Feb 15

The Long View: A Congress of cats


A Congress of cats

/ 12:20 AM February 15, 2017

In the House of Representatives, to the Speaker goes the glory—and control of the purse. But being in the limelight should not be confused with wielding actual power in the House. To determine whether the speaker is actually in control of the ruling majority (or not), one has to look at the relationship between the presidency and the speakership, and between the speaker and the majority leader.

From 1935-1938, the speakership was essentially a decorative position; the president actually determined the ebb and flow of legislation, acting as referee and party whip, and effectively as the majority leader. By 1938, this proved too exhausting, and a speaker and a majority floor leader with real powers were selected.

Today, the point person in the House is Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, arguably one of the most powerful holders of that position in living memory. This is because Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, even in his previous stint as a representative, was never a major mover or shaker and, aside from his closeness to President Duterte, lacks a track record of leadership or camaraderie, or a party franchise and independent means to quickly assert personal dominance in the House (in contrast to his predecessors and successors who were active party men before they assumed the speakership, like Manuel Villar Jr. who compensated for his lack of political ties with an immense personal fortune and by taking over the Nacionalista Party franchise).

We needn’t speculate to see what the real score is as far as the House leadership is concerned. Take the Speaker’s recent chest-beating and baring of fangs, when he threatened representatives unwilling to push the death penalty bill forward with dismissal from leadership positions, among them Deputy Speaker Gloria Arroyo.

She didn’t bat an eyelash. Imagine, for a moment, what someone like Arroyo might think, when faced with a Speaker whose highest achievement as a member of her Cabinet was his removal from it due to—gasp!—allegations of corruption. Why, the only thing that would stop a takeover of the House (to save the Speaker) would be a “presidential veto”—the President convincing Arroyo to stand down.

Maybe he did. What we do know is that a caucus was called. Afterwards, it was announced that congressmen “convinced” the Speaker to amend the bill to make the death penalty optional, while plunder was taken off the table as a capital crime, thus creating a loophole so big that neither convicts nor congressmen can expect to be meted out the death penalty. In true congressional fashion the Speaker proclaimed his defeat a stunning victory.

It would seem fair to assume that Fariñas, as majority leader, has his colleagues’ confidence—that he would ensure everyone, regardless of affiliation, receives their due. This makes for orderly proceedings, a general air of good-natured fellowship, and “win-win” announcements. But it limits the opportunities for cracking the whip. The biggest disciplinary tools of any administration—the allowances and other items the speaker disburses, and the funding for projects that the chief executive can choose to release or put on hold—are only as good as the ability and willingness of the speaker and the president to use them.

Would it hold true in discussing amendments when not every congressman is seduced by the idea of being both a legislator and a Cabinet minister one day? An epidemic of ideas might erupt, as congressmen in the pockets of vested interests start purring about the need to tailor-fit the future constitution to their needs.

But you can only do this every so often considering the limited time frame (three years, the life of the present Congress, which expires when the campaign period for the mid-term elections of 2019 begins) available and the ambitious legislative agenda on hand. A shrewd legislator like Fariñas, looking with pride at how fat and sleek all his colleagues are, might start being selective about trying to herd cats. As the recent caucus proved, no one likes to give up even one of their nine lives.

Twitter: @mlq3; FB: www.facebook.com/mlquezon3


Feb 14

The Explainer: For love of money

For love of money

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Feb 14 2017 05:22 AM

If you belong to a certain generation you’ll remember Ninoy Aquino’s joke. He quoted a Japanese who enthusiastically told an audience, “You Firipinos are rucky. You have a president who robs you, and a First Lady who robs you even more!”

The question of private gain from public service predated Marcos, of course. St. Paul did not say money was the root of all evil. He said the love of money was the root of all evil. If the question of avarice, or greed for money, carries with it a moral dilemma, what happens when it also becomes a legal problem?

It’s interesting that as we look forward to the day of love, Valentine’s Day, Donald J. Trump and his love for making the deal to make lots of money, is now the hot topic in America. We forget that somehow, Trump and Marcos have a couple of curious connections.

The first is Paul Manafort. Before Manafort became Trump’s campaign chairman, thirty plus years ago he gained fame and fortune lobbying for clients like Ferdinand Marcos.

Marcos of course as part of his “robbing” –I mean, loving– his country, accumulated real estate abroad, including four buildings in New York City. One of them was a 1930s skyscraper: 40 Wall Street. After the building passed from the Marcos’ hands to other owners, Donald J. Trump sensed and opportunity and leased the building, making it one of the crown jewels of the Trump Organization.

Now of course Trump is president, the first one without any prior government experience, and the first to openly approach public governance from the point of view of business.

To be sure, that’s a pretty American point of view. As President Calvin Coolidge famously remarked, “America’s business is business.” Indeed, when you think of it, Americans are now discovering –and hotly debating—why it is there seem to be no real rules governing their presidents and making money.

George Washington, the first American president, was a man of means –just how much, we’ll discuss shortly—but when he became president, at first he didn’t want to take a salary. Others had to convince him that a salary was necessary because not every president could be expected to be rich, and a salary would keep a president honest.

After being president, however, you were on your own. President Ulysses S. Grant made a fortune after being president, then lost it when he covered the losses of investors in a scheme that went bust. Here, you can see him as he was dying of cancer, writing the memoirs that saved his family from poverty. He finished the book just days before his death.

But it wasn’t until Harry S. Truman, who was never any good at making money, that former presidents even got a pension after leaving office. And because his pension wasn’t very big, Truman would support the passage of the Medicare Act during the Johnson administration to ensure elderly retirees like himself could afford medicines.

During his presidency, Richard Nixon, who’d made money as a lawyer when he was out of office, faced a continuing inquiry into his tax returns, because like any good lawyer he was a genius at finding loopholes to claim deductions.

Other presidents who were multimillionares even before they became president, took a less active approach to money. Herbert Hoover, for example, never took home his salary. Instead, he donated it to charity.

John F. Kennedy, whose father had made a fortune and set aside money so that none of his children in politics would have to worry about earning a living, also donated his salary to charity.

This means Donald Trump is the third American president who has decided not to keep his salary, although it’s less clear if he is going to give it away.

The giving away of the presidential salary is an important point, because part of the debate over Trump’s decision goes back to Washington: in present day dollars, his fortune has been estimated as the equivalent of half a billion dollars in today’s money. Remember his not wanting to get a salary? He was told he had to do it, and that furthermore no president should have a choice over whether to take a salary or not –at most, the only choice should be, if you want to give it away, then ok.

But remember too, that there don’t seem to be many rules about the financial behavior of presidents in America? If Nixon got into trouble for his taxes, Trump refuses to release his tax returns. Only tradition, not the law, has made it a practice for presidents to disclose their taxes.

One reason for this weird absence of rules is being proposed: look at this map. It’s of Washington DC, the capital of the United States. The man who picked the site of the capital was George Washington himself.

You see, he was a land surveyor by profession. He was big on real estate. And throughout his life, one of his ruling passions was making money through real estate. It’s being suggested by some historians that Washington, who had his estate in Mount Vernon which is in this general neighborhood, chose the site for the city named after himself, because its location at the fork of the Potomac River promised a commercial and thus, real estate boom. One he would profit handsomely by, because he lived in the area.

Truth be told, if you aren’t going to steal from the public treasury then speculation in land has proven to be the time-tested way for politicians to turn a profit.

But whether you agree with this or not, Washington and his generation did agree on one limit to impose on presidents: they should not receive money from foreign governments.

And so, for Donald Trump, a provision in the United States Constitution is the sum total of limits on his money-making. The provision is called the Emoluments Clause.

The emoluments that are prohibited are those derived from foreign governments. The question is, in the present day, does this mean doing business with corporations abroad? When Century Properties in Manila, for example, pays a license fee for Trump Tower Manila, and the owner of Century Properties is a Philippine presidential envoy to Washington, would this put President Trump in the tempting position to modify his policies to suit his customers in Manila?

Everything else you see in the news: whether it’s OK for Trump to get mad at Nordstrom’s Department Store for not carrying his daughter’s fashion line, or his company’s continuing operations, and so on, can be boiled down into a debate over a Filipino word: delicadeza.

It’s only a hot topic in America because Trump is going against the traditions of the past. Traditions that put the appearance of correct behavior, at the same level with, or higher than, the law itself. But Trump can and has argued that’s just old-fashioned B.S. Legally, he might be right.

Which should serve as a reminder to us that sometimes, the past has to give way to the present. The only question is, will it be one that lets go of what the past hoped to do, which was to achieve some honor in public life, and just let things slide, or one that goes beyond keeping up appearances and locks presidents and politicians into some really tough rules, which is really what having the rule of law is all about.

Feb 13

The Explainer: For love of money: The question of private gain from public service

For love of money: The question of private gain from public service


Posted at Feb 13 2017 07:19 PM | Updated as of Feb 14 2017 03:06 AM

An ethics scandal is hounding the White House amid growing concerns over the conflicts of interest of real estate mogul-turned-United States President Donald Trump.

Historian Manolo Quezon said the issue is only a hot topic in the US since Trump is going against past traditions that put the appearance of correct behavior at the same level with or higher than the law itself.

“And so, for Donald Trump, a provision in the United States constitution is the sum total of limits on his money-making. The provision is called the emoluments clause,” Quezon said on [email protected]

The emoluments clause restricts members of the US government from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices or titles from foreign states without the consent of the US Congress.

“The question is, in the present day, does this mean doing business with corporations abroad? When Century Properties in Manila, for example, pays a license fee for Trump Tower Manila, and the owner of Century Properties is a Philippine presidential envoy to Washington, would this put President Trump in the tempting position to modify his policies to suit his customers in Manila?” Quezon asked.

Quezon joins [email protected] to explain his views on the issue of private gains of government officials.

[email protected] 13 February 2017

Feb 08

The Long View: Frog and scorpion fight

Frog and scorpion fight

/ 12:09 AM February 08, 2017

In September last year, Pierre Rousset writing in Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières observed that President Duterte had created a coalition of the Right and Left (with Joel Maglunsod in the labor department, Judy Taguiwalo in social welfare, Rafael Mariano in agrarian reform, and Liza Maza in the antipoverty commission, as the nominees of the communists).

Rousset noted: “(Duterte) does not have a power base of his own; to survive, he conducts a permanent war of movement.”

The President did invest prestige and political capital in the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front. The problem: His gamble was based on two difficult premises: first, the talks concluding swiftly as it would be impossible to keep rightists at bay forever; second, that there was an equal commitment from the unified leadership of the communists.

The first proved impossible because the communists demanded that captured comrades be released first, even as the President repeatedly and forthrightly declared that a deal had to come first, otherwise the other parts of his coalition would be difficult to control.

The second failed because, (per Rousset) his overtures were made to Jose Ma. Sison who was only a titular leader. The communists were divided on the question of talks. Rousset says Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, the real leaders of the communists at home, eventually agreed to the talks “simply hoping that Duterte will take practical steps to implement his policy of independence vis-à-vis the United States,” while one can infer Sison and friends were genuinely hoping for some sort of a coalition government to come about.

Other factors were at play—e.g., the war on drugs, the CPP, according to Rousset, “even offering to contribute to it.” Sison for his part tried to reciprocate by using his own prestige to downplay objections to human rights abuses: He said some objected; but he himself did not say he did, and he criticized Obama’s criticisms. In the end, the communists could not risk being too quiet on these matters.

Last January, articulating the official position of the movement he belongs to, Teddy Casiño, said they have no illusions about the President, but hoped their collaboration would tip the balance in government. They would “formally” oppose things like the war on drugs and the Marcos burial while remaining engaged.

Rigoberto Tiglao, who knows whereof he speaks (having been in the movement and in the innermost circles of government), wrote something interesting: It was the NPA attack on the Pico de Loro resort on Jan. 29, not the ambush on soldiers in Davao del Sur on Feb. 1, that convinced the President “that the peace talks with the NDF were useless, and that the communists were just making a fool out of him.”

Tiglao’s article clinically dissects the communist movement and the military top brass. The communists, he says, are a kind of confederation of regional associations, with two “centers”: the group that manages its party-list representatives and the exiles led by Jose Ma. Sison in the Netherlands, who are tolerated because of their ability to raise funds from socialists abroad. The regional commands, which “enjoy their de facto fiefdoms in the guerrilla areas they control,” tolerate peace talks because the wind-down of military operations for the duration allow the NPA to tax its territories in peace.

As for the AFP, Tiglao believes its top brass is risk-averse. Lacking full political support from presidents to wipe out the communists and because they attain regional commands prior to retirement, generals are loath to stir up trouble and avoid actively pursuing the NPA especially since there is no assurance they will be safe from retaliation once they retire.

A familiar story: A scorpion hitches a ride across a river on a frog, which skeptically says you will sting me, to which the scorpion soothingly replies, “Of course not, if I did so, we will both drown. So the frog obliges; halfway across the river the scorpion stings the frog, telling it, as both proceed to drown, “I couldn’t help myself, it’s in my nature.” Which ignores the possibility that the frog was looking forward to snacking on the scorpion once they reached shore.


Twitter: @mlq3; FB: www.facebook.com/mlquezon3

Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/101486/frog-scorpion-fight#ixzz4Z6IZv2Hp
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Feb 07

The Explainer: Left out again

OPINION: Left out again

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Feb 07 2017 04:19 AM

Hitler liked dogs and Lenin liked cats. But it is well to remember that Communists do not subscribe to bourgeois notions of honor. The Revolution is everything, and anything is permissible to achieve everything. For example, as Vladimir Lenin once put it, “psychologically, this talk of feeding the starving masses is nothing but the expression of saccharine-sweet sentimentality characteristic of the intelligentsia.” Which means, as Lenin also famously said, you cannot make an omelet without breaking any eggs.

In 1939, Communists around the world who had been aggressive in condemning Hitler’s Germany got a surprise. Berlin and Moscow signed a non-aggression pact, and the former ideological enemies now formally became friends, as this editorial cartoon from the time shows.

The peace lasted until 1941, with Communists the world over having to toe the new party line. Then, when Germany invaded Russia, the party line changed again. A United Front was proclaimed, with all Communists told to ally themselves with anti-fascist countries. Which is how Filipino Communists found themselves fighting on the same side as the Americans against the Japanese during World War II.

But after the war, things changed again. Following the party line from Moscow, the Huks in Central Luzon waged a rebellion against the government. Our government for its part, toed another party line: Washington’s. And so for us, the Cold War ran hot indeed for the last half of the 1940s and most of the 1950s. The image above is taken from the Historical Atlas of the Republic published last year.

By the late 1950s the Huks were essentially crushed, as the Republic reformed itself and cleaned up the military. As Secretary of National Defense, Ramon Magsaysay captured the Huk politburo, and by the end of his presidency the Huks were reduced to banditry. The tide had turned, as EZ Izon showed in the editorial cartoon above.

The late 1960s saw new Communist group splitting off from the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas or PKP. It cleverly named itself the Communist Party of the Philippines, or CPP. It established an armed force, the New People’s Army or NPA, and a united front organization to engage in above-ground tactical alliances, called the National Democratic Front or NDF.


On the run, its leadership captured, but its members motivated, the CPP-NPA-NDF which was weak when martial law began was so strong near the end of the dictatorship that even the Americans said it was reaching parity with the armed forces of the government. The image above is taken from the Historical Atlas of the Republic published last year.

But as this clipping from Malaya shows, at the moment the public decided to fight Marcos in the realm of elections, the Communists decided to opt out of the fight, calling for a boycott of the Snap Elections.

While the leadership of the Communists made a major error in calling for the boycott of the February 7, 1986 Snap Elections, by the fall of the dictatorship weeks later, the national mood was for reconciliation, and a recognition of the bravery and sacrifice of Communists in fighting the dictatorship.

This Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial cartoon from those heady, post-EDSA days shows how one of the first acts of the new government was to release political detainees. But the Communists found themselves in bind: they had been at the front of resistance in the 70s to early 80s; but they missed out on EDSA. Worse, the new democratic space led to questions whether armed struggle was still the best way forward to achieve social change. An editorial cartoon, again by EZ Izon, showed how the NPA found itself opposing the country’s newly-restored democracy along with Marcos loyalists and military putschists.

The result of the internal debate within the ranks of Communists, as it has been in all Communist movements, was a purge. At the same time, the military found the new government too kind to the Left. To rekindle revolutionary fervor, confrontations with government forces were encouraged and the military and police, with a deeply-ingrained martial law mentality, took the bait.

President Ramos, however, there arose the hope of peace being pursued on three fronts. Ramos arranged an amnesty for military rebels, he signed a peace agreement with Moro rebels, and he convinced Congress to decriminalize Communism, as this hopeful editorial cartoon by EZ Izon showed.

Of these three, the pact with military rebels proved the most successful as we see with Gringo Honasan’s continued presence in the Senate. The deal with MNLF failed due to Nur Misuari’s carelessness with public money. The Communists continued in the hills, where they continued to retreat on all fronts during Ramos’ successors even as they gained a foothold in politics through the party list. Still, off and on, peace talks have taken place since 1992, with major agreements in 1995 and 1998, and 2011 and breakdowns in 1999, 2004, and 2013.

During the 2016 campaign, then still-Mayor Duterte didn’t objected to the NPA’s collecting “revolutionary taxes” and charging for the issuance of permits to campaign. The military wouldn’t have been happy over this, but the Duterte campaign was bold and brash in proclaiming a new era of peace deals with Moros and Communists. The President showed his commitment to peace with the Communists not just in speeches but in doing something no previous president had done. Even before he assumed the presidency, negotiations began, abroad, to resume peace talks.

And six days after being elected to the presidency, President-elect Duterte offered seats in the cabinet to Communists. Prominent Communists would take on cabinet or sub-cabinet positions in Social Welfare, Land Reform, Labor.

Yet in the end, the peace talks have collapsed. The deal-breaker were 392 individuals imprisoned for crimes –not for being Communists, which hasn’t been illegal since the Ramos era, remember?—and which the Communists wanted freed as a precondition to signing an agreement.

These individuals facing trial or already convicted, from the point of view of the military, are enemies of the state whose arrest and capture cost the lives of soldiers and civilians. From the point of view of the Communists, they are political prisoners. When the President ordered the release of Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, the husband-and-wife supremos of the Communist movement here at home, the military was outraged, but obeyed.

But one wonders how much room there is for reconciliation considering the givens.

The state considers itself the legitimate republic; the Communists consider themselves the legitimate People’s Republic. The state believes it is crushing an illegal rebellion. The Communists believe they are fighting a Civil War. The state does not recognize the Communists as a government; the Communists insists it is, and demands to be treated like any government would, particularly in terms of asserting the Geneva Convention governing soldiers in battle.

Back in December, speaking before Peter Wallace’s forum, the President confidently said, the Reds will die for me, believe me. He even went as far as ask the United States to take the CPP-NPA off its terrorist list. It may be that the Communists thought the President needed them more than he needed the army. Or that he was just posturing when he said freeing too many Communists in jail ahead of an actual peace agreement would be a tough sell.

The Communists imposed a deadline, then announced they would resume fighting in the hills on February 11.

Last Sunday, the President announced he now considers the CPP-NPA-NDF a terrorist group.

Over the same period (last weekend), in one of his midnight press conferences, the President said he wanted the freed Red leaders to come back home and go directly to jail. He also announced he was cancelling their travel documents.

Twenty-four hours, two weeks, or two months is a long time in politics. But it’s increasingly safe to assume that when the President takes a gamble, and loses, his response is to raise the ante. He has done so by announcing that the armed forces should be prepared to use every bullet in their inventory.

Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall in the next cabinet meeting?

Feb 01

The Explainer: How Manila is doubling down on Beijing

How Manila is doubling down on Beijing


Posted at Feb 01 2017 07:38 PM

Watch also in iWantv or TFC.tv

There’s been much talk on the prospects of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in the midst of a recalibration of the country’s foreign policy.

This week, President Rodrigo Duterte has upped the ante yet again over a bid for weapons and confusion over a supposed weapons depot.

Historian Manolo Quezon joins [email protected] on Wednesday to weigh in on Manila’s propaganda coup against Beijing by rejecting an offer of missiles from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he came to the country for an official visit and asking for precision-guided weapons from China during a late-night press conference by Duterte.

“Beijing was right; Tokyo has been burned, and the reporting by Japanese media suggests they fully understand the President has cast his lot with Beijing,” he said.

“Washington was wrong, and the result was the public slapping of our military establishment late Sunday night,” he added.

Feb 01

The Explainer: Is it really time to revive the Philippine Constabulary?

Is it really time to revive the Philippine Constabulary?


Posted at Feb 01 2017 08:27 PM

Watch also in iWantv or TFC.tv

Malacanang has floated plans of reviving the Philippine Constabulary to aid the drug campaign, following the disbandment of the Philippine National Police’s anti-drug unit.

But as historian Manolo Quezon tells [email protected], there was a reason why the Constabulary of the old was abolished and why resurrecting it may not be a good idea.

Feb 01

The Long View: The pause that refreshes


The pause that refreshes

/ 12:25 AM February 01, 2017

President Duterte has been pointed, even merciless, about the police from the start of his term, telling them in his first appearance at Camp Crame that they didn’t deserve the confidence he was placing in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Instead, he would personally vet and approve all promotions. On the other hand, speaking on his war on drugs, he offered the cops a deal: Do what I say, and I will have your back when it comes to any cases that result from tokhang operations.

By now it is obvious that the President reacts to challenges by raising the ante when confronted by a problem. Doubling down on political will carries with it the satisfaction of punching through rules and regulations that frustrate him. So last Sunday the President did two things as far as the police are concerned. He said he had Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Bato’s back, but the scandal over the kidnapping, torture and murder of Jee Ick-joo could not be ignored: There would be a reorganization.

The President likes to dish out peppery phrases, knowing it will be hot copy, while allowing other pronouncements of his to slip through unobserved and unreported. Consider how he now intends to have not one but three lists. First is the (in)famous one of drug suspects that he likes to wave around.

Second is the one he has instructed the PNP chief to put together (as of Sunday night). Basically the President said that cops who have faced cases should be put on a list, and he will then assign them to Mindanao as he needs warm bodies to augment the PNP’s presence in problem areas there. Once the list is ready, tokhang can resume and continue all the way to the end of his term.

His reasoning reveals his utter skepticism when it comes to the procedures of the PNP. Asked if it was wise or even fair to assign disgraced cops to Mindanao, the President pointed out that everyone of those cops was considered cleared, and, thus, innocent—but he added that he didn’t think much of, nor could he really know, how those clearances were obtained, so better to send them to Jolo, Basilan or Zamboanga anyway. There, they would either be forced to behave, or end up killed, which he seemed to suggest is pretty much a win-win as far as he’s concerned.

Third is a list composed of names of convicts in Muntinlupa. He said that he was aware of the public’s concern over criminals being released from jail, only to resume a life of crime. This list, judging from his demeanor, would be the first step in making sure this potential problem would be eliminated.

His deal with the police stands; what he is doing now is a purge in preparation for further escalating the war on drugs.

When you think of it, at least four of the last six administrations have taken an intense interest in the national police, but no one proposed reviving the disgraced Constabulary. Cory Aquino found the police to be both boon (the loyalty of police general Alfredo Lim in confronting putschists) and bane (the careless bloodthirstyness of the same Lim with rallyists, something he would similarly inflict on Noynoy Aquino in the Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis, when Lim provoked the hostage-taker into running amok).

Fidel V. Ramos, himself a Constabulary man (and police chief who may have created the SAF as a kind of praetorian guard to protect himself during the paranoid waning days of the Marcos era) didn’t try to revive it; Joseph Estrada found out the limits of police protection when they abandoned him after the AFP turned against him; Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cultivated the police as a foil to the potential disloyalty of the AFP. Noynoy Aquino in many ways was more comfortable with, and keen on, a traditional approach to police matters while actively promoting professionalism in the military; but Rodrigo Duterte takes a mayor’s attitude to the police—it’s his private army, even as the AFP refuses to participate in the drug war.

His solution, which he’s been proposing for some time, was reiterated by his spokesman yesterday. Revive the Philippine Constabulary. Nothing is more revealing of the chief executive belonging to a different time, and era that even Bato found abusive.

Twitter: @mlq3; FB: www.facebook.com/mlquezon3


Jan 31

The Explainer: Duterte doubles down on China

OPINION: Duterte doubles down on China

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Jan 31 2017 04:25 AM

A contemporary newsreel released at the time Harry S. Truman fired Douglas MacArthur. It gives a brisk but thorough overview of the reasons why he was fired.

If there’s one thing all presidents hate, it’s the impression that they’re not calling the shots on foreign policy. Sunday night saw the country awaiting with baited breath if the President was going to announce martial law in Mindanao. No such announcement came. Instead, the Philippine military establishment got a public slapping disguised as tough talk aimed at America.

With the Secretary of National Defense seated beside him, the President bluntly told the Americans to cease and desist from their plans to upgrade existing and build new facilities on Philippine military bases in fulfillment of the 2014 EDCA. Just four days earlier, the Secretary of National Defense had been widely quoted as saying “EDCA is still on.” While the media had covered the arrival of Japanese naval self-defense forces ships (three, for example, had arrived on January 5), American ships have also been quietly visiting the Philippines: on the same day the Japanese destroyers Inazama and Suzutsuki had arrived in Subic, the USS John Ericsson also made a visit. At the end of last year, four other ships (Pecos, Cesar Chavez, Bowditch and Tippecanoe) had visited Subic.

After a lot of head-scratching over our irrepressible President, it seems that some Americans and Filipinos had come to the conclusion that sobriety in the face of an excitable Filipino chief executive might be the best bet, since China itself would be uneasy about relying too much on our President as an ally. That, or the main irritant in Washington-Manila relations wasn’t America itself, but it’s president; and that, with Obama out of office, a kind of mutual admiration society would develop between the President and his American counterpart, Trump. While an op-ed piece from Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute had proposed, at the height of the President’s verbal assaults on Obama, that America should call the Filipinos’ bluff and just write off Manila, opinion pieces published near the end of the presidential campaign outlined –correctly, as it turned out—the emerging policy of Trump in Southeast Asia: confrontation, anchored on a strong navy which, along with the rest of the American military, would get substantial budget increases to modernize and expand. The conservative Washington Times had even pointed out on January 2, that facilities in Subic were “ready to roll,” if tensions between the USA and China escalated.

Who knows, perhaps the President, enthralled by the new American president, would find himself warming up to Trump and the two countries could sit down and talk business. After all, Washington, under the new era of the Art of the Deal, was offering one to Manila: we won’t bother you about things that make you peevish, like human rights; but hey, we intend to ramp up our ground game in the Pacific and there are opportunities aplenty for doing deals like hosting our forthcoming big, beautiful navy in places like Subic.

During congressional hearings on his nomination as Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson stated the view that “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed,” referring to tensions in the South China Sea. On the day the US Congress finally confirmed Tillerson’s nomination (about three days after Trump assumed office), press secretary Sean Spicer put the White House imprimatur on those thoughts, though some observers wondered if it was done with a full understanding of the implications.

Quite possibly this is all a case of hoping against hope that Trump will be more prudent in office than he was during the campaign. But as his many other controversial, polarizing actions demonstrate, he seems fully engaged in carrying out what he promised during the campaign.

Within a week of entering office, Trump did announce his intention to pursue budget increases for the American armed forces and his dream of a big, beautiful navy of 350 ships (previously it was expected to have 308 by 2021). As Trump briskly signs executive orders and checks off promises in his platform of government, all signs point to a confrontational approach towards China and a patching up of relations with antsy American allies like Tokyo and Seoul.

Tokyo, uncertain about American intentions towards itself and the region, has tried to butter up the President to limit the attraction of Beijing and be an honest broker between Washington and Manila, in hope of firming up the alliances carefully, and painstakingly built up over the years to contain China. The problem for Tokyo, of course, is the President. No one can accuse Prime Minister Abe of Japan of being timid in playing the diplomatic game, and his aim was to charm our President out of his lair and hopefully out of the arms of Beijing.

But when you bet big, you can lose big. Abe went to Davao, proclaimed Duterte-san, ichiban! –and was humiliated for his trouble.

Overlooked in the Philippine media –even as it was reported—was the President’s blurting out that Japanese Prime Minister Abe had offered missiles to the Philippines (much to the official annoyance of China) and that he had rejected the offer (much to the delight of Beijing, see below).

The media reported what the President said; but the media did not comment on what the President’s blurting out meant. It wasn’t just a violation of a cardinal rule of statesmanship (do not reveal offers, particularly if you declined them, if only to save face for the one who made the offer, but also as a matter of trust between yourself and the leader who just paid you a visit). It was, wittingly, or unwittingly (and one cannot discount the possibility, however tiny, that the disclosure was made with at least a little bit of malicious glee) a propaganda gift to China.

The Global Times of China, which is the state organ to watch to get the pulse of the hardliners in Beijing, thundered on January 19, “The hypocrite Abe tried to sell the missile deal to Duterte who said his country doesn’t need missiles for a World War III. After Duterte took office, he abandoned Aquino III’s foreign policy that made the Philippines a pawn that the US and Japan is using against China, since he has realized that the Philippines could gain no benefits from such a policy. But Duterte will not totally break up with the US, he will maintain good relations with the US, Japan, as well as China in a bid to practice the “balance of power” strategy to safeguard the Philippine’s own interest.” It confidently announced that, “As a rational political leader, Duterte will not yield to Tokyo for the sake of the money Tokyo offered. He will not develop relations with Japan and the US at the cost of the China-Philippine relationship.”

So Manila hands Beijing a propaganda coup because of the President’s bragging which wasn’t just terrible diplomacy but simply bad politics. You can be sure what happened next behind the gilded screens of the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo: the Philippine ambassador was summoned, and given what is known as a dressing-down. The only question is if it happened over one, two, or more days, depending on how offended the Japanese were.

In the larger scale of things, of course, Tokyo has larger problems to consider, though the Tokyo and Seoul visits of Defense Secretary James Mattis suggests clarity is coming vis-à-vis these countries and Washington. Both Seoul and Tokyo are of course, concerned over North Korea, but Tokyo, at least, worries, too, about the South China Sea. During his confirmation hearings Mattis was less hawkish than Tillerson but still firm: “I believe allies contribute greatly to deterrence and modifying the behavior or misbehavior of those who would disrupt the global order.”

Here, the President’s Sunday late night press conference –wittingly or unwittingly, but the timing was no coincidence since in he told the media that he had been watching TV (something to do, he cryptically said, with downtime due to some sort of immune problem)—closes our circle.

The President thundered and growled, and it is interesting what tidbits Beijing decided to quote: “Here is my worry. They (The Americans) are making depots, they are unloading arms in the Philippines now, in Palawan, Cagayan de Oro and Pampanga… I am serving notice to the Armed Forces of the U.S.: Do not do it. I will not allow it… a depot by any other name is a depot … It is prohibited under the law. It’s not allowed by the treaty… I won’t allow that. You place us all in danger.”

Equally interesting is what Tokyo decided to quote. Aside from everything Beijing quoted, Tokyo added, “I do not even know if there is a nuclear tip (missile) now, that they are unloading,” and that, if America persisted, he would take another look at EDCA “and maybe ultimately abrogate, since it is an executive order.” Other presidential quotes were, “You are egging us . . . egging us (on) to force the issue of arbitral judgment,” referring to the Americans, adding that, “The missiles of China are pointed at the American expeditions… A depot would serve as a supply line.”

Tokyo (or to be precise, the Japan Times) further reported that the President had an “urgent” message to Beijing: give us precision-guided missiles for the armed forces to use against ISIS-affiliated terrorists in Mindanao. The story ended with a final quote from the President: “I made a commitment to President Xi Jinping, I made a solemn commitment that we will talk about this arbitral award during my term. When, I really do not know, but we will talk hard.”

People who still insist the President is playing a fine game –engaging in a highwire act with a statesmanlike focus on balancing competing regional interests in the hope of getting the most out of the rivalry of superpowers—ought to reconsider. Beijing was right; Tokyo has been burned, and the reporting by Japanese media suggests they fully understand the President has cast his lot with Beijing (you turn down Japanese missiles but ask for rockets from China); Washington was wrong, and the result was the public slapping of our military establishment late Sunday night.

If Abe bet big and got burned, the President is betting more bigly, to use Trumpspeak. Will Washington notice? The President’s press conference removed the essential to a high-wire act: a sense of balance.

If there is one thing that sets a great power apart from ordinary countries, it’s the resilience of institutional planning. Policies might change but options are carefully built up to enable adjusting to those policies. Case in point is this extract from an article by David Vine in 2012: “In the Philippines, whose government evicted the U.S. from the massive Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base in the early 1990s, as many as 600 special forces troops have quietly been operating in the country’s south since January 2002. Last month, the two governments reached an agreement on the future U.S. use of Clark and Subic, as well as other repair and supply hubs from the Vietnam War era. In a sign of changing times, U.S. officials even signed a 2011 defense agreement with former enemy Vietnam and have begun negotiations over the Navy’s increased use of Vietnamese ports.”

That is what the Cato Institute meant when it said Washington can –and should—call Manila’s bluff. Hanoi is waiting. But that ignores the particular nuances of the Trump administration’s positioning on Beijing, which I explored last November at length (I also looked at Beijing, Moscow, and Tokyo, around that time). Here, Manila might represent a challenge: to wine and dine, or to slap down? Or, ignore?

After all, guess who corrected the President, after it was publicly slapped down?Why, the armed forces itself which announced, No, the United States is not unloading arms in Palawan, Cagayan de Oro, Pampanga. But they had –and have—stored “generators, vehicles, rubber boats, and shelter materials such as tents, and water purifiers.”

Jan 18

The Long View: An offer no bureaucrat can refuse


An offer no bureaucrat can refuse

/ 12:05 AM January 18, 2017

How do you leave a lasting mark on the system? You engage in a Great Reorganization. Such reorganization has happened only five times since the modern presidency began in 1935.

The first was enacted at the start of the Commonwealth in 1935, implemented in 1936, and concluded by 1938. The second was enacted in 1946 at the start of the Third Republic; a committee set up accordinglyfinished its work by 1947. The third was enacted in 1950, with a commission, set up the same year, concluding its work in 1951. The fourth was enacted in 1968, in the twilight of the Third Republic, but despite attempts to move it on in 1970 and to accomplish it by 1971, it required martial law and the first assertion of decree-making powers by President Marcos to make it finally take place.

Notably, in contrast to the previous reorganizations, Marcos’ reorganization was decreed and accompanied by his assertion of his powers as commander in chief to assume control not just of executive offices, but also of all local governments—and putting every official on notice that “[they] shall continue to function under their present officers and employees and in accordance with existing laws, until otherwise ordered by me or by my duly designated representative.” Which essentially meant: Cooperate, or else.

The process was declared completed in 1973, but the commission set up for the purpose was allowed to pursue reorganization plans. Not wanting to be limited by parliament, in 1978 Marcos granted himself continuing authority to reorganize the government, which he decreed he could do in 1981 (setting up a permanent committeeto do it) and 1985.

The fifth, and most recent, reorganization took place under Cory Aquino in 1986, for which she used her revolutionary powers. With the Administrative Code of 1987 of the Fifth Republic, she retained the power to reorganize as far as the executive department was concerned, and a law was introduced in 1988, authorizing early retirement for the affected employees.

Since then, presidents have asserted the continuing authority granted by the Administrative Code to tinker with the executive department’s setup, but not in a cohesive way.

President Duterte began his term with an assertion (Executive Order No. 1) of the continuing power to reorganize the executive. Interesting, because aside from citing the Constitution and the Administrative Code of 1987, the order referred to the Marcos decrees of 1978 and 1981 (which you would think would have been rendered obsolete by now). I wrote about the implications of this issuance last Dec. 14.

So when the President’s Budget Message (pp. 23-24), submitted after his first State of the Nation Address last July, contained a statement of intent to propose the enactment by Congress of a reorganization law, I was surprised no one took notice. If it happens, it will be the first large-scale revamp of the executive in over a generation. The term used was “government rightsizing.” The President seeks “authority from Congress to eliminate redundant, duplicative, and overlapping functions in the Executive Branch.” He intends to file “a proposed Streamlining the Government Act that empowers the Executive to conduct a comprehensive review of… functions and organizational structures, to merge or abolish agencies, and to implement other measures. . . . The proposed law will also provide a reasonable separation package for the personnel who may be affected.”

Considering that a reorganization of the entire government would be required if a new Constitution is adopted, you have to wonder why a reorganization is being contemplated now. To be sure, a reorganization is overdue, but even administrative matters can be highly political. A reorganization law in 2017 would be like a reorganization decree in 1972: Cooperate, or else. Which would be a good warning to make as the administration confronts the problem all its predecessors faced: Political parties are unreliable.

What you want is a movement. But such movement requires official cooperation. What better way to stimulate enthusiasm than the power to reorganize the uncooperative out of bureaucratic existence?

Twitter: @mlq3; FB: www.facebook.com/mlquezon3

Jan 17

The Explainer: Thought Control and telecom companies

Thought Control and telecom companies

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Jan 17 2017 05:23 AM

Michael Anti’s Ted Talk on the Great Firewall of China

From vicious online behavior—call it Digital Maoism or Gamergate—to populism as pointed out by Human Rights Watch, the wild, wild web is joined at the hip with leaders and movements who are effectively using humans and software to control thought.

Leaders have tried to do this before, but this was before the age of the cellphone and the internet.

When Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed martial law, he accompanied his proclamation with a battery of official issuances to ensure any and all opposition would lack a leg to stand on. Among them were Letter of Instruction No. 1, to shut down media companies; General Order No. 1, instructing the armed forces to arrest any individual he ordered arrested, and any person(s) he or the authorities decided had committed rebellion, sedition, graft and corruption, robbery, terrorism, tax evasion, use or distribution of drugs, or “crimes against public morals.”

In addition, General Order No. 3 put every government employee on notice they their jobs would continue to exist solely at the president’s discretion; and that the judiciary was prohibited from entertaining any legal challenges to martial law. Then he ordered a curfew (General Order No. 4), banned rallies or strikes (General Order No. 5), reorganized the entire executive branch (Presidential Decree No. 1), and later, made “rumor-mongering” a crime (Presidential Decree No. 90).

So, every possible avenue of resistance and challenge was firmly closed off; and here catch-alls are useful, such as Marcos’ use of “crimes against public morals” as a justification for arrest, because people are conditioned to accord some respect to holding independent views and being critical of the powers-that-be. Most people are not conditioned to question public morals however different their private behavior may be.

So, what bayonets and decrees could accomplish in the past requires something else entirely in the modern world. Some principles, however, endure: the best defense, of course, is a good offense.

China has been thinking about this for years. In 1996, Wei Jincheng published an article, “Information War: A New Form of People’s War” in the Liberation Army Daily of the People’s Republic of China. You’ve seen article after article on how this thinking has been implemented over the years: from internet espionage, to online brigades to push the party line, and most of all, in the Great Firewall of China which aims to keep China in splendid isolation from those aspects of the rest of the world the party considers dangerous.

I’ve been wondering when the growing warmth of official relations with China would bring with it the technology to implement a domestic version of the Great Firewall of China, the juiciest technology-transfer of all. It seems we might be poised to find out.

The rather weird blocking of access to adult websites makes me think something’s afoot. First of all, let me explain why it seems rather weird. As Cosmopolitan Philippines recently reported, the ban somehow doesn’t seem to exist. And yet, as initial reports asserted, some people said it had been put in place. Even weirder yet, officials have confirmed it exists and that it’s justified (the law being bandied about, Republic Act 9775 prohibits and penalizes child pornography: the real question is, if the sites allegedly banned featured child porn, do you think it would take the Philippines to block them? They would have been nuked long ago).

The clincher, it seems to me, is at the tail end of the Cosmo article: “There are people who say that some Internet service providers are cutting off access to porn sites especially on low bandwidth allocation prepaid long-term evolution (LTE) accounts.”

In other words, too many people spending too much time on the net viewing “adult entertainment” are draining the coffers of some telecoms companies and so they’ve banned access to the sites using the law as an excuse. On the other hand, after the story broke, the National Telecommunications Commission said it had ordered 21 sites to be taken down–but passed the buck to the Philippine National Police—which raises questions on whether sites ought to be banned on the say-so of the authorities without, say, some sort of hearing at least and upon orders of a court, preferably. After all, the law itself is specific.


Which, to me, goes to the heart of the matter. Quite a few commentators online have pointed out that banning such sites today can easily lead to banning all sorts of other content in the future on the basis of “values” or “morals.” Check my example above of how Marcos did the same thing to lump together political dissent with smut and subject dissenters and porn rags to the same draconian institutions.

If any Great Firewall is to be installed, it will require first and foremost the cooperation and acceptance of internet providers. And as we will see, this is a situation the internet providers created and by so doing, they are now vulnerable to official pressure.

Just recently Manuel V. Pangilinan announced that Globe had overtaken Smart in terms of market share (though both telecoms firms have worked together to preserve their collective hold on the market, resulting in what is proving to be the litmus test for the country’s new Competition Commission). Smart’s lost 7.8 million customers over the past two years, nearly 5 million of them since 2015 alone, with Globe gaining a net total of 12.2 million customers.

Rahul Bhatia’s fascinating longform Guardian piece, The inside story of Facebook’s biggest setback, tackles Globe and Smart in terms of Facebook, which helps to explain two things. First, one reason Globe overtook Smart, and second, how Facebook used the telecoms companies here to put in place what would, in turn, become the first phase of national Thought Control on the part of political operatives.

Here’s what happened. When China banned Facebook, the company had to seek new markets to keep growing in the face of a saturated market in the West. In 2010, it launched a project codenamed Apollo to focus on the Philippines, Latin America, Africa and India, where telecoms companies would be convinced to provide free Facebook to cellphone users who lacked data plans.

Bhatia reported that “The initial financial sacrifice, Facebook told the phone companies, was an investment – giving customers a small taste of the internet would convince them to start paying to access everything the web had to offer.”

Facebook convinced Globe to try it out, and as the report continued, “The best proof of this proposition came in the Philippines, where Facebook partnered with Globe – the smaller of the country’s two dominant mobile companies – which trailed its rival’s market share by 20 percentage points. Globe’s user numbers surged, and within 15 months, it had overtaken its rival, thanks to the enormous lure of free access to Facebook. ‘It all started with the free Facebook promo,’ one Filipino stock analyst told a local business newspaper.” Initial Philippine results in 2014 then convinced Mark Zuckerberg to set his sights on India.


But as the numbers show, it was in 2015 that the big payoff came for Globe, and it’s no coincidence that in that same year, as campaigns geared up for battle in 2016, the keyboard warrior phenomenon –which had made its debut in 2010 but on a far smaller scale and mainly as an incubator for testing messages that had to cross over to mass media to have any real impact—was felt. And in a big way.

Media, foreign and domestic, has covered all this, in what has proven to be the first phase of Thought Control: the use of web brigades. See articles here in ABS-CBN Online, in The Philippine Daily Inquirer, in The Business Mirror and most extensively, Rappler; some journalists are writing about it on their lonesome, like Raissa Robles; abroad, see The New Republic (you can also listen to the author discuss his article on WNYC’s The Takeaway podcast), the BBC, and commentaries inevitable bring up keyboard warriors as part of the state apparat even the staid Straits Times (a good word, don’t you think, considering it’s the Russians who seem to have perfected the organization and methods of web brigades? See The Guardian).

So, to review, search for market share led Globe to partner with Facebook. This created the right combination of technological innovation and market-creation to carve out a much bigger field of battle that the enterprising could seize early on, and dominate (one day, hopefully someone will write how the #AlDub phenomenon at around the same time revealed the potential of online mobilization: showbiz and politics are two sides of the same coin, after all). It caused a political earthquake leaving Facebook and Globe laughing all the way to the bank.

But as both Globe and Facebook have found out, there can be consequences. Facebook stonewalled locally on whether its algorithms (see Rappler’s report) and human interventions have been thoroughly gamed (or, as The Verge looked into it, whether moderation simply brings up a whole set of messy problems on its own). In its home country, however, in the end, it has had to grudgingly make some concessions to public alarm over the proliferation of fake news.

Having arrived at a successful strategy does not mean being wedded to that strategy forever. You have to continue evolving. This brings us to the second phase of Thought Control: filters, to limit access to such sites as may be considered at first, morally objectionable. Then what is morally objectionable can be lumped together with what is politically objectionable. In the name of “values” and “the people.”

The highest value of a company, of course, is profit. Its people are its shareholders and to a lesser extent, its employees. Having helped create the situation where organized gangs patrol to push the party line in ways that have gamed the system for reporting abuse, and where usage equals income, it cannot limit use. Therefore it becomes a target for the organized gangs, especially if they claim to represent public opinion. Add to this the regulatory powers of the state, and the state can make or break the future of a company. So, if it is told that it must subject online traffic to filters, how can it say no?

But, in the meantime, you can condition everyone else to what’s to come by testing the waters. Block some sites! Alarm? Over what? What sites? No one was blocked. Or were they? Who knows. But the idea has been introduced, and can now germinate.

Jan 11

The Long View: The cross and the sword


The cross and the sword

/ 01:05 AM January 11, 2017

Hardly anyone noticed when Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle held an Epiphany Mass at the Manila Cathedral and addressed rehabilitated drug addicts who, in turn, gave witness to their experiences in the Fazenda da Esperança (Farm of Hope), a Catholic drug rehabilitation center in Masbate. Caritas Manila then signed an agreement with Fazenda to assist Sanlakbay, the drug rehabilitation program of the archdiocese launched last October.

It was a pointed statement but an overlooked one because it was pastoral and not politically pugnacious. The dilemma of the Church seems to be the New Code of Canon Law of 1983 of Pope John Paul II which replaced the Code of Canon Law of 1917 of Pope Pius X.

Among other things, it eliminated the Right of Sanctuary, a privilege of sacred spaces asserted since medieval times. Originating in ancient times, it put the Church forward as an institution capable of tempering arbitrary punishments and persecutions. Violating sanctuary carried with it the penalty of excommunication. Kings hated it; but in time the concept evolved into what we know as the right of asylum. Pius X abolished this penalty; John Paul II removed sanctuary, quite possibly because it was causing too many confrontations with modern legal systems in countries like the United States.

The result is that bishops and priests believe they have no means to counter warrants or searches by the police, much as they might want to save lives by offering refuge to drug addicts and help them undergo rehabilitation.

For the first time in a generation, the Church has faced two administrations firm on upholding secular policy. Former president Benigno Aquino proved unyielding in his support of reproductive health. President Duterte is frankly hostile to the clergy, pointedly speaking of pedophilia, which serves as a not-so-veiled warning against political interference by the hierarchy.

It is said that Ferdinand Marcos kept a copy of a divorce decree in his desk drawer and pulled it out whenever bishops were becoming too critical. In the end, whether true or not, the fact is, the arrest of members of the clergy and violations of human rights drove the Church to oppose Marcos and withdraw “the mandate of Heaven” after the 1986 snap elections. Fifteen years of intervention in secular affairs followed, culminating in Edsa Dos in 2001.

The passing of Jaime Cardinal Sin, the reduction in size of the archdiocese of Manila, and a new generation of prelates easily coopted by then president Gloria Arroyo dismantled the political clout of the Church.

Not since the era when the Philippine Revolution was still living memory has the Church been so weak. In 1938 a showdown between the Palace and bishops—over teaching Catholic catechism during class hours in public schools—resulted in a threat of a veto, and the National Assembly backed down. By 1949, faced with a proposal to liberalize the divorce law, Catholics mobilized and Congress abolished divorce. Secular forces rallied and passed the Rizal Law in 1956.

But in the same year President Magsaysay led the consecration of the Philippines to the Sacred Heart of Jesus just as he had led the consecration of the country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1954; the Church found itself once again a pillar of the State. From 1983-2001 it actually decided the fates of governments. Now it is attempting to find its voice. The approach of Cardinal Tagle may not be exciting, but it may be not only the most prudent but the most democratically-consistent option as well.

The other pillar of the State is the armed forces. Here, too, in contrast to the adventurism of the past three decades, a new kind of maturity seems to be holding sway. By all accounts, institutionally, it is more committed to civilian control, more averse to political interference and, most surprising of all, more firm about human rights than it has ever been since before martial law.

This is a recent phenomenon, but one deserving further study. The two most conservative institutions in the country, as one senior journalist told me, seem to be holding the line for our fragile democracy.

Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/100748/the-cross-and-the-sword#ixzz4X11n2tH0
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