The Long View: Chronicle of a city’s agony


Chronicle of a city’s agony

 / 05:05 AM February 06, 2019


In 1995, a Great Remembering began. That year marked the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Manila, and survivors who had spent decades focused on living began sharing their memories of the destruction of the capital.

That remembering continued — and continues — so that, as those who lived through that tragedy prepare for the 75th anniversary next year, those who weren’t around then have been able to learn a lot more over the past quarter-century than was the case in the immediate half-century that preceded the start of that process of sharing, and unburdening, of the horrific memories of a city’s desolation.

That Great Remembering, in articles, interviews and memoirs, have provided the raw material for books that serve to consolidate, and thus transmit, for future generations, the experiences of those who witnessed so much death and devastation that they couldn’t bear to recall it for decades.

Three British military historians, Richard Connaughton, John Pimlott and Duncan Anderson, did the first draft, so to speak, with the publication of their Battle of Manila in 1995. It was a grand tour d’horizon of the circumstances that combined to result in the street-by-street fighting for the capital.

Alfonso J. Aluit, for his part, in “By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II, 3 February-3 March 1945,” told the story from the point of view of the civilians systematically exterminated by Japanese troops as survivors were caught in the crossfire. Six years later, in 2006, Jose Ma. Escoda would undertake a similar grisly compendium of first-person accounts in “Warsaw of Asia: The Rape of Manila.”

On Feb. 12, at 4:30 p.m., another book, “Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila” by an American, James M. Scott, will be launched at the Ayala Museum under the auspices of the Filipinas Heritage Library (repository of the Roderick Hall Collection on World War II in the Philippines) and National Bookstore, distributor of the book. This book is different from the books that have come before, in the author’s fusing of interviews of survivors still living with the affidavits and testimonies in war crimes trial proceedings, and those of other survivors soon after the events took place, together with a quite astounding survey of eyewitness accounts and observations in diaries of individuals as diverse as an anonymous Japanese soldier recording their daily catalog of killings, and the renowned novelist John Dos Passos, who was a war correspondent covering American military operations.

The newspapers of the time were consulted, too, providing a contrast between the glowing accounts in the press and the private thoughts of the soldiers, civilians and journalists actually in the field.

What sets this book apart is its sense of place and not just time. Though the mania for renaming streets means that many specific street names might not ring a bell with present-day Filipino readers, there are places aplenty that still stand or existed recently enough for readers to grasp not only what was going on, but where — and how the day-by-day, hour-by-hour stories of events flow into each other. I have read the books mentioned above, but this volume tells the story best of all, because not only the what, who and where but the why is laid out, in a manner that assures you that the author didn’t just do the due diligence of poring over the contents of archives and the transcriptions of interviews, but also went and saw, and walked around, the city himself.

It may well be that this will be the last time a writer will be able to combine the records of the past with consultations with still-living witnesses to these events. Thus, its publication comes not a moment too soon — but also, as a fitting commemoration in anticipation of the last milestone commemoration. The Great Remembering is coming to an end; in this book, the various threads of Filipino, American and Japanese, of friends and foes, have been tied together, creating a tapestry that proves the pain of reliving memories was worth it. They did not die in vain, if there are those who will remember long after those who survived are themselves long gone.


The Long View: Is eight enough?


Is eight enough?

 / 05:06 AM January 30, 2019


In a curious coincidence, both the opposition and the President have eight candidates for the Senate. The opposition put its slate (Alejano, Aquino, Diokno, Gutoc, Hilbay, Macalintal, Roxas, Tañada) together first, while the President’s list (Aguilar, Angara, Cayetano, Go, Marcos, De la Rosa, Tolentino, Villar) is a constantly evolving work in progress, perhaps meant to titillate and tantalize the press and the public and keep the political class angling for an endorsement (while enjoying the effects of pointedly excluding hopefuls like “Hairy” Roque in public).

There is more to this coincidental list of eight than meets the eye, however, beyond the obvious contrast in resources: The opposition hasn’t the means or the scope to scrape together more than eight candidates; the President has an abundance of choices, but chooses to operate according to his own inner political clock.

Time and again, surveys have asked the public how many candidates they have in their own electoral sample ballot, and invariably the answer is eight. This suggests to me that when you had people who actually understood government and the necessity for practical rules to guide its operations (the framers of our 1935 Constitution or, specifically, the 1940 amendments that restored the Senate), rules will match public behavior, making electoral exercises more conducive to producing results that function smoothly.

Before martial law, except in rare occasions such as when there were unscheduled vacancies, people elected senators eight at a time. This in turn enabled the Senate, uniquely in the legislature, to be a continuing body, since even during election years when the entire House was up for election, there would be 16 sitting senators. (Thus, it would be the Senate president in the premartial law system and, again, after the tradition was revived in 2016, who would certify the election of the President and Vice President at the start of inaugural ceremonies.)

This changed under the 1987 Constitution, for no better reason than enough premartial law losers of elections were in a position to affect the Constitution’s provisions, to mandate that 12 senators at a time would be elected: giving hope to four more senatorial hopefuls and, in yet another of the many cases of post-Edsa unintended consequences, giving an incentive for cheating involving the crucial last four senatorial slots. An interesting insight into this is that those last four slots have often been decided by relatively razor-thin margins, again acting as an incentive for winning by hook or by crook—a case of pure political selfishness that set aside both the reality of the Senate being a continuing body (12 is not enough to elect a new leadership), and imposed a burden on the electorate and parties to scrounge around for 12-person slates when eight is the number that has been proven to work.

This brings us to where the opposition and the President (so far) have both let down the electorate. The forthcoming vacancies to be filled in the Senate numbers 12, not eight. At this point, both sides are asking the public to undertake a dereliction of duty by only voting for eight, though here the opposition is arguably the one which has let down the public more, because it immediately concedes four slots to the administration’s many factions who, among themselves, have a surplus of candidates. Supporters of the administration, then, will have an easier time using the President’s list as a starting point, stuffing the rest with others who loudly support the President even if he declines to notice them.

Then again, there is an opportunity here for the opposition to appeal for such voters to consider at least four opposition bets, on the basis of a pragmatic desire to balance the Senate and not pack it with too many Palace cheerleaders.

But the citizen opposed to the President and all his works only has the opposition eight as a starting point, while running the risk of actually lowering the chances of the opposition by immediately conceding four slots to the administration, which has more big proven vote-getters actually in its ranks or in collaborationist orbit around the President.


Readings for LSPCON 2018 Attendees

Here are ten readings and five books for you. You might recall that I mentioned some of these during our time together.


1. Freedom of the editor, by Teodoro M. Locsin, Philippines Free Press, April 10, 1965:

What is freedom—of the editor or of anyone?

It is freedom to be intelligent and informed. Freedom to be ignorant is not freedom, for what is freedom? Is it not liberation? And what is ignorance but a prison?

One should be prepared to die for freedom—and how silly it would be to die for one’s ignorance!

Freedom is responsibility and the affluent as well as the slave hate it.

Freedom is a dirty word to those who do not believe in freedom but merely preach it. It is Luce talk, a loose expression, and can be made to mean anything. Freedom is slavery in George Orwell’s 1984. Freedom is freedom to be fired—in the usual democracy.

What is freedom? What is the freedom of an editor? It is freedom—

To study. (And having to go over so much in order to turn out a respectable paper—a paper one can respect—makes study almost impossible.)

To think. (And how can one think in a hurry?)

To express oneself. Freedom not to say the opposite of what one thinks.

See also The Masks of Filipinos, by Teodoro M. Locsin, Philippines Free Press, June 17, 1961:

To cultivate the virtues of honesty, industry and justice, to learn how to love, is to be human. To be a Filipino, in the best sense of the word. Whether as Spaniard or American or Japanese, or as Nationalist, the Filipino must reckon with himself at last. He has no excuse for what he does; he should blame nobody but himself for what he is. If he has courage, he is brave; if he is honest, he is true; if he loves justice, he is decent, and if he loves rather than hates, he is at ease. The rest is merely economics, politics and the movies.

2. Velvet Revolution: The Prospects by Timothy Garton Ash in The New York Times Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 19 · December 3, 2009:

1789 in France, 1917 in Russia, 1949 in China—all were at some point professedly utopian; all promised a heaven on earth. [Velvet Rervolution or VR] is typically anti-utopian, or at the very least non-utopian. In a given place, it aspires to create political and legal institutions, and social and economic arrangements, that already exist elsewhere (for example, in established liberal democracies) and/or that are claimed (often wrongly, or with much retrospective idealization) to have existed in the same place at an earlier time. François Furet, the historiographer of the French Revolution, doubted if the velvet revolutions of 1989 should properly be called “revolutions” at all, since they produced “not a single new idea.” In this sense, they were closer to an earlier, pre-1789 version of revolution, the one that gave the thing its name: a revolution, a revolving, a turning of the wheel back to a real or imagined better past.

Hannah Arendt quotes, as a perfect encapsulation of this idea of revolution-as-restoration, the inscription on the 1651 great seal of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, at the height of the English Revolution: “freedom by God’s blessing restored.” Poland in 1989 could have put those very same words on its seal, had it had one. “The return to Europe,” one of the great mottoes of Central Europe’s 1989, is also a version of the revolution-restoration theme. Most of the subsequent claimants to the title of VR display some such mixture of an idealized national past and a better present located elsewhere. While these movements manifest some unrealistic, idealistic expectations, none of them are decisively shaped by a utopian ideology, a vision of a new heaven on earth. The “new idea” is the form of revolutionary change itself, not the content of its ideological aspirations.

To say that the 1789–1917–1949 revolutions were class-based is of course a gross historical oversimplification, and even misrepresentation. As we know, the Bolshevik Revolution was not actually a heroic mass action of the working class. But it is fair to say that revolutionary leaders such as Lenin and Mao often claimed to be acting in the name of a class or classes—”workers and peasants,“ and so on. In VR, the appeals are typically to a whole society, the nation, the people. Nationalism (or patriotism, according to circumstance and interpretation) is often a driving force of these, as it can be of more violent movements. In practice, the strategic key to mass mobilization—to getting those inestimable peaceful crowds out on the streets, to generating “people power”—often lies precisely in building the broadest possible coalitions between classes, sections of society, and interest groups that do not normally cooperate, and among which nondemocratic powerholders had previously been able to “divide and rule.”

In old-style revolution, the angry masses on the street are stirred up by extremist revolutionary leaders—Jacobins, Bolsheviks, Mao—to support radicalization, including violence and terror, in the name of utopia. Bring on the red guards! In new-style revolution, the masses on the street are there to bring the powerholders to the negotiating table. The moment of maximum mass mobilization is the moment of turn to negotiation; that is, to compromise. Or in some cases, to violent repression—at least for the time being. For also characteristic of VR is that it often takes a long time to succeed, after many failed attempts, in the course of which opposition organizers, but also some of those in power, learn from their own mistakes and failures—as, for example, in Poland, Serbia, and Ukraine. Protesters “fail again, fail better,” to adopt Samuel Beckett’s memorable phrasing. Both sides do it differently next time. Eventually, the moment comes when there are two to tango.

So another name for the genus is “negotiated revolution.” Exit prospects for the ruling elites are critical. Instead of losing their heads on the guillotine, or ending up hanging from lampposts, transition-ready members of an ancien régime, from a president such as F.W. de Klerk all the way down to local apparatchiks and secret policemen, see a bearable, even a rosier future for themselves under a new dispensation. Not merely will they get away with their lives; not only will they remain at liberty; they will also get to retain some of their social position and wealth, or to convert their former political power into economic power (the “privatization of the nomenklatura”), which sometimes helps them to make startling returns to political power under more democratic rules (as, for example, have post-communists all over post- communist Europe). In VR, it is not just the Abbé Sieyès who survives. Louis XVI gets to keep a nice little palace in Versailles, and Marie Antoinette starts a successful line in upmarket lingerie.

These uneasy and even morally distasteful compromises with members of the ancien régime are an intrinsic, unavoidable part of velvet revolution. They are, as Ernest Gellner once memorably put it, the price of velvet. They produce, however, their own kinds of postrevolutionary pathology. As the years go by, there is a sense of a missing revolutionary catharsis; suspicious talk of tawdry deals concluded between old and new elites behind closed doors; and, among many, a feeling of profound historical injustice. Here I am, a middle-aged shipyard worker in Gdan´sk, left unemployed as a result of a painful neoliberal transition to capitalism, while over there, in their high-walled new villas, with their swimming pools full of half-naked girls quaffing champagne, the former communist spokesman and the former secret policeman are whooping it up as millionaires. And their first million came from ripping off the state in the period of negotiated revolution.

There is no perfect answer to this problem, but I will suggest two partial ones. First, absent both the catharsis of revolutionary purging (that orgiastic moment as the king’s severed head is held aloft) and retroactive sanctions of criminal justice, it becomes all the more important to make a public, symbolic, honest reckoning with your country’s difficult past. This alone can establish a bright line between bad past and better future. That is why I have argued that the essential complement to a velvet revolution is a truth commission. Second, establishing the rule of law as fast as possible is vital to lasting success, and corruption is deeply corrosive of it. “Speed is more important than accuracy,” the famous motto of the no-holds-barred Czech privatizer and free marketeer Václav Klaus, sacrifices the long-term prospects to the short.

One other feature of some velvet revolutions needs to be mentioned. Traditionally, we would think of a revolution as diametrically counterposed to an election: here, the violent overthrow of a dictatorship; there, the peaceful transfer of power in a democracy. But many examples of VR over the last decade, from Serbia to Ukraine to Iran, had an election as the catalytic moment of the new-style revolution.

In hybrid, semiauthoritarian regimes, the holding of an election—albeit not under fully free conditions, with a key distortion being regime control of television—provides the occasion for an initial mobilization behind an opposition candidate, whether Voji-slav Ko tunica in Serbia, Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine, or Mir Hussein Moussavi in Iran. Real or alleged rigging of the election by incumbent powerholders is then the spark for a wider social mobilization, with burgeoning demands for change not merely in but of the system. The color symbolic of the opposition candidate—orange in Ukraine, green in Iran—becomes, or at least is now claimed to be, the color of the whole cheated nation, the color of the “color revolution.” So yet another name for this phenomenon, or a large subset of it, is “electoral revolution.”

Looking at the recent history of electoral revolutions, a prudent authoritarian ruler might reasonably draw this conclusion: Don’t risk holding any elections at all! But it is striking how few of them actually do draw this conclusion. Formal democracy, in the sense of holding public ceremonies called elections from time to time, has become established as one of the most widespread international norms. Elections are not just, so to speak, the tribute vice pays to virtue; they also seem to be part of the accepted panoply of legitimation for any self-respecting dictator. And nine times out of ten, authoritarian rulers can emerge victorious from these elections, or “elections,” with some combination of genuine popular support, tribal loyalties, media control, propaganda, bribery, intimidation, and outright vote-rigging. In the case of Serbia, for example, Slobodan Miloevic´ did win a series of at least semifree, even three-quarters-free elections, with only some vote-rigging, before losing power in an electoral revolution in 2000. Hubris, based on past successes, helpfully nudges such rulers down the road to nemesis.

See also This tale of two revolutions and two anniversaries may yet have a twist, by Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, May 8, 2008.

3. Two samples of Randy David’s thinking. The first is the summary of a speech he delivered, the second, a quote from one of his columns. How do you boil down the crisis that seems to be perpetual? David has.

4. Where the drug war began, by Patricia Evangelista, Rapper. This will be a modern classic.

5. A two part series. The blueprint for the ‘War on Drugs’ and Lies, damned lies, and drug statistics. For bsckground, see: My answers to questions on the War on Drugs.

6. Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism, by Jaron Lanier, Edge, May 29, 2006. You can also watch his recent April 2018 TED Talk, How we need to remake the Internet. He has done much to study, and explain why the net is the way it is and why we act as we do, when online.

7. The groundbreaking three-part report by Rappler on social media and elections: see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

8. The $10bn question: what happened to the Marcos millions? by Nick Davies in The Guardian, May 7, 2016. You should do your part to widely share this article. It spares no one, and goes a long way to explain the enduring power of the Marcoses.

9. My own article, Ferdinand Marcos and Us, in Includes links to additional readings.

10. This isn’t a reading, but i’ts someone who’s written powerful books and put together powerful documentaries. In this 2012 Maastricht University lecture, Laurence Reese tries to explain why otherwise decent people fall under the spell of monstrous leaders.


  1. The Emperor and Shah of Shahs, by Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski. A fellow writer who’d also served in government once told me, we are all students of power, and these two books to my mind are some of the most engrossing and truth-filled explorations of power, the powerful, and the powerless ever written.

2. The Philippine Revolution, by Apolinario Mabini (translated by Leon Ma. Guerrero). A slim book but massive in terms of what it has to teach the reader.

3. State and Society in the Philippines (Second edition), by Patricio N. Abinales and Donna J. Amoroso. One of those books that renders all that came before it (it’s meant to be a textbook) obsolete. If you want a crash course in how our country came to be, the developments and trends that made –and make– it what it is, this is the book to trust.

4. Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 1892-1897 by Jim Richardson. Another book that marks the before and after, in terms of our understanding of the topic it covers. The essays and other documents that form the book are also freely available online in his website, Katipunan: Documents and Studies.

5. Five e-pubs: Put together by my team, 2010-2016 and hopefully, of practical and informative use to you.

a. Philippine Electoral Almanac Revised And Expanded

b. Historical Atlas Of The Republic

c. Heroism, Heritage And Nationhood

d. Official Calendar Of The Republic

e. Style Guide for the Government (Gabay sa Estilo para sa Gobyerno)

And of course, don’t forget the book that could dramatically improve your academic prospects — Researching Philippine Realities: A Guide to Qualitative, Quantitative, and Humanities Research by Jose Eos Trinidad.


Bonifacio Is Your Cubicle Seatmate

Bonifacio Is Your Cubicle Seatmate

And chances are your office complaints reflect the grievances of the Philippine Revolution.

( Bonifacio had a modest—though not that modest—background, it’s true. But let’s look at what that precisely meant. His father, Santiago, was a tailor, but had also served as a teniente mayor, one of those petty barrio district positions handed out by cabezas de barangay. A rough analogy might be that Bonifacio was the son of a barangay kagawad. His mother was a Spanish mestiza. He had tutors as a child but it was being orphaned that led him to being a vendor and then a calligrapher—“designing advertising posters,” joining a foreign firm, Fleming & Co. in his teens, then Fressel & Co., starting as a night-watchman, clerk-messenger, and then agent and broker, making him perhaps the equivalent of a Unilever employee today.

Bonifacio’s wife, the truly formidable Gregoria de Jesus was gentry—the daughter of a gobernadorcillo of Caloocan. So this equivalent of the son of a barangay kagawad was married to the daughter of a barangay chairman who owned land. Gobernadorcillo de Jesus sent his daughter to supervise tenants and laborers and pay their wages. In fact, her father’s objection to her marrying Bonifacio was not his social standing, but his being a Mason—and thus condemned by the Church (but good enough to join an association to which ilustrados belonged).

In our class and status-conscious society, Bonifacio then might be very much your cubicle seatmate if you work at a multi-national corporation or even in a call center, someone who is nobody in the overall scheme of things but someone who is a kind of somebody both in his neighborhood and the barangay of his father-in-law. And this is the point: He is not a remote figure at all, in terms of how we make sense of our surroundings, which includes finely tuned social antennae. Whatever the high and mighty think, it’s the people who get things done who are often the shrewdest when it comes to figuring out not only who’s who, but what’s what. Which explains much of Bonifacio’s success, and also, his eventual downfall. He was one of the obscure people who got things done.

Nor were his times so vastly different as to be incomprehensible. There were telegraph cables connecting Manila to Hong Kong in 1882. The first bicycle had been introduced in 1889. There were telephones since 1890 (the first telephone line had connected the Governor General of the Philippines’ office in Intramuros to the Archbishop’s Palace also in Intramuros, showing the lines of authority that not only mattered, but were joined at the hip), the British had built a railroad in 1892, streetcars were introduced in 1893; in the same year, gas lighting gave way to electric lighting in Intramuros and its suburbs including the Luneta (on the night of August 29 to 30, 1896, Aguinaldo later wrote he kept watch, looking to see if the lights of the Luneta, “nine miles away,” would go out, the signal for the attack of the Katipunan on Intramuros). Five months after the revolution broke out, the first movie was shown in Manila, while the first interisland submarine cable for telegraphs linking Manila to the Visayas was built in 1897.

Andres Bonifacio, according to the historian Jim Richardson, insisted on everyone having a photo ID on file in the Katipunan HQ and even kept a cabinet of shame, where the ID photos of delinquent or disgraced members were kept, to be exhibited and scorned during meetings. Yet we only have one faded photo of Andres Bonifacio, and most of the familiar representations of him only have a slight resemblance to that authentic image.

Practically all our founding fathers (and founding mothers) took time to have their photos taken, which, when you think of it, should remind us that the era of the Philippine Revolution was in many ways, the modern era. But these were modern times only up to a point. To the catalog of things that were features of life at the time, must be added something that was not. Among Bonifacio’s skills, for example, was that of being a calligrapher—there may have been telephones and telegrams and printing presses but somehow, not many typewriters, which is why men capable of beautiful penmanship like Bonifacio, could make a living as clerks in commercial enterprises.

Hence we are close in enough in time to relate but far enough in time to need to be careful in our comparisons. In many ways, our society remains unchanged but its component parts have evolved since then.

We have to understand four great divisions in our society at the time. They were: The principalia, the ilustrados, a tiny middle class, and everyone else.

In simplest terms, the principalia were the provincial barons, inheritors of authority in local communities derived from leadership since precolonial times. A barrio was headed by a cabeza de barangay, and the cabezas de barangay in an area would in turn pick their gobernadorcillo (a title known after 1890 as the capitan municipal), whose job it was to coordinate the gobernadorcillos when it came to their two top duties: Collecting taxes from payment of the residence certificate or cedula, and organizing the periods of community labor everyone (except of course the cabezas and capitanes) were required to render the Spanish government for free 40 days out of every year.

Gobernadorcillos of course also had the power of patronage: They appointed or were served by elected, flunkeys tasked with police work (including selecting and supervising the local cops), establishing property and pasture boundaries, and picking clerks to do paperwork. We know that by the twilight of the Spanish period, they had become dissatisfied with the setup because their duties had come to outstrip their privileges. Prior to 1844, the principalia by virtue of office acted as the commercial agents of the Spanish provincial governors who in turn, had “virtually monopolized insular trade.” In addition, the principalia also got a cut of the taxes they collected. A third source was from bribes from local residents, say to avoid the 40 days of annual service required. A fourth source was skimming from buying official supplies for the town.

But ironically, as the derelict Spanish empire tried to modernize and make its colonial rule more efficient, the age-old opportunities for making money started being reduced. To make things worse, imperial Manila decreed that if, say, a barrio was supposed to produce a certain amount of taxes, and the cabeza didn’t collect that expected amount, then the cabeza would have to fork over the difference out of his own pocket. This also meant that government work required more and more paperwork, and more and more fees: The public started hating their local officials every bit as much as the foreign overlords.

In the meantime, a new type of Filipino was emerging who may not have had inherited prestige like the principalia, but who, because of education and the opening up of the economy, suddenly had more money and thus, eventually more prestige, than the established principalia families. These were the ilustrados who, on the other hand, identified themselves primarily by means of educational attainment, but this was made possible by wealth from the opening up of the Philippine economy to agricultural trade abroad: Coffee, tobacco, hemp, and sugar, primarily. We also know that by the twilight of the Spanish era, the main connections that made wealth possible was with the American and British economies and not the Spanish one: Wealthy ilustrados not only had access to books but other luxuries—American clipper ships brought in ice from New England—but were also globalized in their perspective. They looked less to Spain perhaps, and more to the British economy, which had stimulated the growth of our sugar industry and sold Filipino landowners the technologies needed for modern sugar production.

And with the rise of bureaucracy and the growth of the big cities came another type: The middle class. This was primarily an urban phenomenon: It was in the city that you could pursue a trade. Thanks to Guillermo Masangkay listing down the Katipuneros he could still remember being in Balintawak half a century previously, we have an interesting snapshot of who the Katipuneros were. Ambeth Ocampo has written about what their backgrounds were, and you can look at this infographic to get an immediate visual clue. They’re the type of people you know from school: Low- to mid-level government employees, small-scale, buy-and-sell types, not exactly somebodies but definitely not nobodies, either. But as Jonathan Fast and Jim Richardson put it simply, such city folk were still fundamentally different from their fellow Katipuneros who came from the principalia: “Simply put, the advancement of Bonifacio’s career depended largely upon his willingness and ability to carry out orders: Aguinaldo’s class matrix demanded that he give them.”

An interesting detail is that as the security situation deteriorated in Manila, paranoid Spanish officials decided Malacañan Palace needed a better fence—and the one who won the contract to build the new perimeter wall for the Palace was a Katipunero. Again, as in Masangkay’s list, this suggests a particular type of mid-level middle-class person, in this case, a contractor, the likes of which there are still aplenty of in our society today.

As for everyone else: The silent majority are silent because unlike the middle and upper classes, they did not record—nor did too many people record for them—their opinions and views on things going on, primarily because they were illiterate. Which is not to say that they did not have opinions or think things through, but their means of communication were not the kind that survives in documents. Their thoughts and aspirations exist in stories, in songs, in objects such as talismans, and in instances where their words were listened to, and recorded (accurately or not, it depends) by scribes or their leaders in decrees, letters, and memoirs.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. You could be born into wealth, or have made your own fortune, but sooner or later you need people from other backgrounds to work for you. So in this manner, our society plays both fast and free with the pecking order. Families that produced generations of gobernadorcillos and cabezas de barangay, might find themselves marrying into ilustrado families; lazy cabezas and enterprising ilustrados in turn might seek out poor but eager classmates or other individuals to be clerks, book-keepers, or assistants, in the same manner that British, Spanish, or German merchants would need similarly-skilled workers to keep their books and manage inventory.

But everyone, sooner or later, would find their ambitions checked by the presence of the Spaniards. The principalia had to answer to them. The ilustrados had to kowtow to them, exasperated by their inefficiency compared to their businesslike partners and customers from Britain or America. The middle class knew they could never go beyond middle management because not only was upper management for principalia or ilustrado types, but the real power still lay in the hand of the Spaniards. And the silent majority found itself, if in the provinces, no longer independent farmers but mere sacadas or kasamas, or in the cities, dwellers of slums trying to eke out lives as vendors, laundresses, and so forth.

Whether in Letran, the Ateneo, or UST, old and new rich and upwardly-mobile young men not only got to know each other but got exposed to big ideas from the outside world, where Spain was considered a decrepit country, and where the union of Church and State was already, in the 19th, something considered a scandalous relict of the 18th century. People from different regions and different backgrounds not only got to know each other (a random sampling: In UST in the early to mid-1890s, Ignacio Paua, Emilio Jacinto, Juan Sumulong, Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, and Vicente Madrigal were all either contemporaries or actual classmates) but were exposed to the same official teaching (mocked by an earlier generation of writers such as Rizal) and the same illegal ideas, which in turn was picked up by self-made men like Bonifacio whose bookshelf included the lives of the American Presidents and the history of the French Revolution. And all, in one way or another, if you look at the story of their lives, reached the same fundamental realization: Whatever their personal worth, they were considered second-class citizens compared to the Spaniards.

As the first to express the colossal stupidity of this reality, and to suggest that yesterday’s indio was actually something that ought to be known as a Filipino, Rizal was head and shoulders above all others in the eyes of every single person who was fed up with this reality. When Rizal tried to put together La Liga Filipina, which is a candidate for consideration as the first Filipino NGO, it was headed by an ilustrado, himself, but included able but obscure people like Apolinario Mabini and Andres Bonifacio himself. Imagine that—though even today such a mix of backgrounds wouldn’t be surprising in a Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, or Masonic Lodge.

Jonathan Fast and Jim Richardson wrote that if there was one single idea that set apart the city Katipuneros from not only other Katipuneros from the provinces, but the ilustrados and the principalia, it was the idea of equality. Up-to-date on the kind of thinking going on abroad, some ilustrados categorized the Katipuneros as “communistic,” even though Fast and Richardson point out that Emilio Jacinto himself had written that “superiority in…wealth” was “to be understood”—what the Katipunan objected to was exploitation, just as it opposed the idea that some people might be inherently superior to others. And besides, while Rizal, Luna, Mabini, Bonifacio, and to a certain extent possibly even Aguinaldo might be familiar with the same events and concepts—the French and American revolutions and Masonry, for example—each of them might interpret not only those events but the ideals they represented in different ways. So Rizal announced, from jail, his belief reforms would only work if they came from above, and denounced the Katipunan as rash and ill-fated; Antonio Luna mocked the invitation to join the revolution by baring his teeth and asking, did they intend to fight it armed only with their pearly whites, Mabini, as a lawyer, thought it ill-advised as Rizal did, while only Bonifacio dared actually not only plot, but lead, urban insurrection, while Aguinaldo, from his municipal chieftain’s point of view, eventually joined the fight.

Bonifacio had the organizing ability in the city, but it was people like Aguinaldo who had a bailiwick which granted not just a certain degree of self-assurance, but numbers to command; neither Rizal, who only had his bulging brain or the Lunas, who had social standing and wealth but neither armed followers nor a home turf to command, had any assurance that what began might continue on the track originally proclaimed. Fast and Richardson in their book explore at length the thought processes, candidly expressed at the time, of many members of the principalia and the ilustrados: We may despise Spain; we may want to control our own destiny; but what if it fails? What will we lose? Or worse, what if we win but lose control? Outnumbered not only by these city folk, these clerks, minor officials, and other small people, but by the farmers and other peasants being told stories about liberty, equality, and brotherhood—where would it stop? If they chop off the noses of ivory santos now, might they not cut off the heads of mestizo planters tomorrow? And so it would turn out: Bonifacio, the man who got things done, would be done in by the men who didn’t want all that much done, in case it did them in. The ilustrados with their long view, could think in terms of generations. The principalia had a much shorter time frame and much blunter objectives: to be top dog but leave the pack system unchanged.

Thus in the two stages of the Katipunan: The ultra-secret society from 1892 to 1896 (Bonifacio came to head it in 1894), and the period when the organization grew by leaps and bounds outside Manila in early 1896, the combination of middle class and minor principalia types that originally comprised the Katipunan, came into greater contact with the ilustrados (it was Rizal who advised the Katipuneros to contact Antonio Luna around July 1896) and the principalia in the provinces like Aguinaldo. The signs of things to come became evident in these last few months before the revolution actually broke up. The ilustrados refused to join; while the massive expansion of the Katipunan meant that Bonifacio and his city-based originals were now outnumbered by provincial barons used not only to deference, but literally calling the shots.

I’ve gone over the dynamics of that confrontation in my article. But today’s essay is meant to remind us that the circumstances pushing different subsets of our society to push out the Spaniards, is both modern enough—particularly in the attitudes, and dynamics, of each and in the way they interacted with each other—and traditional enough, for us to understand the dilemmas and the outcomes that resulted from those circumstances.

We will, each of us, individually gravitate to those members of our founding generation who resemble each of us the most; but it shouldn’t mean we should stop there. That should only be the start: So similar, yet so different, so us; in a word: Not just so Filipino, but so universal. The Philippine and French Revolutions were over a century and half a world apart, but they happened because a decrepit monarchy in both cases tried to modernize—but not enough—and by so doing left everyone fed up; it created enough wealth to give a middle class a chance to rise, an intellectual class to develop ideas, and for both to affect the anonymous many to rise up against the few who would not change. It unleashed blood in the name of liberty, equality, and brotherhood, and devoured its own children until, at a certain point, a society that had revolted settled for peace after dictatorship and foreign conquest. Robespierre and Bonifacio, faces bloodied and shattered after being arrested, and subjected to a show trial and execution, died as they had previously condemned others to die; replaced in both cases by a dictator who promised competence, order, discipline, and success.


Much of the above is from Jonathan Fast and Jim Richardson’s book, Roots of Dependency: Politicial and Economic Revolution in 19th Century Philippines (Foundation for Nationalist Studies, Quezon City, 1979). For latest in scholarship on Bonifacio a good place to start is the website of Jim Richardson. You can learn more from these links: Bonifacio 150; The Founding of the Katipunan; Tejeros Convention; The Trial of Andres Bonifacio; Transcript of the Trial of Andres Bonifacio; Flags and Banners of the Colonial Era in the Philippines. And check out, Evolution of the Revolution because maps are love.


The Long View: The waiting game


The waiting game

 / 05:06 AM November 15, 2017

The waiting now begins to see if President Duterte and his people will resume their campaign to proclaim a revolutionary government.

My colleague, John Nery, has made a convincing case that the President has wanted to do so all along, even prior to assuming the presidency. An additional case has to be made: There are far too many people up and down the line who need the assurance of the present regime’s continuity, but who lack confidence that a viable successor — who can continue to provide them the protection they currently enjoy — exists.

Not every police station, for example, can go the way of the most controversial one in the country (Caloocan) that went up in flames the other day. You cannot, at this point, suddenly have Camp Crame go up in smoke, destroying all records. Since there is an expiration date for the President’s pledge to mobilize his powers to protect cooperative policemen, which is sooner rather than later given that trial balloons to extend his term as part of Charter change have not sparked popular enthusiasm, something has to give: a nationally-elected leadership.

But what can the President give in return? The thing that makes the world go round.

When Enrique Razon told Asean businessmen that dictatorships were better for infrastructure, he was speaking not only with the power of his billions but the bloc he maintained in the House of Representatives. His National Unity Party (20 seats) is the second-largest among the corporate blocs in the House, the others being Cojuangco-Ang’s Nationalist People’s Coalition (33 seats), itself a breakaway from the Villars’ Nacionalista Party (19 seats).

The combined 72-seat House corporate bloc (with four seats in the Senate), cannot, in and of itself, achieve things such as impeachment, which requires 97 votes at the current membership. But it can make it much easier—or difficult, if it comes to that—to enact legislation to the extent that the corporate bloc bosses cannot be ignored. When a bloc boss says dictatorship is a good idea, he does so as the spokesman of 72 districts: Presumably, the 123 districts under Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan will likewise fall in line.

Not least because quietly, but significantly, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo some weeks back took her oath as a member of that party. Unlike Antonio Floirendo Jr., or more recently, Dionisio Santiago, she knows — having been president — that you could have been a powerful patron of a future president yesterday, but the moment your protege becomes chief executive, the relationship changes and you had better never forget it. As Floirendo and Santiago found out, the moment you start being uppity, the instinct of all presidents is to punish the fool who thinks they can treat the president the way they treated him or her before they assumed office. So she has done what is allowed, and which matters: boost the party line, and be helpful in maintaining the coalition. Her reward has been to be not only taken into the fold in a subordinate position to the current Speaker she once fired from her Cabinet, but also to be trotted out in Asean events, overshadowing every potential successor to the President, including the Speaker and the current secretary of foreign affairs. The signal to anyone who cares to notice is we have a future prime minister-in-waiting.

Everyone who is anyone in the current dispensation can live with that. The signal of the business blocs is that they can live with that. It is a sure thing compared to taking a gamble on either Ferdinand Marcos Jr. or Alan Peter Cayetano, neither of whom are certain to win a national election, or can fully be trusted to have both the skill and the resolve to protect everyone. Arroyo would be the first to point out that a repeat of 2010 in 2022 must be avoided at all costs.

The Explainer: The costs of competition

The costs of competition

Manolo Quezon — The Explainer

Posted at Nov 13 2017 01:18 PM


There’s no such thing as a free summit. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in 2015 involving 21 economies cost P10 billion, including P2.6 billion for the Office of the President, with P118.2 million for representation and entertainment.

The ongoing ASEAN Summit, involving 10 ASEAN countries plus 10 dialogue partners, has an allocated budget of P17 billion, down from the P19 billion originally asked for, with a projected P15.5 billion actually having been spent, including P11.5 billion for the Office of the President with P7.5 billion for representation and entertainment. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility has pointed out that Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno complained about the APEC Budget in 2015. But that was then.

This is now: ASEAN 2017 isn’t just what’s going on in Metro Manila, it comprises 137 meetings, with 2 summits, the ASEAN-leaders only earlier this year last April, and the ASEAN leaders plus dialogue partners ongoing now, 17 ministerial meetings, 42 senior officials’ meetings, and 76 technical working group meetings.

That’s a lot, though it begs the question of whether the amount being spent is worth it—that was Congress’ job to look into back when it approved the budget last year.

ASEAN is moving in bold directions but aside from economists and radical critics, most seem unaware of the implications of these moves.


Take what is perhaps the most significant of ASEAN aspirations as far as most people are concerned: the dream of ASEAN economic integration, which aims at a kind of European Union (EU)-style open borders system among ASEAN member-states.

Like in the EU, the dream is for people from ASEAN to be able to travel, live, and work freely in member-countries, and for goods and services to flow freely with minimal taxes and fees between member-states. It was supposed to happen, but as things stand after economic ministers met last July, it seems more likely to become a reality in 2025.

The devil, as they say, is in the details. Five-hundred-six measures to make integration a reality were envisioned and most approved, except for 105—the hardest ones.

It’s easy to cheer economic integration. It’s not easy to implement it with local opinion breathing down your neck.

For example, tariffs or fees on imports have been reduced to zero or near zero for 96 percent of previous tariff lines. But by next year, the number will only inch up to 98.67 percent. It’s the remaining 4 percent that’s proving tough to iron out—for example, for Filipino farmers, could you really commit, as a government, to duty-free rice importation?

While ASEAN can brag that more than 70 percent of intra-ASEAN trade is now at the Most-Favored Nation rate of zero percent, it’s the thirty percent that will require tough bargains. And what you drop in tariffs, you can raise in others. So, what are called non-tariff measures have actually increased from 1,634 to 5,975 from the year 2000 to 2015.

ASEAN countries are also proving not as enthusiastic about allowing the free flow of services; and in terms of ASEAN countries recognizing the professional qualifications of member-countries, agreement has only been reached for 8 professions amounting to only 1.5 percent of the ASEAN workforce. No country, it seems, is willing to embrace the free flow of unskilled labor, for example.

So, that’s the nosebleed-inducing reality of ASEAN and its many meetings. Yet we’ve gotten glimpses of how summitry works in the big leagues.

Even as reporters and photographers who somehow were allowed to witnesses the start of our President’s bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Vietnam, they overheard the President mentioning to Xi Jinping something about smoothening out misunderstandings.

Donald Trump, for his part, announced he was willing to arbitrate between ASEAN and China on the West Philippine Sea and other issues. These are things that sometimes only happen when heads of state or government meet and talk.

Which is why, aside from the formal arena of meetings, leaders take time to socialize and get to size each other up. This is the reason some observers regret our President’s skipping ASEAN dinners.


ASEAN matters. Which means we have home-court advantage as host this year. Consider those making the effort to come here.

Much as we’ve been interested in China and America, take, for example, the case of India, a country we should be far more interested in for a couple of reasons. In a neighborhood of basically far-from-democratic countries, including regional superpowers like Russia and China, the other emerging regional power, India, is a fellow democracy. It has aligned itself with Australia, Japan, and America over concerns of China becoming too strong. The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, comes to Manila keenly aware that ASEAN has invested 70 billion dollars in his country, 17 percent of all Foreign Direct Investments, while India’s invested 40 billion dollars in the same period. 10.2 percent of all India’s trade is with ASEAN.

Among the interesting things he’s doing in Manila is visiting the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños—because IRRI is setting up its first research center outside the Philippines—its South Asia Regional Centre at Varanasi, India, approved by Modi’s cabinet last July.

You can be sure the Indians among others are sizing us up. The eyes and ears of many nations are watching and what they see is people saying online foreign leaders should go away because it causes traffic. What do we gain from ASEAN anyway?

To be sure, it’s government’s job to make the often difficult— because abstract due to its being macro, and not micro—case for ASEAN. But it also requires a little common sense. There’s widespread opinion that it ought to have been held in Clark. But the simple answer to that is where can you find the hotel rooms needed for 20 national delegations plus-plus?

It’s discouraging to note that the foot we’ve put forward is not only uninformed, but self-defeating. In a dog-eat-dog world, the pack will have little time or sympathy for the one that whines instead of hunting for opportunities.

DemocracyPost Commentary: When strongmen meet: Trump and Duterte in Manila


When strongmen meet: Trump and Duterte in Manila

November 12 at 1:19 PM

President Trump talks with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte during a gala dinner marking in Manila on Nov. 12. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Manuel Quezon III is a columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper and the host of the political affairs show “The Explainer” on the ABS-CBN TV news channel.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wants one thing from his main meeting with President Trump in Manila on Monday: a Ferdinand Marcos moment. Back in 1981, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush toasted the dictator’s third inauguration by cooing, “We love your adherence to democratic principle and to the democratic processes.”

Bush’s support confounded Marcos’s critics and burnished his strongman image. Today, compliments from Trump are likely to have the same benefits for Duterte. The Philippine president will almost certainly find an opportunity to point out that a Pew Research Center poll published in June placed Filipino confidence in Trump at 69 percent. (Of course, their subordinates won’t be reminding the two men that President Barack Obama enjoyed 94 percent confidence among Filipinos in 2015.)

Duterte’s infatuation with China and Russia will be of little use to him while he plays host to his fellow Southeast Asian leaders at a regional summit meeting. Neither Xi Jinping nor Vladimir Putin is going to Manila. In the Philippines, which remains one of the most pro-American countries in the world, the public still measure their leaders by the Washington yardstick.

By that standard, Duterte has a lot to be happy about. Trump’s advisers originally envisioned an overnight visit to the Philippines, but that has now been extended to two days. A simple pull-aside on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit has been elevated to a bilateral meeting. Notably, Duterte managed to get through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit without making any major gaffes. Because by now everyone knows Duterte is only uncouth when politically expedient, it’s well worth asking why he has been on his best behavior with his global peers. The reason is domestic: As Tip O’Neill famously observed, all politics is local.

Duterte’s illiberal political agenda is running out of steam. He has been meeting strong resistance in the form of criticism from human rights advocates at home and abroad, cautious but increasingly public concern on the part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and growing alarm among civil society groups and the media. All this has been accompanied by a sharp drop in public support for the president and his methods. Even more ominously, the business community has been expressing quiet but steady concern over the economy losing steam.

The president has had to beat a strategic retreat on two fronts. First, and most painfully, was in the case of his war on drugs. In October, Duterte had to publicly — though grudgingly — relieve the police of responsibility for conducting operations, giving the job to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency while announcing he fully expected the effort to fail. The previous head of the agency had been fired for contesting Duterte’s claim of 4 million drug addicts, and the agency’s supervisor, retired Gen. Dionisio Santiago, was fired last week for daring to suggest that an immense rehab facility funded by a Chinese billionaire was a white elephant. This, despite Santiago having provided Duterte with dossiers that provided the intelligence basis for the drug war itself. It may be that the cosmetic changes (such as rolling out the harmless but unsatisfyingly unbloody slogan “Love Life. Fight Drugs”) Santiago proposed to the drug war had already riled up the president.

Second, Duterte has had to temporarily shelve an idea proposed by some of his supporters, who have suggested that he simply scrap the 1987 Philippine constitution and proclaim a revolutionary government with himself at its head — effectively an old-fashioned Latin American-style self-coup. Duterte’s official agenda is extraordinarily ambitious. It encompasses tax reform, reorganizing the executive branch, shifting the form of government from presidential to parliamentary and the adoption of federalism.

The start of impeachment proceedings against the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the widely expected impeachment of the ombudsman (who has stirred Duterte’s ire by investigating killings in the war on drugs and allegations of malfeasance by administration officials, including Duterte’s own son), has caused additional delays. As a result, there is almost no chance that Duterte will be able to push his plans through before the 2019 midterms, as he had originally planned. Hence the temptation to leapfrog constitutional and procedural obstacles by proclaiming a revolutionary government.

But such a high-risk move requires three things. Public opinion would have to embrace it. The military would have to allow it. And foreign governments would have to turn a blind eye to it. The first two requirements have foundered on embarrassing realities. First, Duterte supporters have been notably lax about attending pro-government rallies, in stark contrast to the days when they reliably turned out in huge numbers. Second, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the armed forces chief of staff were both reported to have told the vice president that they would not support a revolutionary government. So Duterte has been forced to shelve the proposal for now.

In short, the chance to burnish his standing by playing host to Trump and his Southeast Asian peers couldn’t come at a better time. At the very least, it gives him an occasion to remind friends and foe alike that he is still the man who matters in Manila.

The Long View: Garbage in, garbage out


Garbage in, garbage out

 / 05:08 AM November 01, 2017

Deng Xiaoping famously remarked, “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white. As long as it catches mice, it is a good cat.” His pragmatic point of view created decades of prosperity for China — at the cost of the Tiananmen Square massacre — after the ideological cannibalism of the Cultural Revolution. With the ongoing Great About-face to China, one would think this sort of pragmatism would provide some sort of lesson to our local paramount leader. Some, in fact, believe this is happening. One example is the general lessening of tensions after responsibility for the conduct of the so-called war on drugs to be moved from the police to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). After all no one can object to the recently-rolled-out slogan, “Love Life, Fight Drugs,” of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), which is PDEA’s mother agency (and makes policy in contrast to PDEA, which implements it).

Slogans are one thing, but there are two troubling realities that should make people pause before they prematurely start praising PDEA. The first involves the overall leadership of the DDB. Last May, President Duterte fired Benjamin Reyes as its head for sticking to its official 2015 numbers. In Reyes’ place, the President appointed retired general Dionisio Santiago, who headed PDEA for a time under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Back in 2009, he stated the agency sometimes planted evidence: “We sometimes do this although this is against the rule of law. Definitely we only apply this matter to some cases, like a subject who is publicly known to be peddling drugs but always escapes arrest. This is when we enter the picture.” This was after months of the agency being embroiled in the “Alabang Boys” controversy, with allegations of agents trying to shake down suspects for bribes, and the agents arguing they were being stymied by well-connected suspects on the other. The solution put forward was typical and, in retrospect, a sign of things to come: Why not appoint Jovito Palparan to head the anti-drug campaign?

Toward the end of 2009, Santiago then submitted a list of drug suspects (that he put together in “less than a month”) to Arroyo who, however, declined to release it. It seems by March of 2010, Arroyo had given Norberto Gonzales, her national security adviser, a list of suspects. Gonzales told a foreign reporter that “reports linking some congressmen, councilors, and local government officials with drug syndicates or drug lords” had been “received,” but then defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro commented that “the problem does not involve politicians at the national level.” Santiago then peddled his list to Voltaire Gazmin and then president Aquino, and later, to Duterte, a man who — as he himself said in August 2016 — isn’t afraid to cut corners, such as planting evidence, to get the results he desires. He has taken to using Santiago’s list as a prop, mistakes and all. And so the first thing to make you pause is that there has been no change, whatsoever, in methods and intent, as far as the campaign against drugs is concerned. Santiago is living proof of this.

Which brings us to the second reason to pause before engaging in praise. The President has been candid in his dissatisfaction with the police, not necessarily for the body count it has racked up (or, which has been racked up by gangs rubbing out their own assets), but for being too public, messy, and careless about it, to the extent that this forced him to repeatedly put the campaign on hold or slow it down, as domestic and global opinion criticized the liquidations that have taken place. The frustration of the President and the police leadership over this can be measured by the irritation over how a supposed-to-be publicity coup — the official finding that the lady in the famous photo by Raffy Lerma was rubbed out by a drug gang and not the cops — doesn’t seem to have calmed the public or redeemed the cops. More to the point, the President has been vocal about expecting PDEA to fail. Which suggests he is grudgingly beating a strategic retreat for now, but chomping at the bit to resume the means and methods he has preferred all along, once public opinion subsides.

Yet the fate of Iloilo mayor Jed Mabilog is a case in point, as old as the FBI in its war on gangsters in the 1930s when it put Al Capone behind bars for the unexciting but thoroughly proven offense of failing to pay proper taxes. It took the Ombudsman to take Mabilog out of the picture after the President thundered and shrilled, only to have police intramurals vomit out his preferred mayor-buster from being assigned to the city, and having (as chatter from Iloilo has it) 20 conventions cancelled and Ilonggos in general upset. Find a good cat. Do not arm an old one with napalm. Commentary: The Taxonomy of Terror

The Taxonomy of Terror

We have a uniquely Filipino way of looking at the supernatural.

( Recently The New Yorker published an interesting article about the unexpected revival of “Dungeons and Dragons” in the United States. The article mentions how Stranger Things (a lot of you, gentle readers, are probably going to spend part of the long holiday watching its second season) sparked a wave of nostalgia among ’80s kids who’d spent their teen years playing “Dungeons and Dragons.” The Philippines in the ’80s experienced this craze, sparking here, as it did in America, the raising of the alarm among conservative Christians who considered all the lore on mythical creatures to be the Satan’s beachhead in conquering young minds. The Bible-thumpers lost that argument, considering the Halloween mania we now have in our country. As recently as the ’80s, Halloween was a fringe observance for the irredeemably American-minded. Now everyone gets into it, encouraged by the candy companies, the malls, and bosses who are willing to let drones in the corporate workplace let off a little steam once in a while. It’s also an annual excuse for dressing up in costume, leading to wild nights like those movies set in the 18th Century where aristocrats broke every possible rule on the excuse that if you have a mask on no one will possibly hold you accountable for what you do during the party.

But lost in all the Halloween revelry with its plastic pumpkins, rubber bats, spray-on cobwebs and witch, vampire, and zombie costumes—excuse me, it’s cosplay—are our own spooky denizens of dark and dangerous places. To be sure God knows how the logistics of a manananggal costume might work, and not everyone is either tall enough to be a kapre or tiny enough to be a nuno sa punso—okay so maybe our native creepy-crawlies are a cosplayer’s nightmare in ways I didn’t think through. But it’s still a pity.

For most of us, we probably learned about the night and its terrors from our elders, and the supernatural from even their daytime habits. Now we are a people who are said to love democracy, but it’s interesting what we believe democracy to be. A friend recently recounted a Filipino recently returned from the United States answer the question, “Which is more democratic, the Philippines or America?” in this manner. Definitely, the Philippines, the balikbayan said, because in America you can’t pee anywhere you like, but here at home, you can—therefore, the Philippines is more democratic. To which, being in a Halloween frame of mind, I immediately responded, we cannot pee anywhere we like. Beware of mounds! How often have we been told that? You do not want to piss off a dwarf by pissing on his home. How’s that for supernatural civic consciousness?

But even if we don’t dress up like tianaks the old tales won’t go away. They turn into urban legends like the White Lady of Balete Drive who hasn’t been seen in a generation after condominiums took over the neighborhood. But more than one late-night returner from Tagaytay has a story they heard from a friend who heard it from a friend (so it must be true!) of the friend whose SUV has scratch-marks on its roof from the claw marks of a manananggal attack.

The past literally haunts us. I have listened to scholars solemnly dispute the origins of some our mythical creatures. Was the name of the kapre derived from kaffir, an insulting term for black Africans, and did it thus suggest that friars, concerned about escaped slaves, told such tales to warn indios about aiding and abetting their escape? Was the mananggal a more recent, American-era invention, as Filipinos were herded into hamlets to keep them from supporting our dying First Republic? And scientists too, have long argued about the bangungot, tracing it to a uniquely Asian reaction to sleeping on a stomach full of rice.

Even as the past haunts us, our modern present collides with it and affects it. And here we return to what made “Dungeons and Dragons” so much fun, besides the game-play itself, with your needing a Dungeon Master, and graph paper, and rolling the dice to determine your character’s fate as you engaged in an adventure. Because for every hour you spent quarreling with the Dungeon Master over his judgment calls, you spent an equal amount of time or even more, poring over the compendiums of gods, monsters, and beasts the D&D publishers churned out. Reading, memorizing—classifying.

Classification is a uniquely human compulsion. We like to draw up lists, order things on the basis of what we consider to be their characteristics and the mechanics of their behavior. The Middle Ages had bestiaries, the first encyclopedias had as much fiction as fact in their pages, the figure that systematized and tried to make the process scientific being Carl Linnaeus, who put together the system of classifying all living things we still memorize in school (genus, order, species). Even as science marched on and it became conclusively proven there were no dragons, giants, or unicorns, the system for classifying the real could just as well serve to classify the unreal. But for most of us today the Mother of All such Linnaean efforts was D&D. Such heresy! D&D thus became demonically dangerous but it didn’t end with the Gary Gygax books and the many-sided dice gathering dust in cupboards. Aside from The Chronicles of Narnia which are considered wholesome and Christian (Aslan the lion is the Redeemer), much of Fantasy remains too sexy, violent, or spooky for conservatives. Why, even the Harry Potter saga has gone in for its share of condemnations from pulpit-thumpers everywhere. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is one; The Zombie Survival Guide is another. I list, therefore, it exists.

Which is why I was delighted when a colleague in the Inquirer first told me about the Aswang Project, which has been going on for years but surely deserves a hell of a lot more exposure. We made it the topic of last Sunday’s Inquirer Briefing (sorry, you’d have to have bought the paper edition of the paper to see it), and it has, besides a web page, its own Facebook, Twitter and even a nifty YouTube channel. Fun for the whole family! But really, what sets it apart is the effort at classifying our national menagerie of supernatural creatures.

It’s all there, scientifically-arranged. Benevolent and Malevolent. Deities (major and minor), Heroes and Supernatural Beings: one could go on and on, which the Briefing team did in the Inquirer, broadly speaking. From giants to dwarves, flying, creeping, forest-, sea-, or town-dwelling beings, the opportunities to classify is vast considering the Aswang Project’s database comprises over 200 creatures. But as we were studying the site, it quickly emerged that there is something uniquely Filipino about this vast catalog of beings.

As one of our researchers put it to me, “Most of these creatures want to be left alone. Only the manananggal is really predatory.” Of course others more steeped in the subject might contest this. I myself find it interesting that quite a few could be classified, in the taxonomy of the supernatural, as tax-collectors. By which I mean they will exact tribute, or a cut—a kind of spooky tong—from humans they encounter. I recall conversations long ago from archeologists and one was developing a theory that it would be better to think of the ancient pre-colonial political units less as kingdoms with all that suggests in the Western-sense, and more like pockets of power that made a living from charging toll. You paid a cut for every transaction that went through that territory. Why, all these things seem strangely familiar, in terms of the creatures imbued with power in our lives today, from barangay kagawad to mayors and even presidents: tax, toll, demands, violence, terror—if you cross them the wrong way.

I wish I could write fiction, but reality in our country, which is far stranger than anything a fictionist could come up with, keeps getting in the way. But for those gifted with the ability to imagine, or reimagine, alternative worlds or our world colliding with unknown ones, not enough credit is due. Not least because by means of their imagination, they lead others to being able to imagine, too. And this suggests something that is, to a commentator like me, the most magical thing of all when it comes to feats of the imagination. Sometimes myths tell us basic truths; think of it as passive-aggressive truth-telling. It does no one any good to make a pointed comment about the powerful. But to describe the powerful, in the guise of a forest giant, a sea serpent, a flying, predatory, giant bird—who can argue with that?

Our elders were on to something.

The Explainer: The Philippine Connection

The Philippine Connection

Manolo Quezon — The Explainer

Posted at Oct 30 2017 06:58 PM


Here are some dots. Opium, Morphine, Fentanyl, China, America, the Philippines, Germany, Hitler, Narcos, Rizal, Teddy Roosevelt Trump, and our very own President Duterte. We’re going to connect them in a quick exercise in surprising connections in the War on Drugs.

A few days ago, US President Donald Trump proclaimed a medical emergency, because of the ongoing Opioid epidemic in the United States. As this chart shows, Now a quick definition. There are opiates, which are painkillers made from the Opium poppy, and there are opioids, which are chemical substitutes for opium-derived products, also meant to be painkillers and, in some cases, much more powerful.

While opioid abuse is going down in places like Europe, it’s spiking in America, particularly among white people. Along the way, when doctors aren’t prescribing drugs like Fentanyl, addicted individuals are looking for heroin on the streets as a cheaper alternative.

Speaking of Fentanyl, because of the chronic pain he endures because of some chronic diseases he has, our very own President has pointed out he had to resort to Fentanyl in the past to the extent his doctors got worried. That’s the point as far as he’s concerned. He has medical supervision. As for other drugs, he himself believes as we all know, that there is a dangerous intersection between criminals distributing drugs, and politicians on the take from drug dealers. Hence, our home-grown War on Drugs which he took the time to explain to his favorite author, Ioan Grillo, whom we’ve covered before.

Now, here’s where we start laying out the dots and connecting them. This Free Press editorial cartoon from the 1920s. It could be published today and still be relevant. There’s a Chinese opium dealer. There are supposedly helpless policemen. There are high officials turning a blind eye to the problem.

Even before the Flower-power 1960s with its Jimmy Hendrix and marijuana, drugs were known here. As Ambeth Ocampo once pointed out in a column, even Rizal, writing to a fellow scholar, said he’d tried hashish, a sticky, concentrated derivative of marijuana. He said it had been strictly for scientific purposes. He also pointed out that opium was known in the Philippines.

Now, as we proceed from our first dots, we’re going to rely on two books, El Narcoby Ioan Grillo, about the rise of the Mexican drug cartels which started with the distribution of Opium and marijuana at the turn of the 20th Century, and Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, by Norman Ohler, about how the Nazis and Hitler got hooked on artificial stimulants and sedatives during the Third Reich.

Let’s start with Ioan Grillo’s book, which gives a fascinating background to why the Chinese were so instrumental in the growth of the drug trade in opiates and later got involved, too, in the trade in opioids.

Opium from the opium poppy has been known since the most ancient times, and for millennia it was the only source of narcotics. The poppy produces a sap which is can be gathered and concentrated to make opium which can be smoked.

The British in the mid 1800s started importing opium from their colonies bordering on Afghanistan to China, and the Chinese government tried to ban it. Britain went to war to force China to allow their sale of drugs, taking over Hong Kong and other places, inflicting a humiliation still powerfully felt in China to this day.

Chinese workers and settlers all over the world, whether to the Philippines or to Mexico, would set up opium dens and mastered the business of bribing officials. In Mexico and America, Grillo says, Chinese laborers brought in to build railroads brought with them not only the opium habit, but poppy seeds, which is how Mexico started growing opium.

By the turn of the 20th Century, Teddy Roosevelt, the US President who, as Vice President, had schemed to send the US Navy to Manila in 1898 and have America conquer our country, had gotten so alarmed by the spread of opium that he lobbied for international gatherings and treaties to limit the opium trade. American missionaries in the Philippines went back to the United States with horror stories of Chinese opium dens, and Americans began to discover there were opium dens in San Francisco and other places, too.

The alarm over opium which also had racist elements to it—the fear of drug-crazed Chinese taking advantage of drug-dazed American women was a particularly horrifying thought to white Americans—soon included other drugs, such as cocaine which as we all know had gotten so popular even soft drinks included it. And here comes another dot: a gentleman named Francis Burton Harrison, who later became Governor-General of the Philippines, adviser to three Philippine presidents, and a Filipino citizen who chose to be buried in Manila. As a congressman, he sponsored the Harrison Narcotics Act, the first laws aimed at suppressing the spread of illegal drugs –in fact it’s the law that made marijuana, opium and cocaine illegal in the first place.

Which now brings us to our next dots, far from Manila and Washington in the 1910s, and on to Berlin in the 1920s. Norman Ohler, in his book, says the Nazis, like so many authoritarian populist movements, found a War on Drugs to be very popular and very convenient. The Nazis promised a crackdown on opium and cocaine.

Pain killers had gotten a big boost among the Germans and indeed all armies that fought in World War I, because so many wounded, meant doctors needed a way to keep soldiers pain-free and calm as they waited to either die or undergo surgery. The use and abuse of painkillers like Morphine led to thousands of addictions, fueling demand and crimes among veterans in the 1920s.

Hitler, campaigning for, and after achieving, power, blamed the Jews and other groups for the criminal underground peddling drugs to what he said were innocent Aryans. Hitler’s anti-drugs campaign was focused not on curing addiction, but eliminating places like music halls and cabarets where people made fun of the powerful, and cracking down on practically anyone who could be accused of favoring drugs and were therefore, anti-German.

Never mind that there remained high-profile addicts like Hermann Goering, Hitler’s air force chief and designated successor, who had gotten addicted to morphine when he was wounded in Hitler’s attempt to grab power in Munich in the 1920s. But Goering, for one, was addicted to an opiate—morphine is derived from opium. Something else was happening in Germany in the 20s and 30s: the invention of something unrelated to pain killers. This was what we now know as speed.

The German genius for chemistry gave us things like Aspirin but also, what is more technically known as methamphetamines, chemicals that rev up the system, meaning you can go without sleep for days, you lose appetite, and feel like superman. In the 1920s the first such amphetamine, known as Pervitin, was marketed. It proclaimed you would be energized for work and lose weight in the process. It sold like crazy. It was even mixed into chocolates for housewives to stimulate them to do more housework.

When Hitler went to war against Poland, the fast pace of the German way of waging war meant ways had to be found to keep soldiers on the move and awake. Eventually, a so-called Stimulants Decree was issued, which ordered German soldiers to receive doses of amphetamines. In contrast, French soldiers were getting a liter of wine a day while German soldiers got stimulant pills. So, the Germans kept winning and as time went on, a side effect of amphetamines—aggression, for example—meant it became easy to dose soldiers with drugs so they could more easily round up Jews and shoot them.

Even Hitler got addicted. His doctor, Theodore Morrel, mastered what addicts call a speedball: a combination of uppers and downers. So, Hitler functioned for the last two years of his life on a cocktail of cocaine, amphetamines, and sedatives. His generals, not knowing he was on drugs, thought he was glowing with a supernatural brilliance as he would speak for hours in meetings, going from one random topic to another, shouting and cursing at the world. Then Hitler’s doctor ran out of drugs, Hitler crashed, got depressed, and shot himself.

The Allies soon discovered this German secret and started dosing their own troops with both uppers and downers. American and British versions of amphetamines were issued to troops. Wounded troops were dosed on morphine, as you know from watching Band of Brothers, where syrettes were issued to medics to inject into wounded troops. So it was in Korea and in Vietnam—with generations of troops introduced to drugs.

It was the hangover from wartime—dosing people in pain on the battlefield became dosing people in pain in civilian life—that fueled the rise of the drug culture, and the waves of changes since, as doctors and drug dealers keep finding new waves to satisfy public cravings. And among these dots, you now see, the surprising place the Philippines has played in this global tragedy. So, if you have something left over from your end of the month pay, why not spend some of it in a bookstore, and get Grillo’s and Ohler’s books? You definitely won’t regret it. Commentary: Haunting and Horror

Haunting and Horror

There’s a difference between spooky and scary.

( Words can spook you without resorting to chainsaw type tricks. We all know this from childhood, as our elders told us stories that caused goosebumps and raised the hairs on the back of our necks in the same manner as cave-dwelling children must have experienced huddled around the communal fire at night. The basic reason for such stories is therefore as old as humanity itself—to build tribal solidarity, to warn of the dangers of the unknown, the “Other,” who might grab you and gobble you up or somehow leave you changed, endangering not only yourself but the group.

Whether our fear and fascination with monsters dates to the time when Neanderthals co-existed with our homo sapien ancestors (preying on early humans, allegedly; though early DNA studies suggest people with red hair carry Neanderthal DNA, which has since been disproved, Eurasians carrying 1-4% of Neanderthal DNA has been taken by some to suggest a kind of opposite theory, that early humans raped Neanderthals), or to earlier, residual memories of giant and dangerous beasts, is something being explored by scientists.

In the end, human behavior includes different ways of coping with fear: the fight or flight instinct; the innate caution that comes from experiencing inexplicable and thus possibly lethal, phenomenon and the need to communicate these lessons however hazily the causes are understood; and the ability to communicate, in turn, fear from an individual to the community. When we gather in a movie house to watch a horror movie, we do so out of individual choice but also, to have a communal experience.

We can experience fear in two ways: we can be spooked or horrified. Spookiness requires the active assistance of our often hyperactive imaginations; horror requires big doses of gore and violence.

As chronicled by John Markoff in one essay in The Rise and Fall of the French Revolution, the “Great Fear” was an outbreak of paranoia in rural areas, as a political crisis engulfed France in 1789. Rumors began to spread that the King, bandits, merchants, what have you, were going to swoop down on farmers to take their grain. The farmers formed militias; urban residents panicked. The government panicked. The French Revolution followed.

The reason everyone was paranoid about their grain, we now know, was something called the Little Ice Age, which lasted three centuries (from the 1300s to the mid-1800s!).

I was reminded of this when I was listening to one of the Halloween episodes of a remarkable podcast called Lore. Titled “Silver Lining,” its description tantalizes without revealing what’s in store for the listener: “We’ve conquered much of our world, but even with all of our great cities and urban sprawl, there are still shadows on the edge. And it’s in the shadows that the greatest threats still exist—creatures from our darkest nightmares that threaten our feeling of safety. Which has led some to strike out into the dark and hunt them.”

What it’s really about is France, about a generation before the French Revolution, and thus a few decades before the “Great Fear,” but about an outbreak of a great fear—over sightings of giant wolf-like beasts roaming the woods, snatching children playing on the outskirts of towns, and growing in frequency and ferocity as Winter sets in and food becomes scarce. The writer and reader, Aaron Mahnke, has a youthful yet serious voice, and tells his stories—his Lore, accumulated from old tales—quietly, truly hauntingly. No dramatic effects, but lots of mood-setting, equally haunting, music. You won’t get nightmares from his tales, but you will, as you listen to them, feel uneasy, not least because much that is already familiar is presented from a different perspective.

Who hasn’t heard about werewolves? But these are werewolf stories you haven’t heard before, and what is uniquely Lore-like are things like the clincher that comes at the end of the tale—that of one hunter who was quickly forgotten after his 15 minutes of fame in the reign of Louis XV—but who had set out after having had a priest bless his bullets, which were made of silver. Aha! So that’s where that essential element of fighting the supernatural with guns began.

Mahnke’s Lore has turned into a small industry, and deservedly so. Lore is all over. It has a website which links to his podcasts, Facebook, and a Twitter account, promoting the book version of his accumulated stories. The man behind all of these, Aaron Mahnke, even has his own site. But Lore is a constantly evolving creative undertaking. Now it’s gone visual. In case you have Amazon Prime, you can watch the TV series of Lore. Featuring a collaboration with two individuals connected with the TV series’ The Walking Dead and The X-Files, Mahnke’s stories have become multimedia experiments, each episode having a different feel in terms of how it’s visually expressed, with the essential elements any regular listener has come to love: the quiet, deliberate, understated voice of Mahnke, the mood-setting music; and now, animation and pictures and, if you watch it on your computer screen, simultaneous sidebars providing historical and other backgrounds to the unfolding tale.

Season 1 has six episodes, ranging from the belief in New England in the 1800s that the only way to prevent the spread of tuberculosis—commonly called “consumption’ in the 19th Century—was to make sure that “the dead are actually dead,” to a doctor named Walter Freeman who decided lobotomies using an icepick were a dandy cure for mental illness afflicting the criminally insane, to the belief in Ireland that someone you know could suddenly be replaced by fairies with a changeling —and how people came to believe this and what solutions they resorted to.

Lore isn’t an old-style radio drama. It’s storytelling with a modern sensibility while tackling tales as old as humanity’s fear of the unknown and inexplicable have existed. Prepare for a proper haunting.

The Long View: The problem of the Gordian knot


The problem of the Gordian knot

 / 05:05 AM October 25, 2017

When a leader solves a problem with bold action, it’s often referred to as cutting the Gordian knot. This comes from a legend about Alexander the Great reaching the city of Gordium, whose ancient founder, Gordius, had left behind a chariot tied to a pole by means of a complicated knot. The one able to untie it, the legend went, would be the conqueror of Asia. Alexander promptly took out his sword and sliced through the knot. Success!

Here is the fundamental difference between the public and government. The public is motivated by the fierce urgency of now; government’s concern revolves around the precise determination of how. This was a very useful definition put forward by a longtime Washington journalist. Another journalist put it more simply: Washington, he remarked, is not about the why, it’s about the how. In turn, whether framed in the language of Washington or Manila, this reveals the fundamental, enduring, dilemma every new administration faces once it promises its way to power: How do you accomplish the how, not later, but now. Government is a wholesale undertaking; politics is retail. What makes sense taken as a whole, can prove counter-intuitive and thus unbelievable to the voter. This is a harsh lesson learned by every administration, and the present dispensation is no exception.

In other words the public expects — and will applaud — Alexander-type action that slices through Gordian knots, but it is also fearful that slicing through every problem with a blade risks exceeding what is permissible, not only as to means, but methods. Not every problem can be hacked through. So long as the slicing is done in a manner that does not cause more problems than it solves (such as causing instability), and so long as it achieves results (sooner rather than later), the public will not only accept it, but reward it with approval—but approval is a passive gift; it is not active participation precisely because the public expects leaders to do what is required, without bothering the public.

As a Filipino political leader put it bluntly in 1922: “The problem with you is that you take the game of politics too seriously. You look too far behind you and too far ahead of you. Our people do not understand that. They do not want it. All they want is to have the present problem solved, and solved with the least pain. That is all.” A decade later, somewhat the wiser, came a follow-up reflection in 1938: “The people care more for good government than they do for self-government… the fear is that the Head of State may either exceed his powers, or abuse them by improprieties. To keep order is his main purpose.”

Take the so-called “war on drugs.” Government loves its statistics: hundreds of thousands “surrendered,” dramatic confrontations with mayors. But a growing percentage of the public feels fear, despite assurances that if you don’t do wrong, you have nothing to fear.

The problem with the war on drugs, based on the President’s own statements on the matter, boils down to three things. First, he did not realize the scale of the problem even though he campaigned on the problem being at the core of his motivations to seek the presidency. If his predecessor was perceived to spend too much time on the how leading to dissatisfaction over the now, still, the previous regime’s mantra that the “correct identification of the problem leads to identifying the correct solution” remains valid.

Second, while he had some police generals on his radar, the President has said that he did not realize the police would be so corrupt and stupid in fulfilling his orders. He had a hunch, which I think will eventually be proven at least partially correct, that the first wave of slaughter even before he assumed office was due to corrupt cops liquidating assets and networks they’d benefited from. But he seems convinced this continued even after he assumed office. Add to this his repeated expressions of frustration with cops over what are unforgivable acts of brutality stupid enough to be caught on camera or which leave witnesses, when everything would be easy if each fatality was preceded with a blackout of CCTVs, and an officially-believable assertion of being a response to armed resistance. This is at the core of his repeated insistence that as a lawyer he would never be so dumb as to issue explicit orders for liquidations. He is right—in the sense that what he laid out was a path that could be guarded by cooperative fiscals and judges.

Third, he did not foresee how stubborn civil society and the Church would be; how media, both foreign and domestic, would focus on methods rather than what he considers wonderful outcomes; and how the public would start faltering in its support of not only his objective, but his methods. Now he has had to beat a retreat, hoping his gesture to pacify public opinion—putting the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in charge of cracking down on drugs — will fail.