In October 2016, Justice Secretary Aguirre was a guest on our radio/Facebook show INQ&A. (We got tired and stopped after some 40 episodes.)
Some readers were puzzled by my seeming sympathy for a justice secretary actively weaponizing the rule of law. But I saw in his descent into the depths the story of many other Filipinos who had lost their way. Today’s scandal over the proposed dismissal of charges against confessed drug lords shows the new lows he and his men have plumbed. Published on September 19, 2017.
At some level, I knew writing this installment in my occasional series on unfortunate appointments was inevitable, but I resisted because I’ve interviewed Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and I thought I glimpsed the essential decency in the man. (Teddy Locsin once wrote about this occupational hazard, of encountering the difference between disagreeable policy and agreeable personality.) Aguirre told me, to my face, that he would not file a case against Sen. Leila de Lima without obtaining the necessary bank documentation, what he called a paper trail. He said he knew from 40 years in litigation that he needed that kind of evidence, and he did not want to lose. That he proceeded to file the case anyway — based on what we can call a finding of improbable cause — proved to me that he was under severe pressure from President Duterte to put De Lima behind bars, even if only temporarily. Continue reading
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.
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 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 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 February 24, 2015.
A student at a “peace camp,” held on the grounds of the Southeast Asia Rural Social Leadership Institute in Manresa, Cagayan de Oro City, raised a troubling, provocative question during a session I took part in last Saturday. Given all the speculation and inaccuracy and rank irresponsibility in media coverage of the Mamasapano incident (these were his premises, shared it seemed to me by many other students in the peace camp, a good number of whom were Muslim): “Does the media even have the right to be believed?” Continue reading
Published on February 17, 2015.
How many Filipinos died in the day-long clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao? Listening to Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago interrogate Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal last week, one would think the answer was 44. If I’m not mistaken, she mentioned the “44 Filipinos” who perished in the cornfields at least twice. In the interview she granted after her dramatic first appearance at the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano incident, she used the phrase at least one more time.
The 44 Special Action Force troopers who died in the costly operation to capture or kill Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, were of course Filipinos. But so were the five civilians who died (presumably) in the crossfire or as part of the operation, including the hapless farmer who (according to his surviving family) had the misfortune of stumbling into an SAF company while on his way to the village center. And so were the 18 MILF rebels who died in the firefight. All told, and assuming that the tally is final (there is a possibility that seven civilians died, not five), the raid on Marwan’s hideout and the subsequent gun battle claimed 69 lives—68 of them Filipino. 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.