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 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 July 14, 2015.
THE HUNDREDS of comments in response to last week’s column, on “The misery of the Filipino,” were largely empathetic; many shared the same deep sense of possibility and the same sense of sharp frustration. The response inspires me to take the next step and ask the unavoidable question: What are we doing wrong?
A Malaysian academic swears some of the best medical doctors in Singapore are Filipino. (I think some of the best bankers, too.) A Thai media executive investing in digital believes, or rather simply assumes, that his regional website should be developed by “creative” Filipinos. A famous New York City-based newspaper designer describes a Filipino colleague as “the best art director in the world.” I know a Filipino manager who is the consultant of choice of one large American enterprise doing business in different parts of Africa. Many of us can offer our own examples of Filipinos doing excellent work abroad.
The pattern of excellence can assume large-scale form, on the level of entire countries or industries. Indonesian companies have Filipino corporate executives working at the highest levels. Some of the world’s best universities have Filipino students at the top of their class or doing pioneering research work. Filipino architects have helped shape the skyline in Brunei; Filipino engineers have helped tame the deserts of the Middle East; Filipino mariners have helped define the modern maritime industry.
And yet, back home, this pattern of excellence is difficult to find. The continuing MRT fiasco and the unresolved scandal of the Mindanao blackouts are defining failures of the Aquino administration, but the cause of the “misery of the Filipino” I wrote about—“the unhappiness of a citizen seeing her country being left behind”—is not merely political, goes beyond the lifespan of single administrations. The endemic corruption, the absence of “gleaming infrastructure” to match those of neighboring countries, even the lack of discipline at traffic intersections or indeed on any road where jeepneys and tricycles can load or unload passengers anywhere, at any time: These and similar conditions of life in these islands go way back, some right past Rizal’s generation. Continue reading
Published on May 12, 2015.
LAST WEEK, “the present and past deans” of the UP College of Mass Communication issued “Fact or Fiction?” a strongly worded statement expressing “its [sic] grave concern over the highly unprofessional coverage of the Mary Jane Veloso story by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.” In particular, the deans (only four of them, not all of those who have served in the position, as the definite article seems to imply) criticized the Inquirer for the reports it carried in two issues: those of April 29 and 30.
There is no quarrel, I have no argument, with the first point of criticism. (And please allow me to be clear: What follows is my personal opinion, not the position of the newspaper that has been home to me for almost 15 years.)
“In its April 29 headline and story (‘Death came before dawn’), the PDI quite dramatically announced the execution of Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia, an execution which it turns out never actually happened because Veloso was given temporary reprieve.” This was a major error, one compounded by the melodramatic and meme-friendly phrasing of the headline. The newspaper apologized for the error twice, first on Wednesday mid-afternoon through a statement circulated on other Inquirer platforms, and then on the front page of the newspaper on Thursday. The apology came with a resolve to do better: “We are revamping newsroom processes to better inform and serve our readers and stakeholders.” 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 February 10, 2015.
Last Friday, in a news analysis for Inquirer.net, I raised “three points to consider” for a public about to view President Aquino’s nationwide address. Official sources had given assurances that he would use the occasion to announce Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima’s resignation. But, given the circumstances, the mere announcement of acceptance was not, could not have been, enough.
There were at least three threshold questions the President had to answer. That he ended up answering only one suggests to me that the theological concept of “patterns of sin” (and therefore of redemption) might apply, if only analogically, to understand Mr. Aquino’s latest televised address—and that he was sticking to the pattern again. Continue reading
Published on February 3, 2015.
The powerful statement issued by the Ateneo de Davao University has rightly been seen as an impassioned, compelling plea to “return to the work of peace.” That work has never been easy; the lessons learned from the secretive negotiations over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which doomed that peace initiative, have added to the difficulty. (Those who claim that the negotiations that led to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its four Annexes were not sufficiently consultative have an unreasonable definition of sufficiency, or consultation, or both.)
I must say, however, that I am uncertain whether I can agree with an important premise of the statement’s. The following question it raises is a loaded one: “Does the suspected presence of a terrorist wanted by the United States warrant that we break our agreements with the MILF?” This was unfortunately phrased, because in fact the Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir better known as Marwan was also a threat to the Philippines, and was therefore wanted by the Philippine government too, with at least two arrest warrants against him. Yes, the $5-million bounty on his head (I cannot find the source of the information that this had been raised to $6 million) was part of the US State Department’s controversial Rewards for Justice program. But as the officer in charge of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police attests, stopping Marwan was worth the sacrifice of 44 SAF troopers, because the number of lives saved from future terrorist attacks would have been greater. He was talking about Filipino lives.
The problematic premise is the concept of unnecessary violence. “Why did we again take the path of guns and violence and covert secret action to solve any problem, when we had already chosen, we had already agreed, that we would take the path of negotiation, consultation and trust to solve problems?” The answer, it seems to me, is that Marwan and the Jemaah Islamiyah are not parties to the peace process. Continue reading
Published on November 11, 2014.
Shortly after President Aquino marked his 100th day in office, in 2010, I wrote a column attempting an analysis of the new commander in chief’s self-evidently well-defined sense of limits. The unfortunate controversy over his decision to omit Tacloban City from his packed schedule commemorating the first anniversary of “Yolanda” over the weekend reminded me of that attempt; perhaps (if you will allow me) it bears a second look. 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
Published on August 12, 2014.
Sociologist Herbert Docena’s characteristically astute reply to last week’s column is too long to fit into the Letters page; I am happy to use this space to run it in full. My comments follow:
It is always an honor to be criticized by John Nery, one of our country’s most thoughtful and most gracious columnists.
Nery accused me of taking an “ideological shortcut” in making my argument that the real difference between President Aquino and the likes of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada is that he represents the more sophisticated, because more far-sighted, factions of our ruling classes: He uses public funds not so much to directly enrich himself or his family but to indirectly enrich his clique or his entire class (“What’s the difference?” Opinion, 7/18/14). 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 July 15, 2014.
I will hazard one reason why only the youth groups associated with the militant Left filed a plunder case against Budget Secretary Butch Abad last week; when the gaping hole at the center of their case becomes obvious even to reporters who are not lawyers, the complainants can always hide behind their mistake by pleading the exuberance of youth.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon led other youth leaders in filing the complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman, accusing Abad, the architect of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program, of having “systematically misappropriated, converted, misused, and malversed public funds through his executive issuances and the programs implemented by him as Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management.” Last July 1, the Supreme Court recognized the DAP as effective government policy but ruled, unanimously, that the means by which it was implemented violated the Constitution.
Because of the amounts involved, the youth groups filed a case for plunder. Republic Act No. 7080, the law “defining and penalizing the crime of plunder,” is perhaps best known for its P50-million threshold. But the heart of the plunder law, as passed by the Eighth Congress (that is, the first one in session after the plunder of the Marcos years), is the very Marcosian concept of “ill-gotten wealth.” Continue reading
Published on July 8, 2014.
I have written more than once on the integrity and competence of Butch Abad, whom I first met in the early 1980s. He has always seemed to me to represent the virtues of the transformational politics the Jesuit provincial at that dangerous time, Fr. Ben Nebres, asked student activists to envision; nothing in his political career since then has caused me to change my mind. Not his agonizing tenure at the Department of Agrarian Reform, not his quixotic bid for the speakership of the House of Representatives, not his leadership of the Liberal Party at a turbulent time—and certainly not his stewardship of the government’s entire budget apparatus since his good friend assumed the presidency in 2010.
But as architect of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) declared unconstitutional by a unanimous Supreme Court, he is the man most responsible for President Aquino’s worst political loss; the ruling on the DAP, in the words of the Inquirer editorial yesterday (Monday), was “an almost complete defeat for the Aquino administration.” He must bear the full weight of that responsibility, and resign. Continue reading
Published on June 10, 2014.
There is a concerted effort to pin Budget Secretary Butch Abad to, well, something, anything. Alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles swears she learned her evil trade from Abad (a risible claim that has since been expertly demolished by columnist Solita Monsod). The information that he paid only P8,150 in taxes in the three essentially jobless years before joining the Cabinet, information that was available since at least 2010, suddenly became news. And the datum he himself supplied in his most recent statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, that he has nine relatives by blood or marriage working in the government, has been transmogrified into a sweeping claim of nepotism—with the number now inflated to 11.
I have always known Abad to be an honorable man; in July 2010, at the start of the second Aquino administration, I was moved to defend him (and his wife Dina and their daughter Julia) in this wise: “It pains me to see the incorruptible Abads suffer so much speculative intrigue, when anyone who knows them at all can testify, not only to their commitment to public service, but also to their integrity.”
It has been four years, and I haven’t seen any evidence that would make me change my mind. If the worst that can be thrown at him are Napoles’ attempts at fiction or Rep. Toby Tiangco’s shoot-from-the-hip accusations or PR man/columnist Yen Makabenta’s glittering generalizations, then Abad remains the same man I have looked up to all these years: the competent Catholic exercising his faith as engaged, and honest, politician.
So why Abad? Why this orchestrated campaign to paint him as the real mastermind of the pork barrel scam or (failing that) as the face of daang matuwid hypocrisy? Any citizen sufficiently attentive to recent events would know who the real target is: President Aquino, at a time of intense political drama. But why Abad in particular? 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 February 18, 2014.
Almost a hundred days ago, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed President Aquino in the aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” It was not a winning moment. Annoying speech tics, factual slip-ups, outright exaggerations—and I’m just talking about Amanpour.
Mr. Aquino did not do very well; he tried to describe a national government that was, to use the familiar phrase, on top of the situation, but five days after the supertyphoon devastated parts of Central Visayas, especially the unfortunate city of Tacloban, the government was in fact still looking for its bearings. Was he covering up for the chaotic reality on the ground, or was he determined to not play the helpless leader of a helpless country? Or was he just talking through his storm-soaked hat? The feedback on social media that I followed was overwhelmingly negative. Continue reading
Published on January 7, 2014.
When Reuters ran an analytical piece on the “backlash” against President Aquino on Nov. 15, a week after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” swept through central Philippines, I sent a message to one of my friends in the wire agency. “Did you compare raw satisfaction (74% in Mar 2013) with NET satisfaction (+49, Sept 2013)?”
Like many at that time, my assessment of the Aquino administration’s response had swung from the initial thumbs up the day after the storm (when we interpreted the lack of news from the disaster areas as good news) to an emphatic thumbs down several days later, when the question of leadership was very much in the air (and on the Inquirer front page). “Who’s in charge here?” Indeed. Continue reading
The fourth edition, as it were, of an annual roundup of anti-Aquino criticism. Published on November 26, 2013.
At least once a year in the last three years, I’ve tried to document the patterns of criticism directed against President Aquino. I got started because of what I thought was unfair criticism; I continued partly because of the vigorous, sometimes orientation-altering feedback, and partly because tracing the patterns can be instructive and useful to understanding politics, Philippine-style.
The documentation is hardly comprehensive; my so-called field notes are only preliminary; indeed, as I wrote at the get-go about the patterns I discerned, “there are others, some of them perhaps better objects of study than the ones I’ve chosen.”
From intuitive processes to systematic errors. Published on November 5, 2013.
Inquirer colleague and top business journalist Dax Lucas raised an interesting point on Facebook a few days ago. Linking to an image of the Inquirer’s Oct. 31 front page, which carried the headline “P-Noy: I am not a thief,” he wrote: “A key tenet in psychology and communications: the mind edits out words like ‘not’. So avoid stating in the negative.”
I thought it was interesting advice, because the President did not in fact say those exact words. I phrased my comment as a question: “Curious: Does this tenet work in languages other than English, such as the Filipino Noynoy used?”
Dax acknowledged my response, and graciously said he needed to study the matter, but others following the conversation immediately volunteered that, yes, the communications axiom worked in non-English languages too.
Column catch-up, all over again. This piece was written after the so-called Million People March, and was published on August 27, 2013.
In August 1999, or just over a year after the popular Joseph Estrada took office as the country’s 13th president, a major protest rally brought the Makati central business district to a standstill. A hundred thousand people, perhaps 120,000 at the most, occupied the intersection of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas; they were there, mainly, for three reasons: They went to signal their disapproval of the Estrada administration’s Charter change campaign; they went to sympathize with the plight of the Manila Times, then recently shuttered, and the Inquirer, then undergoing the second month of an unprecedented advertising boycott, both in circumstances many believed to have been orchestrated by Malacañang; not least, they went because Jaime Cardinal Sin and Cory Aquino asked them to.
Questions, plus an infographic on the jump page. Published on February 12, 2013
In its “Ten Facts about President Aquino,” an illustrated information sheet distributed to help mark his birthday last Friday, Malacañang emblazoned Facts No. 11 and 12 under an image of the President: that he was the 15th President of the Philippines, and the fifth President of the Fifth Republic.
Is he? The usual list of the country’s presidents begins with Emilio Aguinaldo, who proclaimed Philippine independence on June 12, 1898. (The same day, incidentally, when Apolinario Mabini came to work for Aguinaldo; Mabini did not approve of the proclamation he had no part in writing.) We then skip an entire generation, and resume our count in 1935, when Manuel Quezon becomes the first president of the Commonwealth. In 1943, when the Philippines is under Japanese occupation, Quezon is reduced to leading a government-in-exile in Washington, DC; and Jose Laurel becomes president of a parallel republic. On Quezon’s death in 1944, Sergio Osmeña assumes the presidency; in May 1946, he loses the presidential election to Manuel Roxas. Roxas retains the presidency when the Commonwealth is dissolved and a prostrate Philippines is granted independence on July 4, 1946; he is followed in office by Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos.
Published on November 27, 2012.
Do journalists, generally speaking, earn higher salaries than civil servants? The pattern of views I heard at the Media Nation conference over the weekend, which dwelt on corruption in the media, suggests that the reality is dramatically different—especially in the provinces.
In fact, almost everyone at the conference agreed that “local” journalists (a label, by the way, that many of those working in provincial newspapers or radio stations despise as insufferably Manila-centric) are more vulnerable to corruption. A large part of the reason is their economic situation. It should be self-evident, of course, that economic need alone does not explain the prevalence of corruption, in media or in other sectors. The knowing reader or viewer can easily name a handful of already wealthy media personalities for whom corruption is (or looks to be) a way of life.
But if the testimony of veteran media professionals is any guide, need can drive the desperate to extremes.
Published on November 13, 2012.
Say this for that much-disparaged American invention, the Electoral College: It makes a convincing mandate possible in a closely divided nation. While Barack Obama won the popular vote by Lincoln’s whisker—a simple majority of 51 percent to Mitt Romney’s 48 percent, according to NBC News—he won well over three-fifths of the 538 electoral votes at stake. (The popular vote margin was some 3.3 million votes, much lower than the 10-million vote differential recorded in the 2008 election.)
The “main argument” for the use of the College then, as Timothy Noah of The New Republic manages to mention in a thoughtful post proposing the abolition of the institution, “is that it manufactures majorities.”