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Nov 14

Escalation

Before we get to the blast at the Batasan Pambansa, let’s set the scene, as it was, yesterday, prior to the explosion.

The way Amando Doronila sees it, Political scandals undermining the economy, and foreign observers, too, see it the same way, as shown by this snippet:

Frederic Neumann wrote in a commentary: “We view the recent political scandals as severely undermining the President’s ability to persuade the Congress to pass new policy initiatives to advance structural reforms … The scandals will make it harder for the President to advance a new wave of policy reforms, especially relating to improving the underlying public finance sector finances.”

Neumann noted that the government had made a commitment to wipe out its budget deficits and was closing in on its full-year deficit target of P63 billlion, with the help of privatization proceeds, but its fiscal performance was “less impressive,” suggesting that more reforms were needed.

Doronila seems to have a view that’s very different from the triumphalist tones of the President herself, who seems to be crowing that her economic work is done. In Arroyo shifts focus from economic to political reforms, she is quoted as having said,

Now that we have straightened out the economy, it is time to push for political reforms. Let us reduce conflict, fight corruption, and put the welfare of the ordinary Filipino first,” Arroyo said.

But there’s something ironic in a political animal bellowing about being a beast (though a very well-educated ones with academic credentials) if it was funny-ha-ha to have the Speaker thundering on about a “moral revolution,” isn’t it funny-hee-hee, now that Arroyo blames politics for causing suicide, murder:

Arroyo called on her critics anew to focus on promoting development, this time blaming politics for the deaths of Marianette Amper, the 12-year-old girl who committed suicide in Davao due to poverty, and Alioden Dalaig, the poll official gunned down last Saturday.

“Many Filipinos are experiencing poverty since some of the country’s leaders are preoccupied with their self-interests rather than the welfare of the nation.

“On the other hand, there are politicians and groups who have no heart and conscience and are ready to use violence to attain their ambitions,” she said in a speech at the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) meeting yesterday in Malacañang.

“The preoccupation with politics, past and present, does not promote the stability, policy continuity, security and peace and order that we will need to continue to move our country forward.”

But then of course she knows whereof she speaks, so there’s nothing funny about it, at all. Point is, the President was going on the political offensive, on the premise that (unlike the view of the foreign observers mentioned by Doronila) everything economics-wise, was shipshape. While Marvin A. Tort delves into the merits and demerits of the appreciating peso, the President, long a fetishist of the “strong peso equals a Strong Republic” sort, has no choice but to ponder relief to stave off the worst effects of the appreciating peso (the majority of the two articles above, describe the relief efforts the President’s decreed as a kind of series of emergency measures, which will help the poor but leaves exporters vulnerable still).

The best defense being a good offense, the President knew full well that the opposition had left her self-innoculation devoid of oomph. As the Inquirer editorial today puts it, the President’s reliance on a tactical, and not ethical, approach to questions as to her legitimacy or fitness for office, has reached the end of the road:

This has led to the adoption by the administration of a tactical, instead of ethical, approach to the impeachment process. Yet the kind of people involved — politicians — then and now aren’t very different. Quirino faced vicious infighting within his Liberal Party reminiscent of the intramurals between Kampi and Lakas today, with a relatively small opposition hounding both Presidents.

Indeed the only difference we see is that Quirino genuinely believed in his innocence and trusted the process. Quirino knew, as one of the framers of the 1935 Constitution, what impeachment is: a means by which a nation being governed badly can gain relief. As chief executive he asserted that relief was unnecessary; as a lawyer, he knew his salvation lay in confronting his accusers and opening access to information, and presenting evidence.

In contrast, President Macapagal-Arroyo mistrusts the process and the people in it. Her allies and critics in the House have conspired to approve rules that deny impeachable officials proper vindication not only before the House, but in the court of public opinion. And the Supreme Court, too, has handed down decisions that have mutated impeachment into a race to file weak complaints to stave off genuine ones.

In other words, all three branches of government are stuck in a trap, with each blaming the other for tying its hand, resulting in what we have today. Yet among these institutions, it is the House that still has in its hands the means to pass new rules in keeping with those of 1949. But it won’t, because it prefers the Palace cash buffet. Its members worship at the altar of Mammon instead of the altar of public duty.

Everything else, House-wise, on the part of the majority is bravado on the part of those left holding the bag: House majority rebuffs minority boycott of impeach hearings.

And also, because the best defense is a good offense, this took place: Panlilio, 8 more charged with bribery over Palace handouts. This was something people saw coming: Ateneo official rallies support for embattled Panlilio.

And also, because the best defense is a good offense, just as whistle blowers get the book thrown at them, anyone showing any kind of independence within the ruling coalition gets the Palace pit bills unleashed on them. Manuel Buencamino pens an open letter not for the faint of heart to Juan Ponce Enrile, senior Palace pit bull.

And so, having set the scene, let’s move on to the Batasan blast. I’d just emerged from a dinner conversation with a foreign businessman who was quite worried over the effect the appreciating peso was having on ordinary people and, of course, on the bigger Filipino exporters and other businessmen with whom he did business, and who now had to put plans for expanding or upgrading their equipment on hold (for my part, I traded notes on the true extent of smuggling which is also devastating legitimate businesses). The businessman was particularly puzzled by how the appreciating peso was resulting in an increase in the cost of basic commodities, which then led to a discussion on rice and sugar smuggling, etc.

Ironically, the businessman began our conversation by telling me how he’d first arrived in the Philippines on August 21, 1983, and the pandemonium that had ensued at the Manila International Airport as he arrived shortly before Ninoy Aquino’s flight. Anyway, as I left the meeting, I received a text asking for confirmation of the blast, and so contacted colleagues in the Inquirer who confirmed it; and so it went until midnight, when the President made a brief statement. What struck me most was the quavery voice of Rep. Darlene Custodio.

The initial responses on the blogosphere run the gamut of points of view, and helps provide an insight into the public’s reaction to the news. Whether its Shasha says or Andre’s Journal! a common reaction, on one part, is to be stupefied-and-angry (or relieved to be headed abroad, like Badfish) or simply astounded, like spiderye, or being held hostage by a creeping feeling that there’s an unfolding plot, and of God-knows-what to come, as blue law by anna writes:

Holy shit. They are NOT stopping. People kasi were criticizing them before, eh why the common tao your targeting, during the Glorietta bombing, so now I guess they’re trying to prove a point, that even law-makers, wala, nothing fazes or scares us, we WILL get our point across. What point ba???!!! What do they want? My god, when the Glorietta bombing went off, I felt really bad and angry, but I didn’t feel scared pa rin. I mean, I wasn’t afraid to go malling still or go around public places. But with this Batasan bombing, I’m like, oh my god, I got a really really bad feeling in my stomach, like, of things to come, this is probably not the end of it. Punyeta silang lahat. Nakaraos na yung bayan from our history of violence and unrest tapos ngayon binabalik balik nila.

Or simply being ticked off, as OLSEN 3 was, of people immediately cracking jokes. Outside Manila, in Antique, Antikenyo says people shrugged it off.

Inner Sanctum runs through all the conspiracy theories, and correctly points out,

While there’s nothing new about politicians getting murdered, it’s the audacity of the attack that sends jitters to most people, including myself. I don’t recall lawmakers’ domains (in this case, the Batasang Pambansa) ever getting bombed. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time that an attack happened right inside the compound that houses congress.

Piercing Pens tackles other possibilities. Though New Philippine Revolution, a few days back, insisted a pattern of resistance is emerging, I’m still skeptical -coordination has not been a characteristic of the groups opposed to the administration, who more often than not, can barely manage to talk civilly to each other.

As it stands, the initial details are fully covered by the papers, see Bomb rocks Congress; solon among 3 killed and Police recover mobile phone at Congress blast site. And Arroyo creates task force vs political violence.

Even as Akbar dies, Teves in critical condition, and media attention therefore focuses on ‘Akbar, wives controlled Basilan’ (going back even further, see Ellen Tordesillas’ Akbar and the ghost of the Lamitan siege and this profile in the San Francisco Chronicle) that old reliable had to shoot his mouth off yet again: Gonzales: ‘We got the warning two weeks ago’.

You know, Gonzales didn’t help matters during the Glorietta blast, and he isn’t helping matters now. Just as one question -who was the target?- is only beginning to be resolved, Gonzales helps raise even more questions -if the target was Akbar, and government knew, why then, did the assassination (if that’s what it was) take place? The government will announce its suspects soon enough, but that, too, will raise more questions, I’m sure.

Anyway, if Akbar was the target, then it’s no different from the assassinations of other congressmen in Metro Manila right before the May elections. It shows that congressmen aren’t beyond vendetta killings formerly restricted to their home provinces -and a general deterioration in the ability of the authorities to maintain law and order.

The collateral damage, if that’s all it was, right at the House of Representatives, also sends a message that I suspect was the cause of Darlene Custodio’s quavery voice, as she described the scene at the time. They are all in it together, and in the end, enemies of the representatives aren’t interested in separating the sheep from the goats.

for me, what is significant is that it’s unclear who, precisely, dismissed the House security detail in the wake of the bombing. If it was the Speaker, then that’s fine; if it was the Secretary of the Interior, that’s an infringement on the independence of the House. This is no trivial matter, even if justified by the authorities as a question of security. If the Palace, in charge of the police power, cocoons representatives and senators in security, the legislators shouldn’t forget that it was an imposition. So far, that hasn’t happened; the Secretary of the Interior has merely offered additional security to legislators if and when they request it, which is the absolutely right way to approach security concerns.

More on Rep. Akbar in reason is the reason:

The lowdown the wife and I got from Dr. J, who was working at the FEU Hospital near the Batasang Pambansa Complex, was that the bomb had been intended for Congressman Wahab Akbar, the Distinguished Gentleman from Basilan.

An interview I heard on the radio later confirmed that the blast had likely come from a remote-controlled IED, detonated by someone within visual range of Akbar.

Akbar had unfortunately developed a routine that his enemies were quick to use to their advantage — he would have his driver pick him up at the same exit, so conveniently close to the motorcycle parking area where a bomb could easily be transported and hidden.

A quick Google search seems to indicate that Akbar had had it coming. He was alleged to have been in cahoots with the Abu Sayyaf commanders holed up in the Lamitan siege: “a group of army officers, ASG members and local governor Wahab Akbar split ransom money that they received for the ‘escape’ of three hostages in the early stages of the episode.”

In a controversial privilege speech, Akbar also claimed that 80% of Filipino Muslims were sympathetic to the Abu Sayyaf. In the same speech, Akbar made the bold claim “I am Basilan” — which wouldn’t be far from the truth, considering that two of his wives have won the top elective positions in the island province.

There’s a moral to be found here, where a man can claim to personify a violent, backward province one day — and end up riddled with shrapnel the next.

That, indeed, may be all there is to it. Live by the sword, die by the sword. If this is what happened, then the question is, just how firmly the government can clamp down if the suspects prove to be from the military, whether in the service, or AWOL.

As Ricky Carandang points out, it’s business as usual:

What happens next is anyone’s guess, but the House leadership has said that the incident will not prevent them from fulfilling their duty of killing the latest impeachment complaint against President Arroyo.

And indeed, mission accomplished: House committee rejects new impeach rap vs Arroyo.

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319 comments

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  1. d0d0ng

    devilsadvocate on, “what does this tell us? that first, if you are an oil producing country, be very afraid if all you have to deter invasion is diplomacy. with Bush and his gangsta, that won’t work.”

    There is no need for energy abundant nations like Iran and Burma to go nuclear. Everybody understood the aim of Iran including muslim nation. Saudi Arabia declared its intention this year that it will go nuclear if Iran is allowed to possess nuclear weapons because of its interest in Iraq and the region. Saudi Arabia rely solely that US can do its job.

  2. d0d0ng

    devilsadvocate, “as it is, the US’s pre-emptive war on Iraq has already set a very bad precedent, copied by Israel on Lebanon and will be used by other countries as pretext for territorial expansion.”

    Please get your facts straight. Israel expanded its territory as bufferzone only after it was attacked by the overwhelming arab countries around.

  3. cvj

    You can be an isolationist if you wanted if you ran the country. But Philippines right now is dependent on military aid. – d0d0ng

    Military aid is for the purpose of achieving national security. If the Philippine alliance with America results in it being involved in the latter’s wars, then such aid defeats the purpose and is not worth accepting.

    When Americans watched the horrors of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, they wanted to know what the country can do to stop the carnage in our own soil. We have answer, you guess it right. Pre-emptive strike. For the Americans, there is nothing stupid in Pearl Harbor and 9/11. – d0d0ng

    Since Iraq was not involved in 9/11, attacking that country can be compared to attacking Mexico after Pearl Harbor. You talk about the “horrors of 9/11”. What about the horrors of the American Invasion of Iraq?

    In World War 2, it was the Japanese who executed their own pre-emptive strike against the United States. That’s why (together with Hitler’s Germany) it is acknowledged to be the villains in that war. Today, the role of villain is fulfilled by the United States under Bush.

  4. DevilsAdvc8

    “There is no need for energy abundant nations like Iran and Burma to go nuclear.”

    The need, dOdOng, is not for energy. But deterrence. You think when Iran has nuclear weapons the US will dare invade it like it did Iraq?

    “Please get your facts straight. Israel expanded its territory as bufferzone only after it was attacked by the overwhelming arab countries around.”

    You get your facts straight. Israel has always been attacked by everyone around them for years. And it has always tried expanding its “buffer-zone” in any way it can. walls, incursion. but it has never before declared war on the basis of a pre-emptive policy. Bush’s example has made sure that doesn’t stay the same. now any other country can justify invasion by claiming imagined threats.

    do you get the import of that?

    “Since Iraq was not involved in 9/11, attacking that country can be compared to attacking Mexico after Pearl Harbor. You talk about the “horrors of 9/11″. What about the horrors of the American Invasion of Iraq?

    In World War 2, it was the Japanese who executed their own pre-emptive strike against the United States. ”

    cvj, thank you for putting this guy in place. crazy neo-con.

  5. Proud to be Tsinoy

    MBW

    You’re missing the point…it’s not just you. You’re not the one who started the “go back to your homeland” bit.

    ANyway, I always believe discourse can be done without having to use coarse language….

    GRD, thanks.

  6. Bencard

    devils, will you and cvj cut the hell out of calling people who disagree with you “neo-cons” or some such perjorative names? you have been doing that like the proverbial big bully on the block with a sharp tongue but a small mind. it’s an utter waste of time debating with you and your kind.

  7. cvj

    Bencrad, ‘Neo-cons’ is not pejorative. Ask DJB.

  8. DevilsAdvc8

    no cvj, it is not. “crazy” is pejorative. 😀

    but the way the neo-cons have acted, you can be sure they’ve sullied that name for generations to come.

    and referring to cvj and me as “me and his kind,” isn’t exactly different Bencard.

  9. d0d0ng

    cvj on, “In World War 2, it was the Japanese who executed their own pre-emptive strike against the United States. That’s why (together with Hitler’s Germany) it is acknowledged to be the villains in that war. Today, the role of villain is fulfilled by the United States under Bush.”

    Your skewed apples/oranges comparison resulted to your distorted view of the United States. But it is easy to see through your distortions. If US is as bad as if not worse than the WW2 Japanese and Hitler Germany (giving you the benefit of doubt), why Middle East and all Arab countries, Europe, Russia and China did not join forces to fight the great villain United States? Obviously, your distorted view of the global villain US is not holding up. Please try something else other than drama or role playing.

  10. d0d0ng

    “And it has always tried expanding its “buffer-zone” in any way it can.”

    Sorry. If your statement is true, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would be the first to say that to the United States. That is why I am saying, please check your facts.

  11. d0d0ng

    Oh, I forgot to mention Egypt, which is across the border.

  12. d0d0ng

    “cvj, thank you for putting this guy in place. crazy neo-con.”

    Maybe, you did not understand the neo-cons. In light of next year election, we will see the first woman US President and US Middle East policy will not change significantly. Your neo-cons concept is evidently out of place.

  13. Bencard

    devils, if associating you with cvj was pejorative, then i would plead ‘guilty as charged’.

  14. d0d0ng

    cvj on, “Military aid is for the purpose of achieving national security. If the Philippine alliance with America results in it being involved in the latter’s wars, then such aid defeats the purpose and is not worth accepting.”

    Whose security? You know better than that. In fact, when US Congress recently announced that it would tie the aid to extrajudicial killings problems, Phil gov’t is crying out loud for split of milk.

  15. d0d0ng

    cvj on, “What about the horrors of the American Invasion of Iraq?”

    Maybe you should ask Kuwait gov’t. whose land was invaded by Iraq. Or the Saudi gov’t. whose Sunni relatives in Iraq are direct victims of war. The Saudis warned the US it will fight the Shiites if US will leave Iraq too soon in power sharing vaccum.

  16. d0d0ng

    “You think when Iran has nuclear weapons the US will dare invade it like it did Iraq?”

    You think US will not attack nuclear Pakistan if Musharraf pick Taliban instead of US?

    You should read Musharraf’s memoirs.

  17. grd

    dodong, i’m interested with your take on why the US did not attack north korea (while it did not hesitate against iraq). that country has been threatening the US and its neighbors ever since with its nuclear capability. instead, the US succumbed to north korea’s blackmail and giving in to its demands.

  18. cvj

    If US is as bad as if not worse than the WW2 Japanese and Hitler Germany (giving you the benefit of doubt), why Middle East and all Arab countries, Europe, Russia and China did not join forces to fight the great villain United States? – dOdOng

    The rest of the world (including a good portion of the American public) has expressed its opposition to the invasion of Iraq in a peaceful manner. Unlike the American aggressors, the rest of the world values the ways of peace.

    Whose security? You know better than that. In fact, when US Congress recently announced that it would tie the aid to extrajudicial killings problems, Phil gov’t is crying out loud for split of milk. – dOdOng

    You think our officials are crying because of national security? You know better than that.

    Maybe you should ask Kuwait gov’t. whose land was invaded by Iraq. – dOdOng

    With or without the American invasion, the Iraqis were no longer in a position to re-invade Kuwait after they were driven out. What additional benefit will a million dead Iraqis give them?

    Or the Saudi gov’t. whose Sunni relatives in Iraq are direct victims of war. The Saudis warned the US it will fight the Shiites if US will leave Iraq too soon in power sharing vaccum. – dOdOng

    To be more specific, the Sunnis are the direct victims of the American invasion. On the possibility of a regional or civil war in the event the US left Iraq, the United States was already warned beforehand that their presence would destabilize the region. The Americans did not listen.

  19. d0d0ng

    grd on, “i’m interested with your take on why the US did not attack north korea (while it did not hesitate against iraq). that country has been threatening the US and its neighbors ever since with its nuclear capability. instead, the US succumbed to north korea’s blackmail and giving in to its demands.”

    There are 2 prevailing factors going on in Korean Peninsula, (1) new generation of South Korea (which is the power base of current South Korean President) has desire for reunification similar to Germany , (2) Bejing’s active role as the leading player in the six party talks to de-nuclearize North Korea. Both Bejing and South Korea President (not to give up gains in inter-Korean relations) downplayed the North Korea missile test threat and willing to take the risk. There is a clear path toward de-nuclearize North Korea. In fact, USFK is drawing down its american forces in Korean peninsula and planning to cede control of its war command authority to the deputy Korean commander. In the same way, US ceded leadership of the six party talks to China.

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