was announced at the right time and in exactly the right way, momentum is on Roxas’ side.
That remains to be seen. The plans of Sen. Grace Poe, the popular political newcomer who topped the Senate elections in 2013, are very much a factor; indeed, Roxas and his chief lieutenants are still busy wooing Poe to join his ticket as vice presidential candidate. (I think even the seating arrangement at the head table in the so-called show of force by Roxas’ political allies in Greenhills, San Juan, last week was designed with Poe in mind: Roxas was seated between Mr. Aquino on his left and two prospective running mates on his right, the popular actress and accomplished politician Vilma Santos-Recto, governor of Batangas, and civil society favorite Rep. Leni Robredo.)
And Binay is not exactly standing still. A week after the President’s State of the Nation Address, he offered his own “true” take on the national situation; he used the occasion to deepen his criticism of the administration he used to serve.
Can he win? The necessary conditions are there. Continue reading
Published on August 4, 2015.
CAN MAR Roxas win? The objective answer is yes. Will he? The most realistic answer is: It’s too early to tell.
I find myself belaboring these obvious points, because the theory—or the narrative, if you will—that Roxas is a sure loser is making the rounds again. (For a couple of days after President Aquino endorsed Roxas as the Liberal Party candidate for president in the 2016 elections, the news and social media environment for Roxas turned decidedly favorable. Call it the endorsement bump.) But some of the same people who thrill to the possibility of a Miriam Defensor Santiago presidential run (which would be her third), or declare confidently that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has the right strategy and enough money to lay claim to the presidency, sweepingly discount Roxas’ chances because of his “low” ratings. But in the June 2015 Social Weather Stations survey, only 4 percent of the respondents saw Santiago as one of the three best leaders to succeed President Aquino, while only 3 percent listed Marcos. About a fifth of the respondents, or 21 percent, included Roxas in their list. 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 October 7, 2014.
Director General Alan Purisima, the country’s controversial chief policeman, bought a sport utility vehicle last year worth about P4 million for only P1.5 million. Why did he enjoy such a substantial discount? His answer before the Senate committee on public order a week ago could be fairly summed up as follows: Because he was offered a substantial discount.
If Purisima were investigating a crime, would he accept his own answer at face value? It is an explanation that does not explain, and only fosters suspicions about his dangerous and apparently recently acquired naivete.
A skeptical Sen. Grace Poe gave him polite but pointed advice: “I’m not saying it’s your fault that you were able to get it at a discounted price. But you should have taken a second look at that big a discount… Ask yourself, why is this being given to me at a cheaper price?”
But does the chief of the Philippine National Police really need advice about motives, criminal or otherwise? That the car dealer has no dealings with the PNP, as Purisima said at the Senate hearing, does not make the sweetheart deal aboveboard; the lack of a direct relationship between dealer and organization only means that other relationships may be at stake. At least that is how we expect Purisima and other police officers to think, when a public official is offered a discount large enough to make the sale unprofitable. Continue reading
Published on September 30, 2014.
Much has already been said about the incident involving Budget Secretary Butch Abad and a score of student protesters at the University of the Philippines the other week. Inquirer reporter Erika Sauler’s summary sentence, in a report she filed a few days after the incident, can serve as a helpful wrap-up: “As he exited the auditorium [and made his way] to his vehicle, a group of protesters from Stand UP (Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP) ganged up on him, calling him a thief as they threw crumpled pieces of paper, placards and coins in his direction.” Other reports described one protester grabbing Abad by the collar.
Regardless of where one stands on the issue, whether the students were justified in their violent protest or not, the incident seems to me to demonstrate that words in fact have consequences in the real world. 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 June 24, 2014.
Malacañang may not be ready to admit it, but the 2016 campaign has already started in earnest. I would like to review certain assumptions I used in previous elections, to test whether they remain valid (as I obviously thought then) or they need updating. 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 last of a series of seven election-related columns, an attempt to understand Grace Poe’s stunning first-place finish in the Senate race. Published on May 21, 2013.
Apparently, there was a sympathy vote for the late, defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. At least that is what many commentators, both professional and on-Facebook-only, assure us is the meaning of Grace Poe’s 20 million votes.
I can understand why the senator-elect sees her unexpected victory as vindication for her father; it is harder to understand why so many seem to think that that is the only meaning. Or why—and this is my main argument—there should be only one explanation.
Some readers misunderstood this column as a concatenation of endorsements, less than a week before the election. My purpose, however, was to do as I did the week before the 2010 vote, and come clean with my choices. Published on May 7, 2013.
That line is from “The American President,” a political romance starring Michael Douglas which the incumbent American president recently described (for comedic effect, but not inaccurately) as “Aaron Sorkin’s liberal fantasy.”
The quote comes from a climactic speech, which to my mind best expresses the view that it is personal character—not platform or policy or ideology—that matters most in politics. (I’m tempted to rank this speech right up there with Charlie Chaplin’s, at the end of “The Great Dictator,” if only because it is less abstract, more grounded.)