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.)”
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?
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 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.
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
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.
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
Written on the afternoon of Monday, August 31, 2015, an hour or so after the Iglesia Ni Cristo protesters left Edsa, and published the following day. The lucky timing led to over 60,000 page views of the original column (my 360th, as it happens), and about 17,500 shares on Facebook. Plus hundreds of very interesting comments.
Wow. What just happened?
As I write this, the smoke has cleared from the Iglesia Ni Cristo protest action on Edsa. The protesters have gone home; the intersection of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue and Shaw Boulevard, the main site of the mass action, has been tidied up; the major satellite rallies in Cebu and Davao have been called off.
Protest organizers eagerly declared “victory” when they announced the end of the protest, saying the thousands of church faithful who had taken to the streets can now go home because the Iglesia ni Cristo had reached an “agreement” with the government. What that agreement stipulates they did not say. Neither (as of the time of writing) has the government.
I am skeptical that any agreement has in fact been reached—aside from the strictly logistical understanding needed to allow the protesters to leave Edsa in orderly fashion. Of course I could be wrong, but it does not seem likely to me that a famously stubborn president like Mr. Aquino, buoyed by renewed popularity and unfailingly loyal to his friends, would abandon Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the altar of political expediency. 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 17, 2015.
The papal visit last January was a forceful reminder that populism is not necessarily a bad thing. Too often identified with the masa politics of Joseph Estrada and other celebrities-turned-politicians, populism in the Philippines was usually understood and practiced as nothing more than an appeal to the basest motive, the lowest common denominator. (Mea culpa.)
In Pope Francis’ embrace of popular piety, animated by his practice of the so-called theology of the people, we find the positive meaning of populism. In “Evangelii Gaudium,” referencing the pope of his formative years in the priesthood, Francis wrote: “Popular piety enables us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on. Once looked down upon, popular piety came to be appreciated once more in the decades following the Council. In the ‘Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi,’ Pope Paul VI gave a decisive impulse in this area. There he stated that popular piety ‘manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know’ and that ‘it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief.’”
Popular piety, then, is founded on a culture of respect for the common life (what a British critic, in an entirely different context, referred to as the ordinary universe). Populism at its heart is not the angry mob or the paid crowd, but the community of the poor and the simple. The emotion that pumps through that heart is not vengeance or self-interest, but “generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism.”
With Mayor Junjun Binay’s blatant appeal to his constituents to protect him from the agents of the government he himself serves, we find the complete opposite. I do not discount the possibility that many of those who ran to City Hall to put up a human barricade against Department of Interior and Local Government officials seeking to serve the suspension order of the Ombudsman did so out of genuine conviction; they were perfectly within their rights. But the statements emanating from Binay and his top allies are another thing altogether. In them we find the irresponsibility of reckless leaders who do not have their supporters’ own wellbeing at heart. Continue reading
Published on November 4, 2014.
I see that my good friend, the eminent scholar Jojo Abinales, has written a deliberately provocative think piece. I think he would be delighted to learn that I disagree with him. He enjoys a good argument, and I will give it to him.
In “It’s the barangays, stupid,” Abinales borrows an expression made famous by US President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign team to highlight an important fact about the 2016 elections in the Philippines: “A glimpse at the balance of power across the nation shows that [Vice President Jejomar] Binay has a clear advantage over [Interior Secretary Mar] Roxas.” He means the balance of local power, in “the provinces and peripheries of the nation.” The Carvillean “stupid” part refers, I assume, to the obvious clearness of this advantage.
He lists the local clans and political blocs likely to support Binay; it is not an exhaustive list (the form dictates that it cannot be). But four to five paragraphs of prominent names do not an accurate political map make; it may or may not be true that “Davao City’s Rodrigo Duterte has not made his choice yet, although rumors are if Binay promises to respect his autonomy, the charismatic and popular mayor will surely vote UNA.” But even if Duterte did, how many of Davao’s 900,000-plus voters will vote with him? Abinales doesn’t show. 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 August 19, 2014.
To many, Mar Roxas’ presidential ambition is a given. I think, however, that a certain ambivalence attends his desire to occupy the one office that exceeded his father’s grasp. My Exhibit A is Roxas’ failure to run for a Senate seat last year.
I understand that if he had done so, he would have forfeited his election protest against Vice President Jejomar Binay. Was this the actual consideration? It is hard to believe that he would have traded a probable campaign advantage in 2016 for the unlikely prospect of a belated election-tribunal victory.
The last time Roxas won a national election unequivocally, he turned heads. He topped the Senate race in 2004, becoming the first candidate in our history to garner more than 19 million votes. Mr. Palengke (a political persona based on his service as trade secretary in both the Estrada and the Arroyo administrations) was suddenly presidential timber. But that was 10 years ago—an entire geological age in political time. Continue reading
On police theater, reenactment drama–and the uses of YouTube. Published on February 5, 2013.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas’ initiative to ban the presentation of suspects without their consent has largely gone unremarked. I happen to think, however, that it is a genuine advance in civil liberties, and may even help improve police performance.
To be sure, it is long overdue; the police practice of presenting suspects in a public setting, with members of the media usually standing in for the public, started many decades ago. Pushing the ban through must have taken considerable political will: There is no groundswell of popular support for the change, and the country’s police culture sees the tradition not only as unproblematic, but indeed as a necessary marking of a procedural milestone.
The Inquirer feedback loop just got fat–or it did, about 15 months ago, some time before this column was published on May 24, 2011.
IN RESPONSE to Monday’s editorial on the designation of Mar Roxas as President Benigno Aquino III’s chief of staff, an online reader wrote, in an angry burst of colloquial Filipino: He hasn’t even started yet, and here you are already taking a shot at him! (I can no longer find the comment online, hence the paraphrase.) Continue reading
Column No. 150, published on July 6, 2010.
The first news reports about Bong Naguiat’s return to Pagcor, this time as President Aquino’s appointee as chair, failed to capture the sense of relief that many employees of the gaming agency felt, now that the Genuino nightmare had come to an end. A Pagcor source wrote me: “His return is a vindication for him, and more importantly, for most Pagcorians. You should have seen the happy faces and the tears of joy that met him last Thursday.” Now there’s a story.
* * *
Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. has come under fire, lately from Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, for lacking the necessary neutrality we should expect in the chair of a Truth Commission. I disagree. As Davide has demonstrated before, especially during the country’s first-ever impeachment trial, he has both the necessary detachment and the essential gravitas to conduct a public and committee-driven investigation. It is Jinggoy, I think, who is incapable of neutrality on the issue. Continue reading
Published on June 1, 2010. When this came out, a colleague of mine in the newsroom said to me: “Marunong ka palang magalit.”
The pompous Pastor “Boy” Saycon presumes to teach me a lesson about unbiased sourcing, but all he really wants to say is, when it comes to the Noy-Bi operation and his participation in it, every source is biased—except for him and those who share his view. Thankfully, he has written a demonstrably erroneous letter; we can profit from his errors by parsing it. Continue reading
Published on May 25, 2010.
I FOUND THE MAY 20 column of colleague and friend Conrad de Quiros most instructive. (I have been reading Conrad for over 20 years; I still get a kick, now that I can refer to him as both colleague and friend, each time I do so.) His column of May 20 sought to straighten me out on the rifts that have started to appear on the surface of the Noynoy Aquino campaign. On some points, I stand happily corrected.
His explanation is illuminating, in large part because of the perspective from which it was written. He has provided an up-close-and-personal view whose authoritativeness is unmistakable. My sourcing, on the other hand, is strictly secondary; I was never at the key meetings or most of the events. My sourcing, too, is a work in progress; I am still gathering all the necessary facts. But I do have many sources inside the Noynoy camp, and they come from more than one side. And they include volunteers bewildered by the turn of events, including the sudden emergence, from within the campaign, of the Jojo-Binay-for-vice-president option (Noy-Bi, in current political shorthand). Continue reading
Published on May 18, 2010.
The iconic Conrado de Quiros and the redoubtable Billy Esposo, two columnists I look up to and who have never been less than generous with me, have written recent columns that strike me as more partisan than necessary, or indeed as intended. On the junking of Mar Roxas, Noynoy Aquino’s running mate, Conrad has written much the more nuanced analysis; Billy’s defense of this political maneuver is ruder and rawer, and thus harder to digest. But I hope I am not mistaken in taking their columns (the second part of Conrad’s is in today’s edition) as all of a piece.
I trust they will forgive my temerity. Continue reading
I did not realize, before I wrote this particular column, that I would be asked later in the week to write “teasers” about the debate for the front page. if I had known, perhaps I would have decided differently. Published on February 2, 2010.
Allow me to write about the sense of growing excitement shared by the many people working behind “Inquirer 1st Edition: The Presidential Debate.” Since Friday, hundreds of Philippine Daily Inquirer and INQUIRER.net readers have been submitting to the newspaper the questions they would like posed before the candidates. On Monday, campaign staff representing eight presidential candidacies were formally briefed on the process flow and logistics of the candidates’ forum. (A ninth was invited but could not make it.) And on Wednesday and on three other occasions this week, various panelists will meet to practice for the event, which takes place on Monday, Feb. 8, at the University of the Philippines. Continue reading