Conspiracy theories

Over the weekend I watched an entertaining documentary titled Who Really Runs The World. The documentary says that events of great emotional significance cry out for grand explanations. And that as trust in authority weakens, so does the willingness of some people to accept simple, but emotionally unsatisfying, explanations. The documentary says conspiracy theories as we know them, began with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

In the beginning of the documentary, it makes two assertions (based on surveys of British people):

* If you trust friends and family, you probably won’t believe in conspiracies.

* The poorer you are, the more likely it is you’ll believe in conspiracy theories.

Then the documentary focuses on four particularly popular conspiracy theories in the UK, based on surveys:

* 58% of people think that President Bush wanted 9/11 to happen.

* 45% believe Diana was murdered.

* 15% of people think the British government planned the London Bombing.

* 32% of young people believe the government have hidden evidence of alien landings.

These numbers are significant (the larger figures, for example, represent portions of the population large enough to say, elect a government). Since perception is often the only thing that matters politically, governments have to wrestle with a problem whenever significant tragedies take place: how do you balance the need to dominate the reporting of an emerging story, with the duty to be prudent and responsible about the kind of data released, and how it’s interpreted to the public?

The Glorietta blast is a case in point.

Two Saturdays ago, the Inquirer editorial said the government continues to suffer from a credibility gap, because of the eagerness with which it wanted to explore the terrorism angle (Adventures of Isabel has a video clip to prove it).

Investigations take time. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster came out in late 2005, for example, and wasn’t discussed widely in public until 2006. However, the original theories proposed soon after the event, not all of which may have been proven true later on, probably dominate public thinking on the matter up to now. In that time, conspiracy theories -and sites, such as 9-11 Research– abound, and much energy is spent Debunking the 9/11 Myths.

As for myself, I’ve tried to refrain from providing an opinion on what happened in the case of the Glorietta Blast. My past entries, Testimony and Evidence, sum up what was known, then (and remains known, as far as personal testimonies are concerned, which still have to be reconciled with the physical evidence). My script for The Explainer, episode 64, focus more on the lessons that could be learned from the tragedy.

At the start of the year, the issue came to the fore, once more, with the authorities saying they were due to release their report on January 4. What followed was a p.r. shot across the bow from Ayala Land, and then a delay in the release of the government’s report, as well as something like back-pedaling on the part of the authorities, in terms of the charges they intended to file. Implications were made, all around, that one side, or both, were basically engaged in trying to extort a more favorable report. In its entry on the subject, The Daily PCIJ did its own sniffing around:

Another well-known security expert told the PCIJ that the government seems to have pulled a clever cover-up, as high-ranking police officials allegedly even threatened Ayala Land Inc. (ALI), asking the mall owner to choose between protecting the company’s reputation or sacrificing the country’s economy.

Ayala Land’s version is that the explosion was due to a bomb. The authorities insist it was a gas explosion. The government’s evidence is in the PNP Final Presentation, available on line. Ayala Land’s counter-arguments are also available online, through its 3-D walk-through. The Ayala media offensive included, as the authorities prepared to wrap up their (delayed) work, a visit where a Security Expert Doubts Gas Theory in Glorietta Blast. This was followed by Ayala releasing information beyond the original report it had commissioned, debunking the methane angle. All sides have their fierce advocates: see Tongue In, Anew, who compiled the reasons for supporting the bomb angle; see The Journal of The Jester-in-Exile who seems content with the official explanation, as does reason is the reason.

Others, though, think both sides have provided only partial answers.

Tony Abaya (whose professional background is chemistry), in a recent column, thinks it was gas, but not methane:

But I disagreed and still disagree that the gas was methane. I still think it was LPG. The PNP based its methane theory on the fact that the pumps in the sub-basement — which were supposed to pump out the mostly liquid waste from the building’s toilets and restaurant kitchens to the city’s sewerage line — had malfunctioned the previous five days and thus may indeed have caused methane gas to build up in the basement. I argued in my articles that five days were not enough time for methane gas to accumulate to the volume needed to cause such a large explosion. Solid waste takes about ten days to generate methane; waste diluted by the toilets’ flush water and the kitchens’ wash water would take much longer.

The PNP claims that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Australian Federal Police and an Israeli security consultant employed by the NAIA all concurred that it was a gas explosion, not a terrorist’s bomb. But only the Israeli has been directly quoted. Why? What did the FBI and the Australians actually say in their reports? Did they disagree with the PNP on which gas caused the explosion?

The PNP also said that there were two explosions (which is correct), but that one minute and 45 seconds separated the two blasts. This long time gap seems to have been inserted to explain that the methane blast caused the standby generator’s diesel fuel — which does not vaporize or gasify at room temperature — to also explode.

But the maximum temperature in the basement and sub-basement would have been reached at the moment of the explosion, not one minute and 45 seconds later, by which time the room temperature would have gone down appreciably. Besides the lone survivor who was interviewed on ANC by Chiqui Roa talked as if the two blasts occurred one after the other, not one minute and 45 seconds apart, which is quite a long time in the sequence of events..

According to my informant, who has done contractual repair work for Ayala Land and its lessee, Makati Supermarket Corp. in the premises, there were LPG cylinders in the basement, to which the kitchens of at least three busy restaurants — Luk Yuen, Kimpura, and Peking Garden – were connected by copper tubing. Considering how busy these restaurants must have been at 1;30 pm on a Friday afternoon, it is reasonable to assume that there were at least ten restaurant-size 50 kg LPG cylinders in the basement on that day. Enough to cause the severe damage that the shopping mall suffered, plus the death of 11 persons and the injuries to 108 others.

My informant also said that all those who had done work in the premises were required by Ayala on Oct. 22 to sign a written promise not to talk to media about the incident. But, of course, that is mere hearsay. Ayala has always insisted that it was a terrorist’s bomb that blew up, apparently for insurance liability purposes.

Just last Christmas Day, a suicide bomber exploded his vehicle next to a truck delivering cooking gas cylinders in the city of Baiji in northern Iraq. The twin explosion killed 25 people, injured 88, and severely damaged buildings in the immediate neighborhood.

On June 29 in London, two Mercedes-Benz sedans, parked in the Haymarket theatre district and nearby Park Lane, were each found to contain cooking gas cylinders, plus cans of gasoline and tens of thousands of nails. That the two improvised explosive devices failed to explode — the bomber was apparently an amateur who may have made the same mistake in the wiring of the two bombs — can be ascribed to pure luck. According to British police, if the two bombs had exploded, “hundreds of people” would have been killed.

This is not say that the Glorietta explosion was set off by a bomb. In the absence of bomb fragments or shrapnel, a bomb crater and/or substantial nitrate deposits in Ground Zero, one cannot conclude that it was a bomb, especially since no one has claimed credit for it. But it does say that cooking gas — whether methane or butane/propane in LPG – can be just as lethal.

People like Philippine Commentary (a scientist) insist that the absence of a crater trumps any assertion that the explosion could have been caused by a bomb. As Ricky Carandang reported in his blog,

I don’t know enough about physics or forensics to refute or agree with the conclusions of the Inter Agency Task Force, but they did take me down there and showed me where the bomb was supposed to have been planted. It was an area just under the stairwell. Forensic investigator Fennimore Jaudian is the PNP’s go-to guy for these things and he says if there had been a bomb planted there, there should have been a crater. He also says the staircase would have been obliterated, which it wasn’t.

The Arroyo government has never been known for its commitment to the truth, but they have also cited reports by the FBI and the Australian Police. The Aussie investigators who examined the blast site and concluded that the explosion was not caused by an explosive. I’ve spoken to the Aussies and they back up the official findings. I feel they would have no reason to lie.

The FBI also examined the site, but according to Metro Manila Police Chief Geary Barias, they have never provided the IATF a copy of their final report.

But Carandang says that beyond protecting its ass, the Ayala Land counter-arguments can’t be ignored:

The IATF has never satisfactorily explained why RDX and HMX were present at the blast site. RDX and HMX are explosive substances used by the military. They are not available commercially, and their sale is restricted by the US government. And contrary to what the PNP says, they are not present in ordinary household items like deodorants or cosmetics. The PNP admits there was RDX found at the site, but they say this could have been due to contamination.

In her own report, Ayala Land’s investigator has concluded categorically that the blast was caused by an explosive. Aini Ling is an acknowledged expert in investigating explosions and fires. She has even assisted Philippine authorities in a number of investigations, most notably in the Superfery 14 bombing in 2004. It was Ling who concluded that Superferry was a bombing. The samples she took were examined by Armstrong Forensic Laboratories, a US government accredited forensic lab with 25 years of experience.

This resulted in Carandang going to Malaysia to interview the forensic investigator named by Ayala Land (refer back to the PCIJ report which summarizes, and links to, the two sets of samples taken, and the lab analyses, conducted by that expert) . In an update to his entry, he wrote,

OK everyone, I’m back.

Aini Ling says she can’t explain why there was no crater without a more thorough look at the blast site. She says her conclusion that it was a bomb or bombs was based on the results of the swabs that she took and she won;t speculate on anything beyond the report.

Aside from the RDX and HMX, there were other chemical substances there that are components of an explosive. She added that none of these materials are easily obtained in the open market. I prodded her to say who could have access to those explosives and she said the immediate answer would be military.

I find her credible. I don’t think she would sacrifice her good name or her career to falsify a report just for Ayala. When I met up with her she and her colleagues from Forensic Services Bhd were in the middle of giving a lecture on arson and explosives to a groups of insurance investigators. If she turns out to be wrong, I believe it would have been an honest mistake.

For me now the next step is to get a copy of the Australia Federal Police report. The Aussies have concurred with the PNP findings, and like Aini Ling, I believe they have no reason to lie.

I have hard copies of Ling’s report and the Armstrong lab results and will try to find way to encode them and post them here or send anyone a copy if they’re interested.

Beyond getting the Aussie report I don’t know what more I can do to get to the bottom of this.

These latest Ayala-inspired revelations, then, may serve to keep the question bubbling, but have not been definitive enough to debunk the authorities conclusively, but haven’t been definitively been debunked, in turn. In a comment on Carandang’s blog, Philippine Commentary (aka DJB), says,

The biggest problem for Ling and Collier is there ain’t no hole in the ground full of RDX whose radius for a known material is even directly related to the mass of the high explosive’s TNT equivalent.

Just between us girls, I think Aini Ling KNOWS this was not, could not have been a bomb and she’s really making those who’ve indulged her look like fools. She is basically a high powered lawyer with a PhD in forensic chemistry.

She gives eternal life to the Conspiracy Theorists and govt skeptics in preparation for a long court battle, who’s ground she is cleverly preparing.

Unfortunately, the local Mass Media have been duped and used by these “foreign experts”.

I do think smoke has jumped the gun, a bit, in assuming the only way this will get resolved is in court:

Let’s not blindly assume that the PNP was correct, fine. But let’s also not let our jaundiced view of the PNP – and the government – blind us to the necessity of taking Ayala to task as well. What was RDX doing in their basement? What use was RDX being put to in a mall that receives thousands of people on a daily basis. For Ayala to just stubbornly maintain that it was a bomb and not negligence is tantamount to an unsubstantiated general denial that, in court, doesn’t hold water at all.

If Ayala wants to prove the PNP wrong, it should eliminate all possible alternative explanations for the presence of RDX in its basement. But so far, no one has asked this of Ayala. Not the crusading media, not the NGOs, not the human rights groups who have so far remained silent about this fatal breach of respect for the right of people to life. I have to wonder: is it because government is such an easy target that people forget that big corporations can be at fault as well?

Jumping the gun, because assumptions are made about the RDX although she is correct in pointing out that this could be a neither-side-is-right situation.

Personally, what puzzles me, since all angles ought to be considered, is why Tony Abaya seems so alone in pursuing the LPG angle; or why a confluence of events hasn’t been considered: what if it was a small bomb, with psychological shock in mind, but which ended up triggering a gas blast (whether methane or LPG) that was completely unintended, because unforeseen?

It could be both sides are covering up, and that while both are proposing diametrically opposite explanations, there’s a confluence of interests in wanting lots of heat, but little light.

But to think that would be to indulge a conspiracy theory.

So for now, it’s back to what I think ought to be the case: a more rigorous comparison of what we know, and what remains to be discovered, if an iron-clad explanation’s to be made.

Both sides leave me unsatisfied at this point.

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    • Jeg on January 21, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Mr. Abaya: The PNP also said that there were two explosions (which is correct), but that one minute and 45 seconds separated the two blasts.

    This puzzled me as well. I thought there were indeed two explosions, but they occurred one after the other. In fact in the comment section of one blogger (forgot which one) I conjectured that the methane gas exploded and the vacuum created caused the diesel to gasify and explode milliseconds later. (Am not vouching for the scientific soundness of this scenario, but a minute and 45 seconds is a bit much.)

    As for the presence of RDX, I have a ‘conspiracy theory’. The RDX was planted. And not by Ayala. It was planted by some ‘agency’ that wanted to make a case for emergency powers to be granted to the President. (Remember the claim made by some Rajah Soliman group that they did it?) Unfortunately, the FBI showed up, followed by the Australians, and whoever planted the RDX thought correctly that their scenario is now untenable. If I remember correctly, no investigator saw the RDX collected from the bomb site but was presented neatly in a plastic bag and some ‘investigator’ claimed he took the sample from the site.

    • cvj on January 21, 2008 at 10:56 am

    If a bomb explodes a few feet off the ground, a crater may not form. From what i read in the blogosphere, the various hypotheses are:

    1. PNP (as per micketymod) – methane blast trigerring a diesel blast
    2. DJB – methane blast alone
    3. Tongue – bomb (ruling out a gas explosion)

    The refusal of the PNP and Australian Embassy to release their report to Ricky Carandang also raises further questions on what they may be trying to hide.

  1. two explosions: two-stage CVCE.

    • cvj on January 21, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Jeg, if there was an attempt to plant RDX, we cannot rule out Ayala because if it was really a gas explosion, then they would have the motive to do so. That would of course mean that behind their good guy looks, JAZA and/or Fernando Zobel are really evil villains.

    • Jeg on January 21, 2008 at 11:16 am

    cvj: Jeg, if there was an attempt to plant RDX, we cannot rule out Ayala because if it was really a gas explosion, then they would have the motive to do so.

    But stepping back for a wider view, we would see that Ayala didnt have access to the bomb site, and the incident occurred amidst the ZTE-Malacanang scandal one-two which, knowing this admin’s survival mode thinking, spooked them so much that they had to try something to stem an imaginary uprising in the offing. Rajah Soliman claim was part of the ruse. And remember the RDX was found even before anybody knew what happened, and everybody already assumed bomb (DJB’s earlier posts on the incident, for example). Someone wanted to make sure RDX was found.

    • manuelbuencamino on January 21, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Both the PNP and the Ayala explanations are plausible but they contradict each other.

    So the question is why isn’t the official version universally accepted? Why does the public even listen to a mall operator’s explanation when it is obvious that their version is exculpatory?

    Because this regime can’t be trusted with anything.

    • manuelbuencamino on January 21, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    MLQ,

    On another matter, I just read your Arab News column, “Overstated Popularity”, where you argue that Erap’s popularity is overstated.

    I am curious about this line you wrote : “For a political leader, what matters is not just the number who vote for you, but who stick it out with you.”

    Does this mean that those who voted for Erap should have fought against the Edsa !! crowd?

    Conversely, should those who were in Edsa II have fought against the Edsa III crowd?

    Further, why is it that only the security forces, not those who actually voted for Gloria in 2004, face demonstrators against Gloria?

    Polls have consistently shown that the majority of the country wants Gloria out of Malacanan. That seems to me like many of her supporters have abandoned her. And yet she remains.

    I am not criticizing your argument. I am just chewing over it, trying to see how “sticking it out” translates.

  2. IMO, both side’s theories have reason to be doubted. bec both sides have their own motives to want the public to believe their findings. the govt, to deflect the blame away from it if it was indeed a bomb, and ALI, to cover its ass if it was indeed a cause of negligence.

    it is a case of he says, she says. your experts agst my experts. what the two could’ve done was to jointly commission an investigation, so that the investigator/s findings, whatever it may be, would not be doubted on the basis of the commissioning party.

    but what happened was that the govt refuses to entertain the bomb theory, and ALI pronounces with certainty it was a bomb. neither side have bothered to process the evidence w/o looking to have the findings tailored to what they believe to be true.

    as Grissom would put it, investigators may lie, but the evidence does not. that’s why it is inimical for investigators to go into an investigation with preconceived theories. their findings will always be colored by their prejudice.

    • cvj on January 21, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Jeg, this are the possibilities i considered:

    Diabolical government scenario:
    1. government agents plant bomb to distract public.
    2. government plot backfires as public suspects government as having planted bomb.
    3. government realizes it’s in a fix and asks Australians and FBI for assistance.
    4. Australians and FBI issue report that it was not a bomb.

    Diabolical mall operator scenario:
    1. mall operator(s)’ negligence causes methane and/or diesel explosion.
    2. ayala realizes it’s to blame so it dispatches its henchmen to sprinkle RDX to make it look like a bomb.
    3. police secure site so Ayala’s henchmen are unable to plant other bomb components which accounts for the missing blasting caps.
    4. Australians and FBI corroborate PNP findings.

    You’re saying that the following is also possible:

    Negligent mall operator, opportunistic but clumsy government scenario:
    1. mall operator(s)’ negligence causes methane and/or diesel explosion.
    2. government decides to take advantage of situation so it dispatches agents to plant RDX to make it look like a bomb.
    3. government plot backfires as public suspects government as having planted bomb.
    4. government realizes it’s in a fix and asks Australians and FBI for assistance.
    5. Australians and FBI issue report that it was not a bomb.

  3. What’s going to happen now that both findings are questionable? I’m sure both parties (Ayala and the police) will continue to defend their conclusions. This adds to people’s confusion, and further erodes whatever trustworthiness is left with this current admin. As for the Ayalas, although their findings appear to be self-serving, people still flock to their malls, and buy their condos and house and lots!

    • Jeg on January 21, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    cvj: You’re saying that the following is also possible…

    Something like that. It has to be noted that in the scenario I put forward, the PNP isnt in on the ruse, at least at first. It investigated in good faith. The ploy to take advantage of the explosion didnt come from the police, but from the civilian authorities. The decision to go ahead with the ploy didnt come fast enough as the PNP already had the site secured. They were probably waiting for some terrorist group to claim responsibility which would also allow them to make a case for emergency powers. When no group claimed responsibility, only then did they green light the ruse, including a bogus claim by some fictitious terrorist group. By that time, the police had already secured the site and were already investigating and had allowed the foreign experts to join them. The police investigators were the first to question the RDX findings that mysteriously appeared outside the blast site, which was already cordoned off at the time. I would revise what you wrote to this:

    Negligent mall operator, opportunistic but clumsy government scenario:
    1. Mall operator(s)’ negligence causes methane and/or diesel explosion.
    2. Government decides to take advantage of situation so it dispatches an agent to plant RDX to make it look like a bomb.
    3. Government plot backfires as
    a) public suspects government as having planted bomb (as per Sen Trillanes’s assertions), and
    b) the police allowed foreign experts to investigate (Since Ayala is a haven for foreign tourists, the police, in the interests of inter-agency cooperation, welcome the assistance. The ploy goes kaput at this point. They no longer control the crime scene and can’t strong arm the cops in the presence of the FBI and the Aussies.)
    4. Government realizes it’s in a fix and revises its story from ‘It was a bomb’ to ‘We’re not sure’ to ‘Nope. No bomb’ To insist on the bomb story won’t jibe with the FBI’s and Aussies’ findings which they don’t control.

    The scenario I propose is based on the premise that not even this government is evil enough to bomb its own citizens, at least not in a high-profile mall.

    • cvj on January 21, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Jeg, for the government agents to plant RDX would not make sense unless they immediately knew that it was an industrial accident. Also, why would they choose to plant RDX since that opens up the possibility that the bombers came from the military? Considering the stakes, how realistic do you think is the premise that “not even this government is evil enough to bomb its own citizens, at least not in a high-profile mall.
    “? Thanks in large part to the move-on crowd, the government no longer has anyone overseeing them. Who knows what they have turned into by now?

    • cvj on January 21, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Also, why would they choose to plant RDX since that opens up the possibility that the bombers came from the military?

    Of course, going by my own logic, if the government was the one doing the bombing, why would they use RDX and risk having the military identified as a suspect?

    • anthony scalia on January 21, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    “Because this regime can’t be trusted with anything.”

    everything blamed on the government again.

    ano ba yan? basta may maibato lang sa present government

    tsk tsk tsk tsk

    whatever the anti-gloria school thinks on the glorietta blast is already colored and filtered by ‘Hello Garci’

    • Jeg on January 21, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    cvj: Jeg, for the government agents to plant RDX would not make sense unless they immediately knew that it was an industrial accident.

    They didnt know. The default assumption was bomb. They waited for a claim of responsibility, that’s why the police already let the foreign experts in. When no claim was forthcoming, only then did they give the go-ahead. By then it was too late.

    They chose RDX because they wanted everyone to think JI or some Al Qaeda outfit, not NPA. The Big Lie scenario.
    (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Lie)

    Considering the stakes, how realistic do you think is the premise that “not even this government is evil enough to bomb its own citizens, at least not in a high-profile mall.

    Let me do a benign0 and say it’s cultural. We’re just not that type of people. We dont even have our version of suicide bombers here.

    • vic on January 21, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Had the PNP dealt the Glorieta incident without the PreConceived perception or theory but with competent objective investigations, all these conspiracy theories should have been relegated to where the belong, the gossip columns, but now, they will belong and added to another long line of mysteries that should have not been…

    • manuelbuencamino on January 21, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Anthonyscalia,

    “whatever the anti-gloria school thinks on the glorietta blast is already colored and filtered by ‘Hello Garci’”

    Mismo! Sino ba ang tumawag kay Garci, si Gloria o ang anti-Gloria crowd?

    “everything blamed on the government again.”

    Mali ka dyan!

    Credibility ang tinutukoy ko at dyan sa bagay na yan eh hindi naman ang anti Gloria crowd ang sumira sa credibilidad ng Arroyo regime.

    Siguro naman hindi ko na kailangan ilista pa muli kung bakit nawalan ng credibilidad ang regimen na ito.

    Pero kung sa tingin mo may credibilidad ang regimen, patunayan mo.

    Maglista ka ng mga ejemplo na maipakikita na matapat itong regimen na ito.

    • cvj on January 21, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Jeg, the fact that we don’t have any suicide bombers (so far) only means that people are not willing to die for their cause. It does not rule out their willingness to kill.

    • Jeg on January 21, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    You mean ‘not willing to kill themselves…’ but I got your point. But you see, to premise an evil government, you are already giving up hope that we can still reach this government with appeals to reason and conscience. Im not quite there yet.

    • cvj on January 21, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Jeg, what in our government’s track record makes you still believe that they will listen to appeals to reason and conscience? I think we’re well on our way to a situation similar to that of Pakistan where we would have to choose between terrorists on one hand, and thugs on the other. No more of that Civil Society nonsense. As per the previous thread, those in power have learned that ruthlessness, as long as one is not too clumsy in its application, pays.

    • qwert on January 21, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    “what in our government’s track record makes you still believe that they will listen to appeals to reason and conscience?” – cvj

    Barring unseen circumstances, GMA must step down in 2010. I hope this would appeal to her reason and conscience.

    • Jeg on January 21, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    cvj: Jeg, what in our government’s track record makes you still believe that they will listen to appeals to reason and conscience?

    Reason in this case, includes self-preservation. I believe the government will respond to appeals to their self-preservation. As for ‘ruthlessness’ I think the government still has a good supply of ruth [wink]. We arent Myanmar yet where soldiers open fire on demonstrators on the street. The previous thread says that revolutions succeed if there is a failure of nerve on the part of those in power to commit wholesale murder on their citizens. I just dont see us as being there yet. It’s not in our nature.

    Aside from that, hope springs.

    • mlq3 on January 21, 2008 at 7:20 pm
      Author

    MB:

    Elsewhere, I’ve written about how our leaders have practiced plebiscatory democracy. even in the days when presidents could generally rely on obtaining a majority mandate. all that meant was that presidents could rely on a honeymoon period, during which they could consolidate their leadership in congress.

    but then, as now, presidents have sought mechanisms to “refresh” their mandates, whether through out-and-out plebiscites, or political stunts that would demonstrate they enjoyed the confidence of the public (a vote in congress on a pet law, or even through survey results). this is also seen in mid-term elections, traditionally the definining moment for presidencies: either reduced to lame-duck status after that, or strengthened, in the old days, to pursue re-election or today, either to propose constitutional amendments or anoint a successor.

    amando doronila has written (can’t recall exactly where) that a mandate then has to be viewed as something that needs to be constantly revalidated, and which also means that a mandate can be lost, even overturned (in the past, through people power).

    in a crisis situation, though, when a president faces a challenge from the public, a past mandate is meaningless unless supporters can be mustered at crunch time.

    my point regarding president estrada, for example, is that his mandate meant nothing during those january, 2001 days, because when push came to shove, his supporters for one reason or another, stayed home. and they continued to stay home, until late april, 2001, when the government made the mistake of pushing its luck and arresting him. then and only then, estrada’s constituency reawakened and re-consolidated.

    in the case of arroyo, the same thing happened to her in july, 2005 and she would have fallen if fvr hadn’t stepped in (because no one in the opposition, apparently, consulted him) with the aid of jdv and chavit singson. fvr and jdv put the house, at least, behind the president; chavit mobilized governors to state the provinces would rally behind the president -all of them, conditionally. the military decided to cast its lot with the president.

    in 2001 baby asistio and jejomar binay cast their lot with estrada (atienza, too) but didn’t mobilize; the provinces were slow, though i seem to recall enrile was trying to mobilize the ilocos (i could be wrong). or if they did mobilize, they needed time, hence estrada’s wanting 5 days. but that wasn’t enough to prevent estrada freaking out over the march on the palace, which already had the assurances of the military and police in terms of not actively thwarting that march (they just contained it, so that before it could test estrada’s and the psg’s resolve, the oath-taking at the edsa shrine stole the thunder of the protesters at mendiola, who’d broken through the police cordon at mendiola bridge but reformed their ranks, see my account).

    so a partial yes to your questions. one reason the president embraced the afp even more tightly is that during edsa tres, despite calls to mobilize, edsa dos forces were few and ended up seeking refuge in san beda.

    we could get even more theoretical and look at mina roces’s theory that leadership in our country requires perpetually proving one is still “malakas” and that opponents, in turn, perpetually seek ways to prove that a leader’s now “mahina,” which i think she traces back to the way datus were chosen and replaced -you could inherit being a datu but someone could always challenge you to a duel or something.

    • nash on January 21, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Wow, never knew we had so many forensic experts able to give solid explanations without having access to the site or without processing evidence.

    I like the Irony of this post’s title given the contents of the comments section.

    • Carl on January 21, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    To say that the Ayalas want to advance the bomb theory to defease culpability carries far more resonance than to say that the government wants to advance the accidental blast theory to remove public suspicion that the government bombed the mall to divert public attention. These two assertions draw the line between what’s probable and what’s possible.

    In the light of contradicting expert opinion, evidence is opinion and motive is king.

    • cvj on January 21, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Nash, as they would say in Buffy, let us soak in the irony of the moment.

    • Madonna on January 21, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    I am willing to place faith on PNP’s final report — that it was indeed an accidental blast. The PNP could be said to have conducted a more thorough investigation on the matter, as compared to the limited case presented by this Malaysian bomb expert, a paid expert at that by mall owners.

    Yet, again, the government is not willing to enforce what needs to be, with the DOJ not filing a case against the Ayalas for negligence. I pity the PNP for doing work that will be useless again for the cause of justice and “rule of law” — but again, what else is new? The issue here is with the government not going all the way to enforce justice.

    Does the Arroyo government have anything to fear from her former backers from the business elite? I was there in January 2001, among the euphoric thousands to witness her being sworn in as President in Edsa, after Estrada fled from Malacanang. And yes, a bearded, triumphant JAZA, current chair and CEO of Ayala Corp was recognizable among the prominent faces on the stage, just behind Gloria Arroyo on that early morning seven years ago.

    Maybe nothing to fear, but maybe a case of the Palace not rocking the boat of what’s barely left of her EDSA DOS crew, a ship where all but a few have totally left.

  4. nash,

    you beat me to that observation. must be all the CSI television. either too much or too little.

    As to the main conspiracy theory, that the govt did it to divert attention from the Palace bribery scandal, the insistence on a bomb being used is only necessary because of the mistaken claim that only the Military has access to RDX. The fact is RDX is found in many mining and industrial high explosives work, not just remote control land mines such as the NPA use.

    But detonating a C4/RDX bomb is a silly way of faking a methane gas explosion, because of the physical evidence it should’ve left, which sadly for the conspiracy theorists, is strikingly absent in all its elements: the crater and the widespread residues that should’ve been everywhere. The FBI had equipment here that could detect RDX in parts per billion buried four feet under ground (used to detect land mines). I doubt they would have any compelling reason to participate in a conspiracy to fake a gas explosion.

    there is another characteristic of blast sites and their causes that hasn’t been mentioned yet. In a high explosive detonation the energy deposited by the exploding material is radiated in all directions. Thus damage is greatest all around and near the bomb. Yet a bomb that destroyed stuff on the top floor of Glorietta and demolished 50 vehicles up to 200 feet away from the basement, left nothing but a small gash on the top of the 5000 gallon diesel bunker just a few feet away and hardly rearranged the basement? If this was a bomb big enough to do that, there should be no basement left at all, just a big crater full of debris!

    The fact that damage in the basement is less than practically everywhere else ABOVE the basement is the signature of a gas deflagration, in which the destructive energy’s path is in the direction of the weakest part of the container. The hole in the floor on first level was the cork that was popped and pulverized to smithereens as the burning gas (LPG, Methane, diesel vapor, hydrogen sulfide) spiked up in pressure, burst through the floor, and even popped off the building’s sunroof.

    • Carl on January 21, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    Beyond getting the Aussie report I don’t know what more I can do to get to the bottom of this. – Carandang

    Why not try common sense?

    I believe that this issue has been thoroughly discussed as to make a REASONABLE man render a judgement on whether the blast was accidental or not after hearing expert opinion and arguments from both sides.

    If you can’t still make up your mind, might as well wait until the Final Report on the Glorietta Blast written by God (aka The Omniscient One) is out.

    • cvj on January 21, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    DJB, what makes you think that Nash’s observation does not apply to you?

    • demosthenes on January 21, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    “what if it was a small bomb, with psychological shock in mind, but which ended up triggering a gas blast (whether methane or LPG) that was completely unintended, because unforeseen?”

    I like mlq3’s theory. It would explain a lot, not least of which is why no one claimed responsibility.

    • ramrod on January 21, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    djb,
    An anti-tank landmine also has that characteristic, or shaped charge.
    But then again, as conpiracies go, we’ll have to wait till after the fact, someone’s bound to come out in the open. Just take Cardinal Sin’s remorseful apology to Erap and subsequent revelations lately that he defied Vatican orders to stand down.

    • ramrod on January 22, 2008 at 12:00 am

    After everything thats been going on, I still can’t understand why there’s an eerie silence from our once very vocal opposition (especially during campaign period). This means some of us may have to be pro-active, how? I will never tell…

    • cvj on January 22, 2008 at 12:59 am

    According to the PCIJ entry that Manolo linked to above, aside from RDX and HMX, other traces of high explosive residue were found, i.e. tetryl and dnt. As per Wikipedia:

    Tetryl – Tetryl is a sensitive explosive compound used to make detonators and explosive booster charges…Tetryl is no longer manufactured or used in the United States, but can still be found in legacy munitions such as the M14 anti-personnel landmine.

    2,6 DNT & 2,4 DNT – Dinitrotoluene (DNT) or Dinitro is an explosive with the formula C6H3(CH3)(NO2)2. At room temperature it is a pale yellow to orange crystalline solid. It is a high explosive. It is one of the precursors for trinitrotoluene (TNT), which is synthesized through three separate nitrations of toluene…Dinitrotoluene is frequently used as a plasticizer, deterrent coating, and burn rate modifier in propellants (eg. smokeless gunpowders).

    • Bencard on January 22, 2008 at 1:01 am

    carl, i agree with you. it seems, in our society hardly anything gets resolved. everybody has the “true” answer to every problem. losers seldom concede defeat. even a “sign” from heaven will not pass through the skeptics. you’re right, maybe, a final report from GOD Himself may do the trick.

    • manuelbuencamino on January 22, 2008 at 1:03 am

    MLQ,

    Thanks for the response. I guess I conclude, if I understand you correctly, that what matters bottom line is not your civilian support but that the security forces stick it out or side with you.

    • UP n student on January 22, 2008 at 2:02 am

    cvj: Tetryl, no craters suggests a claymore mine (which then causes a secondary explosion).

    • UP n student on January 22, 2008 at 2:09 am

    And while the interest is high in explosions, let us not forget which segment caused the Superferry 14 deaths.

    • hawaiianguy on January 22, 2008 at 2:48 am

    UPnS, good you brought in the Superferry incident. As I recall, at first the govt denied the “bomb theory” but forensic evidence, and admission of the Abu Sayyaf, are just too overwhelming to ignore.

    Wasn’t it that Chinese lady forensic the govt hired, who gave an expert testimony that validated the bomb theory?

    I can’t understand why the govt hired other experts in the Glorietta blast, while Ayala hired that lady forensic. Was it is afraid to that its initial stand on the “bomb theory” will again be contradicted this time? Kit Collier probably had that in mind, when he said the govt was not transparent enough.

    • hawaiianguy on January 22, 2008 at 2:48 am

    UPnS, good you brought in the Superferry incident. As I recall, at first the govt denied the “bomb theory” but forensic evidence, and admission of the Abu Sayyaf, are just too overwhelming to ignore.

    Wasn’t it that Chinese lady forensic the govt hired, who gave an expert testimony that validated the bomb theory?

    I can’t understand why the govt hired other experts in the Glorietta blast, while Ayala hired that lady forensic. Was it is afraid that its initial stand on the “bomb theory” will again be contradicted this time? Kit Collier probably had that in mind, when he said the govt was not transparent enough.

    • hawaiianguy on January 22, 2008 at 2:49 am

    sorry for the double posting

  5. mlq3,

    Establishing the connection between “plebiscitary democracy” as a mechanism to “refresh” an electoral mandate or to have such mandate “constantly revalidated” or “perpetually proved” and “conspiracy theory” could be easier if we don’t lose sight of certain democracy fundamentals.

    People elect officials both on self-regarding and other-regarding concerns. The former serve the individual’s interests and wishes, the latter the common good. The elected officials have incentives to fulfill both concerns because they want to get elected again (if re-election is allowed) or, otherwise, keep in power the political organization or party they are identified with (with the expectation that even when out of office their interests will continue to be protected by allies).

    When public office is tenured, the exercise by the people of their power to hold public officials immediately accountable is held in abeyance until the next election. During the inter-election period, aside from the fact that the individual electorates would go about attending to their personal needs such as earning a living, their voices are effectively muted unless they combine to coordinate their efforts or form “interest groups.” By contrast, under our constitutional system, for example, the president has full discretion to fire any member of her cabinet who has lost her trust and confidence; that same discretion, by the fact of auto-limitation, may not be exercised by the people as regards the president who may have breached her electoral promises or is not performing according to their expectation. Reckoning will have to wait for the next election.

    Historically, the “office” that had filled the gap was the newspaper (of the “mucrakers” who leaked the truth – before, of course, the media took on the corporate form) through which the people expressed their individual concerns and frustrations during the inter-election period. (This is the reason Fr. Bernas’s commentary following the Manila Penn incident to the effect that when it comes to freedom of expression the media have no more special rights than any citizen is entitled to is unfortunately a bit naïve, although coming from one “from whom most sensible people take their cue on the correct approach to exploring constitutional questions” in the Philippines [see mlq3’s PDI column of 12/06/2008]).

    My thesis is this: Impeachment (which I also call the un–election process), initiative, recall, or “the way datus were chosen and replaced” as well as “muckracking” are of kindred mechanism with plebiscitary democracy that refreshes,revalidates or proves mandates in the interim.

    Indeed, substantive democracy (or people power per se), as opposed to procedural democracy, predominates if political sovereignty (or the power of the people to have effective control over leaders) is maintained throughout.

    I had the occasion to distinguish however between the journalists, the brave and principled ones, and the Fourth Estate “Who really runs the world,” when President Arroyo issued Proclamation 1017 declaring a “State of National Emergency,” in this manner:

    . . . the individual journalists, like the one who shaved their heads in protest against President Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017, are easily vulnerable to intimidation (in the Philippines, the risk among journalist is statistically higher in the provinces with or without 1017); but certainly not the unsinkable Fourth Estate . . . (which) . . . “governs” in the way it creates events and frames issues on its own terms. Conditions in our midst that are not considered critical by the media or social problems that affect mainly ordinary people could be passed up for important public debate. Agenda-setting is power, an awe-inspiring one, in fact. Politicians avoid picking a fight with the media precisely because of this power and its capacity to lionize allies and demonize foes.

    What’s of graver alarm however is when media power becomes a potent adjunct to other powers already possessed by the powers that be. Do we wonder why, post-martial law, business concerns controlled by some taipans have started to swallow up the ownership of major dailies in the Philippines? In an old commentary, I observed that “As new media owners, they saw the utility of the newly found power to defend their business interests from the government or rival elites while creating public awareness of matters favorable to those interests and ignoring others.” And again, even this is not as harmful as when the public mind is encroached upon in silence, for then there will be no opportunity to shave our heads and wear black armbands in protest. In a regime of liberty, we can challenge the legality of a government fiat like Proclamation 1017 or the presence of a policeman in a newsroom; but when in the name of the same liberty the assault is insidious and surreptitious like in the form of the “tight shots” of the crowd of supporters for FPJ during the presidential campaign that his wife Susan Roces has complained about (presumably to suggest a smaller assembly), often there’s no recourse.

    That the “profession (of journalism) has very limited power” is open to debate. But now, do we still doubt the awesome potency of the sound bytes and the power of suggestion?

    This unofficial power structures behind “conspiracy theory” are well-nigh invisible (except maybe when they feel celebratory about their achievements as in Gokongwei’s rags-to-riches speech) and they are of course not voted to office by the people; but their decision or motive matters whether the Hello Garci tapes, the ZTE deal, the Glorietta blasts and similar scandals or controversies will be obscured or given prominence or will have ultimate closure or not (until perhaps the “new office” of blogging becomes a form of universal discourse).

    • PDubSpEditor on January 22, 2008 at 5:18 am

    To MLQ3,

    Quite interesting on the concept that both aren’t really giving self serving facts about the bombing. At first, most of the people (including me), speculated a bomb blast by the government, but now… It doesn’t really hold water.

    If both sides don’t really show their data for public information (be it, PNP or Ayala Corp), people can only speculate with Conspiracy Theories.

    To Madonna,

    Putting faith in a seemingly defensive cover-up, by both sides, takes guts and it seems quite admirable…

    “The PNP could be said to have conducted a more thorough investigation on the matter, as compared to the limited case presented by this Malaysian bomb expert, a paid expert at that by mall owners.”

    But they have the time and the resources, plus foreign assistance, in finding out if it was really a gas explosion or a bomb. Yes, the PNP made statements about the explosion, due to the results only verbally stated by FBI and Aussie experts… Bottom line is, a typical Filipino is a “Seeing is Believing” type and they really need facts, before they start trusting the government in this situation…

    I hate sounding so pessimistic, about the bomb or gas angle, but these guys have something to hide for their own interests… I just want to get to the bottom of this.

    -PDubSpEditor

    • BrianB on January 22, 2008 at 5:31 am

    Psychonalysis is the meta-religion to end all religions.

    • Erap on January 22, 2008 at 5:58 am

    I have an explanation!!! I have! I have!

    God sent the explosion to punish Filipinos for not following the Pope’s orders in Edsa Dos.

    • Bencard on January 22, 2008 at 7:13 am

    abe margallo, i agree with fr.bernas that the corporate media (usually doing business for profit) has no more right than the ordinary individual to freedom of expression. the constitution and the applicable statute, make no distinction. thus, the clamor of the media industry for “special treatment” in trying to access the “news” must be rejected since it seeks to create a power group that is above all others. most importantly, it should not be allowed to impede, hinder or interfere with law enforcement.

    if every journalist (or media person) is allowed to cross a police line, or to disobey lawful orders to leave a scene of a crime, then the same “right” should be accorded any person who wants to know first-hand what is happening, and to report to his family, friends, relatives and neighbors what he found out. but then, what if a hundred thousand such individuals have the same idea? what if a million? should wearing an abs-cbn logo make a difference?

    i do agree with your comments regarding mlq3’s “plebiscitary democracy”. under our current system, that is not possible. unless constitutionally removable, a president is secure in his/her tenure. those who cannot stand him/her must wait. btw, i prefer a president who has political courage to do the right thing regardless of poll surveys. a leader who goes wherever the political wind blows cannot have my trust.

  6. great post abe!

    though i agree with Bencard and Fr. Bernas abt journalists having no more right than an ordinary individuals when it comes to freedom of expression.

    as you have noted, the power of media (esp broadcast) is awesome. having this power cornered by certain groups is inimical to society esp if those groups exercise this power unethically; to serve its own interests.

    i guess it’s inevitable of course, for corporate media to turn this way. eventually, absolute power corrupts – its just the nature of things. as you have observed, the only way to break this hold on power that corporate media has on us is to stop relying on it for our sole source of news and information.

    • mlq3 on January 22, 2008 at 9:36 am
      Author

    MB, i’d put it another way. the security forces will try to play praetorian guard, unless they themselves are intimidated. what will intimidate the security forces is the public, if it proves itself aroused to the extent that it’s prepared to take to the streets together with its leaders, who face the same risks as the public. the security forces, drilled to obedience, then faces the risks of permanently alienating the public and the leadership. with the prospects of those in the streets being the vanguard of a citizenry strongly of a certain opinion.

    the moment, though, either the public or the leadership shows itself significantly split, the default instinct of the security forces will be to throw their weight behind the incumbent.

    • mlq3 on January 22, 2008 at 9:47 am
      Author

    bencard, i think this underlines the difference between the letter of the law, and practical politics. sure, a president’s elected for six or four years, and the law says that barring death, permanent disability, or impeachment, nothing can pry that person out of the presidency.

    to which the simple reality as expressed by magsaysay was, “can we defend it at plaza miranda?” that’s the reality of (democratic) leadership. it has to be proven and reproven from time time, whether through formal or informal channels.

    • Jeg on January 22, 2008 at 9:52 am

    nash: I like the Irony of this post’s title given the contents of the comments section.

    On the contrary. I dont see any irony at all. The post’s title is ‘Conspiracy Theories’ after all. By its very definition, it… oh, you get the point, dont you?

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