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 August 7, 2012.
The Judicial and Bar Council, meeting this week to agree on a short list of candidates for chief justice, would do well to remember one specific untruth Renato Corona said at his impeachment trial. He infamously began his premeditated walkout from the Senate trial by intoning the words, “The Chief Justice of the Philippines wishes to be excused.” But in fact, there is no such office, and therefore no such official.* Continue reading
Published on July 31, 2012.
President Aquino is wrong to think that the fundamental nature of news has changed. But he is entirely in the right when he calls journalists to account according to journalism’s own standards. Unless, of course, journalists think those standards are only meant to be paid lip service.
“Negativity” in the news—the word the President used in his remarks at BusinessWorld’s 25th anniversary rites last Friday—has become the shorthand defining what an ABS-CBN story online would later call his “scolding spree” against the media, even though the real controversy erupted only after the President directly criticized ABS-CBN anchor Noli de Castro at the 25th anniversary party of the iconic “TV Patrol” newscast, later that same Friday. 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
Another difficult piece to write, because as I say at the very start, I do like Harry Roque. Published on July 19, 2011.
I like Harry Roque. I do not mind that he styles himself, in his own blog, as an activist lawyer, because in fact that is what he is. I remember him best for his prominent role in the effort to impeach Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, at a time when almost all of the political cards seemed to be stacked against the opposition. I met him for the first time at a conference in Hong Kong last year, where we served on different panels; I took to him immediately. I saw him as a family man and a patriot, the kind of affable Pinoy who seeks out other kababayan when travelling abroad.
His latest turn in the headlines, however, outraged me. In an attempt to head off any further debate on the possible uses of Zaldy Ampatuan’s testimony, he irresponsibly politicized the issue by claiming—without any evidence—that the so-called Balay faction in the Aquino administration was behind an effort to draft the former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as a state witness in the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre case. Continue reading
Column No. 200. A second attempt to categorize the types of criticism leveled against the second President Aquino, published on July 12, 2011.
Last August, about six weeks after his inauguration, I tried to distinguish the “types of criticism [already] being leveled against President Benigno Aquino III and his administration” by identifying three patterns in the criticism. That attempt, under the column title “‘Politico’, ‘Inglisero’, ‘hacendero’,” drew a vigorous response from several readers. To the most lucid rejoinder, by Herbert Docena, I ceded my column space the following week. Continue reading
The second of three Rizal columns written in June 2011. Published on June 21, 2011.
The idea that Rizal was prickly, sensitive to slights and quick to take offense, was a criticism he himself heard again and again. On Oct. 9, 1891, for instance, while preparing to leave for Hong Kong (and eventually to return to the Philippines), he declined his great friend Ferdinand Blumentritt’s suggestion that he resume writing for La Solidaridad. “I have suggested many projects; they engaged in a secret war against me. When I tried to make the Filipinos work, they called me ‘idol,’ they said that I was a despot, etc. …. They said that Rizal is a very difficult person; well, Rizal clears out.” Continue reading
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
A difficult piece to write, for obvious reasons. Published on March 22, 2011.
IT PAINS me to disagree with the dean of Filipino journalists, at whose last book launch, in October 2008, I had the happy privilege of serving as grateful emcee. But on the issue of the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, I think the eminent Amando Doronila is fundamentally mistaken. Continue reading
A skirmish on Twitter. Published on March 15, 2011
ALMOST THREE weeks ago, Sen. Gringo Honasan and musician Jim Paredes traded taunting tweets. That doesn’t sound like much, but in fact the harsh exchange turned out to be both controversial (it animated online discussion and was reported as news) and consequential (it raised substantial questions, for instance about the nature of historical awareness and public discourse in the Age of Twitter). It also drove home the point that the legacy of Edsa 1986 remains very much a work in progress. Continue reading
It’s a process, not an end-state. Published on February 8, 2011.
THE AQUINO administration’s pledge of right conduct and good governance does not mean the repeal of human nature. In my understanding, the promise of daang matuwid (the straight and narrow path, in biblical terms) is not a guarantee that all corruption will be eradicated. Rather, it is a commitment to honest public service, with an assurance that, when corruption does rear its fetching head, the government will not stand transfixed, but will move immediately to cut it off.
The right biblical analogy, in other words, is to the reality reflected in the first Psalm, which speaks of two ways of life: that of the upright and that of the wicked. It is not an analogy to the Apocalypse, which speaks of the final days and the overthrow of the old. Continue reading
It may be best to think of this piece as the middle part of a trilogy of columns; it responds to the previous column, and it is followed by a detailed counter-response. Published on January 25, 2011.
IN THE last few months and until last week, I had been more or less incommunicado, completing a book project. But I was never completely out of the loop, and when I found out that Sen. Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri had written our publisher a lengthy letter in reply to my column on Sen. Loren Legarda and Zubiri’s case at the Senate Electoral Tribunal last week, I asked for a copy. His letter, it turns out, is too long for our Letters page (we cannot accommodate anything more than 3,000 characters long). Instead of sending it back to him to cut it down to the right size, however, I thought of running it here instead. I have done exactly that in previous instances, and I am only too glad to do the same thing for him. 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
This one was a doozy; feedback was both loud and intriguing. TV5’s new media-issues show Journo ran a comprehensive report on the entire Mai Mislang fiasco and its aftermath. Published on November 2, 2010.
Mistakes are inevitable in the practice of journalism. With the sheer amount of information that must be processed in preparing a newspaper or producing a newscast or publishing a website, it is almost impossible to get everything right: to make sure that every spelling is correct, every detail double-checked, every fact verified.
This is not to say that accuracy is an irrelevant principle; indeed, it is of paramount importance precisely because it is a difficult ideal. Continue reading
A “psychological” reading of the second President Aquino, published on October 25, 2010.
Consider this a belated meditation on President Aquino’s first 100 days in office.
I was one of those who applauded his decision to immerse himself in prayer, before throwing his hat into the presidential ring. It seemed to me that he was not only doing the right thing; by going on retreat in Zamboanga City, under the spiritual direction of a nun who was close both to his mother and to him, he was doing the characteristic thing. That is to say, the retreat was character-revealing. Continue reading
Every now and then I use my column space in the Inquirer to run someone else’s counter-argument. This one, published on August 17, 2010, was, as we have learned to say these days, a real winner.
It is a pleasure to cede today’s column space to Herbert Docena’s elegant, carefully considered reply to “‘Politico,’ ‘Inglisero,’ ‘hacendero’”—last week’s first attempt to classify the types of criticism leveled, this early, against President Aquino. I do not agree with all of Herbert’s points, and with one key assumption of his, but all that is for another time. It is to his instructive reply (I’ve deleted a few passages, to fit the available space) that we first ought to pay attention:
Your proposed typology of the criticisms against President Aquino is very much welcome at a time when his overwhelming popularity seems to be suffocating such criticisms. I fear, however, that I may have failed to express my idea lucidly enough so as to avoid interpretations that diverge from my own intended presentation. Continue reading
Got a whole lot of feedback on this column, which was published on July 13, 2010. Quite a few of the letters seemed to have used the column as permission to bash away at the media; many others were more thoughtful, reflective.
Journalists have been in the news lately, and not always in a good way. I think, for instance, of the redoubtable Ellen Tordesillas, a reporter-blogger I admire, tangling with Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo. “Tangle” may not even be the right word to describe her encounter with the country’s chief diplomat. She argued with Romulo, passionately and even heatedly, in a news conference called by the Department of Foreign Affairs, about the legality of retaining political envoys for a few more months. Romulo sought to put an end to the discussion by talking about judgment calls: This is mine; deal with it. (He did say it more diplomatically.)
Ellen defended her conduct as professional: It’s part of my job, she said. Continue reading
Of the many interesting reactions to the two-part column on Renato Constantino’s Americanized view of Rizal, Sonny Melencio’s was the most detailed, the most thought-out. A shorter version of his original letter (whittled down to under 3,000 characters, the limit for letters) was printed on July 6, 2010 in the Letters to the Editor page.
Constantino’s view of Rizal still valid
John Nery’s critique of Renato Constantino’s “Veneration Without Understanding” (Newsstand, Inquirer, 6/15/10 and 6/22/10) may be summarized by the following point: that Jose Rizal was depicted by Constantino as unworthy of being a nationalist hero, a reformist who repudiated the Philippine revolution and whose rise to preeminence was mainly due to American sponsorship.
There is nowhere in Constantino’s writing, however, where Rizal is depicted as “counter-revolutionary” nor an “insufficiently nationalistic” figure. Continue reading
Second of two parts, published on June 22, 2010.
Of the many false choices that are splayed throughout “Veneration without Understanding” like so much faulty electrical wiring, the most charged, it seems to me, is Renato Constantino’s argument from Americanization. “Although Rizal was already a revered figure and became more so after his martyrdom, it cannot be denied that his pre-eminence among our heroes was partly the result of American sponsorship.” And again: “History cannot deny his patriotism … Still, we must accept the fact that his formal designation as our national hero, his elevation to his present eminence so far above all our other heroes was abetted and encouraged by the Americans.” And yet again: “His choice was a master stroke by the Americans.” Continue reading
Published on June 8, 2010. I forgot to include in my short list in the first paragraph one unexpected encounter with a Pacquiao fan: In Hong Kong, a Sri Lankan war reporter asked me: So, do you know Manny Pacquiao? When I told him that as a matter of fact I had covered a training camp of his in Los Angeles, his eyes lit up, and he started talking, in fascinating detail, of Pacman’s most recent fights.
On business trips in recent weeks, I got a first-hand look at the worldwide fame of Manny Pacquiao. Whether it is a banker in Hong Kong or an airline employee in Jakarta or a taxi driver in Singapore, Pacman is now “top of mind,” when talk comes round to the Philippines.
It was in the last encounter, with a pleasantly loquacious cab driver on the (relatively) long drive to Nanyang Technological University [in Singapore] last Friday, that I began to see a pattern—and an idea began to seize me. 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
Published on April 13, 2010.
It was a real privilege to serve as a resource person at a roundtable conference organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology last week. I hope to set aside some space sometime soon to discuss the provocative insights of eminent economist Emmanuel de Dios, the other guest speaker; for now, allow me to acknowledge the stimulating company of National Scientists Gelia Castillo, Mercedes Concepcion and Teodulo Topacio Jr., as well as (ceteris paribus!) of Deans De Dios and Raul Fabella of the UP School of Economics. Continue reading