Published on November 10, 2015.
LIKE MANY other Filipinos, I went to register for my biometrics on the last possible day. It wasn’t the original plan, of course, and in fact I did go to the first special registration conducted in our barangay hall and also to another one held in a nearby mall. Both times, however, I was late; by the time I got in, the cut-off for the line had already been reached. No excuses—I should have gone months earlier, when it would have taken a few minutes, perhaps less than 10, to complete the entire exercise.
Instead, I ended up going to Quezon City Hall at dawn on Saturday, Oct. 31, where I waited in line for nine and a half hours. Like I said, no excuses.
But standing in line confirmed key lessons I learned from queueing for other purposes, in other places. I do not mean to place the hard-working staff of the Commission on Elections, or the staff of Quezon City Hall, under a harsh light; indeed, some of the lessons were confirmed by what they did, not by what they failed to do. I do want to offer constructive criticism, for the next time a government agency or a private institution needs to manage, and engage, a queuing crowd. Continue reading
Published on November 3, 2015.
I GOT the sense that the earth made an extra revolution or two last month; so much history was being made.
In the Philippines, the middle of October was the time for prospective candidates to file their certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections. Despite the carnival-like atmosphere and the unprecedented number of applications for president, the filing period brought clarity to the country’s favorite pastime of politics.
Of the many words that filled the airwaves and the column inches and the digital pages, those of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte were the most awaited and the most analyzed. He had to decline the presidential draft that has been following him for the last several months not only once (at the start of the week) but twice (in the last hours of the filing period). On Monday, Oct. 12, he read a statement that repeated his many attempts to decline the draft, and then added: “We have a problem in the family, and in the order of things, you do what is closest to your heart.” (This was what he told the Inquirer last August.) 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 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
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
Yesterday, at a public function, a Cabinet secretary’s first words to me were, “Not now, Bam”–a playful, slightly imprecise reference to the following column, which was published on September 4, 2012.
Bam Aquino was my student at the Ateneo de Manila all of 17 years ago; he was, in a word, outstanding, the sort of student a teacher remembers long after the last papers have been marked. I still vividly remember the distinction he once proposed, just right after one particular class ended, between “convince” and “persuade”—the first was an appeal to reason, the second an appeal to the will—which I found a little too categorical for my taste then, but whose explanatory power I understand with greater clarity today.
Now Bam wants to run for the Senate; I have no doubt that he would excel in it—but I urge him not to run. Not next year, and not in 2016. Like many others, I believe that the Aquino family has sometimes served as history’s instrument; there is a family legacy we can all reference (even those critics who cannot stand the Aquinos can hold them accountable according to that legacy’s own terms). Continue reading
The last column I wrote in 2011, before I left for a year-long fellowship with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. The feedback–to the subject of the column, not to my departure (or so I think!)–was overwhelming. Published on August 9, 2011.
The scene was surreal: the old cheat was visibly moved by the resignation of the young cheat, and praised the young man’s moral courage and sense of dignity. Apparently, there really is honor among election thieves.
For those of us with a long memory, Juan Ponce Enrile is the unlikely but altogether fitting benchmark for Juan Miguel Zubiri’s act of resignation. Even though Enrile did not lose the first dagdag-bawas case filed against him by Koko Pimentel’s father, involving allegations of cheating in the 1995 elections, Enrile did own up to massive election fraud—in 1986, during the heady four days of the Edsa revolution, when circumstance and strategic candor made him admit that he had cheated for Ferdinand Marcos in the snap election.
That made his reluctance to accept Zubiri’s resignation both an acute reflection of Philippine realpolitik, and an apt reminder of the many times our country has lost its way. Continue reading
The third part of the Zubiri trilogy, published on February 1, 2011. I must say that, on at least one crucial aspect, the ex-senator was telling the truth: He had kept a gentlemanly silence, and was provoked to complain about me only after I had taken another senator to task.
EITHER CONFLICTED or callously cynical. Or both. But whichever way we read Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri’s letter of complaint against me (which I ran in this space last week in full and unedited), I think the reasonable reader can reach only one conclusion: It is incoherent.
In language shriveled by nine years in the House and three years in the Senate, Zubiri first sought to stake a claim to higher ground. “This Representation strongly respect [sic] all opinions and criticisms as one of my advocacies is to uphold the freedom of expression and freedom of the press.” And then he turned around and attacked his own supposed advocacy: “It [he means both freedoms] should not be utilized to malign a person’s reputation much more mislead the public by presenting twisted facts and biased opinions.” Continue reading
Published on January 18, 2011.
A SIMPLE but stirring sight—I thought the photographic record of Sen. Loren Legarda’s recent courtesy call on Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma (Myanmar) was definitely newsworthy, and could have elicited more supportive commentary. The fate of the Burmese democratic icon should be of the greatest concern to Filipino democrats, for reasons both personal (we see in her another Cory Aquino, a reluctant symbol of the democratic struggle) and collective (her fate reflects the fate of the long-suffering Burmese people).
But I suppose Legarda’s celebrity, and the nature of her fame, got in the way. Continue reading
Published on November 16, 2010.
Don’t look at me; I had to look up the meaning of the word too. I had stumbled on it in Christian Monsod’s “excellent lecture” on the 2010 automated elections (the phrase is Mahar Mangahas’, from his column on expert assessments last Saturday).
At first I thought it was a mistake; it seemed out of place in Monsod’s congenial English. Turns out it is an exact term in rhetoric, meaning a figure of speech, often
used for comic effect, in which the latter half of the line redefines the
meaning of the first. A classic example would be Henny Youngman’s famous joke,
which begins as though offering his wife as an example of something: “Take my
wife … please!” (Badaboom.) The end recasts the meaning of what comes before. Continue reading
A first attempt to “classify” about six weeks’ worth of criticism against a new administration and the new President. I forgot to explain, to the non-Filipino reader who may stumble upon the column, that “Inglisero” meant English-speaking. Published on August 10, 2010.
I became interested in the types of criticism being leveled against President Benigno Aquino III and his administration, now all of six weeks old, when he was criticized soon after his proclamation for, essentially, fulfilling a campaign promise. Criticism is vital to public discourse, of course; in opinion journalism, it is nothing less than the primary function. But it can and ought to be studied and critiqued. Continue reading
Published on August 3, 2010.
Last week, a series of editorials in the Inquirer discussed various aspects of President Benigno Aquino III’s first State of the Nation Address, starting with a piece entitled “What he said.”
I would like to respond to that first editorial by writing about what President Aquino did not say—in the obvious hope that what he left out proves to be as revealing, of his frame of mind if not of his priorities, as what he left in. Continue reading
Published on July 27, 2010.
By the last of the Arroyos, I do not mean Mikey Arroyo, who returned to Congress Monday as the “prince of security guards”; or his brother Dato, for whom a gerrymandered duchy was carved out of Camarines Sur; or indeed for their mother, the queen herself, the new representative of the second district of Pampanga. The last Arroyo in national office is the dauphin Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Do I protest too much? Zubiri is not even related to the Arroyos (at least as far as I know). And I am certainly biased in favor of the senatorial candidate he cheated, who is a friend from childhood. But if there is a national politician who follows the Arroyo political template, who can be considered Arroyo’s true political heir, then it is Zubiri. (I am happy to say that I am not alone in thinking of Zubiri as Arroyo redux. Manuel Buencamino, to cite just one example, has written a strongly argued case for it.) Continue reading
Another gratifying inbox-filler, published on July 20, 2010.
In Surabaya, Indonesia, where I did some research over the weekend, we can find one answer to what, for lack of a better term, we can call the “Fall of Bataan Complex.” Someone afflicted with that complex tends to ask: Why do we celebrate our defeats? And tends to add, indignantly: We must be the only country in the world that does that!
Actually, no. In Indonesia, Heroes Day is marked on Nov. 10, the date hallowed by tradition as the start, in 1945, of the Battle of Surabaya. In fact, clashes between the pemuda (youth) and some of the remaining Japanese soldiers, and between the pemuda and the British forces perceived as preparing the way for the return of the Dutch, the former colonial rulers, had been taking place since September. But it was on Nov. 10 that a predominantly British allied force launched a major offensive against the Indonesians. The ensuing battle lasted almost an entire month, with superior Allied resources and discipline proving decisive. But the famous “arek-arek Suroboyo,” the under-equipped, under-trained youth volunteers of Surabaya, fought so fiercely, so valiantly, that no one could any longer doubt, not even the Dutch, that the Indonesians were ready to die for “merdeka.” Surabaya proved to be the beginning of the end. Continue reading
Published on June 29, 2010. Howie Severino, editor in chief of gmanews.tv, gave my idea (calling the new President “P. Noy”) the benefit of a public workout (thanks, Howie!), but eventually decided on the more elegant, and more tech-friendly, “PNoy.”
I don’t know if my editors will agree with me, but I think the way to render President-elect Noynoy Aquino’s preferred short name is not ‘”P-Noy,” with a hyphen, but “P. Noy,” with a period. The hyphenated name is a made-up term, justified in part, if I’m not mistaken, by the Internet-era habit of “intercapping.” (Eg, CompuServe, MasterCard, YouTube.) Nothing wrong with that, but why choose something made up when you have something ready to hand?
“P. Noy” accurately captures what we think when we wish to say or write “President Noy.” In other words, the abbreviation of “President” into a solitary “P,” with its emphatic period, comes naturally to us. Read over almost any correspondence, even in today’s fleeting e-mails, and the abbreviations we use in daily life are reflected in it. I vote, thus, for “P. Noy.” 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
On the same day this column came out, Agence France Presse ran the following story. I got my copy through the ABS-CBN news website, which ran the story under the head: “Internet fuels RP election smear campaigns.”
MANILA, Philippines – Philippine politics has plunged to ugly lows ahead of next month’s presidential election as candidates take advantage of the Internet and mobile phones to smear their rivals, analysts say.
Among the worst examples, front runner Benigno Aquino has had to deal with a hoax psychiatric report claiming he is mentally ill and took drugs, while his main opponent, Manny Villar, has been accused of lying about his dead brother. Continue reading
The first of a two-part review of the must-read book of the year. Published on March 30, 2010.
On the copyright page of “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court,” Marites Vitug’s must-read book-length investigation of the Supreme Court, we find an inadvertent change in the subtitle. SHADOW OF DOUBT, we read, and underneath it: PROVING THE SUPREME COURT.
I think the case can be made that typographical errors are publishing’s equivalent of movie-making’s continuity gaffes, which Graham Greene, in a previous incarnation as film critic, and channelling Jean Renoir (I think it was), referred to as part of the unconscious poetry of films. I certainly like the accidental, new subtitle. It tells us what we need to know about the book: it “proves” the Court, in the sense of trying and testing it. Continue reading
Published on March 23, 2010. After this came out in the newspaper, a friend asked me online: Are you still friends with Caloy (Conde, the NYT’s Philippine correspondent)? My answer, then as now, almost four months later, is the same: Why ever not? We both believe in robust public discourse.
My apologies, in advance. The column title above is a shameless attempt at a rhetorical stunt: to show a form of the so-called media filter at work.
Headlines, you see, are an information-compression device. A headline packs an entire story, or more, into a few words. But who was it who said that to summarize was to betray? Sometimes a headline, or a column or a report, or even an entire series, can betray the truth itself, by giving a distorted picture of the subject of the coverage or commentary. A reader who has time to read only today’s column title may likely end up with a distorted picture of the column’s thesis or of the column itself. Continue reading
The second of three “inside-their-head” profiles of presidential candidates, after Villar. Published on March 16, 2010.
I understand that Cathy Yang has left Bloomberg; a great pity. I thought she was one of the best business anchors on air, not because she was one of our own, but because she was the sort of deeply competent but self-effacing journalist the on-air reporting of business news requires. She wasn’t cast in the Betty Liu mold: flick your hair every few seconds, insinuate your personality into the interview, and so on. Maybe that was the problem, at least in the eyes of Bloomberg executives. Well, they need new glasses.
* * * Continue reading
In response to my critique, Tatad wrote a lengthy letter explaining his attack on surveys of the SWS and Pulse Asia kind. My counter-reply. Published on March 9, 2010.
Ex-Senator Kit Tatad wants an “intelligent debate” on the uses of surveys. I am happy to oblige.
In reply to my Feb. 23 column mocking his new-found anxiety over the perfidy of political pollsters, he wrote me a lengthy letter; I am reprinting it below, albeit with some editing in (missing commas, etc.) and some editing out (three less-important paragraphs, etc., to give me space, about 1,500 characters worth, for my response). But I have refrained from inserting my answers into his letter, reserving them for the end. Continue reading