Oct 05

The Explainer: Lies, damned lies, and drug statistics

A Vice documentary on shabu in the Philippines. Note the reliance on informants and the figures quoted by officials



The Explainer: Lies, damned lies, and drug statistics

by Manuel L. Quezon III


OPINION: Lies, damned lies, and drug statistics

The Explainer: By Manuel L. Quezon III

Posted at Oct 05 2016 06:22 AM

A Vice documentary on shabu in the Philippines. Note the reliance on informants and the figures quoted by officials.

In The Explainer last week, I took a look at the “War on Drugs,” and how it owed its origins to the Arroyo administration, which in many ways created the blueprint for the current efforts of the present administration. Starting in 2001, the government put in place a policy that considered illegal drugs as a threat to national security; and along the way, it pioneered methods and relied on officials, who continue to play a prominent role in the ongoing “War on Drugs.”

Which brings us to the title of this week’s entry: it comes from a saying attributed to Mark Twain who in turn said it came from the British statesman Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” What he meant was that even a weak argument can gain strength from invoking an expert.

In the formulation of government policy, numbers matter: they are the foundation for policy. Other factors, such as intelligence, are taken into account, as well. When you mash together the two –data and intelligence—they can either reinforce or contradict each other.

But we should take into account a phenomenon among policymakers, particularly among CEO’s. It’s a simple phenomenon: with the huge number of facts and figures CEO’s have to absorb, it’s reasonable to assume that only a few will stick. That is why, as one businessman once told me –and I have observed this in government executives as well—you will often find CEO’s attached to particular numbers and stubbornly dismissive of other numbers that do not mesh with the ones that stick in their minds.

That being said, it seems to me that it would be helpful for all concerned to explore the official numbers as they exist, to see what they tell us –or not.

First of all, the impact of illegal drugs on our population. Here, I noticed last week that the numbers quoted from year to year varies. The President himself as one observer pointed out, has pegged the number of addicts at 3 million, 3.7 million, and 4 million.

Here are estimates on illegal drug users in our country comes from a survey put out on a regular basis by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB). The DDB figures are an estimate of drug users (meaning, including casual users), and not addicts.

The figures are reported in turn by others, including the US State Department.

So what does the chart above mean? The first set is based on what the US State Department reports every year. So you can compare the figure for the Philippines, with those of some our neighbors, specifically Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

You will notice that the number seems fixed at 1.7 to 1.3 million. Why is this so? Either someone in the State Department was lazy, or they kept being fed the same figure by the DBB –because even in 2012, the DBB kept saying the estimate was 1.7 million. Then it became 1.3 million and didn’t budge.

I mention this because, if you look at the DBB actual reports and not the numbers reported by the US State Department, the DBB has estimated drug users in various years at 3.4 million (1999), 5.8 million (2002), 6.7 million (2004), 1.7 million (2008), 1.3 million (2012) respectively.

The most recent DBB estimate (for 2015, released on September 19, 2016) stands at 1.8 million.

To confuse you further, in the same report, the DBB estimates the number of Filipinos aged 10-69 years old who have used illegal drugs at least once in their lives stands at 4.8 million.

But at least this range of figures explains many of the numbers thrown around (including by the President): it really depends not only on your source, but the particular survey year results you looked at.

The problem is that none of these numbers represents addicts, specifically. Again: the DBB figures are all-inclusive, from the most minimal, occasional, use to outright addiction.

Still, the DBB figures also tell us something else –if use, however casual, is considered a sign of a larger problem. The biggest increase would have been from 1999-2004, when the estimate went from 3.4 million to 5.8 million to 6.7 million; while the period 2008-2016 saw the estimate range from 1.7 million to 1.3 million to 1.8 million. In other words: if DBB figures are your basis, then the height of the drug problem was from 1999-2004.

Before we move on, let’s take a look at a different set of information, which also comes from the DDB.

These figures tell us how many men and women went in for treatment from 2009-2015, and how many did so as outpatients, and how many were cases of readmission. Aside from these broad numbers, the DDB also provides a kind of profile of the drug abusers that end up in treatment facilities.

DDB’S PROFILE OF DRUG ABUSERS (Facility Based: Residential Facilities) CY 2015

• AGE: Mean age of 31 years

• SEX: Ratio of male and female 14:1

• CIVIL STATUS: Single 49.13%

• STATUS OF EMPLOYMENT: Unemployed 53.20%

• EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT: College Level 28.34%

• ECONOMIC STATUS: Average Monthly Family Income Php 10,172.00

• PLACE OF RESIDENCE: Urban (specifically NCR 43.89%)

• DURATION OF DRUG-TAKING: More than six (6) years

• NATURE OF DRUG-TAKING: Poly drug use (abuse of more than one (1) drug)

• DRUGS/SUBSTANCES OF ABUSE: Methamphetamine Hydrochloride (Shabu) Cannabis (Marijuana) Cocaine

What the above tells is that first of all, the figures are limited by where they came from: people specifically undergoing rehabilitation in facilities, most of which would be in urban centers to begin with. It is also a snapshot of a population in an advanced state of addiction, which does not include the young. So those who end up in government rehab are primarily poor, unemployed, under-educated men with a history of taking different kinds of drugs over several years.

Here’s another figure that is problematic. This time, it’s not from the DBB but the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). In the 2015 PDEA annual report, it said, “The National Capital Region remains to be the region with the most number of drug-affected barangays having 92.26% of its total barangay affected. It is followed by Regions 4A with 49.28%, of its barangays affected, and Region 7 with 48.82% of its barangays affected.” It does not specify what constitutes being “affected,” though you can assume it is a combination of finding marijuana plantations, meth labs, or where drug busts took place. But that is merely an assumption. For that reason, while on the surface the statistics are shocking (and even larger totals in terms of the total number of barangays nationwide supposed to be “affected”) it does not seem particularly precise.

Now let’s take a look at what’s been going on over the past few years. Here we rely on numbers from the PDEA and the Philippine National Police (PNP). PDEA, in the 2015 report I mentioned above, says “For the year 2015, shabu remains to be the main choice of drug abuse. As evident in the data on drug-related arrests, 95.47% is related to shabu. It is followed by marijuana at 4.29%.”

So let’s take a look at the drug haul:

The figures include gross and monthly average figures, and those for some neighboring countries for comparison. They seem respectable, overall, though uneven and spotty at times (see ephedrine for example). You find a jump in the drug haul from 2012 onwards after a dip from 2010-2011, which roughly corresponds to the years the DBB reported the number of users to have dipped, then started rising again.

And who catches the most, comparing PDEA and the PNP:

In the chart above, you see a difference between what PDEA hauled in, according to the US State Department (INCR) and its own annual reports (AR). In some cases, there is no difference: only the State Department report on PDEA figures is there; but sometimes (see 2011 and 2013 gross figures for methamphetamines for example) the PDEA State Department and Annual Report figures will vary slightly, or greatly.


The PNP for its part, reported its own figures. They seem spottier than PDEA’s, though a spike in confiscations can be seen 2013-2014. Compared to the PDEA’s, the figures from the AIDG (which cover the period 2010-June 2016) are slightly higher, but this is because the PDEA reported incomplete yearly tallies that cover specific periods (e.g., January-July, January-October), in addition to the longer time frame of the AIDG numbers.

Which underscores a basic insight from these figures. They do not reward cursory reading; careless reading can only create a policy calamity. So take a cue from the title of this piece, if there are lies, damned lies, and drug statistics, much of it can be pinned down on the careless examination of facts not least because they vary according to source.

The DDB’s fluctuates widely and seem to have stuck in policymaker’s heads. When it comes to numbers in the Philippines, then, the variety of sources –some reflecting more recent figures than others– can be confusing for the casual reader. Consider the following:

• The 2008 survey by the Dangerous Drugs Board or DDB estimated that there are 1.7 million users of illegal drugs in the country, which was cited in the 2009 and the 2016 International Narcotics Control Reports or INCR of the U.S. State Department. (This estimate is lower compared to the 3 million users frequently mentioned by President Duterte in media interviews.)

• Statistics from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency or PDEA were used in the INCR country reports, while numbers from the PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Group or AIDG were cited in the recent series of PCIJ articles.

• Compared to the PDEA’s, the figures from the AIDG (which cover the period 2010-June 2016) are slightly higher, but this is because the PDEA reported incomplete yearly tallies that cover specific periods (e.g., January-July, January-October), in addition to the longer time frame of the AIDG numbers.

Or, imagine yourself a policymaker and trying to make sense of these three reports:

• Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 1, 2015: “PDEA tells Poe that its last survey in 2008 show there were 1.4 m drug users. Next survey – conducted every 4 yrs–is next year” (Tweet by @10avendano)

• Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 23, 2016: “Mr. Duterte said the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency had placed at 2 million the number of drug users and pushers in the country two years ago. He said the present estimate was 3.7 million.”

• Senate report: 3M drug users (2016 INCSR report only says 1.7M per DDB)?

So to try to put some order into this riot of facts and figures, let us end where we began last week. If the “War on Drugs” began in 2001, it is relevant to look at what was said, at the time, to be the benchmark for success of that war.

Whether one agrees with it or not, state policy says drugs are a problem. If on the whole we are at par with our neighbors in terms of the scale of the drug problem (and it is a problem), we seem to have been fairly active over the past decade about doing something about it (admittedly, on slim data, with only one figure from Indonesia for comparison, at least from the State Department reports).

What then, does state policy say about how the problem should be approached, and therefore, judged as far as success or failure are concerned?

President Arroyo in 2009 –when she announced she would be the anti-drug czarina—laid out the three components of an anti-drug campaign:

The war shall be waged from three fronts, a trinity against illegal drugs:

Law enforcement is the first component.

Judicial action is the second.

Policy-making will make up the third front of this all-out war, a comprehensive policy consisting of prevention, enforcement, rehabilitation and after-care.

If we look at this Trinity, we can break down what’s happened over the past six years as follows (the following is culled from, and paraphrases, the relevant reports).

First, in terms of law enforcement, including interdiction. These are culled from official reports, including those mentioned in the State Department annual summary per country.

• 2010

o a significantly less volume of methamphetamines was confiscated compared to the previous year (222 kg of meth in 2010 vis-à-vis 931 kg in 2009); no “industrial-type”, super meth laboratories were detected by the authorities, which can be attributed to the observation that transnational criminal groups have shifted to smaller-scale, “kitchen-type” meth labs that are easier to conceal

o the significantly higher volume of cocaine seizures compared to the preceding year was due to the discovery of a Chinese vessel off the coast of Eastern Samar, carrying 1.9 MT of South American cocaine

o according to the DDB, 8% of drug cases are dismissed before going to trial, 7% result in conviction, 8% result in acquittal, and 76% remain unresolved; drug cases are often dismissed due to technicalities such as irregularity or illegality of arrest, non-appearance of witnesses, inconsistent testimonies of witnesses, mishandling of evidence, and unreliable police laboratories

• 2011

o increased interagency cooperation under the Aquino administration led to a 45% rise in counternarcotics operations; 9,850 operations were conducted from January to October 2011, which is higher than the 8,452 operations in the same period in 2010

• 2013

o the 2013 UN Transnational Crime Report estimated that the Philippines had 960,000 meth users or 2.1% of the adult population aged 16 to 64—one of the highest rates in Asia

o the INCR noted that a small but increasing number of foreigners are reported to be using the rehabilitation centers in the country, possibly due to high quality counselors and low costs relative to overseas treatment

o the 2014 SONA Technical Report noted that,

“Campaign against Illegal Drugs. In 2013, PDEA and other law enforcement agencies, conducted 11,474 anti-drug operations, which resulted in the arrest of 9,162 persons, confiscation of illegal drugs with total estimated value of P5.43 billion, and filing of 10,502 cases in court.”

• 2014

o Due to budget constraints, no new enforcement officers were recruited by the PDEA, while 16 agents were removed from service due to offenses like corruption and grave misconduct; these could explain the increase of only five agents in PDEA’s roster between 2013 and 2015.

• 2015

o According to the PDEA, 8,629 barangays (or approximately 20% of the country’s villages) reported drug-related crimes

Second, in terms of judicial action:

• According to PDEA, “From 2002 to 2012, a total of 80,580 drug cases were filed nationwide. Out of this number, only 14,087 cases ,or 17.48%, were resolved, while the remaining 66,493 cases, or 82.52%, are pending in courts. The resolved cases are broken down as follows: 17.48% conviction; 26.71% dismissal; 43.64% acquittal” ?

• The Department of Justice in 2011 reconstituted its Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Task Force, to conduct preliminary investigations and prosecutions of drug cases and ensure local politics do not influence the prosecution of drug cases.

• President Aquino in 2013 signed Republic Act No. 10586 or the Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act, which penalizes drivers under the influence of dangerous drugs, among others.

• The DDB’s “Peer Group Against Drugs” program expanded its membership from 36,000 members in 2011, to 60,000 members in 2013.

• The NAIA Inter-Agency Anti-Drug Interdiction Task Group was formally inaugurated (with U.S. support) in 2013, while five more anti-drug interdiction task groups were formed at major airports (including Clark International Airport) in 2014.

Third, in terms of policy, including legislation, which sets policy:

• Legislation was amended in 2014 to make anti-drug operations, specifically in the chain of custody requirements, more realistic and simple to law enforcers, and prevent widespread dismissal and acquittal of drug suspects. The amendment boosted the morale and motivation of counternarcotics officers.

• The PDEA in 2015 has 16 regional laboratories that employ 28 forensic chemists, two laboratory aides, and 18 laboratory technicians, and 34 drug detecting canines (K9) deployed in 13 regional offices.

What about now? The Philippine National Police has made the case for itself twice to date, before the Senate.

By its own measure, the PNP says people are safer now than they were a year ago.


But of course the main area of public concern is the amount of killings, as the slide below points out.



But it would be better if you, the reader, review the PNP presentations for yourself: 


Senate Hearing, EJK by TADIDM

Just some quick observations on the slides, particularly from the latest presentation:

1. How were they able to get a daily average if period is until December 31, 2016? (see slide 5)

2. While daily average of robbery and carnapping fell by 50.5% and 52.7, respectively (from July 2015-June 30, 2016 to July 1 to August 7, 2016), the daily average of robbery increased from 39 to 53 on week 6: even after daily average of murder (assuming they’re EJKs) increased from 35 to 39.(Although, can carnapping statistics even be relevant to drug-related crime stats when one might assume they’re another kind of crime syndicate or activity altogether?)

4. Trends: murder increased 62.4% –while robbery dropped only 29% and homicide cases even went up 13.3%

5. Index crimes distribution data cover both previous and current administration; one wishes the Senate asked to compare rape statistics for the previous and present administrations, since rape is always used to justify EJKs.

6. Why are there AFP personnel involved in anti–drug ops?

But these are just observations. Thing is, the PNP having to be hauled before the Senate, and having to explain itself concerning body counts, tells us how different the landscape is today from what it was, a year ago.

Let me pause at this point, to return, briefly to the figures we saw near the beginning on the number of people in rehab.

Last year, the DDB claimed, “An increase of thirty percent (29.86%) admission compared from the previous year was noted which may be brought about by the following: Intensified advocacy program of the government to convince families to love and support those who have drug problems and need to undergo treatment and rehabilitation; the continuous improvement of treatment and rehabilitation programs, methodologies, facilities and service; and conduct of In- house seminars and dialogues to better serve those who need interventions.”

But of course the situation has now changed, since the emphasis of the authorities is different. Which brings me to my final set of points.

Last night, addressing mayors from throughout the country, President Duterte said it would be akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul, to divert funds from other national needs, to rehabilitation for drug addicts (yet earlier that day, government television had Tweeted a photo of proposed drug rehabilitation camps to be established in military reservations). His views on judicial action, furthermore, basically boiled down to what he announced was his advice to policemen who might face cases due to the ongoing war on drugs: you should invoke your right to be silent, he said, referring to Congress and human rights investigators. As for judicial proceedings, he repeated what he has often said before: should cases end badly for policemen, he would freely grant pardons.

By the standards set by President Arroyo, then, President Duterte is not a Trinitarian. His focus is too well known to have to go into, here. But one point has to be made: precisely because his strategy is to neutralize, by one way or another, the network of distribution of drugs and eliminate the lieutenants on whom drug kingpins rely, his strategy relies overwhelmingly on intelligence.

He admits intelligence has been flawed.

Just yesterday, the PNP pledged it would “revalidate” its intelligence on Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili.

He has also asked for an additional six months for the “War on Drugs,” though often mentions the problem may outlast his presidency. Still, he vows total support for the police.

He says he recognizes the international nature of the problem and that he will take it up with China (see China believes it has nothing to do with the Philippines’ drug problem, no matter what Duterte says).

Where does this leave the public? The body count remains the top of mind issue. So much so that over the weekend, the administration had to soothingly suggest that a new era was nigh:

“We encourage everyone to join the anti-drugs campaign of the Government as we now enter the second phase which includes treatment and rehabilitation and education and counseling of drug dependents,” a Palace statement in response to the looming Ateneo-LaSalle game said. But as I’ve mentioned, yesterday the President showed no definitive signs of being on board this new phase –how can he? He already asked for a deadline extension.

The prospects of a quick war turning into a drawn-out one, involving a possible intensification of the campaign, thus continues to spread unease, as a recent brisk discussion between cops and homeowners suggests. A comment in a Facebook conversation provides this insight into what transpired (I will not link to the actual comment to spare the privacy of the commenter):

“A bit of background… The meeting was attended by Vice Mayor Belmonte, top police officers of QC, and officers of the so-called “gated subdivisions” of QC’s third district. Topping the agenda was the proposed protocol for Oplan Tokhang’s implementation in the subdivisions. Three or four of the associations did not want their areas visited. The proposal about “drug-free” stickers came from them and a couple of the groups who were worried about the effect of the visits on the price of their real estate. And these triggered the discussion and disagreement, aka clash. Majority of the attendees approved the protocol in principle.”

And here lies my final point. If intel is one problem, then the continuing lack of information for the broader public is another (setting aside the larger question of human rights).

The other day, in a forum in the Ateneo de Manila on the drug situation, a person in attendance asked, since details on how Operation Tokhang is carried out are vague to public, if a person ends up on the list, how would one go about asking to be removed from it? At first the answer was vague, and eventually, the answer was, talk to the Senior Police Intelligence Officer. What about rehabilitation plans? No uniform rehab/recovery plans. Another follow-up question was, since the source of illegal drugs includes outside sources, has the government addressed smuggling through border patrols? The answer was, not yet. It will be covered by Tokhang Program II.

What that is, or when it will take place, is yet another great unknown.

(I would like to thank the following for their assistance in going through the data and in the preparation of tables and charts: Cocoy Danao, Rachel Peralta, Adrian Baccay, and Marco Harder.)


Additional Readings:

See President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Letter of Instruction No. 1, s. 2001, mandating a “National Anti-Drug Program of Action.”

See the PNP’s Investigative Directive 2016-12: Additional Policies and Guidelines in the Conduct of PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Campaign Plan: “Double Barrel.”

See Bernard Ong’s Facebook post looking at the official statistics.

See PCIJ’s Big kill of small fry, puny drugs haul, defies PNP rules;   Duterte’s drug war snares 20,860 women ‘surrenderees’; Epicenters of fatalities in the war on drugs; Seized by cops, too: Shabu, Ecstasy, acetone, chloroform, muriatic acid; War on drugs: No EO signed by DU30, a chaos of numbers.

Drug Abuse Prevention Among Children Philippine Initiatives by Cornelio G. Banaag Jr., MD and Edwin Daiwey contains a very useful overview of the development of anti-drug policy in the Philippines, and insights into treatment issues concerning children. 

See also The Explainer for February 16, 2009

An overview of American anti-drug policy can be found in this document in the Stanford University website.

Moving forward, the question of how nations should tackle drugs was tackled in the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) 2016; the opening salvo of this effort was an op-ed piece by Kofi Annan (February 22, 2016): Lift the Ban! Kofi Annan on Why It’s Time To Legalize Drugs; also, see this op-ed by Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia: As Colombia’s leader, I know we must rethink the drugs war. You may remember that he came to Manila for Apec as a guest.

You can also consult the sources of official data used above, as follows:

The Philippine National Police PPT presentations to the Senate:


Senate Hearing, EJK by TADIDM 10.3.2016

International Narcotics Control Report (US State Department, 1999-present)  

Country Report on the Philippines – 2016 

Country Report – Malaysia – 

Country Report – Thailand – 

Country Report – Indonesia – 


Philippines – 

Thailand – 

Malaysia – 

Indonesia – 


Philippines – 

Thailand – 

Malaysia – 

Indonesia – 


Philippines – 

Thailand – 

Malaysia – 

Indonesia – 


Philippines – 

Thailand – 

Malaysia – 

Indonesia – 


Philippines – 

Thailand – 

Malaysia – 

Indonesia – 


Philippines – 

Thailand – 

Malaysia and Indonesia – 


UNODC – Trends and Patterns of Amphetamine-type Stimulants and New Psychoactive Substances (2015)


UNODC – Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment: Amphetamine-type s mulants and new psychoac ve substances (2014)


UNODC – Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs: Challenges for Asia and the Pacific  (2015)

Recent Statistics and Trend Analysis of the Illicit Drug Market


World Drug Report


Drug Prevention, Treatment and Care 

Asia’s ATS Epidemic: The Challenges for China


PDEA Annual Reports


2011 Executive Summary 

2011 National Anti-Drug Accomplishments 

2012 Executive Summary 

2012 National Drug Accomplishments Part 1:

2012 National Drug Accomplishments Part 2:

2012 National Drug Accomplishments Part 3:

2012 National Drug Accomplishments Part 4:




Dangerous Drugs Board

2010 – 

2011 – 

2012 – 

2013 – 

2014 – 

2015 – 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.






Oct 01

Obituary: Mother of Dragons

Obituary: Mother of Dragons

The mixed legacy of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago

(SPOT.ph) One of my early assignments as a writer for the Philippines Free Press was to interview two presidential candidates for the 1998 polls. The first was Emilio Osmeña. The second was Miriam Defensor Santiago. Both were maverick candidates. Osmeña was crusading against “Imperial Manila,” while Santiago was fighting against what my publisher at the time, Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., branded as the administration “party of thieves” on one hand, and the know-nothing populism of Joseph Estrada on the other.

While Osmeña’s candidacy was somewhat interesting, conceptually, Santiago’s was riveting, personally. The former exhibited all the limitations of the professional politician: cold, calculating, and at times, condescending; the latter was not just good copy, she was a witty conversationalist; she was one of the most charming individuals I have ever met.

She was welcoming, of course: in her own home and not some bland hotel. She had that ability to set a younger person at ease by expressing genuine interest in you, that I have only seen in one other person in our public life, Imelda Marcos.

She gestured to her garden. “I think we will be more comfortable there,” she said, and proceeded to open one of those flimsy aluminum doors that barred the way to the sunny paradise we were headed. At which point the entire door came off its hinges.

She stood there, holding the door in both hands, framed by the aluminum latticework.

She beamed. You could almost visualize her thought bubble: Tee-hee.

You know that toothy grin. But you can’t possibly imagine her supreme aplomb.

“I see we might be better off staying here in the living room, don’t you think?” She positively cooed.

She and I struggled with the door, until someone came to our rescue and we proceeded to chit-chat on her couch. I faithfully recorded our conversation and wrote it up, but what stuck in my mind was that supreme moment of self-assurance, tempered by humor. And a whole lot of charm.

The problem with many politicians and even officials is of course that they tend to take themselves too seriously. So there has to be a special place in Heaven (that otherwise probably unreachable place for people in high office) for those who can laugh not only with you, but at themselves.

But we do not remember Miriam for her charm, though to the end she had that rare gift; in the final 2016 presidential debate Rodrigo Duterte was a kitten in her hands, and she gave her fellow Ilonggo Mar Roxas a parting bouquet by way of an exchange on the meaning of excellence.

We remember Miriam for breathing fire; for taking on the otherwise untouchable among her peers, for her ability to heap abuse and make a scene.

If content is king, her being the queen of sound bites meant she was the durable sovereign of every media domain she surveyed, whether it be headlines, TV news crawlers and sound clips on radio, to books of quotes and jokes and more of the same on social media. She had a quip for all seasons: “I eat death threats for breakfast;” “fungus-face!;” “I lied;” “He looks like a female llama who has just been surprised in her bath.” Pick your favorite pet peeve, and you could usually rely on there being a suitable dose of Miriam-brand-poison you could administer with glee. So wide-ranging were here interests, so expansive was her vocabulary, that really, there was something to enjoy about Miriam for everyone.

We reserve a special place in our hearts—and our ballots—for the perennial contrarian. This is what she essentially became, after the presidency was permanently no longer hers to achieve. A torrent of draft bills became her manic response to the tedium of legislation (of which she had her fair share of sensible enacted laws). But it was during committee hearings, plenary sessions, and impeachments that she gave every bit of the bang the taxpayer’s buck deserved.

She became something larger than life: the National Id, the one who dared to say what so many thought; the unfiltered vessel of the insecurities, the biases, the longings and schadenfreude of the class she represented—the educated but impotent, because marooned in a sea of lumpenproletariat humanity—outraged at the brazen face of grand larceny, bumbling incompetence, and sheer stupidity in official circles. Her devotees were too few to matter in the overall electoral calculus of those officials but plentiful enough to elect her to the senate—not least because she fulfilled a role that crossed over to the very same broad national constituency she and her supporters often scorned (only tax payers should vote, she once said; it will outlive her as a mantra for her admirers).

It is said that when it comes to the senate, the Filipino voter, mistrustful of parties, comfortable with archetypes, mixes and matches votes to accomplish several things at once: a vote for a boring but undoubtedly competent legislator here, a sentimental vote for a matinee idol there, a vote for one’s pet advocacy (killing criminals, mounting coups, womanhood, education, health), but always reserves a vote for bringers of chaos, which comes in the form of a prankster, the Court Jester who will gleefully point out the Emperor has no clothes, or a hurler of fire and brimstone who will call down Divine Vengeance on the proud, the stupid, or both. Miriam, for all her intellect, was a combination of the latter two: puncturing the pretensions of her colleagues and officialdom alike; hurling abuse on those caught abusing the public coffers or the intelligence of the television audience.

Being on the wrong side of history on the whole was no obstacle to popularity. She had been a columnist in the Romualdez-owned Daily Express; served under Kokoy Romualdez in the Philippine Embassy in Washington; wrote speeches for the Great Dictator and was appointed by him to the bench, where she famously ordered the release of Lino Brocka, Behn Cervantes, and others for taking part in a demonstration. She transitioned to the post-EDSA government and fired up the public imagination as Immigration Commissioner, only to be dismissed from the cabinet in the wake of the 1989 coup attempt, yet she became the frontrunner in the 1992 campaign. She lost, yet was elected to the senate in 1995; lost the race for the presidency again to Estrada yet supported President Estrada during his impeachment, and even took to the stage to fire-up rallyists at “Edsa Tres,” only to lose in the May 2001 senatorial elections. But then made a comeback in May 2004, and was reelected in 2010. In 2016, her life came full circle as she mounted a forlorn bid for the presidency, which provided a party and a platform for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as her running mate.

A checkered career yet one securely anchored in having secured a role for herself in the public imagination regardless of her politics. It was a role that consumed her.

She had, at the height of her popularity, rather wistfully said part of her wondered if she wouldn’t be happier setting aside the storm and stress of public life for one lived in academe. Everyone agreed she had the mind for it; her published academic work suggests she had the mental and personal discipline for it; she may even have wrestled, as so many intelligent people in government before her have wrestled, with the dilemma of the prudence, sobriety, responsibility and reflection serious thinking or the public good requires on one hand, and the never-ending one-upmanship, showmanship, and freewheeling, even freebooting, irresponsibility that is too often the price for securing elected office.

The former gains you the respect of a small circle of peers; the latter earns you the devotion and affection of the crowd. In the end, rarely can you have both. So we are, where we are. She immortalized this dilemma herself in the title of the last book published under her name: Stupid is Forever. The Miriam of the law books, the one who merited the votes of many nations to become an international judge, might as well have never existed at all.

Now she is gone. Her supporters, loyal to the last, were moving in their grief. I do not think her passing left anyone unmoved. But a reckoning must be made. So I end where I began, with the Philippines Free Press, which, editorializing in 1953 on another colorful political personality, had this to say:

“The country has had its entertainment; now the country must pay for it. It was a fine show, while it lasted… But as water cannot rise above its own level, the politician cannot rise above the people’s. The people wanted him, got him. Now they have what they have.”

She lived long enough to see the era of public discourse she began, reach its full fruition. She passed away soon enough not to be called to task for its effects on our country and our people, because if and when that time comes, we will remember her, I think, as I remember her. A big brain with a big, broad smile, a fire-breathing dragoness with incredible poise, a person who painted word pictures with big, bold, primary colors. And so now we have what we have.

We are Id.

Sep 27

The Explainer: The blueprint for the ‘War on Drugs’

OPINION: The blueprint for the ‘War on Drugs’

The Explainer: By Manuel L. Quezon III

Posted at Sep 27 2016 11:08 PM | Updated as of Oct 04 2016 05:52 PM


A portion of a History Channel documentary on the killing of Pablo Escobar. The clip tackles Los Pepes, the vigilante death squad group with murky connections that went after Escobar’s network

WHEN Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency, one of the things she turned her attention to was illegal drugs. It had taken on the character of a war involving national salvation. On July 4, 2001, she issued Letter of Instruction No. 1, s. 2001, with the following assertions that have remained consistent talking-points in officialdom ever since:

“[The] number of drug users increased at an alarming rate of about 300% per annum from only 20,000 in 1972 to about 1.7 Million regular users plus 3.5 million casual users nowadays…

“…the estimated value of illicit drug trade is now about P250-300 Billion per annum, 95% of which is in methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu being sourced from China, thereby resulting in billions of dollars worth of much needed and hard-earned foreign exchange going down the drain and even causing 70% of the heinous crimes, further clogging the dockets of the courts and congesting the jails, with additional 20,000 drug cases per annum;

“…the drug syndicates are now unlevelling both the economic and political playing fields, by investing their dirty money in businesses that could readily drive out of competition the legitimate businessmen who are investing legitimately-earned and borrowed money; and engaging in narco-politics of bankrolling with drug money the candidacies of many politicians who shall protect them, once installed in government…”

And so the first chapter in today’s “War on Drugs” began. As anyone who has watched the two seasons of Narcos will know by now, the War on Drugs is a dirty war where the good guys can end up difficult to tell apart from the bad guys. Or, put another way, it is such a dirty war, that success, to those fighting in it, requires dirty methods. Today, in the ongoing “War on Drugs,” a vigorous debate is ongoing on the methods used in the fight and their impact on society.

Recently in the House of Representatives, when Secretary of Justice Vitaliano Aguirre said that the infiltration of drugs into prisons began in 2013, a PNP officer (Magalong) corrected him, saying their intelligence said it began in 2001. Which raises the question: if raids took place under Leila de Lima but none of her predecessors from 2001-2010 mounted any raids (one FB post lists them as Artemio Tuquero, Hernando Perez, Merceditas Gutierrez,Simeon Datumanong, Raul Gonzalez, Agnes Devanadera and Alberto Agra), what was going on from 2001, when, by all accounts, the drug problem, in the eyes of the government, reached crisis proportions?

So this week, I would like explore how the ongoing efforts of the government, in national terms, are based on the efforts undertaken between 2001-2010. In fact, many of the same set of characters is involved; and many of the controversies over methods and means confronting us, today, originally arose and were heatedly discussed, during that nine-year period.

A month after President Arroyo declared an all-out effort against narco-politics, it became clear who the politicians she thought might be benefitting from it were. In August of 2001 –having taken over the presidency seven months before, and survived an uprising three months prior— the Economist reported that Victor Corpus, head of intelligence, had declared Panfilo Lacson (former head of the police under Arroyo’s predecessor, Estrada and by then a senator who ran on an anti-Arroyo platform), “involved in a plot by drug traffickers to take over the state.”

Corpus accused Lacson of money-laundering, of being a threat to national security because he might win the presidency in 2004, which would “submerge the Philippines in ‘narco-politics’.” A columnist observing the confrontation between the two –Corpus and Lacson— in September 2001 made the pointed observation.

Who wants “narco-politics”? But the thing won’t disappear by mere psy war, or propaganda. Corpus has brought a case against Lacson, and it startles me that almost a month after he did, all he can say when pressed for documents on Lacson’s money laundering, is, “Prove me wrong,” and “I did it to stop ‘narco-politics’ from engulfing government.” It won’t do.

Along the way, the charges and counter-charges created a contagion, as one pro-Corpus commentary pointed out in September, 2001:

“The twists and turns of the Corpus exposé touched on many undercurrents churning within our political system. It somehow has unleashed forces, which acquired lives of their own. Stray exposé bullets have hit other potential presidential candidates like Senators Loren Legarda and Noli de Castro. For some time, the topic shifted to Legarda when the issue was narco-politics and who appear to be involved.

“At this stage, several conclusions are already apparent.

“First, the PNP does not have anything resembling a credible Internal Affairs Department. In many other countries, the police investigate their own kind. Even if the charges against Lacson would prove to be baseless, the sheer gravity of narcopolitics should have commanded the attention of the PNP as an institution. The mere fact that it took military intelligence to do the investigation is a damning indictment of the PNP.

“Second, Corpus is making a political statement on the unreliability of our judicial system. He would have filed charges through our courts. Then again, the evidence he has gathered may not be ripe. Even if he did, Corpus is not naïve. In Colombia, judges who refuse to be persuaded by the drug lords are simply gunned down. And besides, he would have heard many of his lawyer-friends swear that the Philippines has the best judicial system that money can buy.

“Third, enough has been said about how the Senate behaved at the start. The text messages tell the story. Little does the Senate know that if someone started an organization of perceived victims of Senate hearings, they will find hundreds of military, police, career government officials, ordinary citizens eager to join. It will be group therapy to people who feel they were treated like dirt in their own country by some senators who were voted to be public servants only to act like arrogant royalty in Senate hearings.”

The quote above is lengthy because, if you go through it, the battleground today was outlined in that pro-Corpus post a decade ago. Procedures are secondary to intentions; the threat demands thinking outside the box; this is the people versus their officials.

The crusade dragged on, and the confrontation dragged on into the next year.

But in that year, 2002, a major piece of legislation was passed by Congress. President Arroyo then needed people to give teeth to the effort. Among those prominently considered were Alfredo Lim of Manila and Rodrigo Duterte of Davao (both would be approached by President Arroyo to either head, or be advisors to, her anti-drug campaign: Duterte in 2002, Lim in 2003). This search, and the battleground, was not taking place in isolation.

In 2003, there was an exciting example of fighting drugs: Thaksin’s Thailand. Exciting on two levels. First, the reasons to justify the war; and second, the rhetoric used and the methods that were employed. An extended extract from this report in 2013 will explain why:

“In January 2000, both then Royal Thai Army (RTA) commander General Surayud Chulanont and Thai Armed Forces Supreme Commander General Mongkol Ampornpisit inspected troops along the northern border. They were followed in early February by General Boonlert Kaewprasit, head of the RTA’s Narcotics Suppression Committee, who, after a three day tour of the (northern) Third Army Region stated that: “The situation is now quite critical and decisive action inevitable.”

“The impact of methamphetamine abuse in Thai society over the past several years has reached crisis proportions…The impact among youths and students has been most severe. A September 1999 survey of 32 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, including Bangkok, found that 12.4 per cent of youth in secondary and tertiary education were either using or dealing drugs and nearly 55 per cent of that group were using methamphetamines.

“A variety of insurgent groups inside Myanmar are involved in various drug production and trafficking activities… Some reports have stated that up to a billion tablets were smuggled into Thailand in 2003 from UWSA labs in Myanmar.

“The government estimated that three million Thais, or five percent of the population, were methamphetamine users… Between February and August 2003, over 51,000 arrests and 2000 extra-judicial deaths have occurred, causing worry among human rights watchers. Thaksin is still unsatisfied with the results and has threatened harsh action against Wa drug traffickers if Burma does not act. In addition, scandals have also brought police corruption to the public forefront; an issue in which Thaksin must contend…

“PM Thaksin’s campaign has decimated the drug market at the local drug trafficker and street-user level, but it has not reduced cross-border trafficking or attacked the drug trade’s higher elements. Additionally, his battle against “Dark Influences” has been ineffective, with few arrests of note. Thailand’s King has even tactfully admonished PM Thaksin for his ebullient trumpeting of a victory, when in fact the war is far from over. Burma and Laos are still major contributors to Thailand’s drug problem, and most major Thai druglords remain free. In fact, traffickers have simply changed routes or are storing their product in border areas awaiting a time for safe shipment..

“Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej… requested a full inquiry into all drug related deaths – a request celebrated by Human Rights and Health agencies. However the investigation is not going to be conducted by an independent source, so it is widely believed that the police and government agencies will be exonerated…

“While these country’s leaders are publicly accepting many of the plans for stemming drug flow from their countries, very little implementation has actually occurred. This has caused the PM to vacillate between rage at Burma and full support for Burma’s junta, much to the dismay of the United States. Additionally, drug production in these countries did not stop for Thailand’s war on drugs, though cross border trafficking was severely curtailed. According to some sources this resulted in around 800 million yaba tablets being stored along the Thai/Burma border waiting for the anti-drug pressure to subside. PM Thaksin has also begun a second war, this one a war on dark influences, aimed at eliminating the high level drug traffickers and the government personnel protecting or backing them. This war has had very few published successes as the financial and political backing of these influential people is deeply intertwined with Thaksin’s own government.”

The recipe then is as follows: 1. Declare an existential threat against society. 2. Demand that legalities have no place in the effort to extinguish that threat. 3. Escalate, always escalate, expanding the fight from drugdealers to “dark forces” in society itself, because to retreat is to lose the initiative, and to concede any error is tantamount to defeat.

The flaws are also apparent: Wiping out the infrastructure of druglords while leaving the druglords unscathed, only temporarily dries up supplies. Liquidating pushers and addicts creates its own problems, leading to unease within society and concern overseas; an aggressive posture against drugs requires continually pushing the envelope, which may end up more than society can bear –in which case the leader promoting the crusade will fall (for many other reasons, besides drugs).

In 2001, the year the present “War on Drugs” began, note the official figure cited by President Arroyo: 1.7 million regular users, 3.5 casual users; six years later (in 2007), midway through her second term as president, Al-Jazeera, reporting on crystal meth, would quote “official estimates suggest that about seven million people – almost 10 per cent of the population – use the drug.” You still found echoes of these numbers among administration supporters and other officials (Rep. Danilo Suarez, Senator Vicente Sotto III) as late as early 2009.

All the while, the government continued sounding the alarm. By 2008, PNP Director-General Jesus Verzosa was saying that narcotics was funding both Communist and Muslim rebels. Other officials echoed these claims.

But one thing stands out: the argument that while police and other operations did well, the problem was the courts (see this paper on how cases were built at the time, and the problems faced). That is, if cases even got to court. Where the “War on Drugs” ended up on choppy waters was when the zeal of officers collided with The System –either the laws themselves, or the people tasked with fulfilling the requirements of the laws.

On September 20, 2008, PDEA mounted a spectacular raid in a case that has come to be known as involving the “Alabang Boys.” It was during this brouhaha that Dionisio Santiago floated the trial balloon of making Gen. Jovito Palparan his deputy for “special concerns.” What is relevant here about this case, however, is that itcrystallized many of the issues that have been hotly debated about the “War of Drugs” ever since: on the part of law enforcers, their complaints that legal obstacles are thrown in the way of their operations and prosecutions; for the defense, assertions that the authorities are on the take; for the public, seesawing emotions triggered by the perception that justice works only for the rich, and that no one is clean or blameless in officialdom.

At the time, I made two comments on the whole thing:

1. It is wrong to put a civilian undertaking like law enforcement in military hands, the military mentality is incompatible with evidence-gathering and the prosecution of offenders; the reason the military’s colliding with civilians is that the vigilante-minded soldiers have been sent to run after drug dealers but in such a manner as to keep the truly powerful drug dealers beyond the reach of these soldiers; and so–

2. The whole issue is a sideshow because it parades parasitic socialites before the gallery (which always generates applause), but ignores the really powerful drug lords.

Writing in January 2009, John Nery could look not just at the ongoing controversy but the overall record of the anti-drug efforts over eight years of the Arroyo administration:

“Lost in all the noise is the enormous power of the beast that is coiled inside the law creating the PDEA.

“Tito Sotto, chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board as reconstituted by RA 9165, hinted at the stirrings of the beast, with his appeal for a return of the death penalty. PDEA Director-General Dionisio Santiago, once one of President Macapagal-Arroyo’s favorite generals and for five months Armed Forces chief of staff, let the ghostly cat out of the bag when he admitted that PDEA agents sometimes planted evidence. “We sometimes do this although this is against the rule of law. Definitely we only apply this matter to some cases, like a subject who is publicly known to be peddling drugs but always escapes arrest. This is when we enter the picture.”

“Now, the President’s impending appointment of Palparan, the so-called “Butcher” at whose whetting stone the Melo Commission laid the blame for some extrajudicial killings, to the DDB is the virtual pronouncement of the Arroyo administration’s new strategy, its own version of “narcopolitics.”

“Call it paranoia, but perhaps we should brace for a future where critics, whistle-blowers, just plain annoying people can be removed from (political or media) circulation with a timely dose of planted evidence.

“Note that Section 11 of RA 9165 provides that mere possession of “any dangerous drug” (the provision specifies the quantities) can result in “life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) to ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00).”

Nery went on to reflect on the characters involved:

“For instance… PDEA’s chief legal counsel, Alvaro Bernabe Lazaro… triggered internal alarm bells. In particular, his attempt to raise the stakes by bringing in something Resado said about Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno in a phone conversation was shameless.

“After much hyping of the phone call, Lazaro then recalled Resado saying, “Pare, delikado, wag tayo sa telepono mag-usap. E kasi si Chief Zuno pumirma, e.” After insinuating proof of wrongdoing, he then said (I am recalling from memory): But I am not insinuating anything.

“Santiago is another flawed character. In 2005, he was charged before the Ombudsman with a graft case, based on a military probe alleging that after he had retired as AFP chief of staff he “defrauded the government” by depositing an P8-million check in his personal account…

“What about Marcelino? He remains unsullied by all the back and forth, a good man trying to do his best in a sordid though necessary job. But he strikes me asRuben Guinolbay redux: The Scout Ranger captain emerged a hero from theLamitan siege, but his personal bravery could not mask the reality that, in Lamitan, the Armed Forces suffered one of the worst debacles in its history.”

A chicken-or-egg situation, in other words. The law creating the Dangerous Drugs Board, and the PDEA itself, were powerful; but their usefulness depended on those not only heading the agencies, but whose work would not only lead to drug busts, but result in successful prosecutions; but overzealous but careless, or worse, policing would result in suspects being freed –provoking the police to a frenzy of shortcuts the next time around, and inspiring vigilantes to take the law into their own hands.

At the same time, these officials would, in turn, be subject to the scrutiny of fellow law enforcers engaged in the same fight in other countries, who were providing training and support and who, in turn, had to justify that training and support to their bosses in other countries.

If you recall the series Narcos, the efforts of Colombia to fight the cocaine cartels, brought the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of the United States into the fray. Suffice it to say that the DEA served as a model for our own PDEA, and that a relationship must exist between the two. Like any bureaucracy, the DEA had to justify its existence while at the same time fending off other agencies also competing for resources. Such is the nature of bureaucracies everywhere, and the intersection between the bureaucracies of different countries. This would explain the following.

In 2009, columnist Babes Romualdez who is widely considered the oracle to consult if one wants to understand Washington’s intentions towards the Philippines, wrote that CIA chief Leon Panetta’s visit to Manila was connected more to the war on drugs than the war on terror. This was my July 2009 summary of what Romualdez wrote:

“Romualdez also framed Panetta’s visit in terms of American official concern over the drug trade being connected to terrorist training. And in this regard, he drops some broad hints about big drug syndicates with connections to very powerful people. The whole narcopolitics angle has been brought up before, as a game-changer, together with gambling lord money, in local politics.

“Romualdez estimated the drug industry as a billion-peso-a-day one: that’s P365 billion a year or $7.5 billion. Enough to warrant American attention? The American DEA in 2006 estimated the value of the Columbian drug trade at $1.5 billion a year; Time Magazine in 2008 mentioned a $25 billion-a-year trafficking industry in Mexico; and an American naval officer’s proposed 2005 thesis estimated the global drug trade at $300-500 billion, although the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) estimated the world illegal drug market to range between $45 billion and $280 billion.

“The thing is, an administration that perpetually brags of its near-total dominance in the lower house, and governorships and mayorships, would necessarily end up saddled, by sheer force of probabilities, with more than its fair share of gambling and drug lord-funded allies. Surely an inconvenient thing to look into going into an election year.”

By then, President Arroyo had declared herself the anti-drug Czarina in January, 2009. Time was running out.There was an effort to put narco-politics front and center as a vital issue in national elections.

In March, 2010, Karl Wilson reported that President Arroyo had been given a list of politicians under investigation; her National Security Adviser, Norberto Gonzales said (in Wilson’s words) he’d “received a number of reports linking some congressmen, councillors and local government officials with drug syndicates or drug lords’; on the other hand, Secretary of National Defense Gilbert Teodoro said that “the problem does not involve politicians at the national level.” Nothing seems to have happened.

According to Senator Sotto, Dionisio Santiago, had put together a list of drug suspects in “less than a month,” and had submitted it to President Arroyo in the “third quarter of 2009.” Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento even made a public appeal to PDEA to publicize the list. President Arroyo did not release it; before the 2016 elections, Santiago claimed he gave it to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in 2010; by August, Santiago said he’d given it to President Aquino. It eventually got released by President Duterte himself, after which the problem became that the list contained mistakes. The result has been, as President Duterte said yesterday (September 27), that he’s had subsequent lists double, triple, even quadruple-checked.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, in an editorial quoted in Wilson’s report, observed, “The good news is no presidential candidate seems to be funded by drug money. The bad news: at the local level, in certain areas, illegal drugs continue to be the gift that keeps on giving — the influence of drug money is real; it makes business sense for operators to place or keep friendly politicians in office, and during elections not too many politicians bother to return cash donations.”

In March, 2010, I’d summarized different views on this:

“In 2008, political scientist Paul Hutchcroft pointed out that “As Philippine elections have become increasingly costly, they have encouraged politicians to become more creative in raising funds, whether through the promise of legislative and regulatory favors, real-estate scams, involvement in gambling syndicates, or links to drug lords and the underworld. In a surprisingly candid moment, Speaker Jose de Venecia said of the system: “It’s the drug lords and the gambling lords … who finance the candidates. So from Day One, they become corrupt. So the whole political process is rotten.” In February 2009, when spectacular bank robberies were hogging the headlines, I recalled Alex Magno’s reminder that the primary sources of political funding are: (1) Drug money; (2) Gambling money; (3) Quotas on customs and internal revenue bureaus; (4) The Philippine National Police.

“Aside from claims of police connivance in protection rackets, there are also allegations that warlords use political office to extort tribute from syndicates. The Ampatuans have been tagged as this type of warlords, but PDEA’s Dionisio Santiago remains tight-lipped, saying only that the agency had received reports about politicians in alliance with drug traffickers. Fr. Eliseo Mercado has gone as far as to state there have been four G’s operating in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao: guns, goons, gold and Gloria: with President Macapagal-Arroyo’s patronage allowing the Ampatuans to become paramount warlords and untouchable so that no one could do anything if, indeed, they’d been acting as protectors of various syndicates – from smugglers, kidnappers to traffickers.”

Which only begs the question: whatever their honest intentions, did the 2001-2009 “War on Drugs” lose momentum because of the many other problems –and compromises— a government in survival mode had to make, so much so that the war itself petered out by 2010? Because to do otherwise would have been a political problem for the outgoing administration? Which raises, of course, a question bedeviling us to this day: if the cast of political characters in 2009 meant muting the “War on Drugs” to preserve some chance for the ruling coalition (then) to survive –well, didn’t that coalition instantly become the new ruling coalition in 2010 –and just as instantly, become the ruling coalition in 2016, that is, now?

Imagine that.

Earlier, in January 2009, I’d pointed out the ongoing “War on Drugs” at the time, with its lists, saturation drives, and other activities, still left other factors unaddressed. These were the following:

“The first is that foreign drug syndicates won’t engage in “technology transfer,” so chemists come and go, to cook up batches of the stuff.

“Have we heard of a concerted plan to increase the scrutiny of foreign arrivals, in cooperation with the drug agencies of foreign countries?

“The second, is that ephedrine is a necessary raw material. Tons of the stuff is imported under false pretexts.

“Have we heard from officialdom, first of all, how much ephedrine is required for legitimate purposes? Next, have we heard of any sort of scheme to beef up customs inspections, and fortify the system of permits and documentation? Have we heard of a doable plan to secure our coastlines, scrutinize private ports and docks, keep tabs on interisland shipping? Keep track of cargo manifests outside Metro Manila, in a country where Marina officials keep track of these things by scribbling data on yellow legal pad, which indicates the absence of a timely and reliable national database on interisland and international commerce?

“The third is, if you recall the saturation drives conducted by the armed forces in Luzon during the time of Palparan, and similar efforts undertaken in urban poor areas last year, one benefit people did point out, was that public disorder and things like the drug trade were dramatically affected by the saturation drives. And yet, we have not heard of any plan to integrate the police and armed forces in simply maintaining the high visibility of law enforcement agents, in a manner that inspires confidence and not unease, in the public. This is particularly true in far-flung provincial areas where the drug trade seems to be taking root as things get hot for the syndicates in the metropolis.

“The absence of a holistic picture, informed by facts which could be gleaned from a government that is looking at the big picture –interdiction, patrols, scrutiny, as well as the more dramatic rounding up of petty pushers– is why we ought to consider whether this is really a serious effort to fight the Drug Menace…”

Regarding my observations from 2009, this recent news UN: China synthetic drugs trade ‘out of control’ suggests that the President’s announcement just yesterday, that he intends to raise concerns over the drug trade with China, is a good step.

At this point, reviewing 2001-2010, many of these observations and the back-and-forth over the nine years of the Arroyo administration should sound uncannily familiar to you, the gentle reader. As a final review, here they are:

First, regardless of intentions, the anti-drug effort is only as good as the characters (and competence) of those involved; a case in point would be Dionisio Santiago, who has continued to provide President Duterte with lists (since then, the President has sensibly decided to double, triple, and even quadruple-check evidence to avoid mistakes).

Second, the same problems with law enforcement keep cropping up, such as the planting or manipulation of evidence by government agents, or the huge problem of cases either being dismissed due to due process not being followed, or weak evidence, or outright corruption in the judicial process (when it isn’t agonizingly slow).

Third, accusations that liquidations had became part and parcel of fighting the drug menace (Palparan would then move on to going after Communists), which raised grave constitutional (read: human rights!) and ethical concerns about such methods.

Most of all, the “War on Drugs” of today had its origins in the first decade of this century; the same concerns raised when it first began, continue to be causes of concern today.

Yesterday, during his press conference in Arayat, Pampanga, President Rodrigo Duterte told the public to look at previous statistics to get the real score on the drug situation from 2010-2016. This is what we will be doing next week.

(This is part 1 of 2 parts. Part 2, looking at statistics over the past ten years, next week)
Additional Readings:

President Duterte’s author of choice on Narco-related matters, Ioan Grillo, discussing his work in a 2013 Center for Investigative Journalism event)

Insights into the motivations and methods of the current campaign can be found inShiela Coronel’s piece on President Duterte in The Atlantic, while President Duterte, as Mayor, gave an extended interview to Carol Arguillas of MindaNews in 2001: the three part interview was recently republished by PCIJ.

This article makes reference to observations I made in my blog in 2008 andJanuary 26, 2009, January 28, 2009, see: ; and my columns on , , February 16, 2009, July 12, 2009, March 3, 2010; and The Explainer for February 16, 2009;

Also, answers I gave to a foreign journalist last August can be found here.

Concerning potential models for anti-drug efforts, front and center would be that of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand. A useful overview of his career is The Story of Thaksin Shinawatra by Richard Lloyd Parry. See also Nautilus Institute’s The Downfall of Thaksin Shinawatra’s CEO-state. How Thailand has learned from that experience is explored in Philip Bowring’s Thailand’s Novel Approach to Drugs Could Offer Lesson to Neighbors.

For the United States, China, and the drug trade, see: Solving Southeast Asia’s Drug Problem: Drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle is not just a law enforcement issue by Brian Eyler.

Sep 22

A shrewdness of apes and a barrel of monkeys

A shrewdness of apes and a barrel of monkeys

There has to be a better way to mount congressional investigations.

(SPOT.ph) If you give enough monkeys enough typewriters, one of them will sooner or later crank out Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This sort of reasoning seems to be behind Congressional hearings in the Senate and the House: with enough poking, jabbering, and grimacing, a shrewdness of apes or a barrel of monkeys will produce something sensible after all manure flung around is scraped away from the walls.

No it won’t. The only result will be what we have: everyone ends up covered in excrement and thank God neither TV nor the Internet have developed Smell-o-rama.

In the Senate, you had chest-thumping and the baring of fangs.

But I wouldn’t go as far as those whose response to the Congress going apeshit is to shriek that legislators ought to stop investigations and leave the determination of innocence or guilt when it comes to misdeeds, to the courts. You may not like the monkeys but there’s no need to be a monkey’s uncle.

Our government is not only democratic—we all have a part to play and we, the people (as the Americans once expressed it), provide the mandates without which every official would merely be an impostor wielding usurped power—it is also representative (we delegate legislative matters to senators and congressmen, for example) and republican (“a country that is governed by elected representatives and by an elected leader (such as a president) rather than by a king or queen,” as the handy-dandy dictionary would have it).

That being the case, congressional investigations serve a purpose and that purpose can redound to the public good. To be sure, it will tend to become political theater, and it can make reputations—Richard Nixon milked the hearings of suspected Soviet spy Alger Hiss for all it was worth, though he did hire an investigator, Robert E. Stripling; so did John F. Kennedy, who had as his counsel, his brother, Robert F. Kennedy as they went after Teamster Boss Jimmy Hoffa. The brothers’ inquisition of mafia bosses continued into the Kennedy administration. But hearings are the kind of political theater where no one really knows what the ending will be. Even the most inquisitorial of Grand Inquisitors, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, went after a suspect too far, when he started going after the U.S. Army and famously got the response, “Senator, have you no sense of decency?” He never recovered. And of course the Watergate hearings are a classic case of partisanship collapsing under the weight of evidence of official wrongdoing.

In the United States, congressional inquiries are justified on several grounds. First, because Congress has the power of the purse—it enacts the budget. Second, because it has the power to organize the executive branch—it creates departments and agencies and can abolish, fund, defund, or reassign them. Third, it enacts all the laws according to the powers granted to the legislature by the Constitution, regulating the armed forces, commerce, education, and many other things. Fourth, Congress confirms executive appointments, which means not just approving nominations, but looking into the policies and programs of the government of the day. Fifth, it has the power of investigation and inquiry, which is how it exercises oversight—in our country, this is expressed as “investigations in aid of legislation.” And finally, Congress has the power of impeachment and removal, “a powerful, ultimate oversight tool to investigate alleged executive and judicial misbehavior.”

In 1885, Woodrow Wilson, who knew a thing or two about what congresses do and how government functions, wrote: “Quite as important as legislation is vigilant oversight of administration…even more important than legislation is the instruction and guidance in political affairs which the people might receive from a body which kept all national concerns suffused in a broad daylight of discussion…It is the proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government and to talk much about what it sees. It is meant to be the eyes and the voice, and to embody the wisdom and will of its constituents…The informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function.” Harry S. Truman, who made his name in part by the investigations into wartime waste of funds, observed that “The power of investigation is one of the most important powers of Congress.” But, he added, “The manner in which that power is exercised will largely determine the position and prestige of Congress in the future.”

Say what you will, if some believe Sen. Leila de Lima did not handle the hearings on the murders going on in a proper manner, the answer certainly isn’t what the Senate ended up doing: by ousting her from the committee chairmanship it turned itself into a circular firing squad. And when the House turned the Secretary of Justice into an honorary member it not only confessed to incompetence within its ranks, it opened itself up to participating in an awkward threesome as the main action took place between Aguirre and his pet witness, Magleo. When Herbert Colanggo told Sec. Aguirre that he’d spoken to Leila de Lima on the phone, and then read out the number, Aguirre “quickly corrected Colanggo, asking him if he was sure about the last four digits of the cell phone number”—getting a quickly-corrected response.

To be sure, even from the steaming pile of manure shoveled by both chambers we can pick up an informative thing or two. Some have tried, quite painstakingly, to eke out consistencies in Matobato’s testimony; journalist Ellen Tordesillas was able to zero in, and give context to, the claim of a mayor-sanctioned rubout of the bodyguards of one of the mayor’s perennial rivals, Prospero Nograles (for more on this rivalry see my 2009 column, Vendettas). Sen. Pangilinan was able to defend, and at the same time promote, his wife’s past and forthcoming concerts.

The point is: there has to be a better way to mount congressional investigations. But first, as Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino pointed out in a blistering op-ed, “Let Matobato continue testifying. Let all the [extra-judicial killing] witnesses continue to take the stand. If any is lying, it will not be long before the lie is brought to light for what it is. But if any has spoken the truth, then we shall have done ourselves a tremendous disservice—and an unspeakable injustice—by silencing him.” By all means, even though I continue to think zeroing in on de Lima in the House is improper, investigating the shenanigans in the New Bilibid Prison can have a purpose too: so long, as the peppery Fr. Aquino puts it, as the DOJ considers that “If Magleo is typical of the witnesses that Aguirre intends to present, I strongly suggest the services of a more competent script-writer.”

What could be done better? It boils down to discipline: doing research, knowing the rules, and parking one’s ego. If senators and congressmen set aside their grandstanding in favor of more disciplined proceedings, more facts might emerge, and more sense could characterize the hearings. As one legal observer put it (again referring to the United States), in other jurisdictions, lawmakers hire lawyers to do the questioning, and do what they’re supposed to do—listen, first, and then submit their questions to the committee’s counsel to ask. Imagine that. Only then would they ask further questions, having controlled themselves for much of the proceedings. Imagine that. Oh, and stop serving snacks during hearings. Hunger might help put order into chaos.

As it was, last Tuesday, you had congressmen blundering about, so much so that after a while they had to rescue themselves. Rep. Gatchalian got upset with the testimony and had to insist everything is peachy-keen in his district. A former administrator of one of our ports in the DOJ side had to point out drugs were distributed outside the premises of his port; and Rep. Umali had to plead, let’s limit things to Bilibid. Because you never know—people say the darndest things.

Sep 13

The Explainer: Bud Dajo: Americans, Filipinos, and Moros

Bud Dajo: Americans, Filipinos, and Moros

The Explainer: Manuel L. Quezon III

Posted at Sep 13 2016 11:17 PM | Updated as of Sep 14 2016 03:05 AM


LAST Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte showed a set of photos, including this picture, to the audience attending a mass oath-taking before the chief executive in Malacañan Palace. It is the story of this battle, the Battle of Bud Dajo,–a massacre, in blunt terms—that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has brought up time and again, locally and internationally, as the foundation of his argument that the Philippines ought to chart a different course with regards to Philippine-American relations.

Above photo of the aftermath of the Battle of Bud Dajo is from morolandhistory.com, which says, “On January 25, 1907, almost eleven months after the battle, a cropped, black and white copy of the above photograph accompanied an editorial that appeared in the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Weekly Democrat. 3,000 copies of the article were immediately reprinted by the Anti Imperialist League and mailed out to the press. The above print is from the National Archives and was taken from the original glass plates. The photograph was taken at one of the infamous two trenches at the top of the East Trail. The grim-faced soldiers are from Company B (khaki shirts) of the 6th Infantry and Company D of the 19th Infantry (dark blue shirts). Their leader, Captain Wetherill, stands on the far left (however cropped out of the photo in the newspaper). However by then media interest and public anger had dissipated and attempts to revive the outrage failed.”

The battle took place on March 5-8, 1906, and soon after on March 12,Mark Twain penned a fiercely sarcastic denunciation of what took place:

“The battle began—it is officially called by that name—our forces firing down into the crater with their artillery and their deadly small arms of precision; the savages furiously returning the fire, probably with brickbats—though this is merely a surmise of mine, as the weapons used by the savages are not nominated in the cablegram. Heretofore the Moros have used knives and clubs mainly; also ineffectual trade-muskets when they had any.

“The official report stated that the battle was fought with prodigious energy on both sides during a day and a half, and that it ended with a complete victory for the American arms. The completeness of the victory is established by this fact: that of the six hundred Moros not one was left alive. The brilliancy of the victory is established by this other fact, to wit: that of our six hundred heroes only fifteen lost their lives.

“General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been, ‘Kill or capture those savages.’ Apparently our little army considered that the “or” left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it has been for eight years, in our army out there—the taste of Christian butchers.”

The thing is, Mark Twain decided not to publish this essay (it was published in 1924, almost a decade and a half after Twain died). Still, I suggest you read the essay in full, or watch it being read in the clip above; if any American deserves to be held in the affection of Filipinos, Mark Twain is one of them.

Some additional information to flesh out Twain’s synopsis of events. Bud Dajo is actually a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1897. Gen. Leonard Wood in January, 1906 had decided to take a personal interest in “a considerable number of discontented people” hiding in the dormant volcano; accepting American upon advice of his subordinates in February, he decided to mount a campaign but undertook his preparations in defiance of standing orders from Washington requiring prior clearance for any military campaigns. Arriving in Zamboanga in March, Gen. Wood then ordered an attack on Bud Dajo, with the assault columns leaving Jolo on March 5, 1906. The result was the siege and massacre described by Twain based on official dispatches and press reports. (For a more detailed account of the battle, see Battle of Bud Dajo March 5-8, 1906 in the site morolandhistory.com, in particular the timeline: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, as well as photographs).

The Americans called it the Battle of the Clouds, and the site observes that “notoriety in American military history ranks it beside that of Sand Creek (1864), Wounded Knee (1890), and My Lai (1968)” (all were infamous massacres). The site goes on to note that, “Unlike the other three incidents, the match up at Bud Dajo was not as overwhelmingly lopsided at its inception, nor did lax discipline and control unleash an orgy of sadistic violence, as marked the other three. The resultant massacre at Bud Dajo was a as much as anything the product of moral indifference at the top command level and in part the indiscriminate employment of newer technology, specifically the machinegun. But the result was still the same.” From 700 t 850 Tausugs –men, women, children—were killed; only seven persons (three women and four children) were captured. According to the same site, the Battle of Bud Dajo ignited a fierce controversy in American society, seen in “the news and editorial pages, periodicals, letters from readers, public discussion forums, sermons from the pulpits, parlor room conversations, and even poetry.” The issue only died when the Great San Francisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906 wiped all other stories off the front pages.

Another battle at Bud Dajo took place between the Americans and the Tausugs in 1911. As late as 1913, there would be another battle, at Bud Bagsak.

And yet, by 1945, the same Tausugs who had been defeated twice in Bud Dajo were fighting with the Americans –against the Japanese—in what would be a victory for the Moro guerrillas and American troops.

How did this come to be?

The Mindanawon historian Patricio Abinales –co-author of State and Society in the Philippines, the best single-volume introduction to our history and development of our nation—argued in an essay titled “Re-constructing Colonial Philippines: 1900-1910,” that the “territorial reality” of what we now know as the Philippines was the result of American rule. Abinales pointed out that by the first decade of American rule, Filipino leaders had “proved within a short period of time that they had the ability to be equally adept at governing the colony. In its first year at work, the Philippine Assembly had already shown a marked adeptness in introducing additional provisions or new amendments to existing colonial laws, and in negotiating with the Philippine Commission and the Governor General over matters of policy formulation, funding and government personnel changes.” But, he also pointed out,

“This type of political and administrative consolidation however was only happening in one part of the colony—the ‘Christian’ Filipino dominated ‘lowlands’ in Luzon, the Visayas and northern Mindanao. In the other half of the colony, the U.S. army administered the ‘special provinces’ on the grounds that their population—the so-called ‘non-Christian tribes’—were more backward than the Filipinos and were prone to more ‘warfare.’ The Americans saw their ‘civilizing mission’ as special given that the underdeveloped character of the Cordillerans and Muslims required a longer time for them to become familiar with self-government. They also had to be thoroughly ‘pacified.’

“Surprisingly, the pacification process was fast and relatively easy. There was hardly any resistance from the various indigenous communities in the Cordilleras, while Muslim resistance was scattered and unsustained. At the middle of the first decade, the Cordilleras and ‘Moro Mindanao’ had become very stable and peaceful areas.

“A major reason for the American success was the cooperation extended by Muslim and Cordilleran leaders to the Americans. They regarded colonial rule as a means of protecting themselves against Christians and ‘lowlanders.’ American military officials reciprocated this cooperation by resisting the efforts of Filipinos to extend their power to the ‘special provinces.’ A working relationship eventually developed between these community leaders and the Americans whereby the former were given minor posts in the provincial government (‘tribal wards’ in the case of the Muslims) in exchange for agreeing to recognize American sovereignty. U.S. army officers who administered these areas also became their protectors against Filipino leaders, doing everything they can to limit the presence of Manila and the Nacionalista party in the Cordilleras and ‘Moro Mindanao.’

“The only major resistance came from the Muslims at the hills of Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak, when the army declared a ban on weapons and raised head taxes. American military superiority prevailed and over a hundred Muslim men, women and children were killed. Politically, however, these actions eroded the army’s standing and opened up an opportunity for Quezon to attack military rule in Mindanao. After the massacres, the army was forced slowly to concede authority to Manila and the Filipinos. The army’s powers were also clipped once the U.S. Congress authorized its partial demobilization, and once the American president ordered its withdrawal from the special provinces and its replacement by Philippine Constabulary units. Many American officers also preferred to continue their military careers in the U.S. mainland, seeing very little prospects in just limiting themselves to the Philippines. All these problems emboldened the Filipinos to assert their political presence in these special provinces. This was something that a weakened military government could not repulse anymore. In 1913, the army conceded its power to the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, a body controlled from Manila and by Filipinos. The Cordilleras’ status as a special province was also terminated and the Nacionalista Party began recruiting its first ‘Cordillerans’ to join the organization.”

In other words, the flipside of American conquest was American attraction of, leading to cooperation with, their former foes. This put the Moros in a ticklish spot, to put it mildly. A very illuminating quote I’ve referred to time and again comes from Teodoro M. Kalaw, circa the 1920s:

“The Wood-Forbes Mission arrived in Manila in May [1921], and was received with some apprehension…

“Many anecdotes were told about this trip…

“In Mindanao, an officer with the Mission approached a Moro and asked him his opinion of the political situation. The Moro answered him: ‘No, no, I do not want to say a word. If I say I like independence, the Americans get sore. And if I say I do not like independence, the Filipinos get sore. I say nothing.’

This was the period when a proposal was made in the U.S. Congress to separate Mindanao from the rest of the Philippines (in 1916, American policy had committed to eventual independence for the Philippines, but at an indefinite time in the future).

To cut a long story short, with separation from the rest of the Philippines under the auspices of the Americans closed off, the alternative proposed by Christian Filipino leaders was for traditional, hereditary Moro nobility to become local and then national, leaders, thus integrating them into the broader national political class.

This arrangement held sway from the time of the Commonwealth to the era of Student Radicalism when a new generation of young Moros, influenced by the influx of Christian settlers and their land-grabbing in Mindanao, and inspired by the secular nationalism of leaders such as Gamaliel Nasser of Egypt, decided the old Moro datus and sultans turned senators, congressmen, governors and mayors, were out of touch and that a secular, national Bangsamoro identity should replace that of being Muslim Filipinos.

Still, there seems to have been friendly ties with the Americans: as shown by their placing great faith in Moros as guerrillas fighting with Americans against the Japanese. Faith borne out, as mentioned above, in the 1945 Battle of Bud Dajo against the Japanese.

An echo of this old relationship, and the old divisions of colonial days, can be found in an interesting letter of fairly recent vintage. On January 20, 2003, the late Hashim Salamat wrote a letter to then-President George W. Bush:

“Your policy to consider the Philippine archipelago as an unincorporated territory of the United States paved the way for the US Government to administer affairs in the Moro territories under a separate political form of governance under the Moro Province from the rest of the Philippine Islands.

“Your project to grant Philippine independence obliged the leaders of the Moro Nation to petition the US Congress to give us an option through a referendum either by remaining as a territory to be administered by the US Government or granted separate independence 50 years from the grant of Philippine independence. Were it not for the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Moro Nation would have been granted trust territory status like any of the Pacific islands states who are now independent or in free association with the United States of America.

“On account of such circumstances, the Moro Nation was deprived of their inalienable right to self-determination, without waiving their plebiscitary consent. Prior to the grant of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946, American Congressional leaders foresaw that the inclusion of the Moro Nation within the Philippine Commonwealth would result in serious conflicts in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, arising from the inability of the Filipino leaders to govern the Moro people. This condition or states of affairs have continued to prevail to the present day.

“In view of the current global developments and regional security concerns in Southeast Asia, it is our desire to accelerate the just and peaceful negotiated political settlement of the Mindanao conflict, particularly the present colonial situation in which the Bangsamoro people find themselves.

“We are therefore appealing to the basic principle of American fairness and sense of justice to use your good offices in rectifying the error that continuous to negate and derogate the Bangsamoro People’s fundamental right to seek decolonization under the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960. For this purpose, we are amenable to inviting and giving you the opportunity to assist in resolving this predicament of the Bangsamoro People.”

It would be wrong to confuse this appeal for American intervention for actual affection or even warmth; whether Moro or Christian, Filipinos can be over-the-top (or as Americans might put it, we can lay it on thick) when it comes to buttering-up potential allies. Nor should we ignore that being aggressive towards allies is one of the (more blunt) instruments of statecraft: after all, June 12 as independence day instead of July 4, was selected in anger over American foot-dragging over benefits due our World War II veterans (supporting arguments from historians followed, of course). President Macapagal was angry and decided to change our independence day, and to this day it is counted as one of his administration’s enduring legacies.

They say all politics is local; and that includes foreign policy. The distant past can become an instrument on the basis of the more recent past, becoming a complicated mashup in the present.

And so, while bringing up the turn of the 20th Century, the President’s motivations as far as wanting to put the Americans in their place (generally a crowd-pleaser in certain circles) seems to have a far more recent, and not particularly Moro, origin. In his September 13 column, Rafael Alunan III wrote,

“I’ve been trying to figure out why President Rodrigo Duterte has a seeming dislike for the American government, and I think I’ve stumbled onto something.

“To refresh our memory, President Duterte took US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg to task for his comments, tantamount to interference in domestic affairs. Ambassador Goldberg spoke during the campaign in relation to President Duterte’s remarks about an Australian missionary he tried to rescue when he was Davao City’s mayor from hardened convicts attempting a prison break. The President said Ambassador Goldberg had no business giving those remarks to which he has not apologized.

“Most recently, just before flying to Laos, he cussed in anger when a Reuters reporter asked him what his reaction would be if President Barack Obama would bring up to him the issue of human rights. The press twisted that cuss to say that he called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore.” It disrupted diplomatic relations and led to the cancellation of a meeting between the two heads of state…

“At one of the meetings in Laos, he [i.e. the President] presented American human rights violations during the Philippine-American war. He was just getting started but had to stop because he only had six minutes to speak. In a subsequent press conference, the President pointed out the Philippines’ independent foreign policy. That policy is stated in the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

“In the course of my search, I stumbled onto a blog that might shed light. It dates back to 2002 involving a certain Michael Meiring, a suspected CIA agent, who had ties with Muslim militants. He was reportedly assigned to the NBI’s Interpol section and resided mostly in Davao. He developed close ties with MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari; MILF Chief Hashim Salamat; NPA leader Father Frank Navarro; MNLF Commander Tony Nasa and others in Cotabato who fronted for him before the Abu Sayyaf.

“In May 2002, Meiring injured himself and blew up part of his legs while making a bomb in his room at the Evergreen Hotel in Davao. He was charged for illegal possession of explosives. NBI found a fax in his room from London, England, warning him that he should be careful handling the explosive material. He was flown to Manila for additional medical treatment. The FBI took custody of Meiring and flew him out of the country.

“Two months before the explosion that cost him both legs, there were several other explosions in the same region, killing 37 people and injuring 170 more. Duterte was Davao City Mayor at the time, a year after 9-11. America, allegedly, wanted the Philippines to be part of the coalition on the war on terror by pushing it closer to the US after losing its bases in 1991. It covertly assisted insurgent groups to perform terroristic acts to attain the desired results. Black ops allow for deniability. It was also possible that Meiring had gone dark — rogue — playing a double, even triple, game to also earn big bucks for himself.

“The blog further said that Duterte is still angry about the whole Meiring episode and how the FBI rescued the CIA operative from the Philippine criminal justice system to avoid exposing the plot. He said that his “hatred” for the US was a “personal” sentiment that he could set aside in the national interest.” Duterte was quoted to have said:

“When a bomb exploded at the airport and followed by another explosion at the wharf several months after the hotel explosion that injured Meiring, that was when I started suspecting that the US could have had a hand in the said explosions. My suspicion was fueled when a military officer declared in public that the CIA have connections with known terror groups here.”

In recent days, of course, the President (and the Presidential Spokesperson) have expounded on Bud Dajo as an example of American hypocrisy, how “American forces must go,” (but that’s just a warning, clarified the Presidential Spokesperson) while the President most recently (Tuesday) clarified, in turn, that even as he wants a more independent foreign policy, “we are not going to cut our umbilical cord with the countries we are allied now.” Absent, up to this point, are Moro voices and opinion on the matter.

Additional readings:

This entry is based in part on my Storify presentation, Writings on Mindanao and Peace, which contains most of my writings on Mindanao.

. See in particular, Repulsion and Colonization, from 1996; and my timeline, North Borneo (Sabah): An annotated timeline 1640s-present(2013).

Visit and explore morolandhistory.com. Read the speech of the Sultan sa Ramain (Alauya Alonto) in the 1934 Constitutional Convention. Contrast this with this article by Abhoud Syed M. Lingga written in 2002. See alsoThe State-Moro Armed Con?ict in the Philippines: Unresolved national question or question of governance? By Rizal G. Buendia in 2005.

A sampling of Patricio Abinales’ writings on Muslim and Christian Mindanao: “Mohagher Iqbal, the author,” Part 1 and Part 2; The American disconnect in Moro Mindanao (connected to this is Maria Ressa’s overview of The US in PH anti-terror campaigns, 2015); “Distorting Moro Mindanao,”Part 1 and Part 2, and It’s borders with long(er) histories, stupid.

(Editor’s note: Manolo Quezon III returns to ABS-CBN News Channel as “The Explainer.” He will be writing a weekly blog for news.abs-cbn.com on history, politics, and other topics. “The Explainer” was a weekly show he hosted before joining the Aquino administration in 2010. He served as Undersecretary of the Presidential Communications Development Strategic Planning Office until June 2016.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.

Sep 10

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

President Duterte’s debut on the world stage revealed as much about us, the people, as it did about him as president.

(SPOT.ph) Winston Churchill defined diplomacy as “the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.” It requires tact, which Harry S. Truman described as “the ability to step on a man’s toes without messing up the shine on his shoes.” The highest form of diplomacy is that which is conducted between and among heads of state; and all the elaborate courtesies that exasperate the impatient and ill-informed, is a means to an end: the conducting of the business of the state without having to be distracted by possible ill-feelings caused by petty matters of style, which, if ignored, gets in the way of substantive discussions.

When the President reacted with irritation to a reporter’s question (what if other leaders bring up human rights) and said, “You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions and statements. Putang-ina, mumurahin kita diyan sa forum na ‘yan. Huwag mo akong ganunin. Tell that to everybody,” a lot of energy—and column inches—have been used up on parsing whether something was lost in translation: did he mean Obama is an SOB or did he exclaim, SOB, then expound on his point? It ignores what was really the challenge that could not be ignored: “mumurahin kita diyan sa forum na iyan.”

Expletives aside, then, President Duterte’s preemptive missile strike was aimed at the world at large, but also included President Obama who was the one widely expected to bring up human rights in in his scheduled meeting with our president. This is what was at the heart of Obama’s later reaction, “I always want to make sure if I’m having a meeting that it’s actually productive… What I’ve instructed my team to do is to talk to their Philippine counterparts to find out, is this in fact a time where we can have some constructive, productive conversations.”

The question of parsing our grammar to figure out if the cursing was aimed at life, the universe and everything, or someone in particular, was covered by Obama describing our president as “colorful;” the preemptive rhetorical missile strike on the other hand was covered by asking whether a meeting would be productive or not. Apparently not, as we all know.

President Duterte would later tell the Filipino community in Jakarta that the two leaders did have a brief encounter prior to the leaders’ dinner: “Kaya sinabi ko dun sa holding room, ‘President Obama, I’m President Duterte. I never made that statement, you can check it out.’ [Obama said] ‘My men will talk to you.’ Sabi ko, ‘Okay.” Obama’s version goes like this: “I did shake hands with President Duterte last night. It was not a long interaction, and what I indicated to him is that my team should be meeting with his and determine how we can move forward on a whole range of issues.”

Still, our president expressed regret, and all’s well that ends well.

But wait, there’s more. Those hoping for more verbal missile strikes were disappointed when the president, feeling under the weather, skipped the leaders’ interactions with their American and Indian counterparts. But at the 11th East Asia Summit, between leaders of ASEAN and others, the President launched another preemptive missile strike in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. In his Jakarta Filipino Community speech, this is the president’s version of what happened, and why:

Pero doon kahapon sa interaction na ASEAN, he’s with (unclear) East Asia, nandoon na lahat, wrong table kami. Sabi ko, itong si Ban Ki Moon mentioned it in passing. Well, of course it’s a legitimate statement actually. (Audio distorted) the pressure na para huminto na sila. Sabi ko since human rights was mentioned, I produced a few pages with pictures in the pacification campaign by the Americans at the turn of the century, 1900s for the 600 population, all Muslims.

“Q: Thousand.

“PRRD: Six hundred thousand Muslims, six thousand were murdered. They were just buried in a common pit. Nag-ungkay lang, tapos iyong mga sundalo pinapatungan po iyong dibdib ng babae na nakahubad. This is human rights. What do you intend to do? Do not tell me that that’s water under the bridge. Human right violation, whether committed by Moses or Abraham, is still a violation of human rights. When was this philosophy about the human dignity and human right evolved? Now, or during this time? Tumahimik siya. I was—kasi ako, handa na ako—I was waiting for Obama to respond. Eh abogado ito, abogado tayo, pareho man tayo abogado. Sasabihin daw…Tsino? Wala. And that was the only encounter.”

The result was interesting. Agence France-Press quoted an Indonesian delegate who said that the president “showed a picture of the killings of American soldiers in the past and the President said: ‘This is my ancestor[s that] they killed. Why now we are talking about human rights.'” The delegate went on to describe the atmosphere as quiet and shocked.”

Here’s what I think is the missing context to that report.

As a general rule, the remarks—or “interventions”—of leaders in these summits (Whether ASEAN or APEC) are not published (see the East Asia Summit page for example). Instead, a pretty vanilla opening statement by the host might be published, and a closing statement (a communiqué) as a kind of gotta-please-everybody-and-make-everyone-seem-one-happy-family statement comes out. The reason these statements aren’t published is to allow the leaders interacting with each other to speak their minds and bring out—and resolve—issues without causing the kind of waves that unduly complicate matters between governments and regions.

So when diplomats spoke to the press, they may have done so anonymously, but it is safe to consider the possibility they did so as authorized leaks to communicate the attitudes of their governments. They were not pleased.

The president’s story is consistent with his previous ones: when it comes to human rights, the best defense is a good offense, and that takes the form of a preemptive strike by invoking the record of other countries. That is fair and just as far as it goes.

Even Henry Kissinger once wrote the following, in 1957: “No significant conclusions are possible in the study of foreign affairs—the study of states as units—without an awareness of the historical context… The memory of states is the test of truth of their policy. The more elementary the experience, the more profound its impact on a nation’s interpretation of the present in light of the past… Who is to quarrel with a people’s interpretation of its past? It is its only means of facing the future, and what ‘really’ happened is often less important than what is thought to have happened… [All states] consider themselves as expressions of historical forces. It is not the equilibrium as an end that concerns them… but as a means towards realizing their historical aspirations.”

But we do not operate in isolation; and while many applauded if not the style, then the substance of the president—he was firm about our sovereignty, insistent on being accorded respect as a head of state, fierce when it comes to recalling the sins of foreigners against our country and our people in the past—the same could be said for the other ASEAN leaders there. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia know a thing or two about being at the receiving end of American “benevolence,” particularly Laos, the host: the Americans dropped more bombs on that country than they did on Germany and Japan combined, in World War II.

Yet these countries, in pursuit of their own national interests, have pursued a reconciliatory foreign policy with the United States. Surely they do not—and will never—forget the sins of America in the past. Neither should we; but what we should not forget is that Laos itself was engaged in moving its relationship with the USA forward; that ASEAN, in general, is concerned with China’s activities in the Spratleys and other places; and that in the main, ASEAN wants peace and quiet and not fireworks at a time when international tensions are riding high and the global economy is not particularly healthy.

In that context the president’s preemptive approach to questions on human rights, with blustering, cursing, and bringing up history as the warheads for his launched verbal attacks, are domestic crowd-pleasers for some but internationally irresponsible behavior for others. The place to lecture the President of the United States would have been in a meeting with him—except it was precisely this possibility that our president wanted to forestall. Counteracting the raising of the topic by two of the president’s pet peeves—the Secretary-General of the UN and Obama—put our president’s domestic agenda ahead of the ASEAN community’s common agenda, and that is what the diplomats from our neighbors were communicating when they leaked to the wire service of France.

In ASEAN, the chairmanship of the organization passes from year to year, from one country to another, based on the alphabetical list, in English, of member states. The country that’s chairman for a particular year, gets to host the annual gathering of leaders. So when 2017 rolls around, it will be interesting to see—what lessons has Team Philippines learned? And what attitudes will our neighbors be bringing to the table when they arrive as our guests? At least two will probably arrive not as happy campers—since the president described them, in his Jakarta speech, in the following terms: “Cambodia; Cambodia is a satellite of China. Laos is a—kani-kanila iyan eh, satellite.”

Which raises an interesting point about the ties between nations in an interdependent world: if we have toed the American line too long in the opinion of some, would toeing the Chinese line be helpful counterbalance? Well, it takes two to tango.

Consider that a Chinese academic, Li Jinming, professor of international relations at the Research School of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, told Bloomberg, “It could hardly be perceived as an opportunity because Duterte often talks incoherently and is temperamentally unstable… He could say one thing today and utter the entire opposite tomorrow.” If diplomats can anonymously leak to express their governments’ points of view, academics from China can also express opinions to telegraph Beijing’s frame of mind.

Most interesting of all is how too many of we, the people, missed out on what was really going on. On one hand, too many Filipino observers were reacting from a colonial-minded point of view—upset that a Filipino, any Filipino, much more a president—would dare call out the Great North American Nation. Others, on the other hand, reacted from an ironically colonially-oriented sense of nationalism—delighted at the lashing out of the president, as a kind of antidote to the smooth colorless statements of the past (they should read Illusions of Influence: The Political Economy of United States-Philippines Relations, 1942-1960 which rather conclusively argues we bamboozle the Americans far more than they have bamboozled us).

Lost in the whole blur of headlines was this central question: aside from dodging inconvenient questions about human rights—something, by the way, every nation has an interest in, precisely because it applies universally—and being selective in the use of past atrocities (you will never hear the president denounce the destruction of Jolo during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos, as one observer pointed out), what national interest of the Philippines was promoted?Perhaps a kind of splendid isolation that would make North Koreans proud.

Sep 08

Unintended consequences of Napoleonic solutions

ON December 14, 1840, Napoleon Bonaparte’s body was brought in a glittering funeral procession through Paris. See The death of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Retour des Cendres: French and British perspectives for a synopsis of the circumstances surrounding the return:
The procession and parade organised by the authorities presented a level of splendour never before seen. However, the return of Napoleon was not a simple matter of patriotism. The political intent is one that has to be examined closely in order to understand how the French population celebrated their emperor’s return.
Louis Philippe, the Orléans king, was in power at the time of the Retour des Cendres. This was not the first time attempts had been made to return his mortal remains to France. When Napoleon died, an appeal was immediately made for the return of his body. Contrary to popular belief at the time, it was not the English who were preventing the return of his remains. Indeed the English government had made it clear to their French equivalents that « le gouvernement anglais ne se regardait que comme le dépositaire des cendres de l’Empereur et qu’il le rendrait à la France dès que le gouvernement français lui en témoignerait le désir ». But in 1821, the government of Louis XVIII was little disposed to bringing the Emperor’s mortal remains back. Louis did not want Bonapartist sentiments to return to the surface, especially with the royalists in power and the potential for a coup d’état. When Louis-Philippe ascended to the throne a petition was presented to the Chambre des députés in an appeal for the return of Napoleon. Although Heulard de Montigny “considered the reign of Napoleon to be the most brilliant time for France”, he failed to convince any of his colleagues. Throughout the 1820s and 1830s other attempts failed. So why did Napoleon make it back after twenty years?
The reasoning behind Louis Philippe’s decision to bring Napoleon’s body back to France, instead of leaving it in poetic isolation on St Helena, is complex. The king was heavily influenced in his decision by his prime minister at the time: Adolphe Thiers. Thiers, along with Guizot, used the return of Napoleon’s remains as part of a deliberate political design, a decidedly risky strategy to take. Certainly many French people felt very passionate about Napoleon and wanted his return, but there were also many who were politically and ideologically opposed to the emperor. However, the government felt that the July monarchy was strong enough to recognise the glories of its ideological adversaries and to place them in their ‘juste milieu’, in doing so synthesising all aspects of the past and the social divisions it had witnessed. Unity could be achieved by remembering rather than forgetting the past, and Napoleon was a major part of France’s heritage.

Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily, Queen of the French, bust by Baron François Joseph Bosio (The Met Museum)
Queen Marie Amelie of the French, according to Philip Mansel in his book Paris Between Empires 1814 -1852, had her own opinion: “whatever people said in Napoleon’s favour, no man had caused more tears to be shed.” The idea was the plan of Theirs; the Queen’s husband, King Louis-Philippe, “hoped to appropriate the glory of the Napoleonic Empire.” This required what I would call a Great Erasing of (according to Mansel) “the horrors of the Napoleonic wars, the contempt and ‘general malediction’ felt for Napoleon in April 1814 and on his return from Waterloo in June 1815 –when he had been labeled Nero, Attila, and Genghis Khan…”
A Parisian newspaper asked its readers, “but what madness drives men to make heroes in this world of those who seem rather to have been sent by God to punish them?” Mansel answers the question, observing that the paper underestimated “the force of masochism in mass politics.” He warned that the cult of Napoleon carried with it the seeds of the destruction of the monarchy.
The Bonapartes were not allowed to participate in Napoleon’s funeral but they ended up the political beneficiaries of the act.

Albumin photograph of Alphonse de Lamartine by Nadar, 1856
At the time of Napoleon I’s funeral, the man considered the greatest orator in the French national assembly at the time, Alphonse de Lamartine, had denounced the burial in these words:

I am not of this Napoleonic religion, of this cult of force, which one has noticed for some time substituting itself in the spirit of the nation for the serious religion of liberty. I do not think it right thus unceasingly to deify war… as if peace which is the happiness and glory of the world could be the disgrace of nations… let us not seduce to such an extent the opinion of a people which understands far better what dazzles it than what serves it.

Louis Philippe, King of the French, portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
In the end, the King who tried to bask in Napoleon I’s glory, Louis-Philippe, put down a revolt in 1832, commemorated in the musical, Les Miserables, and was finally deposed by a revolution in 1848 which re-established the French Republic –led by a commission headed by Lamartine.
But the dynasty that ultimately benefitted, as that observer had warned back in 1840, was not the House of Orleans, or the Republic that deposed it, but rather, the dynasty of Bonaparte. For Louis-Philippe was replaced by a President: Louis Napoleon, who defeated Lamartine. When the monarchy was strong, Louis-Napoleon had been viewed as a pathetic adventurer whose plots constantly failed; but with the collapse of the monarchy and the feeble new republic, the nostalgia got the better of the French.

Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, portrait by Alexandre Cabanel
Limited by the constitution to one term, in 1851 he mounted a coup, abolished the Republic, and proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III. He would rule until his defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
It was Napoleon III who once remarked,

The nation is a slave who must be convinced he is seated on the throne.

Aug 30

My answers to questions on the War on Drugs

(August 30 Questions from Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, and my answers to the questions. A portion was quoted in his article.)

Q1. What are your general thoughts on this campaign? Do you support it, or think that it has gone too far with nearly 2,000 already dead?

The number of dead is an indication of what is problematic. An official distinction has been made between “legitimate” killings and those attributed to either preemptive internal purges within drug syndicates, or by vigilantes. The problem is that the mechanisms and manpower of the government seem hard-pressed (and sometimes simply disinclined) to clearly determine by means of inquests which fatality can be attributed to which of the supposed simultaneous trends going on. Responsibility, either by negligence or design, is also diffused; the entire police apparatus has been mobilized, and like any big organization the level of competence of various detachments varies widely. The result is all the public has to go on is confidence in both the president and his principal lieutenants in the police and other organs of the government.

The campaign itself seems to be modeled after that of Thaksin in Thailand –again problematic, because it was generally deemed a failure. Its domestic characteristics date to the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (former president and one of the big players in the Duterte coalition) and some of her former people who had attempted saturation drives during her term, and whose political allies first tried to raise narco-politics as an issue in the 2010 campaign (narco-politics as an issue of public concern had emerged in 2001, the period of transition from the Estrada administration which was ousted from office and replaced with Arroyo). Both Thaksin and Arroyo (or their officials) in the face of their anti-drug efforts also found it convenient to use narco-politics as a political issue; this is risky because, as the present administration is also doing, any carelessness in accusations diminishes the long-term effectivity of the argument.

This much is clear. It is a campaign that is very specific –not a war on drugs per se, but a war on crystal meth. It is a war focused on the liquidation of pushers and the principal lieutenants of the drug kingpins, who have been officially announced to be generally overseas and thus beyond the reach of the government. It is one of indeterminate duration, which raises the problem of how –or by what measure– victory can be achieved.

Most worrying of all is that the state has a monopoly on the use of force grounded on the expectation that it is used sparingly, responsibly, and with accountability. A very human factor is thus being ignored in the ongoing debate on the war on drugs. We have a police –and possibly, in the future– a military that has been institutionally-expected to be responsible and judicious in its use of force. Individual policemen, long circumscribed in their actions by strict rules on the acquisition, and legal scrutiny, of evidence, and who had clearly defined rules of engagement in terms of the use of force on suspects and the public at large, are discovering that the institutions that used to limit their actions are now neutralized. This feeling of power, this sense of immunity and impunity, this thrill from obtaining instant results, can be a kind of narcotic, too. Once experienced, it can become increasingly difficult to limit it to just the war on drugs, particularly when that war takes on the attributes of a larger war, whether to “reform,” or “rebuild,” or “reengineer” or “defend” the state against its “enemies” –as defined by the commanders.

Every society that has experienced political instability knows these are developments that can have an effect on institutions and society lasting generations –it took the Philippines a generation to wean its military and police from a similar experience during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986).

Q2. Why do you think that President Duterte has so much popular support? Do you think this support will diminish in a few years? If so, why?

Every president who wins an election –even as a plurality victor– obtains a subsequent overwhelming level of public support in their initial months in office. The public, which previously supported different candidates, rallies around the victor and gives the winner a chance to fulfill the mandate given at the polls.

This is an observable trend in public opinion surveys. In June 2010, Benigno S. Aquino III who won with 42% of the votes, obtained an 88% trust rating. In June 2016, Rodrigo Roa Duterte who won with 39% of the votes, obtained a 91% trust rating. Both surveys (By Social Weather Stations) having a plus or minus 3% margin of error, the results can be said to be quite similar, if not identical.

The question is what the next survey in October and every quarter thereafter, will reveal. No one knows. If public trust remains high, it will further embolden the administration; if it plunges, it can embolden the administration to even more vigorously pursue current policies, knowing time is running out in terms of public support. However, whatever the results, it also suggests the administration knows it can count on a committed constituency of 39% to sustain itself –even now, despite every indication of public support being high, efforts to mobilize this constituency to mount demonstrations against the Senate (which conducted an inquiry into the drug war) are being made, which suggests some in the ruling coalition may have noticed a dip in public enthusiasm.

Q3. Many people, among them officials, judges, journalists and politicians, seem reluctant to publically criticize this anti-drug push. Why do you think this is so?

The answer is simple: fear. Fear of public opinion and more importantly, fear of the president. The president’s supporters are vocal, aggressive, plentiful and in some instances, organized. They swarm social media, and media sites both local and foreign. The President himself has a gift for targeting specific personalities who to his mind, represent challenges to his authority. This combination is formidable and considering the enthusiasm for the use of force, requires every individual venturing on expressing an opinion to consider the consequences.

Q4. Vice President Leni Robredo has called for the rule of law to be applied in the hunt for drug pushers, but has not really come out to criticize the president’s anti-drug campaign. Do you think she could do more in terms of speaking out, or is that too politically risky?

In the Philippines we elect our presidents and vice presidents separately, a practice that dates from the foundation of our modern institutions in 1935. It was felt important at the time that the potential successor of a president should have a clear, personal, mandate, too. However, this means every vice-president is viewed with suspicion by the sitting president, especially if they do not come from the same party. This suspicion is particularly intense not only because Vice-President Robredo defeated one of the paramount allies of the president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., but also, she was the candidate of the very administration the president’s ruling coalition (composed of the factions of former presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the united front parties of the Communists, and the political apparatus of the Marcos family) was meant to not only defeat, but permanently discredit as an ex-post-facto rehabilitation of themselves (the whole 1986-2016 era, with its periodic outbreaks of People Power, its anti-dictatorship constitution, and relative media independence and civil society participation, was a perpetual thorn in the side of those wanting a Marcos restoration, an Arroyo political rehabilitation, and a Ramos-proposed parliamentary system modeled on the one-party dominance of UMNO in Malaysia).

The other factor is that so long as the Vice-President is in office, an alternative leadership is available, and could potentially provide a rallying figure for those disaffected for whatever reason, with the present administration. However, the Vice-President herself seems to sense a long-standing rule in Philippine politics. No Vice-President has ever benefited from challenging the sitting president: the public expects the Vice-President, of whatever party, to cooperate with and serve, the sitting president, of whatever party. At the same time the civil society background of the Vice-President suggests she probably views it as a matter of civic conscience to have a seat at the table, in order to give voice to the constituency that elected her. A very delicate balancing act is therefore required, meaning she cannot be as vocal or critical as some of her supporters might want, but also, however cooperative she is, supporters of the president will always view her with suspicion. The wider public, on the other hand, will probably be more understanding in this regard.

She has from time to time issued gentle reminders about human rights, against the dictatorship of Marcos, and this includes the drug war. It would be fair to say however she is still finding her own voice in the midst of fast-moving events.

Aug 24

Congressmen are on dangerous ground in wanting to investigate a sitting senator

Congressmen are on dangerous ground in wanting to investigate a sitting senator

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

(SPOT.ph) There is a three-cornered fight going on, and it involves the president, the House of Representatives, and Sen. Leila De Lima. Everyone knows that the president and the senator are at loggerheads. He says she is a coddler of drug lords; she says he has taken local death squads and gone national. The president has raised the senator’s personal life, and promises to unveil a matrix to prove his accusations. She has conducted an investigation in aid of legislation, on alleged extra-judicial killings.

But why is the House of Representatives getting into the act?

In late July, when he was still waiting to be formally elected Speaker of the House, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez said he would file a motion in the House to investigate Sen. Leila De Lima over her handling of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa during her stint as Secretary of Justice. Back then, she caught drug lords living in luxury in prison. This, Alvarez said, was all for show, and he wanted to get to the bottom of things (at the same time he rejected proposals for the House to investigate alleged extra-judicial killings, saying Congress has no prosecutorial powers and no changes to legislation could possibly arise from an investigation). In the end, the Speaker and Reps. Karlo Nograles of Davao City and Raneo Abu of Batangas became co-authors of the resolution. For Nograles, what he wants to know is how drugs were manufactured in Bilibid and which personalities are connected. Abu, for his part, wants to dig deeper into raids conducted in Bilibid in which a shabu laboratory, high-powered firearms, improvised weapons and luxury items were discovered.

Last Tuesday, the remaining eight oppositionists in the House (grandly called—by itself—the “legitimate” minority bloc while the rival minority bloc seems to be more the company union of the supermajority) held a press conference saying, as Rep. Edcel Lagman put it, an “invitation” to Sen. De Lima to attend the hearing was a violation of the principle of inter-parliamentary courtesy between the two chambers of Congress. Rep. Raul Daza added that the rules of the House declare it unparliamentary to make “derogatory remarks against the Senate” and to “refer to senators by name by way of personal criticisms.”

Earlier, Reps. Abu and Nograles had said that all they could do was issue an invitation—but that De Lima, based on parliamentary courtesy, could not be compelled to attend. For her part, in a privilege speech in the Senate on August 2, De Lima said she would not attend the House hearing—not on the principle of inter-parliamentary courtesy, which she said was properly Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III’s defense to make on behalf of a colleague and the institution of the Senate, in the face of “this blatant break of tradition”—rather, she said, her defense was her record, “before this demolition job was launched against me both in social media and by the Solicitor-General.”

So is De Lima being (a not-so) Little Miss Manners? Are opponents of the “invitation” by the House who are House members themselves, fussing over frou-frou matters like politeness, which is getting in the way of a vital, urgent inquiry in the public interest? What is the point of all this etiquette?

Based the American model, we divide our government into doers, talkers, and thinkers: the President is the Action Man (or Woman), but too much action can be dangerous, so you need people who pass laws, without which you cannot have a basis for action—and who will talk things through in Congress, not just once, but twice (House and Senate) before any law is passed; and you need thinkers—the Courts—to ponder on whether Doers and Talkers are subscribing to the ultimate law, the Constitution, which is the contract between we, the people, and everyone earning a public salary, whether they be doers, talkers, or thinkers or their subordinates. It is a tedious and confrontational process by design.

From the English we have the principle that the Doer—in their history, the King—has something that the Talkers—in their history, the House of Commons—does not: an army. That is why, to this day, at the State Opening of Parliament, the official tasked with summoning the House of Commons has the door ceremoniously slammed in his face: Parliament attends of its own free will and not by force. This is why, when the President goes to deliver his SONA, the armed forces stays outside the premises of Congress, and officers attend only as invited guests, because the first thing Doers do, when they decide they don’t like impertinent questions or debate, is to padlock parliament or congress.

What applies between independent institutions—and theoretically, though the practice may be different, Congress is independent of the Palace—also applies within an institution if, as our Congress is, it’s composed of two institutions, namely the House of Representatives and the Senate. They form one institution but represent different constituencies. The House represents specific local districts, and because of this, more basic, representation, things like proposals for new taxes can only come from the House, for example. The Senate, on the other hand, is unique in the world because it represents the nation as a whole: like presidents, senators are elected by the entire electorate, which is why it is often the place from which future presidents emerge.

The Constitution as the operations manual for our government, specifies that the House and the Senate adopt their own rules; that they, and only they, can discipline their own members—which means the House cannot interfere in the rules and membership of the Senate, and vice versa. There is a pragmatic logic to this. There are far more members of the House, who could be whipped up into a mob, to lynch either the Senate as a whole, or individual senators. There are very few Senators and they could easily conspire as a cabal to persecute the House or its members. Fundamental to this principle is respect for the electorate that chooses representatives and senators; it would be improper for a nationally elected senator to meddle in the affairs of a specific district of a city or province, as it would be for a specific city or province to try to meddle in the internal affairs of a body whose members have been elected by the entire nation. Not to mention another basic reality: the House has always, without exception, been under Palace control; the Senate, on the other hand, by design is meant to have the stature to deal, on a more equal level, with the presidency.

This is the meaning, then, of inter-parliamentary courtesy. Congressmen and senators are nothing without the constituencies they represent; to engage in meddling—for whatever lofty reason (and no politician has ever been short of lofty reasons to excuse breaking the rules)—strikes at the relationship between those who elected that legislator and the institution they belong to.

This does not mean that if anyone harbors suspicions against a legislator, that person ought to be let off without scrutiny. Far from it. It only means that there are proper ways and means to do this. Whether congressman or senator, for example, if you want to ask a member of the cabinet questions, the president must give his consent, because the president (including his alter egos, the cabinet members), is the co-equal of Congress. Even when a president is put on trial, the House acts as prosecutor but it is the senate, nationally elected and thus representing the same constituency as the president, who can sit in judgment to decide whether or not to cut short a president’s term. There is nothing to stop a concerned citizen to ask the Senate to convene its Committee on Ethics, or to form a Committee of he Whole or what have you, to look into the questions it wants asked concerning Sen. De Lima. Then she would have no choice but to answer. The House can hold all the hearings it wants and if enough witnesses make convincing revelations the House can submit these to the Senate which would be hard-pressed not to make an inquiry according to its own rules and processes.

Otherwise the House risks establishing precedents that are, in the long-term, harmful to its own independence. All legislative bodies function only because rules exist, with those rules clarified and made practical, by precedents—how the rules have been applied in the past, as a guide for the present and future. To throw this all away for short-term political satisfaction is a guarantee than when a challenge to the entire institution comes from outside, as legislatures always experience sooner or later, then the Talkers will have their last armor stripped away by themselves—the precedents and rules and practices that gained themselves the independence to be able to talk, in the first place, without being fearful of losing life or limb to the caprices of kings, presidents, or generals.

Aug 12

The law says Marcos is a hero—and it also doesn’t

The law says Marcos is a hero—and it also doesn’t

Manuel L. Quezon III looks into why Marcos is still considered a hero, officially, by some.

The simple truth is, our institutions are divided on whether Marcos was hero or heel—no wonder the public’s confused, too.


The reason President Rodrigo R. Duterte can weigh in on whether or not the Great Dictator should be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani is because our government itself is of two minds on the matter. Like any politico, given two sides of the coin, he knows the presidency is powerful enough to dictate whether it’s heads or tails on the matter.

From an official point of view, it’s a simple question, really. As Arsenio Andolong, Public Affairs Service Director of the Department of National Defense said on August 8, “I believe based on these regulations, he [Marcos] is qualified.” You’ve probably heard about AFP Regulations G 161-373 (“Allocation of Cemetery Plots at the LNMB”), issued on April 9, 1986 by GHQ under then AFP Chief of Staff General Fidel V. Ramos and then-President Corazon C. Aquino, amended by AFP Regulations G 161-375 on September 11, 2000, which states that among other things, former presidents, former secretaries of National Defense, veterans of World War II and the guerrillas, are all authorized to be buried in the Libingan. A bureaucrat in the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office, going through a checklist, could easily say: Instruction from the commander in chief? Check, see the memo of National Defense Secretary Lorenzana on August 7. Veteran? Check. Medal of Valor awardee? Check. Former commander-in-chief? Check. So what’s the problem?

Which goes to my point, which is, what we all overlook in this debate is that it has been framed, and approached, by officialdom as a primarily a military matter. And as far as the military is concerned, the Great Dictator remains in the ranks of its hallowed dead. The only person to my mind who zeroed in on this was veteran reporter Alan Robles, who was outraged to discover the official history of the Department of National Defense glossed over military abuses during martial law.

And if there is one thing the military, like all well-developed bureaucracies knows how to do well, it’s to protect one’s turf. The history of the Libingan itself points to it having been conceived, and administered, as a National Shrine primarily of a military nature. If you follow the trail of official documents, from the time President Ramon Magsaysay to 1986, it was first and foremost a military cemetery with the status of a National Shrine (see the annexes below if you want to follow the paper trail). Even the first former president buried in the Libingan, Carlos P. Garcia (who died in 1971) had been a guerrilla leader during World War II. It was by means of the military’s own regulations that the criteria for being buried in the cemetery was expanded. When former presidents Diosdado Macapagal in 1997 and most recently, Elpidio Quirino who was transferred from the Manila South Cemetery just this year, were buried there, these were after the 1986 regulations which made the Libingan a place where even non-soldiers could be buried.

It must bother the armed forces that civilians are getting into the act.

Opponents of the decision pursue several arguments. The first was that former President Fidel V. Ramos gave permission for Marcos to be buried provided they proceeded directly to Ilocos from Hawaii, that he would given only the military honors due a Major in the Armed Forces, and that he buried immediately in Batac—the first two were fulfilled by the Marcoses and the government, the last condition was never met by the Marcoses who, officially, at least, have had him on display but not buried since 1998. So, the Marcoses broke a solemn covenant between themselves and former president Ramos representing the Republic. The second argument is that the Libingan regulations themselves state that if a person has been guilty of “moral turpitude,” they cannot be buried in the Libingan—though as UST Law Dean Nilo Divina pointed out, the convictions of Marcos for ill-gotten wealth are civil, and not criminal, cases so the prohibition does not apply—although opponents could always go to court since the definition of what constitutes “moral turpitude” is, he says, “broad.”

Ever-helpful Speaker Alvarez weighed in, dusting off an old law—Republic Act No. 248 enacted in 1948—which he said established a National Pantheon for presidents.

Atty. Mel Sta. Maria wrote an impassioned rejoinder on the basis of the law providing that the National Pantheon would exist “for the inspiration and emulation of this generation and of generations still unborn.” But there’s one big problem, to my mind, with following the Speaker down this particular rabbit hole. And that is: the National Pantheon was never built.

Here, a memory comes to mind. When I was a kid, I remember my father telling me that the proposed National Pantheon (which was supposed to be built where the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas Mint is now located along East Avenue, Quezon City) was finally ready to push through, but Victoria Quirino Gonzales (daughter of President Quirino) mentioned it to Pitoy Moreno who in turn mentioned it to Madame Imelda Romualdez Marcos—whereupon the project died (Ruby Gonzales Meyer, daughter of Vicky Quirino, alas doesn’t recall the incident when I checked). The story is significant only in that it suggests critics of the Marcoses believed they weren’t keen on their predecessors—we forget that during the dictatorship, the portraits of past presidents were all reframed, to make them smaller than the Great Dictator’s; after EDSA they were reframed again, to bring them back to their original sizes (you can still see the marks where they’d been folded to make them smaller)—and that the pantheon plan never took off.

To be fair to the Great Dictator, one has to take into account we are a nation that has long been wonderful at enacting laws and deplorable when it comes to executing them. We know for a fact that in his last week in office, President Quirino set aside a parcel of land along East Avenue, Quezon City, for the National Pantheon on December 23, 1953 but that seems to be the last time any president issued an order on the matter.

The proposed National Pantheon may have never gotten off the ground simply because the Manila North Cemetery was already fulfilling the function. Quezon (1946), Roxas (1948), Magsaysay (1957), and Osmeña (1961) were all originally buried in the Manila North Cemetery because it was the most prominent government-owned cemetery and thus our civilian leaders were logically buried there. The Mausoleum of the Veterans of the Philippine Revolution, the Boy Scouts Memorial (the ones killed in a plane crash in 1963 were buried there) and statesmen such as Claro M. Recto, Quintin Paredes, and others interred there, too. Other presidents were buried in the Manila South Cemetery (Quirino in 1956) or in their home provinces (Laurel in Batangas in 1959, Aguinaldo in Kawit in 1964).

And we know for a fact that less than a year later, President Magsaysay renamed the Republic Memorial Cemetery as the Libingan ng mga Bayani—for soldiers. It may well be, that by the time Garcia died in 1971, the decision had been made to turn the Libingan essentially into a national pantheon—but it is crystal-clear that the Libingan ng mga Bayani was a different place entirely from the pantheon envisioned by Congress in 1948.

This brings us back to the heart of the problem. The criteria for burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, over time, has become elastic: your CV as a high official is all that is required; and yet, while it can accommodate civilians, by tradition and administrative regulation, it is primarily a military preserve and the military maintains Marcos in its roster of greats.

Never mind if the nation itself, at least according to our laws, has publicly acknowledged Ninoy Aquino is a hero (which can only be taken as an indictment of Marcos); has acknowledged and indemnified the human rights violations undertaken during his rule (over 76,000 claims are being processed); not to mention the date of his fleeing into exile, February 25, is a holiday for school children. It does not matter if the Supreme Court has upheld the forfeiture in favor of the Republic, of shares of stock and funds owned by the Marcoses, on the grounds that they represent ill-gotten wealth. Both by statute and tradition, the military is paramount in the Libingan and institutionally-speaking, the armed forces never disowned the dictator.

The Marcoses have been persistent and their persistence has paid off. They were close to achieving their dream of a vindication of their patriarch during the time of President Joseph Estrada, who was, and is, a Marcos loyalist. But Edsa Dos got in the way. Now, it is Springtime for Marcos again. True, there are those who have decided to act in defiance of the plan. Chuck Syjuco and others took to leaving stones inscribed with the names of martial law victims in the intended site of Marcos’ Libingan grave (until they were banned by the military). The family of National Artist Cesar Legaspi asked for his remains to be disinterred and had him reburied elsewhere. Others say they will follow suit. A citizens’ assembly will be held in in the shadow of the Lapu-Lapu monument in Rizal Park on August 14, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. Things may even end up in court. Even some of the President’s devoted allies, such as (former and current) Senate Presidents Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and III, are urging President Duterte to reconsider. But he says he will stick to his guns.

Whatever happens, the issue has come to a head, because of our schizophrenic institutions. On one hand the Republic has disowned Marcos; on another, it holds him up as a heroic veteran.


FOR those interested, here is the paper trail and some readings.

My blog entry on the Marcos medals: he used his mastery of affidavits and his rising up the ladder, to get himself awarded heaps of awards. The NHCP position paper on the Marcos burial is linked to in the entry, too. For decisions of the Supreme Court on ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses being forfeited to the state, see G.R. No. 149802, January, 2006; G.R. No. 152154, July 15, 2003; G.R. No. 152154, November 18, 2003; and G.R. No. 189434, April, 2012. See also The World Bank: Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative: summary on Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (Switzerland).

See also:

Republic Act No. 289, June 18, 1948: providing for the construction of a National Pantheon for presidents of the Philippines, national heroes, and patriots of the country, and establishing a board for planning purposes.

Proclamation No. 431, December 23, 1953: setting aside a parcel of land in Quezon City for the National Pantheon.

Proclamation No. 86, October 27, 1954: renaming the Republic Memorial Cemetery in Fort McKinley, Rizal Province, the Libingan ng mga Bayani because the old name was “not symbolic of the cause for which our soldiers have died, and does not truly express the nation’s esteem and reverence for her war dead.”

Executive Order No. 58, August 16, 1954: declaring Bataan and Corregidor as National Shrines, and creating a Corregidor-Bataan National Shrines Commission to develop and maintain the shrines.

Executive Order No. 87, January 5, 1955: amending the composition of the Bataan-Corregidor National Shrines Commission.

Executive Order No. 204, October 9, 1956: renaming the Corregidor-Bataan National Shrines Commission as the National Shrines Commission and putting it in charge of determining other battlefields that should be declared National Shrines and take charge of them.

Executive Order No. 49, September 16, 1963, amending the composition of the National Shrines Commission.

National Fund Campaigns for the National Shrines Commission: Proclamation No. 331, s. 1964; Proclamation No. 310, s. 1967; Proclamation No. 507, s. 1968; Proclamation No. 880, s. 1971.

Proclamation No. 208, May 28, 1967: separating the Libingan ng mga Bayani from the Fort Bonifacio Military Reservation, and declaring the cemetery a National Shrine under the administration of the National Shrine Commission.

Presidential Decree No. 1, September 24, 1972: reorganized the entire Executive Branch of government; it abolished the National Shrines Commission and transferred its powers and duties to the National Historical Commission.

Presidential Decree No. 105, January 24, 1973: declaring National Shrines as hallowed and sacred places, and providing for the punishment of persons who desecrate or disturb the peace and serenity of the places by digging, excavating, defacing, causing unnecessary noise and committing unbecoming acts within their premises.

Presidential Decree No. 1076, January 26, 1977: transferring the functions of the defunct National Shrines Commission to the Department of National Defense.

G.R. No. 88211, October 27, 1989: Supreme Court decision dismissing motion for reconsideration on its upholding government’s refusal to allow the return of Ferdinand Marcos’ remains.

Republic Act No. 9256, February 25, 2004: declaring August 21 as Ninoy Aquino Day, a nationwide nonworking holiday.

Republic At No. 10368, January 25, 2013: providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime: “it is hereby declared the policy of the State to recognize the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance and other gross human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos covering the period from September 21, 1972 to February 25, 1986 and restore the victims’ honor and dignity. The State hereby acknowledges its moral and legal obligation to recognize and/or provide reparation to said victims and/or their families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations and damages they suffered under the Marcos regime.”

Aug 10

Notes on the Marcos Medals

(updated August 11, 2016–see postscript)



In 1983, the Washington Post printed an article by John Sharkey, questioning the claims of wartime heroism of then President Ferdinand E. Marcos. This led to Minister of Information Gregorio Cendaña writing a rebuttal in a book Documents on the Marcos War Medals published by the Office of Media Affairs, Malacañan. Through 1985 to 1986, the issue once again made headlines when the New York Times published an article byJeff Gerth and Joel Brinkley, unveiling the research of American Historian Alfred McCoy and Richard J. Kessler.

The image of Ferdinand Marcos as not just a bemedaled veteran, but the most bemedaled veteran of World War II was integral to his presidential image.

Marcos medal1

The famous portrait of President Marcos by the Indonesian painter Abdullah portrays the President with the Medal of Valor and two rows of military and civilian awards, together with the Grand Collar of the Order of Sikatuna and the sash and Star of the Philippine Legion of Honor, with the rank of Chief Commander.

What follows is the story of President Marcos’ military awards and the controversies surrounding them. The question that comes out of this is how did Marcos garner so many accolades during the postwar era? Were there any ulterior motives in awarding Marcos with different distinctions as he rose in the ranks of the political arena?

Ferdinand Marcos was undoubtedly a veteran of the Second World War. He claimed membership in the resistance efforts against the Japanese. In honor of his alleged meritorious service, the Philippine Army and Philippine officials awarded Marcos 27 medals. A review of the circumstances under which these awards were made show they were based on affidavits secured by Marcos, and awarded, first, on the basis of requests to be awarded the medals filed by Marcos himself, and second, during a period that coincided with Marcos being Chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations and serious contender for the Philippine Presidency.


Controversies Surrounding the Marcos Medals

The least controversial medals that then-Major Ferdinand E. Marcos had garnered were those given to him by the United States Army. Although these medals were awarded for his action in the defense of Bataan, Marcos obtained them through self- serving requests.

In February 1945, Major Marcos wrote a letter addressed to the Commanding General of the United States Army and claimed that in 1942 he was awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross in February and March, respectively, which he never officially received. These awards are the second and third highest in the U.S. Army, to which the Philippine Army was joined with the creation of USAFFE. Along with the letter, Marcos attached several affidavits of fellow soldiers attesting to the awarding of the medals and a request for him to finally be furnished these.

Marcos medal2

The portrait made at the apex of the career of President Marcos, is a far cry from the respectable but far more modest awards displayed by then Major Marcos in 1946: Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart.

In December that year, in ceremonies held in Camp Murphy (now Camp Aguinaldo), Quezon City, Marcos was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star he requested and in addition, the Purple Heart.

This was followed by a second request in 1947, this time for the Gold Cross, the fourth highest military award of the Philippines. Affidavits also accompanied this request and sought to establish Marcos’s valor and gallantry in the field, albeit retroactively. He was awarded the Gold Gross in the same year and the Distinguished Conduct Star (the second-highest Philippine military award) the year after.

In 1949, Marcos at the age of 32, ran for and won the seat his father once held in the lower House of Congress. Representing his home province of llocos Norte, he promised his constituents an llocano president in 20 years. Marcos’s meteoric rise in Philippine politics can be tracked with the equally stellar haul of medals, awards, and decorations conferred on him by the Philippines.

Two medals were conferred on him in the 1950s while he served as Chairman of the Defense Committee in the House of Representatives. This crucial position allowed him a great deal of influence in the Armed Forces due to his control over the AFP budget. The two medals were the Philippine Legion of Honor, rank of Legionnaire (specifically awarded for his lobbying efforts for veterans in Washington), and the country’s highest military honor, the Medal of Valor.

After serving three terms in the House of Representatives, Marcos was elected to a six-year term in the Senate with the most number of votes in the 1959 elections. Already a considerably bemedaled veteran while serving in the House, Marcos’s biggest haul of medals was actually as a Senator while sitting as Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee that effectively controlled the national budget.

Halfway through his Senate term, Marcos’s political star was decidedly on a collision course with fellow Liberal Party stalwart and incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal who was inclined to seek re-election in 1965. In an attempt to appease the ambitious Marcos and avoid a possible challenge for their party’s nomination for the Presidency, Alfred McCoy in his book “Closer than Brothers,” suggests that Macapagal awarded Senate President Marcos an astonishing 10 medals in 1963. Nine of these on a single day, December 20, 1963: two Distinguished Conduct Stars, two Distinguished Service Stars, three Gold Cross Medals, three Wounded Soldier’s Medals. Earlier, on October 31 of the same year, Marcos received his First Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the Distinguished Conduct Star.

Several other decorations were also conferred on Marcos, which were not for his personal achievements, but rather, the grant of campaign medals to all servicemen. The decorations for his service during the war were The World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippine Defense Service Medal, American Defense Service Medal, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Badge, Philippine Independence Medal and the Distinguished Unit Badge from the US army. These medals and citations were bestowed upon soldiers who served during the war and lived through it. At this point, Marcos’s medals totaled 25 and this purportedly well-documented, stellar military career would eventually serve as the cornerstone for Marcos’s successful presidential campaign in 1965 against his erstwhile ally Macapagal. In his own re-election bid in 1969, Marcos again paraded his war medals and his carefully crafted war hero image carried him to victory against Sergio Osmeña, Jr., against whom he successfully raised the issue of Collaboration with the Japanese (as he had similarly done versus Macapagal in 1961, further contrasting his fighting veteran image with that of his opponents).

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 2.23.56 PMThe final and most controversial medal conferred prior to Martial Law on then-President Marcos is the Philippine Legion of Honor, rank of Chief Commander received in September 1972 – a few weeks before the proclamation of Martial Law. The General Orders state that Marcos was awarded this distinction because of his “invaluable service to the AFP as its Commander-in-Chief.” However, at this time, Marcos was already serving his second term as President and would be sole authority in conferring awards. Essentially, Marcos awarded himself his second Philippine Legion of Honor.

Marcos medal3

In Marcos’s campaign biography, “For Every Tear, a Victory,” his medals occupied a full spread.

The first person to question the Marcos war medals was former confidential press man Primitivo Mijares who, in his 1976 book, The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos I, alleged that Marcos perfected the craft of collecting and amassing affidavits and controlled their official filing.

“It is easy to see how useful the experience and expertise that Marcos obtained from this business of benefiting from the war became to him. When he decided, twenty years after the war, to claim and collect the medals which were to make him, in his words, ‘The most decorated Filipino soldier of World War II mastery of the production of affidavits and documents came in handy,” Mijares wrote.

Following Mijares, Alfred McCoy and Bonifacio Gillego conducted their own pioneering research on the Marcos war medals especially on those he allegedly received from the United States. McCoy subsequently described his findings in his book. Closer than Brothers, while Gillego’s articles, according to Raymond Bonner’s 1987 book, Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the making of American Policy, were printed throughout 1982 in the We Forum, a small opposition newspaper that dared oppose Marcos. Its publisher- editor, Joe Burgos, along with its entire editorial staff, was jailed.

In response to the articles on his medals, President Marcos caused the conferment of another military award: a second Bronze Anahaw Leaf to the Distinguished Conduct Star, on December 20, 1983. This followed the precedent established in 1972 when he was awarded, ostensibly by the Minister of National Defense, but who could only do so by authority of the President of the Philippines.

While the actual awarding of medals was at most, put in limbo, it was the research of McCoy and Kesler, published in the New York Times, shattering the claims of Marcos that he commanded a guerrilla unit called “Maharlika” during the resistance movement against the Japanese, that hurt him the most politically. Maharlika, according U.S. military records unearthed by McCoy, was a dubious organization.

Later on, John Sharkey a reporter for the Washington Post, also exposed controversies regarding Marcos’s claims of guerrilla valor in 1983. He said that despite Marcos’s numerous affidavits attesting to his valor and gallantry in the field, Marcos’s name never appeared in US Government lists and General Douglas MacArthur never mentioned him in any of his biographies. These findings were explosive because of Marcos’s claims that his Medal of Valor was based on a recommendation for the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military award, issued from Corregidor by Gen. Jonathan Wainwright. McCoy’s research not only found no record of this but also revealed highly negative reports on Marcos as a soldier, filed away in Washington. Marcos had even claimed a second Distinguished Service Cross medal personally pinned on him by Douglas MacArthur during a visit on the ageing General in New York, but the only evidence was a photograph of Marcos with the General, in which he was wearing a lapel pin: proof only of his 1946 award.

Marcos penned this entry in his diary on January 1, 1983,

I had sought to protect the sacredness and preciousness of my memories of the war with the sanctity of silence. So I had refused to talk or write about them except in an indirect way when forced to as when I offered my medals to the dead for I believed all such medals belonged to them.

But the sanctity of silence has been broken by the pettiness and cynicism that overwhelms the contemporary world. And the small souls whose vicarious achievement is to insult and offend the mighty and the achievers have succeeded in trivializing the most solemn and honorable of deeds and intentions. Their pettiness has besmirched with the foul attention the honorable service of all who have received medals and citations in the last World War. They have not excluded me. But instead have made me their special target as the most visible of those who offered blood, honor and life to our people.

So I must fight the battles of Bataan all over again. We must walk our Death March in the hot April sun once again. The Calvary of the USAFFE must again be told.

For we bleed and die again. This time in the hands of men who claim to be our countrymen.

Another author who wrote about the war medals of Marcos and the experience of Filipinos under the dictatorship was Raymond Bonner in his 1987 book, Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the making of American Policy.

These exposés show the unraveling of Marcos’s military myth that fueled and propelled his political ambitions. But as Marcos started losing his grip on power in the mid-1980s, even George Will, a conservative columnist who had echoed the support of US President Ronald Reagan for Marcos, wrote about the war medals issue. According to Bonner, Marcos alleged Japanese Emperor Hirohito had written about his military exploits in his memoirs to which Will quickly rebutted by pointing out the Emperor had yet to publish his memoirs.

21019051644_2df61b9a00_kMarcos’ faith in medals continued almost up to the final moments of his stay in power. He conferred on himself the decoration Hero of the New Republic, a civilian award patterned after the USSR’s Hero of the Soviet Union, in 1985.

In summary, we can see that Marcos never received any war medal in the field: his awards were received postwar. We can also conclude that his claims to these medals were based solely on requests supported by affidavits filed after the war, detailing exploits that were questioned and not accepted by American military authorities. The United States refused to comment on the validity of the awards they allegedly conferred on Marcos.

What we do have complete records of are Marcos’s Philippine awards the vast bulk of which were awarded in increasing volume the further, in time and space, Marcos was from the actual battlefield, all this culminating in Marcos awarding himself the Philippine Legion of Honor in 1972 and a second Distinguished Conduct Star in 1983.


The most recent look at FM and his medals and military record comes from the Position Paper of the National Historical Commission on the Philippines: NHCP Position Paper on Marcos Burial in Libingan ng mga Bayani.  Here is the executive summary:


Here lies the ultimate problem, and it is one that falls solely into the lap of the Armed Forces of the Philippines: whatever historians say, the Armed Forces continues to recognize Ferdinand E. Marcos for his military service. None of the awards conferred on Marcos, whether military or civilian, have been withdrawn. He continues to be commemorated as a recipient of the Medal of Valor and numerous other armed forces awards. While it it was a military rebellion that helped turned the tide against the dictator in 1986, institutionally-speaking, the AFP continues to honor the dictator it helped kick out.

(Note: This is to gratefully acknowledge the help of Kristoffer Pasion, Coline Cardeño,Sarah Wong and Jad Arcinas in putting this together!)

POSTSCRIPT, August 11, 2016

Upon reading this entry, Francis Xavier Manglapus said he would send me the copy of an affidavit that was signed in the Shoreham Hotel on September 9, 1982 by Bonifacio Gillego, based on information provided by Romulo Manriquez, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, and “the only Filipino regimental commander among Col. Volckmann’s senior commanders,” and Vicente L. Rivera, “who served the 14th Infantry both as a staff anda  line officer at various times.”  The affidavit aimed to achieve was to “subject to inquiry, therefore… not the authenticity of [Marcos’] awards but the basis of these awards and the production of the records and citations.”

According to Gillego, “Col. Manriquez left the service in 1947 and came to the United States in 1954. He finished law at the GW University… ” He ended up working in the U.S. Veterans Administration and at first refrained from speaking out as in-laws and relatives had been beneficiaries of Marcos (including his brother-in-law, Gen. Zosimo Paredes). Angered by an officially-sanctioned account of Marcos’ exploits, and his having been cited as a member of Marcos’ “Ang mga Maharlika” unit, he decided to speak out. He asserts that during the time he knew him, Marcos’ guerrilla activities were in Civil Affairs and that Marcos “was never involved in any patrol or combat operations.”

Gillego says that Capt. Vicente L. Rivera was “a lawyer who also has a Master’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan,” and a “respected leader of the Fil-American community in Detroit” who became chairman of the Awards and Decorations Committee of the USAFIP NL, Inc., a veteran’s organization. According to him, Marcos discharged his weapon on two instances –once at rustling leaves, in the direction of his own men, and on another occasion, when he was issued a gun –to test it. He also provided details on the organization of the Maharlika unit. Rivera asserted Marcos “at no time was he ever given any patrol or combat assignment all during his service with the 14th Infantry.”

Here is the affidavit, signed by Bonifacio Gillego, “concurred” in by Manriquez and Rivera, and witnessed by Benjamin Maynigo and Benigno S. Aquino, Jr.



Jul 29

Duterte’s Treason to the Political Class

(SPOT.ph) When President Duterte mounted the rostrum in the session hall of the Batasang Pambansa, he did so as the tenth president who was an alumnus of the House—an institution he has bluntly been contemptuous of in the past. As he once put it, “I’ve been in the Congress and after the flag ceremony punta na ako sa canteen, then out…I’d go to the mall, naglalakad-lakad ako, tapos magdadaldal, wala namang kakwenta-kwenta…kayo na diyan, uwi na ako.” A lifetime as a prosecutor (only the third president we’ve had who was once a prosecutor) and a local government chief executive (only the third mayor-president, only the fifth, if you include presidents who’d been governor); does this to you. You develop zero tolerance for talk, talk, talk and fraternity horse-trading (as a mayor, you facilitate horse-trading; you are not one of the traders, that is, if you’re an old-fashioned bossman which the President is).

But I am getting ahead of myself. Before he put the Congress in its place, he departed from his prepared text and said some truly interesting things about the kind of government setup we should have. As the first president who is a lawyer since 1986, and as a local executive who has had to deal with two power bases—the presidency and the cabinet, and Congress, both of which are not only fickle but addicted to reinventing the wheel every six years—you can be sure he has some pretty fixed ideas about what needs fixing—and how. My hunch is, presidents and local chief executives are more likely to see eye-to-eye than local chief executives and the year-round gabfest known as Congress.

What he wants is a demarcation of authority—presidents can and should do lots of things, primarily foreign affairs and national security and broader economic policy, but leave to the locals what the locals do best—attend to the specific needs of their constituents instead of forcing cookie-cutter solutions on everything from Manila. He has been around the block long enough, however, to know that the three-year gabfest that is each Congress is a wasted resource, if only because as presidents periodically raiding Congress for cabinet appointments shows, legislators with their political standing can be useful in filling the bureaucracy. Legislators want to be ministers, and this ambition frankly motivated a chunk of the coalition that put him in power.

And so he opened the portion on political change in the SONA with a recognition of these facts. But to the sweeteners he added a shocker—the retention of the presidency. “You know my advice to you,” he said, “is maintain a federal system, a parliament,” (so far, so good) “but be sure to have a president. Huwag…Hindi na ako niyan. I’m disqualified and by that time I would longer be here. But, I can commit today to the Republic of the Philippines and its people: If you hurry up the federal system of government and you can submit it to the Filipino people by the fourth, fifth year, proseso ‘yan e. You call for a referendum and after that call for a presidential election, I will go. Sibat na ako. But you just have a president.” Shocker!

After all if people are generally in awe over both the assumption to power, and enormous political capital, of President Duterte—how do you justify that precisely the possibilities his office represents, should be extinguished through if not the abolition, then the neutering, of the office he now holds? If he is, as his supporters (and quite a few of his critics) point out, the fulfillment of the hitherto-untapped potential of the presidency, then he would be the last person to propose turning the chief executive into a decorative capon. One can rightly argue we need more presidents cast in the traditional mode of the strongman.

Which is why, to me, next came the killer punch: “You copy the France system,” he said. “Huwag mo hayaan ‘yong puro na parliament. Delikado iyon. It takes time even for the…Iyong kagaya ng England noon. There was this bomb, double deck. It took them time really. There’s no one apparatus for a commander-in-chief down.” The President’s desire (for the French Model) and warning (pure parliamentary government is “delikado”) was a stab directly into the heart of parliamentarists like Fidel V. Ramos who have a specific model in mind: Malaysia. The dream has burned bright since FVR and Lakas-UNCD proposed a shift to the parliamentary system to create an enduring, monolithic party on the model of UNMO, free of national, direct elections for the presidency (regardless of whether the Malaysian model has been increasingly challenged over the past decade).

But then, lest anyone forget he has been an accomplished politician, he tempered his remarks. This is a significant insight into his style, which is to say it is one part straight-from-the-shoulder tempered by humorous concessions to his audience. He said, “You can have a president you can elect. Maybe Tito Sotto would be the lucky guy at that time.” An acknowledgement that vox populi, like the Dei, moves in mysterious ways. Which led him to quip, well, if you elect someone like him “O, ‘di, limitahan mo lang. Ceremonial powers. Power to dissolve, power to accept the resolution or whatever, mandating you this, do that, or ceremonial powers except ‘yong in times of need, if there’s a demand for action. You must have a president.” And the last sweetener, “Wala na ako niyan. I said if you can give me that document, I will urge you to conduct a…to order, call for an election the following day, following week.”

What followed next was interesting. After the National Security Council meeting, the Speaker had a huddle in the Palace with other grand political pooh-bas and then gleefully announced that he’d convinced the president not to go through with a Constitutional Convention, because it would be expensive. According to him, the president agreed. But the presidential spokesperson was less categorical about it, merely saying it “was discussed as a possibility considering the prohibitive cost should they begin the process soon.”

What the Speaker perhaps did not point out was that a Constitutional Convention would also be uncontrollable. Which means not only might the final product not be what congressmen want; it might take longer than they want. Consider Alvarez’s timetable, for example: ratification of the new charter in the 2019 midterms, after which government would shift to being a transitional one, pending election of a parliament in 2021.

What would this accomplish? It would nip the prospects of 12 senatorial candidates in the bud (why go through competing in a national election, when a future senate might be regional or even cease to exist?), and throw the traditional process for vetting the prospects of possible presidential candidates out the window (whoever is No. 1 in the senate mid-terms is often a leading contender for the presidency three years later; no senatorial buzz, no brewing excitement for a nationally-elected president to come). Shooting potential national candidates in the kneecaps is just the sort of thing aspiring prime ministers need, since they can set aside public opinion and concentrate on the votes that will matter—their fellow lawmakers.

A convention, on the other hand, might suffer from that great political inconvenience, an independent mind. The result might be not what the House of Representatives wants, but what the President has in mind. Then where would the parliamentarists be?

President Duterte has often pointed out his father was governor of the undivided province of Davao, a vast area. We forget Marcos had attempted the first step in a federal project, reversing the gerrymandering of the previous three decades by establishing regions as the basis of representation and a political unit in the Republic. His effort failed, and he himself began to make it meaningless: for example, confronted with a war in Mindanao, he gerrymandered the island to create pocket fiefdoms for the warlords he needed as allies. Knowing full well that a major motive for parliamentary government is to liberate elected politicians from the iron curtain that divided the executive with its control from departments, from legislators who had precious little to do except engage in petty extortion either in the budget or the Commission on Appointments—seasonal activities, at best—one can see that the President arguably sees the forest from the trees. That what he, as an executive, sees as a national solution is far from what many of his own allies want.

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