Tweet News + Features What’s New Win We Don’t Understand The Donald. Sad! But there are clues if you look hard enough. by Manuel L. Quezon III ILLUSTRATOR Elaine Villanueva (SPOT.ph) The little anyone knows about Trump comes from The Donald himself: He likes to win. He is a winner. He is Master of the …
Tweet OPINION: Russia’s pivot to Tokyo courtesy of Trump Manuel L. Quezon III Posted at Nov 15 2016 10:52 PM The landmark documentary “The Cold War” and its episode on the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Watch the whole thing, but pay particular attention to the scenes in 1969 of Chinese attacking …
Tweet OPINION: Supreme Court in the dock The Explainer: Manuel L. Quezon III Posted at Nov 02 2016 06:51 AM Burt Lancaster in the film Judgment at Nuremberg, explaining how so many things can be excused by fear. THIS coming week, and possibly the weeks that follow, will refocus public attention on the Supreme Court …
Tweet OPINION: Big in Japan The Explainer – Manolo Quezon Posted at Oct 25 2016 09:24 PM Japanese newsreel of the inauguration of the Japanese-sponsored republic, October, 1943. The dividing line, the “before” and “after” for generation of Filipinos in terms of relations with Japan, was World War II. In February 1904, war broke out …
Tweet Win Enter the Dragon China has mastered the art of power projection. Manuel L. Quezon III elaborates. by Manuel L. Quezon III Oct 21, 2016 ILLUSTRATOR Warren Espejo(SPOT.ph) When we arrived in Beijing on August 30, 2011, the first thing I noticed was that the city seemed trapped in a perpetual gloom: little did …
(SPOT.ph) The little anyone knows about Trump comes from The Donald himself: He likes to win. He is a winner. He is Master of the Art of the Deal. He likes to win, not just big, but huge. He will win, so bigly, and so often, people will get tired of all the wins. But since it will be the best winning ever, it will be beautiful. Amazing.Part of this self-congratulatory package is that he is set in his ways, he doesn’t like to read, he only trusts family, he has a temper, he can be mean, and he launches preemptive strikes against people he doesn’t like on Twitter. He’s not just orange, he’s ornery.
The question is whether the Philippines or Filipinos are on his dislike list.
Even Mighty China is in the same boat. China experts, from the people who man the Sinica podcast to Henry Kissinger, seem to have arrived at the consensus that Trump is exactly the sort of leader that drives Chinese officials nuts. The reason is that the Chinese are thorough. They dislike unpredictability and mysteries. They both need, and are set on overtaking, the United States. As much as possible, they would like to do to America what the proverbial scientist likes to do to the frog: boil it so gradually it never realizes it’s being cooked. Policy wonks seem to agree that while the Chinese are not fans of Hillary Clinton, her long experience made her—and by extension, her policies—predictable, thus manageable; so even if they expected her to be tougher than Obama, with Trump they really have no idea whether he means what he says or will do what he vowed in the campaign.
If the Philippine reaction to the Donald’s win was tail-wagging, China’s has been blind man’s bluff. One part bravura (“We thought we would rule the world in 20 years. Now it’s going to be in January,” in the words of one Chinese businessman), one part tough-guy posturing in state media (state-run Global Media: “If such a person can be president, there is something wrong with the existing political order”), one part condescension from talking heads (Yu Yongding, economist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing: “After he becomes president, there’ll be advisers at his side to explain to him what the exchange rate is, what capital flows are, what macroeconomic policy is.”), and one part olive branch (President Xi, in his congratulatory message to Trump, was reported to have cordially hoped they would be “developing long-term healthy and stable Sino-U.S. relations is in the fundamental interests of the peoples of both countries.”). The problem is, China state media said Xi not only sent a message, but talked on the phone with Trump; but when he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, The Donald said he’d talked to many world leaders—except China’s. So China changed tack and thundered, it would cut sales of iPhones and U.S. cars if “naïve” Trump pursues trade war. Sad!
So if self-assured China is so obviously at a loss over Orange being the new Black, what more us? But there are certain things we can start figuring out. What, if any, are The Donald’s plan for our neck of the woods? Two articles can help us figure it out. Both are by advisors of Trump.
Essentially Woolsey is waving a bunch of carrots in Beijing’s direction: Trumpworld will have no TPP (great news for China); Trumpworld, however, is interested in signing on to the AIIB (the infrastructure bank China has largely funded) and finds the Silk Road scheme of President Xi interesting and potentially lucrative; most important of all, is the closing paragraph of his piece, which goes like this: “I can therefore see the emergence of a grand bargain in which the U.S. accepts China’s political and social structure and commits not to disrupt it in any way in exchange for China’s commitment not to challenge the status quo in Asia. It may not be a spoken agreement but a tacit understanding that guides the relations in the years to come.”
In other words: The past posturing of American administrations on human rights will be a thing of the past. Whether involving civil society, Tibet, Hong Kong, Muslim ethnic minorities, none of these will be our business nor will we make the dominance of the Chinese Communist Party any of our business. We can work together, earn and profit together, but in return you have to recognize we are the other leading Pacific power and don’t disrupt our alliances and interests in the region.
The second is by Alexander Gray and Peter Navarro (both described as “policy advisors to the Trump campaign,” but it’s Navarro who has real clout) : Donald Trump’s Peace Through Strength Vision for the Asia-Pacific. To borrow one of Trump’s own phrases, it basically condemns the rebalancing to Asia of the Obama years as a “low energy” pivot. The result was Chinese aggressiveness towards Japan, South Korea, and in Southeast Asia.
This led to formerly solid American allies like the Philippines straying away from Washington (according to the article, “Few in Washington remember that the Obama administration pointedly refused to intervene in 2012 when China blatantly violated a diplomatic agreement brokered by Sec. Clinton’s right-hand man in the region, Kurt Campbell; Beijing shredded that agreement by brazenly seizing Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines after agreeing to stand down. Washington’s utter failure to uphold its obligations to a longtime, pivotal ally during one of its most humiliating crises has no doubt contributed to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s low opinion of American security guarantees…”)
Trumpworld, in contrast, will junk disadvantageous deals like TPP (so here’s a baby carrot for China) while investing in a big, beautiful, Great White Fleet (a big, big stick). By lifting spending limits on the Pentagon, the U.S. Navy will grow from 274 to 350 ships. The Army and Air Force, too, would grow again because they can spend again.
That expanded navy will, of course, engage in aggressive freedom of navigation exercises: effectively reinforcing the American shield protecting not just Taiwan, but driving American allies in Southeast Asia back into the American sphere of influence.
Woolsey brings extensive experience to the table, and in TrumpWorld one could view him as the good cop—moderate, conciliatory, pragmatic, to Navarro’s bad, bad cop—whether in liberal The New Yorker or in arch-conservative Forbes, Navarro’s being the sole economist on Trump’s team and someone whose works Trump has actually read, and enjoyed, and quoted, seems to be spooking a lot of people.
The Donald of course has other ideas, too. What’s uncertain is how fully-formed they are or how serious they are. But there is a kind of rough, instinctive, logic to some of those ideas. He offers, for example, a face-saving way out for Russia, with a partnership on Russia’s terms in Syria against ISIS, a recognition of Russian interests in the Crimea, and a pointed warning to NATO for it to take up more of the financial burden of the organization.
We shouldn’t forget that the only leader on earth who seems to think China and Russia are aligned is President Duterte. Everyone else recognizes the historic rivalry, even hatred, between China and Russia, and that the Asia deal Trump’s advisors have floated in public, could just as easily be accompanied by a tolerant view of Russia firming up its own security concerns about China.
In Trumpworld, Japan, South Korea, and Australia would do more heavy lifting in the region with the U.S. Navy as the point of the spear, poking and jabbing every time China shows expansionist or aggressive tendencies. The Indian Ocean would be India’s, to counter China’s creeping expansion, there; and Russia, for its part, would be mending fences with Japan and thus, countering China not only along its land borders in Siberia, but at sea, as well. This would mean in turn, that countries that thought they could have wiggle room with a weakening, distracted, America, might be in for an old-fashioned surprise.
For us, two opportunities seem to exist. To be a reliable ally in fighting ISIS, and to keep Subic and other places open to the U.S. Navy as it goes about its business. In exchange, things like democracy and human rights won’t be raised. Win-win? Or a deal you can’t refuse!
OPINION: Russia’s pivot to Tokyo courtesy of Trump
Manuel L. Quezon III
Posted at Nov 15 2016 10:52 PM
The landmark documentary “The Cold War” and its episode on the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Watch the whole thing, but pay particular attention to the scenes in 1969 of Chinese attacking Russians in Soviet East Asia from 34:17 to 38:33.
All eyes in our part of the world are on China, Japan and America as president-elect Donald Trump starts putting his administration-to-be together. We should consider another: Russia. All four –China, Russia, Japan, and the United States—are entangled by history. But the main players in our story are China and Russia with America and Japan as the supporting cast in this unfolding drama.
We forget that both Russia and China are former empires with leaders and peoples who still dwell on past glories and past humiliations.
Reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gripping The Romanovs 1613-1918, aside from of course telling the story of the last imperial dynasty, traces the growth of the Russian Empire in three directions. Towards Europe, with the conquest of Finland and much of Poland; towards the Ottoman Empire, with the glittering dream of one day ruling Constantinople; and towards the Far East, with Manchuria and Korea as mouthwatering potential prizes. Expansion towards Europe was halted by the rise of Prussia (later, Germany); towards the Ottoman lands by the intervention of the United Kingdom and Austria; and towards the Far East, by the rise of Japan.
After the fall of the Russian monarchy, the Soviet Union managed to hold its own against the Japanese, dealing them such a bloody nose in 1939 that Japan didn’t dare to declare war when Hitler attacked Russia in 1941. Russia, facing a German invasion, preferred peace on its Far East borders so it could bring troops from Siberia to fight the Germans. But at the Yalta Conference in 1944, worried about potentially vast casualties in an American invasion of Japan, President Roosevelt lobbied Joseph Stalin to declare war on Japan in exchange for certain concessions, including the Southern portion of the Sakhalin and the Kuril islands. A Soviet invasion of Manchuria would tie up Japanese troops, and act as insurance since the Americans weren’t sure, at that point, if the atom bomb would work.
As it turned out, the atom bomb did work and so the USSR was only able to seize the South Kuril islands before the war ended. The Americans also swiftly blocked the Russians from having any participation in the occupation of Japan, even as Russia’s victorious forces in Manchuria led to communist governments in Mongolia and North Korea (and victory for Chinese communists by 1949). The result? Russia and Japan have never concluded a peace treaty ending World War II.
The potential solution, according to the same report, is ingenious: “Russia could salve Japanese honor by returning the two smaller islets to Japan with no strings attached.” According to Reuters, “This gesture would give Abe the political breathing room to open a formal dialogue on the remaining two larger islands. There, an arrangement could be reached to share sovereignty. Russia could transfer formal ownership to Japan and receive in exchange a permanent no-cost lease on its military bases. The Kremlin could thus maintain a troop presence, as a guarantee of its national security interests. Alternatively, Japan and Russia could split the difference, each taking one large island.”
It’s important to consider that this sort of win-win was impossible during the Cold War: “the Kremlin considered the Kuril Islands vital to its Pacific fleet in case of a U.S. blockade. Any talk of territorial and political settlement with Japan presented unacceptable implications for the military balance with the United States.
Now things are different. Russia has better prospects with a Trump administration, which could basically drop human rights as a factor in US foreign policy, demand NATO assume more of the financial burden of the alliance, and recognize, if not officially then unofficially, both current Russian gains and its historic claim to an unchallenged sphere of influence in nations along its borders. All these factors coming together seems to have given Russia the confidence to resume its plans to reach an agreement with Japan in order to contain China.
And here we have to look at how Russian and Chinese relations have been hostile much longer historically, than they’ve ever been with Japan.
Russia and China for their part, have clashed on and off since the 1600s started encroaching into the neighborhood of Mongolia: as one summary puts it, “By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Russians had seized a total 1.4 million square kilometers, and another 1.5 million by 1900. The Russians codified these gains through a series of ‘unequal treaties,’ as current Chinese histories call them.” China’s modern narrative is based not just on remembering these past humiliations, but vowing to overcome them, and surpass the countries that had once inflicted such shame on China.
So while Russia needed Chinese money to compensate for Western sanctions, it fears ending up a Chinese satellite, supplying raw materials to a China whose people steadily take over under-populated Russian lands. Trump could give Russia the breathing room it needs to secure its borders with China, while Japan could end up as a substitute for Chinese money and loans.
Even as our president seems to be preparing to attend APEC in Peru, he found time to meet with Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev. You have to wonder what instructions that ambassador has received from Moscow. China is facing the possibility of a trade war with the USA. Russia, formerly isolated due to Western sanctions, and which had started its own pivot to China, now has the chance to redo its relationship with America, which means it doesn’t need China like it did. And so it is on the verge of –guess what, finally, only now– ending World War II with Japan.
Russia and Japan want to be friends because they both fear China and because Russia is looking forward to a better relationship with America while Japan wants to prepare for a potential rocky road with America by making peace with Russia so it can concentrate on China. And even Japan and South Korea, worried about America, are making friends to partner against China.
Where does this leave the Philippines?
The first thing is we have to understand is that China and Russia almost went to nuclear war in 1969 and have been historic enemies since the 1600s.
The second thing we have to understand is America is poised to be aggressive to China and has reiterated its support to South Korea and Australia, while Japan’s Prime Minister is meeting Trump on his way to APEC.
The third thing we have to realize is the idea of the Philippines being in a kind of trio against the world with Russia and China, was something neither the Chinese nor the Russians probably considered more than sheer lunacy.
THIS coming week, and possibly the weeks that follow, will refocus public attention on the Supreme Court as it deliberates on petitions opposing the burial of Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. By all accounts, the justices divide along the following lines: some are focused on the letter of the law, and others, on the spirit of the law.
By the letter of the law I mean that some justices are looking at the many laws and regulations governing the Libingan to see if there are specific grounds to reject the President’s instructions to have Marcos given an official burial in that place. By spirit of the law I mean that other justices are going beyond the particular rules and regulations governing who can be buried at the Libingan, to justify overturning the President’s instructions. Other justices may be somewhere in between.
Some observers say that the majority of justices, if you go by the questions they’ve asked, are inclined to rule that the President’s instructions are not only presumed to be legal, but are outside the jurisdiction of the court. That to get involved would be to get tangled up in what is essentially either a political question, or one in which there is no compelling reason to intrude on the powers of the presidency. A few justices, going by the same observers, suggest that there are members of the court who view the forthcoming decision as one having implications that go beyond interpreting the rules for official burials: that what will be decided will be nothing less than whether history, speaking through the pens of our justices, will officially rehabilitate Marcos.
We like to think of our justices as learned, almost monkish, people, free of partisan passions, and clinically detached from the raging arguments of the present. They are supposed to be people who think only of the law, and justice, incorruptible and unbiased. What we do not normally think of them as, are imaginative people. Or people necessarily imbued with a sense of history regardless of how often they invoke past cases, since they can always innovate and set aside the precedents of the past.
But these –imagination and a historical sense– are the fundamental requirements, I would think, for a decision on the Marcos burial that merely settles an argument over regulations while ignoring its broader, and deeper, implications for our society as a whole.
As they ponder on the case, I wonder if their predecessors come to mind as they make their way into their chambers every morning.
The steps leading to the Supreme Court are flanked by the statues of two Chief Justices by Julie Lluch: Cayetano Arellano, our first chief justice, and Jose Abad Santos, our foremost martyr in World War II. Personally, I believe there should be two other Chief Justices honored with statues: Manuel Moran, the first Chief Justice of the independent republic, and Roberto Concepcion, the last Chief Justice under the 1935 Constitution.
In The Explainer for March 24, 2010 (“Supreme Court Challenge”) I told the story of how, when President Quirino lost his bid for reelection in 1953, he decided he should pay some political debts by making some midnight appointments. One of them was to former Chief Justice Manuel Moran, who he’d convinced to leave the Supreme Court to become our first ambassador to Spain. But Moran, even if he wanted to return to the Supreme Court, declined the appointment. Moran said that presidents should have a free hand in making important appointments, including the Supreme Court. Moran’s delicadeza cost him his chance to return to the Supreme Court.
The story of Roberto Concepcion and the consolidated cases questioning the legitimacy of the “ratification” of the 1973 Constitution, is a long one. I’ve told most of it in “Why a Chief Justice Would Think of Resigning” (Arab News, April 2, 2010), and “Showdown with the Supremes,” (Rogue Magazine, September, 2014). Essentially it boiled down to this: for martial law to succeed, Marcos had to padlock Congress before it reconvened in January, 1973; to be able to do that, he needed a new constitution approved even if he knew the public would vote to reject it; to get around a rejection in a fair and free referendum, he manufactured a plebiscite, and then pressured the Supreme Court to go along with the results. The Explainer for April 7, 2008 (“May it please the Court”) described how “he courted and threatened its members. Chief Justice Concepcion… pointedly observed Marcos also kept the court off-balance… When it voted on Javellana v. Executive Secretary, essentially, the Supreme Court threw up its hands and pleading that it had been overtaken by events… And this is what the Supreme Court helped Marcos do: it guaranteed that the burden of proof would shift from Marcos to his critics, as far as whether his regime was justified or not. The Chief Justice was so heartbroken he went on leave ahead of the expiration of his term.”
These four, former Chief Justices illustrate that for a justice, one must not only love, but live, the law, knowing that beyond wielding one’s pen, how one exercises one’s conscience and decides to take –or not—take a stand, are of vital importance, too. Arellano set the bar for personal integrity and judicial dedication; Abad Santos chose death rather than betray his responsibilities as Acting President of the Philippines in areas not occupied by the enemy; Moran would not go back to the bench if it was at the cost of fundamental constitutional principles –or personal honor—and Concepcion quietly, but pointedly, resigned when felt the high court had betrayed its responsibility before country and history.
Back on September 14, 2009, in The Explainer I tackled the question of Rehabilitation, how political leaders confront being disgraced and try to rehabilitate themselves. At present the most sustained effort in this regard has been that of the Marcoses, which I’ve tracked for a long time: see Marcos Heirs Prove Incapable of Leadership, from December 28, 2005; Restoration, from September 14, 2006; The Marcos restoration, from July 6, 2009; and Showdown, from February 10, 2010. The Supreme Court is now the field of battle where the victory or defeat for this campaign will be decided. And here, the Supreme Court’s own history: particularly the example of former Chief Justice Concepcion in the case of Javella v. Executive Secretary, becomes highly relevant: not only in terms of what he wrote and what he did in that decision, but what he did afterwards. It was he who made the present Supreme Court more powerful –and the bearer of much more responsibility—than its predecessors under our past constitutions. When, as one of the commissioners tasked with writing the 1987 Constitution, he sponsored the constitutional provision making it the duty of the Supreme Court to settle not just controversies involving legally-demandable rights, but to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion on the part of any instrumentality of the government, he essentially moved to make it exceedingly difficult for the Supreme Court from washing its hands of a controversy ever again, so long as what confronts it is not a hypothetical question.
A specific question based on an official’s decision, now confronts it. Recalling his experience in 1973 (and you can find it in the actual Supreme Court decision), Concepcion pointed out that aside from the legal games of Marcos, any citizen could see what a sham the so-called “ratification” of the 1973 Constitution was –including the justices themselves who do not live isolated from the world. But faced with a choice between recognizing –and acting—on the mockery of the law going on, or hiding behind the excuse that the court had been overtaken by events, the majority chose to hide. The recollection of Justice Antonio Carpio –that he, along with many law students, saw this clearly and lost respect for the court—has been widely quoted.
The choice confronting the court now is similar though at first blush seemingly much more petty. It’s a choice between what could arguably be called preferring tunnel vision over a broad vision of what regulations and laws, taken together, are supposed to mean: including whether they can be used to camouflage the identity of Marcos as dictator and tyrant.
So now the Supreme Court is in the dock. The speech of Burt Lancaster in the movie “Judgment at Nuremberg” is worth recalling to end of this piece, just as the video clip of the scene started it:
Janning: I wish to testify about the Feldenstein case because it was the most significant trial of the period. It is important not only for the tribunal to understand it, but for the whole German people. But in order to understand it, one must understand the period in which it happened.
There was a fever over the land, a fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all there was fear, fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that can you understand what Hitler meant to us, because he said to us:
“Lift your heads. Be proud to be German. There are devils among us, communists, liberals, Jews, gypsies. Once these devils will be destroyed your misery will be destroyed.”
It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb.
What about those of us who knew better, we who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country. What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded — sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows! We will go forward. FORWARD is the great password.
And history tells how well we succeeded, Your Honor. We succeeded beyond out wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world. We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said, “Go ahead. Take it. Take it! Take Sudetenland! Take the Rhineland! Re-militarize it! Take all of Austria! Take it!”
And then, one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual begun in this courtroom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a “passing phase” had become the way of life.
Your Honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it. He has done it, here, in this courtroom.
He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country.
He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the 16 year old girl after all. Once more, it is being done — for love of country.
It is not easy to tell the truth. But if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it — whatever the pain and humiliation.
I had reached my verdict on the Feldenstein case before I ever came into the courtroom. I would have found him guilty, whatever the evidence. It was not a trial at all. It was a sacrificial ritual in which Feldenstein, the Jew, was the helpless victim.
Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must interrupt. The defendant is not aware of what he’s saying. He’s not aware of the implications!
Janning: I am aware. I am aware! My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the concentration camps. Not aware. Where were we? Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in Reichstag? Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau?! Where were we when every village in Germany has a railroad terminal where cattle cars were filled with children being carried out to their extermination! Where were we when they cried out in the night to us. Deaf, dumb, blind!!
Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must protest!
Janning: My counsel says we were not aware of the extermination of the millions. He would give you the excuse: We were only aware of the extermination of the hundreds. Does that make us any the less guilty? Maybe we didn’t know the details. But if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.
Emil Hahn: Traitor! Traitor!
Judge Haywood: Order! Order! Order! Put that man [Hahn] back in his seat and keep him there.
Janning: I am going to tell them the truth. I am going to tell them the truth if the whole world conspires against it. I am going to tell them the truth about their Ministry of Justice. Werner Lammpe, an old man who cries into his Bible now, an old man who profited by the property expropriation of every man he sent to a concentration camp. Friedrich Hofstetter, the “good German” who knew how to take orders, who sent men before him to be sterilized like so many digits. Emil Hahn, the decayed, corrupt bigot, obsessed by the evil within himself. And Ernst Janning, worse than any of them because he knew what they were, and he went along with them. Ernst Janning: Who made his life excrement, because he walked with them.
Japanese newsreel of the inauguration of the Japanese-sponsored republic, October, 1943. The dividing line, the “before” and “after” for generation of Filipinos in terms of relations with Japan, was World War II.
In February 1904, war broke out between Japan and Russia and US President Theodore Roosevelt remarked, “I like to see the war ending with Russia and Japan locked in a clinch, counter weighing one another, and both kept weak by the effort,” in the hope this would preserve America’s interests in Hawaii and the Philippines (the conquest of which had been Roosevelt’s brainchild). The war ended in defeat for Russia in 1905, marked by the stunning Japanese naval victory at Tsushima, acknowledged at the time as the greatest sea battle since Trafalgar, a century before. Roosevelt brokered the peace, and concluded that keeping the Philippines, in the long run, would be untenable for the United States. By 1916, eventual independence for the Philippines would become part of US policy.
For Filipinos, Japan and its strong state combining military and industrial advancements, represented a model of independence and nationalism. Rizal, according to Dr. Pio Valenzuela during a conversation they had in which the Katipuneros laid out a plan to help Rizal escape from Dapitan, said he wanted to set up a school in Japan to train Filipino patriots. During the Philippine-American War, Japanese officers went to the Philippines to observe the fighting, and the Hong Kong Junta hoped to procure rifles from Japan in the war for independence.
In the 1920s and 30s, taking a cue from the Americans’ own Monroe Doctrine, there was a lot of discussion in the papers over the concept of “Asiatic Monroeism,” which asserted that Japan as a great regional power intended to exercise influence in Asia equivalent to that of the Americans in Latin America. Filipino leaders, worried whether the younger generation, which had not lived through the revolution against Spain or the war against America, had the character required for the challenges of independence, looked to the Samurai code of Bushido as an example to emulate in order to inspire a sense of service to the nation.
With independence assured in 1935, Filipino leaders also faced the dilemma of what the consequences of economic and political association with America would be in light of militarism and expansionism in Japan. Japan pursued an active policy of economic expansion in the Philippines, and cultivated relationships with Filipino leaders, who began to engage the Japanese in exploratory talks aimed at securing Japanese support for Philippine independence instead of totally relying on American goodwill.
This dilemma was most painfully revealed in the furious discussions among Filipino leaders in early 1942, as the Japanese invasion of the Philippines was taking place. The result was a proposal for both the Japanese and the Americans to withdraw from the Philippines. Even when the Japanese conquest was completed, and overall, Filipinos had staked their future on being part of the Allied powers, there remained the view that the future of the Philippines might have more in common with a defeated Japan than say, a victorious China (on the basis of Japan’s militarism being a temporary aberration in contrast to China’s inherent imperial identity dating back centuries).
After delaying its signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan until satisfactory reparations had been negotiated, the Philippines and Japan fairly quickly rebuilt a close relationship in the postwar years. Both nations formed part of the American network of bases and alliances during the Cold War; but Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution banned the existence of a military (instead relying on a “self-defense force” that today is one of the most powerful armed forces in the world). The result was that Philippine-Japanese relations were primarily commercial, though both nations in the post-Cold War era would grapple with problems concerning US bases.
Since the turn of the 21st Century, with the wartime generation having passed from the scene, Japan has increasingly become confident in projecting not only its soft–economic, cultural—power, but an emerging hard power as well. Amendments to the Japanese constitution to “normalize” the situation (that is, basically to allow the nation to have a proper military and engage in patrols and operations going beyond peace-keeping support) have been made –something previously unthinkable. At the heart of this new boldness is the realization that the United States no longer has the ability –or staying power—to hold the line against China, which has already overtaken Japan as the No. 2 economy in the world, thus posing a threat to Japan’s previous preeminence in our part of the world.
Japan’s strategy under its present prime minister has been to put forward a Trilateral dialogue scheme, which envisions a partnership between Tokyo, New Delhi, and Canberra. The result would be to limit China’s ability to project power in the region. The United States often enters into the mix, leading to the scheme being described from time to time as a Quadrilateral one. Quite recently, after enthusiasm for the scheme on the part of Australia seemed to wane over the past few years, an American admiral spoke up in New Delhi and a new boost has been given to the idea.
Back in 2005, in the face of pretty clear American dislike for President Arroyo, and at one of the moments of maximum peril for her stay in office, former President Fidel V. Ramos went to Malacañan Palace and expressed support for her. He was joined by Speaker Jose de Venecia who pointed out that China supported the president. It saved her government and an era of close engagement with China opened with this playing of the “China card.” The wind shifted in 2010 which Japan capitalized on by engaging in what turned out to be very effective engagements on both the economic and security fronts.
JPEPA’s rules were clarified, opening up a window of opportunity for Filipino nurses, and visa requirements were relaxed, turning Japan into a favored destination for Filipino tourists. When China retaliated against the Philippines’ position on the West Philippine Sea by pre-terminating its loan for North Rail, Japan entered the picture and pledged to provide loans and help build the North and South railways. It also successfully negotiated for the Japanese standard in digital TV to be adopted by the Philippines.
On the security front, pledges were made to support the expansion of the Philippine Coast Guard through the transfer of coast guard vessels. Discussions were opened up to give teeth to a strategic partnership between the two countries by means of a possible Status of Forces Agreement (one already exists between the Philippines and the USA; there is Australia, and Japan would represent the third country given this kind of access). For his part, in his departure press conference yesterday, the President clearly expressed his disapproval of all Visiting Forces Agreements, something that will be pondered deeply by foreign capitals.
When the new administration took office, its first few weeks was marked by rivalry between China and Japan as the Chinese pushed to recover influence and the Japanese worked to ensure that previous agreements and commitments would be respected. For a time, it seemed as if Japan had gained a symbolic upper hand: the first visit to a major capital would be to Tokyo. But then a state visit to Beijing was announced. The Japanese prime minister smoothly, but pointedly, remarked he would be interested to find out what had transpired in Beijing.
The competition between the two countries, however, is being carried out in a low-key manner, focused on marshaling the personal goodwill both nations enjoy with our current chief executive. The President is confident he can manage both capitals and extract the best concessions from both, without having to choose one over the other. If there is one fundamental difference, however, between the Filipino point of view and that of the two countries jockeying for influence in Southeast Asia, it is this: both Tokyo and Beijing think in terms of generations and not merely six-year-terms.
(SPOT.ph) When we arrived in Beijing on August 30, 2011, the first thing I noticed was that the city seemed trapped in a perpetual gloom: little did I realize that over the next several days not once would I actually see the sun or blue skies. The second thing I noticed was that when we arrived in the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, big flakes were falling from the sky. Was it snow? It turned out to be big flakes of ash. Welcome to the People’s Republic of China, where Great Nation Status was coming at a heavy, but relentless, price.
Prior to leaving Manila, the National Security Agency had solemnly warned everyone going to avoid using the Internet, to refrain from sending sensitive information by SMS, to avoid “honey traps,” to recognize many Chinese were learning Filipino, and to reformat all electronic devices upon returning. They meant well, of course, in a John Le Carré sort of way (fear of “honey traps” apparently dating back to 1960s lore when President Sukarno of Indonesia was allegedly plied with lady companions and the ensuing people-to-people exchanges filmed by the Chinese authorities). But the result was to foster a sense of unease that permeated the entire visit.
Still, the State Guesthouse complex was fascinating, perhaps the experience being made even more vivid by members of the delegation wondering if every lamppost along its winding paths and dotting the perimeter of its water features was a concealed listening device. The staff were solemn, brisk, and accommodating. A member of the cabinet expressed a desire for “orange juice with ice” and was rewarded—every morning, like clockwork—with a steely “You must enjoy our Socialist fruit product!” look, and then presented with a piping hot glass of juice. Nothing to do but smile, nod, and drink—para sa bayan.
The next day, we were whisked away to the main ceremonial event—the welcoming ceremonies, bilateral meeting, and state dinner at the Great Hall of the People, which looms over the western edge of Tiananmen Square as a gigantic gray example of Stalinist architecture with Chinese characteristics.
As the National People’s Congress website of the People’s Republic of China solemnly tells us, it was built in 10 months and since 1959, has been “the important venue for the Party and the state affairs and diplomatic activities.” A structure that, “In the past four decades, it has been renovated for several times and more bright wisdom and creativeness have been contributed to it each time. While maintaining its peculiar style, the designers have added artistic charm characteristic of the vitality of the times to this structure, which can aptly manifest the brilliant achievements made in economic and cultural construction of the People’s Republic.”
When you climb its grey steps, you feel like an ant, and with your fellow ants you are ushered into cold, marble halls where the Chinese staff silently glide around gesturing at other hallways that we clack, clack, clacked through. I understand that when Hitler had his Reichschancellery built, he insisted on long corridors with highly polished marble floors, to ensure diplomats would be nervous wrecks, having nearly slipped to death several times before finally reaching his office. Beijing seems to have hit upon the same design theory independently.
Artistic charm, of course, is relative; but what is certain is that it is an effective stage for communicating the vitality of the times—whether in 2011, when I was part of then-President Aquino’s official delegation or in 2016, as a new set of Filipino officials find themselves scampering up the Great Hall’s steps, to be ushered into The Presence of the current Lord of Ten Thousand Years, one of the old titles of the emperors and still as good a way as any to understand why China considers itself the Middle Kingdom—the hub of the universe. Part of the process of building up anticipation is to sequester officials in “holding rooms,” where they mill around, nervously, waiting for the ceremonies to begin.
A feature of the Great Hall of the people is a set of enormous—instead of gigantic—function rooms that are decorated in styles that symbolize different parts of China. We ended up in a room embellished with Islamic architectural details, and what could have been a giant mural of anywhere from the steppes of Russia to the mountains of Afghanistan. The furniture was oversized, reinforcing your ant-like status. Then we were whisked to a properly gigantic hall where state honors would be rendered—the playing of anthems, reviewing the honor guard—prior to the meeting between the two leaders and the banquet.
In December 1969, Pete Lacaba painted this delightful word portrait of Vice-President Fernando Lopez during the inaugural ceremonies: “Lopez couldn’t keep still. He scratched his nape, scratched his crotch, scratched his ears, picked his nose, rubbed his fingernails, folded his arms, dropped them to his sides, held his hands together before him, dropped them to his sides, held his hands together behind him, dropped them to his sides, stared morosely around, scowled, tried to hide his scowl by puckering his lips, and probably wished he were splashing around in his swimming pool. He was at least very human, which made him rather endearing.”
That, in a nutshell, describes perfectly the behavior of nine out of 10 Filipino officials in any formal setting. I find it a highly instructive contrast between how we behave in comparison to Chinese officials. We slouched, we gossiped, we fidgeted with our bags, one Filipino diplomat conducted a survey of people’s ears and what they revealed about that person, and all the while the Chinese officials betrayed no emotion, made no noise, gestured when necessary (stand here, not there) and glided, glided, glided when movement was necessary.
Then the honor guard began marching in. The Secretary of National Defense who obviously had a keen—and professional—eye for such things, noted that every soldier was six feet tall and every soldier, sailor, and airman was of identical height. (I noticed that this year, when the red carpet was rolled out, the honor guard was much larger, and the welcoming ceremonies held outside and thus, far grander, than in 2011: we had, it seems, received the budget welcome.) The ceremonies concluded, we were then ushered into the Fujian Room for the meeting between the two presidents.
Here I am craning my neck as the two leaders engage each other
The first thing I noticed was the excellent posture of the Chinese side, from Hu Jintao down to the lowliest official in attendance. The second was that facial expressions were suppressed to Poker championship levels. The third was the absolute attention to detail, such as the “State Banquet Beverage” in front of every seat (bottled water, in case you were wondering). The Socialist rigor of things on the Chinese side was in marked contrast to our side, except for President Aquino who can hold his own in any formality competition.
Let me illustrate this difference. As the two leaders went over the agenda, I noticed that one official at the far end of the table on the Chinese side, seemed to have decided something had been said that was of interest. He scribbled on a pad, smoothly tore off the page, discreetly folded it, and almost imperceptibly slid it over with his pinky finger to the official to his left, who then slid it from his right hand to his left, then on to the next, and so forth until it made its slow, but deliberate and almost unnoticeable way to President Hu. By this time the paper had magically unfolded and Hu—in midsentence, mind you—glanced down at it, slid it to one side, and a few seconds later said something that I assume was what was suggested, because the official from whom the paper had originated closed both his eyes for a brief moment with an air of triumph.
In contrast we Fiipinos rustle, nudge, wink, go psst!, nudge some more, whisper, smile, put on a gloating expression—look, important paper coming through! I helped make it happen!—whisper some more, rustle some more, and tap people on the shoulder: which is how notes would end up going back and forth on our side. We certainly do things with more joie de vivre, but something has to be said for the Borg-like way Chinese officialdom does things.
Upon the conclusion of the meeting, there was an interval of one-on-one communication between the two leaders as the Chinese glided, and we, galloping like a herd, proceeded to the banquet hall, making small talk as dishes were solemnly presented and everyone tried not to drop anything from the chopsticks. The evening ended with an eerie wailing accompanied by the plucking of a lot of strings that concluded the musical numbers portion. At first I wondered if it was some sort of tribal song from the country’s more remote regions, until I consulted the program and saw that it was “Anak,” by Freddie Aguilar. It did not sound like the song at all, the whole thing seeming to be performed in an entirely different key. But such gestures are warmly received and makes for interesting conversation afterwards.
There would be two more meetings that help illustrate the Chinese way of doing things, which is probably being experienced by the Philippine delegation this year. Meetings of heads of state are highly ritualized affairs, the topics for discussion having been thoroughly vetted and okayed by both sides long before the actual meeting. It enables leaders to take the measure of each other and what impromptu opportunities for diplomacy present themselves are manageably brief (but potentially very effective). Other meetings with other officials provide ways for problems to be discussed without either side losing face. If meeting President Hu communicated friendship and respect, then the meetings that followed over the next day or so were more about problem solving. And here, you could see China using the old-fashioned good cop, bad cop, routine.
I think it was in his office—but it might have been elsewhere—that the President met Wu Bangguo, the Chairman and Party secretary of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. This is not the time or place to thoroughly go into how China’s government is set up, but essentially protocol-wise he was akin to our Speaker of the House but also mattered because he was a grand personage in the Chinese Communist Party. His role was to be, not necessarily the bad cop, but to lay down the Chinese line about a project called Northrail.
Some background. The Northrail plan in 2003 called for an initial $431 million outlay, with a state company called Sinomach to do the construction. China’s EximBank signed a loan agreement in 2004 to finance $400 million. Construction began in 2004, but produced only one out of the projected 80 kilometers of tracks, and it turned out the tracks were meant for low and not high-speed trains the Philippines wanted. Instead, after the disbursal of about $185 million, our Supreme Court ruled that the project was not a government-to-government agreement, essentially invalidating the contract, which had not been awarded via competitive bidding as required by law. Northrail then notified Sinomach of its inability to carry out the agreement, prompting EximBank to declare a default event. Thus, a further tranche of $500 million was never disbursed.
President Hu not only had a poker face, with what seemed to be lacquered hair, an immaculately tailored suit, but also, an air of lofty, Mandarin imperturbability. In contrast, Chairman Wu was wiry, looked weatherbeaten, had discolored teeth, slouched in his chair, and spoke loudly with emphatic hand gestures. A true Son of the People. He said he had gone to Manila in 2003 to organize the financing for Northrail. Now, something ought to be done, don’t you think? The point having been made, smooth expressions of wholeheartedly desiring to work together to resolve things were made. And then we were whisked off to the next meeting.
Again, additional background. Why the keen interest in Sinomach on the part of the Chairman? His own role as a high official made Chairman Wu the most plausible person to push for an accommodation by the Philippines. But here’s something more, that has occurred me only as I was writing this piece. The company’s website says “With approval of the State Council, China National Machinery Industry Corporation (SINOMACH) was established in January 1997. SINO-MACH is a large scale, state-owned enterprise group under the supervision of the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.”
The person who presides over the State Council is the premier. And he was the person with whom the Philippine delegation was scheduled to meet last, among the high personages of the government.
In the Zhongnanhai, that walled-off collection of lakes and grey stone buildings where the nomenklatura works, Premier Wen Jiabao glided into the The Hall of Purple Light (Ziguang Ge), where he and our president sat on those oversized, overstuffed armchairs we see in official Chinese pictures, a riot of writhing gilded dragons on a black lacquered screen behind them. The Premier was like his president, only more pink in terms of complexion, but with the same kind of unreadable steel-spectacled look but with a tinier tendency to smile more. Essentially, a desire for Northrail to be attended to was among the things mentioned, but without belaboring the point—which had already been clearly made in the prior meeting anyway.
The aftermath came in 2012, when the Scarborough Shoal crisis led to the Export-Import Bank of China (China EximBank) calling in the loan that was meant to fund a rail line to Clark International Airport. A lump sum of $184 million was demanded but the Department of Finance managed to negotiate a payment period of two years, ending in 2014, consisting of four equal payments of $46 million to ChinaExim Bank representing “preparation costs for the project such as right-of-way and other land acquisition expenses.” President Aquino in 2015 recalled that “The drawdowns from this loan were demanded very, very early that potentially could have led us to a cross-default.”
But that all lay in the future. The Premier and our President shook hands. A couple more days of travel lay ahead; but it seemed all was friendly, and all was well. Someone had noticed, however, that on the day the state visit officially started, a strong editorial had appeared in one of the government’s English-language papers, condemning, in no uncertain terms, the Philippine position on what we call the West Philippine Sea. It was a sign of things to come.
How different the news emerging from Beijing seems today. Where once Filipino officials entered the dragon, facing a careful and subtle synchronization of flattery and pressure, the past few days has been a dragon dance of celebration. Xi Xinping has been widely described as the strongest Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, advocating the “China dream” to restore the Middle Kingdom to its imperial grandeur.
Fittingly, he has been photographed not only playing host to a Filipino president, but radiating the kind of contentment the emperors of old felt when inferior chieftains kowtowed before the Lord of Ten Thousand Years.
OPINION: All eyes on Duterte’s state visit to Beijing
The Explainer – Manolo Quezon
Posted at Oct 18 2016 08:19 PM | Updated as of Oct 18 2016 08:24 PM
The famous kowtowing scene from The Last Emperor. Then, as now, the Chinese government knows how to put on a spectacle calculated to impress.
ON Monday, the first ANC Breakfast segment of The Explainer aired, and we discussed the President’s visit to Beijing. Aside from a state visit being the highest form of diplomatic visit, the President’s trip to the Chinese capital represents his real debut in the big league. Squeezed in ahead of a previously-scheduled trip to Tokyo, it represents an unambiguous signal of the President’s foreign policy direction. Since much of what results from a state visit has been previously agreed on, both sides can be expected to do their best to avoid any surprises that might get in the way of what the visit is supposed to project: a relationship very different than the one that hogged the headlines over the past six years.
Of course, everyone is abuzz about what, if anything, will be announced concerning the West Philippine Sea and how China and the Philippines will reconcile their mutual desire for –in the words of Chinese ambassador Zhao Jianhua—a relationship in which “The clouds are fading away,” and where “The sun is rising over the horizon and will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations.” Such is the purple language of diplomacy.
Recently-released data from SWS on how Filipinos view China, Japan, Australia and the USA shows that while the President is keen on China, the country doesn’t necessarily share his optimism or trust. The President’s gamble is that he will bring home plenty of goodies to show his policy is paying dividends, not later, but now. Manila sows Asean unease, an editorial in the Bangkok Post, also suggests discomfort on the part of our neighbors. What the goodies are, while important for domestic opinion, will matter less to these observers than if anything is said about the Arbitration Tribunal ruling –and what, in turn, happens when the President goes on to visit Tokyo.
Even as the President navigates between these two major capitals and their competing interests, and even as he projects his own brand of diplomacy in contrast to his predecessor’s, it would be well to remember that a far longer story overshadows the whole West Philippine sea issue and the Philippines’ priorities. While there has been a lot of chatter about what an “independent” foreign policy might be, it seems to me more productive to examine the origins of our current policies to see how they have evolved.
There are actually two stories here. They represent two different approaches to problems concerning Philippine claims to resources and territory, and how to go about achieving the national interest.
My interest in this was sparked by research I did for a timeline on the history of our claim to Sabah (North Borneo): see North Borneo (Sabah): An annotated timeline 1640s-present from 2013. In it, I saw two different approaches to the same problem, namely, the Philippine claim to the former domains in Borneo of the Sultan of Sulu. On the one hand, there was a strategy adopted primarily by Elpidio Quirino, who, as our pioneer Secretary of Foreign Affairs (from 1946-48), laid out the Sabah claim and pursued it along diplomatic lines that remained fairly consistent up to the Macapagal administration. Essentially this strategy depended on conflicting claims being resolved by institutions such as the United Nations. This strategy reached a dead end when the United Nations declared that a plebiscite in Sabah had decided that it would form part of Malaysia. Then there came a different approach, that of Ferdinand Marcos. His policy was a throwback: basically, resolution through annexation that would be made possible by an invasion. The result was a disaster: it alienated the Moros, and antagonized Malaysia into supporting Moro secession. We continue to live with the effects of this disaster to this day.
A couple of years later, when I started taking a look at the Philippine claims in the Spratleys, it became clear to me that a similar situation existed when it came to our claims there. Again, two stories. The first is a claim first identified in the mid-1930s, and put forward in the time of the Commonwealth by, guess who? Elpidio Quirino. This time, as Secretary of the Interior in 1937, when he put forward a Philippine claim. When Quirino became Secretary of Foreign Affairs and then President, he reasserted this claim, this time taking advantage of the fact that the area, formerly controlled by Japan, was now in limbo. Again, his approach, continued by his successors until Marcos, was to pursue the claim according to emerging international law, and focused on international treaties and organizations.
Then came Marcos and again, a throwback policy was instituted instead –colonization, based on the swashbuckling adventurism of a retired Philippine navy man, and ending in a presidential decree annexing and establishing the Kalayaan Islands Group as Philippine territory.
As in the days of Western imperialism, at the heart of competition –and conflict—is to achieve economic gains. Perhaps the most intriguing backgrounder along this freamework is China’s ‘Historic Rights’ in the South China Sea: Made in America?by Bill Hayton. What may be surprising to some, however, is the zest with which even the great dictator himself was bedazzled by imperial fantasies. The result is a hybrid situation, half responsible member of the family of nations and upholder of international law and obligations (our older diplomatic tradition), and the more hazy, semi-mystical, pseudo-imperialist projections of the Marcos era. We are stuck with uneasily having to reconcile both in practically every aspect of life as a sovereign nation: every constitution since 1935 has pledged adherence to international laws and treaties; every constitution since 1973 has required the assertion of “historical” claims, which ties the hands of all presidents. Including the present chief executive.
The preliminary timeline below shows the chronological order of events regarding the claims on the Kalayaan Group of Islands (KIG) also known as the Spratly Islands. I am grateful to Kristoffer Pasion for his assistance. Rough as it is, I think it illustrates clearly the two stories I have put forward.
Posted at Oct 12 2016 04:49 AM | Updated as of Oct 12 2016 11:50 AM
The rather famous “Hugo takes a selfie” video covering every day over eight years; you can even watch him answer a Q&A about it.)
CHANCES are you’ve seen this video, composed of a snapshots taken every day for eight, 10, 20 years. Strung together (sometimes set to music) they tell a universal story –of change.
A survey is a snapshot of public opinion. It tells us what people were thinking at a specific point in time, based on questions they were asked, usually with three possible replies: approve, disapprove, or no idea/no comment.
If you ask the same question on a regular basis, then each snapshot can be compared to those taken before, and after, that snapshot. Patterns or trends can be proposed, discussed, identified. And there’s more than one way to put forward the numbers.
In the image below, which looks at the satisfaction ratings of presidents according to the Social Weather Stations (the older of the two major polling firms in the country), you can look at satisfaction in “gross” or “net” terms. Gross is simply the number itself, which is a percentage of those who were surveyed. So, Corazon Aquino had 60% of people polled satisfied with her performance as president at the start of this chart, and at the end of her term the percentage who were satisfied was 38%. The number who were dissatisfied, and who had no opinion (or declined to state their opinion), would be two different percentages.
Or, you can simplify things –which seems to be the reason this method was invented, to avoid media people in a rush having to deal with three sets of figures—and take the percentage who are satisfied, and subtract the percentage who are dissatisfied, leaving you with a number that will be positive or negative. This is a “Net” rating, or result: and expressed as positive or negative number, and not a percentage. For example, in the same Cory Aquino-era figures quoted above, her results were +53 at the start and +7 at the end; at her lowest point, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would have -53 as her net number in terms of public satisfaction.
Personally, I believe three numbers are more revealing than two. Those who agree or disagree with a question are two important percentages to keep track of; but equally interesting, especially over time, is the third percentage: those who, for one reason or another, have no opinion or who refuse to reveal what it is.
So as much as possible, I will refer to gross, and not net, numbers, although in reality it’s the main percentage most people care about. In the case of these two metrics, performance and trust, regularly reported by Pulse Asia (the younger of the two major polling firms) for example:
But whether you are SWS or Pulse, and however you prefer to look at how the percentages are reported, there are two things we look at in surveys (there’s lots of other things but please refer to the additional readings at the end if you want to dive deeper into the topic).
There is geography, divided in the polls according to the National Capital Region (NCR), Balance Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.
And then there’s “we, the people,” broken down into the following classes: ABC, D, and E. In other countries, this is basically derived from categorizing according to income. This recent document from Nielsen Mediaresearch applies to the Czech Republic, puts it this way: Class A: “people with the highest socio-economic status,” Class B: “households with the second highest social-economic status”; Class C: “households with average estimated income per capita”; Class D “under average households”; Class E: “the poorest households”.
We do it differently in the Philippines. As blogger Marketman put it back in 2010 (referring to his experiences fifteen years before that!), “I have no idea who created this rating of one’s assets/income, but essentially I gather it is usually used for marketing and business purposes. It is important to note that it is NOT only based on income, but rather includes assets such as homes, vehicles, possessions, etc. Thus, at the ‘upper’ levels say A and B, the individuals counted as part of that level are not only among the higher income generators, but they have assets as well. For those in the ‘lower’ bands E, it is more likely that they not only have very low income levels, but typically will have few assets as well.” Marketman in turns refers us to the very clever blog, Alphanumeric, which put it more precisely: “Market/opinion researchers classify according through proxies of wealth/assets, rather than direct measure of income to segment the (consumer) market.” You will hear pollsters explain this in layman’s terms such as ABC own their own homes, and have vehicles, while D pay rent and commute, and E have nothing.
Jong-sung You, in an older volume, Democracy, Inequality and Corruption, puts forward these definitions and relative percentages of the popuation: A: “very rich,” B: “moderately rich,” C: “middle class,” D: “moderately poor,” and E: “very poor,” with ABC so small they have to be lumped together, comprising 7-11%, and D as the overwhelming majority in the country, comprising 58-73%, leaving E, comprising 18-32%.
Lets look at four snapshots. The first picture is the one taken on election day, when we went to the polls. The second picture is the starting point, so to speak, of the President when he assumed the presidency. The third snapshot is where the public stands on the administration’s “War on Drugs.” And the fourth snapshot is the President in terms of where he stands in terms of public satisfaction and trust.
So, for our first picture.
I. The President and the people as of election day
On May 9, when the country went to the precincts to vote, a picture emerged.
You should also see a great map from the good folks over at Wikipedia, showing the municipal level breakdown of the presidential race in 2016.
That picture, in turn, was made possible by millions of little pixels –people—who, taken together, explained the President’s victory.
On May 14, Mahar Mangahas, referring to the exit poll, observed that, “The voters made their choice for president a little later now. In the 2016 exit poll, 18 percent of those interviewed said they made their choice only on Election Day itself. Another 15 percent decided only during May 1-8, 12 percent did it in April, 8 percent in March, and 46 percent in February or earlier.” He boiled down candidate Duterte’s constituency as follows. In terms of geography, “Big wins for Duterte in Mindanao and Metro Manila” (although one report would say he won big in three regions: winning in all the provinces of the Davao, Soccsksargen, and ARMM regions); in terms of demographics, “The higher the class, the more the appeal of Duterte… The more the schooling, the more the appeal of Duterte… The younger the voter, the more the appeal of Duterte…” adding that he had much greater support among men than women, and that “Duterte was least supported by Catholics.”
The kommentariat (to which yours truly belongs) takes these numbers and tries to see patterns and make sense of them. For example, in a May 14 story on the exit poll, Professor Julio Teehankee put forward his view that the results were due to the “counter-elite challenging the old elite.” He said, ”The Duterte phenomenon is elite-driven. It is not the revolt of the poor. It is the angry protest of the new middle class: BPO workers, Uber drivers, and OFWs,” adding that,”They are the ones who are taxed the most and financing Daang Matuwid. They are working hard for their families and the country and yet they are the ones who suffer from lack of public service land and air traffic. Breakdown of peace and order[,] corruption, laglag-bala. The poor have their conditional cash transfer fund. The rich have their PPPS. What’s there for the middle class? They’ve been short changed!”
Of course everyone has a theory, and chances are you do, too. The percentages reported in the surveys help to prove, disprove, or simply explain, these theories.
Over time, a president starts to form two pictures: of his or her own journey up and down in terms of public opinion, and as chief executive in comparison to one’s predecessors and successors.
II. The President’s first measurements
First, the question of whether people are satisfied with the President in terms of his being president, was finally measured in September. This is the first time this is being measured, because, after all, in the last survey in June, he hadn’t even started exercising his powers yet.
These are the percentages, then, that observers will look at to see what people think about the job the President is doing, moving forward. The percentages can fluctuate widely –and wildly—over time. The conventional wisdom is that satisfaction can only go down over time. Part of every administration’s narrative is to make it possible to defy and even disprove that conventional wisdom. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t.
As Mahar Mangahas pointed out on October 8 (VG means “Very Good,” according to a scale SWS uses), the people have a very good opinion of the job the President is doing, at a time in his term when previous presidents were also held in very good opinion by the people at this point in their terms.
“For comparison, the initial net satisfaction ratings obtained by past presidents were: Pres. Cory C. Aquino, very good +53 (60% satisfied, 7% dissatisfied) in the May 2-June 6, 1986 survey; Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, very good +66 (70% satisfied, 4% dissatisfied) in the August 10-September 8, 1992 survey; Pres. Joseph E. Estrada, very good +60 (69% satisfied, 9% dissatisfied) in the September 11-29, 1998 survey; Pres. Gloria M. Macapagal-Arroyo, moderate +24 (42% satisfied, 18% dissatisfied) in the March 5-18, 2001 survey, after she was sworn into the presidency following the 2001 EDSA revolution, and moderate +12 (48% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied) in August 5-22, 2004, after winning the 2004 elections; and Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III, very good +60 (71% satisfied, 11% dissatisfied) in September 24-27, 2010…
“The SWS terminology for net satisfaction ratings is as follows: +70 and above, ‘excellent’; +50 to +69, ‘very good’; +30 to +49, ‘good’; +10 to +29, ‘moderate’, +9 to –9, ‘neutral’; –10 to –29, ‘poor’; –30 to –49, ‘bad’; –50 to –69, ‘very bad’; –70 and below, ‘execrable’.”
Putting it in perspective, according to Mangahas, “To me, President Duterte’s Very Good (VG) initial rating of… 76 percent satisfied, 11 percent dissatisfied, correctly rounded… is only normal. It is not unusual, since Presidents Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) also obtained VGs… initially. A few points difference from his net rating is immaterial…”
The only outlier, according to Mangahas, was GMA: “The one with an unusual initial rating was Gloria Arroyo, who got only Moderate ratings… both after succeeding Estrada on account of People Power II in 2001 and after winning her own election in 2004.”
So if everything is normal, so far, then what is important to bear in mind is that everything that happens from now on, will determine not only how the President is viewed according to his own initial standing but in comparison to those who came before: “The proper way to compare presidents is to use all the available data over time. Cory Aquino stayed VG until March 1987, a year after becoming president. Ramos stayed VG for two years. Estrada was VG for only a year. P-Noy averaged VG for three-and-a-half years.”
Which brings us to our third snapshot. It is of public opinion concerning the one thing the President seems to believe in most passionately of all: the “War on Drugs.”
III. The President’s “War on Drugs” and the people
The September SWS survey also included questions on the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs.
What is interesting is the range of possible answers. To simply things, you probably saw news reports saying 84% satisfied, 8% dissatisfied, with the “War on Drugs.” Some reports might even have added that another 8% are undecided.
But if you look at SWS’ own chart, it reports the percentages in finer detail.
This comes out to 54% very satisfied, 30% somewhat satisfied, 8% undecided, 4% somewhat dissatisfied, and 4% very dissatisfied. A range of reactions which might give a mental picture very different from the same percentages when lumped together.
To me, the percentages, if you interpret them as enthusiasm on one end, and violent disagreement on the other, shows a much bigger grey area composed of the somewhat satisfied and the undecided, with the very satisfied having a slight majority, and yes, only 8% opposed.
Considering the time, energy, and resources devoted to the “War on Drugs,” and the intensity and frequency of official rhetoric promoting it as a core activity of the administration –indeed, the President himself—that 30% somewhat satisfied and the 8% undecided (which itself equals the currently opposed) should be a cause for worry in official circles. It is nowhere as overwhelming a percentage as the careless might think.
Combine it with the next question that was asked, and you have a truly astounding insight into not only what opinions people hold, but how they express them.
This comes out to 94% thinking it is important to keep illegal drug trade suspects alive and only 7% who think it is not important. Three things come to mind.
First, 71% believing it is very important to keep suspects alive can only be interpreted in one way: as a repudiation of the President. An outright rejection, considering how the President has personally, vocally, and repeatedly, justified casualties in the current campaign. People feel far more strongly, and firmly, about not wanting killings, than they do about the war in whose names killings are taking place.
Second of all, the 23% who think keeping suspects alive is “somewhat important,” which can be interpreted in many ways but most likely, it involves acceptance, to one extent or another, of both the possibility of “collateral damage” and the reality of shoot-outs. I point this out because the absolutely enormous –94%– percentage who think it is important to keep suspects alive, has a slightly ambivalent percentage within it, that itself is quite large.
And third, this slide means that those who are opposed to the current “War on Drugs” outnumber those who fairly strongly believe killing drug suspects is OK by a factor of 2:1.
Which, if you recall the last two articles on the “War on Drugs,” underscores why you often hear suggestions for the President to declare victory in the “War on Drugs” and start focusing on other things, or why even within official circles attempts were made to suggest the war would be moving on to a new phase. The President, in terms of the chief passion of his presidency, is seriously out of step with the sentiments of his people.
IV. In the President we trust
And finally, our fourth picture: the President himself. Now that’s he’s had the job for a quarter, is trusted or not, by the people?
“The survey question is about absolute trust, not relative trust. The SWS survey question about trust in a personality does not involve a comparison across personalities. It does not ask, “Who do you trust the most among persons A, B, C, and D?” as though asking for a single preference among four candidates in an election.”
On June 11, Mangahas had pointed out (referring to SWS’s own scale based on net results; the gross results for May 1-3 were 54% had much trust, 28% had little trust, in Duterte), “In survey history, Duterte is the only presidential candidate with a merely Moderate trust rating at election time.” He characterized trust in Duterte, as of the election, as “Moderate in the nation as a whole, and also Moderate in Metro Manila… and the Visayas… But it is Very Good in Mindanao…, and only Neutral in the Balance of Luzon… [He is] more trusted by men…than women … Older people trust Duterte less… [while] Duterte’s trust ratings rise with education…”
Here we have two snapshots, thanks to a handy-dandy SWS table showing the trust rating of the President before he was elected, as president-elect, and his first trust rating as president:
Mahar Mangahas’ observation on the above (as of last July) was “It was not until after winning the 2016 election that Mr. Duterte’s trust rating zoomed… those who trusted him by the end of June were more than twice as many as those who voted for him.” That’s snapshot one (June 24-27): 84% with much trust, 11% undecided, and 8% with little trust. Snapshot two is the September 24-27 snapshot, 83% with much trust, 9% undecided, and 8% with little trust. Essentially, things are unchanged. But the too-microscopic-to-matter-for-now shift, is still a shift; fewer are undecided, and more decided in the negative. You would have to have a double-digit shift, however, for the change to mean something.
If you look at the numbers in terms of geography, you will notice some slight shifts in the various regions, even though the overall numbers are basically unchanged as noted above.
NCR and Mindanao haven’t budged; in Balance Luzon, you will notice little trust went up 4%. It is in the Visayas, however, that the change is noticeable. Little Trust in the Visayas doubled, from 5% to 10% while Undecided went down almost by half, from 15% to 8%, while Much Trust increased by 3%, the only part of the country to actually register an increase. This hints at people making up their mind about the President (except in NCR where a tiny fraction of the undecided has actually increased).
Sticking to the geography, opinion according to the urban and rural divide is as follows:
Among the urban population, both indecision and little trust have grown 3% each from June; among the rural population, indecision has gone down nearly by half: much of it, it seems, going to much trust and a much smaller percentage going to little trust. So while overwhelmingly trusted in by both urban and rural dwellers, he has gained in the rural areas and lost a tiny bit of ground in urban areas.
In terms of “we, the people,” broken down into classes, and knowing the President did best in the ABC, and least in the D, the numbers are interesting, too.
The President retains his overwhelming support in ABC, but the percentage with little trust has grown tenfold: from a microscopic 1% in June to 10% in September; much of it seems to have come from those who were previously undecided, which shrank from 15% in June to 7% in September (reduced by half), together with a microscopic 1% of those with trust in June who seem to have transferred to little trust by September.
Class D, the biggest chunk of our population, after rallying around the newly-elected President between May and June, has an unchanged opinion about him in every respect. It is in Class E, the poorest of our fellow citizens, that you see a small but noticeable change. Those with little trust have more than doubled, from 6% in June to 13% in September, and again the shift is not from undecided to little trust (only 1% shifted from undecided to little trust), but from those with much trust straight to little trust: 4%.
Note that the rally-around-the-president-elect phenomenon can be seen in the chart above: the jump in every class from May to June.
Next we can divide society according to gender.
A very tiny shift from indecision to little trust, and a very small increase in little trust among men; a very tiny increase in much trust, a 4% decrease in indecision, and a slight increase in little trust, among women. Though even looking at these puny amounts, the President has gained more among women and lost among men, his main political gender demographic.
What about by age? We know that the President’s constituency includes younger people. He seems to be holding his own among these (18-24, 25-34, 35-44).
Though you can see some itsy-bitsy shifting. Among 18-24 year olds, those with little trust has tripled, from 2% in June to 7% in September, while indecision has slightly decreased. The President is most stable among 25-34 year olds; while among 35-44 year olds, his trust has microscopically increased, and any shift is from indecision (down 3%) to little trust (up 3%).
It is among the generation of parents, 45-54 years olds, that you see the biggest (relatively speaking of course) changes.
Little trust has more than doubled, from 4% to 10%, with indecision decreasing by 3%: the increase in little trust therefore including those who had formerly felt much trust.
Among citizens 55 and up, the President’s standing remains essentially unchanged, a tinge more trusted than last June.
In terms of education, the President continues to enjoy the overwhelming trust of his core constituencies of the more highly educated in our society. It is actually among the less-educated in our society that the President can be seen to be losing trust, however small.
For those with up to some college education, the President’s trust has increased a small amount, while there are 3% fewer undecided; little trust has hardly increased at all. Among college graduates, trust in the President is overwhelming and remains practically fixed, with, again, a doubling of little trust but representing a tiny percentage.
However, for those with up to some elementary education, little trust has tripled, from 4% to 12% and indecision has gone down 6% which seems to have shifted in great part to little trust. For those with up to some High School education, little trust hit the low double digits, growing from 8% to 11%, with a similar growth in indecision from 9% to 12%. Trust in the high 70s of course is phenomenal by most standards, so these increases should be born in mind in comparison to that; but it is noteworthy that these are numbers in the 70s in comparison to the 80s the President enjoys among his core demographics.
A caveat on all these percentages. In terms of national numbers, the margin of error is usually pegged at plus or minus 3%. A layman’s interpretation of this usually goes, every percentage could be 3% higher, or 3% lower; and for numbers in different surveys to suggest something significant would require a difference of much more than 3%, say something in the range of 6%. For regional and class percentages, however, the percentages in the margin of error are even larger. Each survey will contain the margin of error for these categories, and you would actually have to consult the survey firm in question to find out what, exactly, they would consider significant from one survey to the next.
In other words there are very, very small movements involving very, very small percentages. What happens over the next two or three surveys will tell us if these were the first signs of trends, or temporary tiny blips.
It’s often said that the first survey in office of a President is the happiest time in an administration’s life. It is the culmination of the Triumphal Procession that began on election day. But a feature of the Roman Triumphs was a slave who would whisper to the conquering Caesar, “remember, you are mortal.”
That whispered warning inevitably comes to pass. Whether in the next survey or much later down the line, depends on one person –the President.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.)
(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 Romualdezin 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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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?
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…”
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)
President Duterte’s author of choice on Narco-related matters, Ioan Grillo, discussing his work in a 2013 Center for Investigative Journalism event)
(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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
“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 , 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 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.
“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.”
“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.”
(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.