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.

The Explainer: Winner take all

Winner take all

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Oct 23 2017 03:01 PM


The one thing you have to know about a revolution is that by its nature, it is illegal unless and until it wins. Then the revolution dictates what is legal or not.

When Emilio Aguinaldo established a new government in June 1898, what he set up was a dictatorial government. Our proclamation of independence in fact referred to him as our “egregious dictator,” in the old sense of the word, meaning remarkable or excellent.

A witness to the event, Apolinario Mabini, objected to this. A country’s freedom, he argued, required not just speaking in the name of the people, but getting the people’s involvement as well.

That is why soon after the dictatorial government was set up, it was abolished and replaced with a revolutionary government that lasted until we set up a republic in January 1899.

Mabini, writing after the First Republic was defeated, explained what a revolution is. He said, a revolution requires violent change to three things: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. He clarified that a revolution is only worthy of the name if it is done by the people, in answer to needs they feel, and not by and on behalf, of a smaller group or interest.

The Polish journalist Ryzsard Kapuskinski, in his wonderful book “Shah of Shahs,” writing almost a century later, added something else, based on the world’s 20th Century experiences.

A revolution, according to him, is different from a simple revolt, a coup d’etat, or a palace takeover. In the first place, he argued, it is spontaneous: it cannot be planned. It happens so quickly, that even those who’ve been wanting one, can be surprised by what takes place, including the destruction of the ideals that had motivated the revolution.

So, if soldiers march out of the barracks to depose a president, that is a coup d’etat, not a revolution. Guerrillas in the hills fighting to achieve a change in government are waging a revolt but it’s not a revolution.

The thing is, the idea of revolution is exciting. It is even convenient, since most people have little time or patience for the definitions of lawyers, political scientists or even journalists. Ferdinand Marcos laid down the case for what would be a power grab—but not a revolution—by hiding his plans under the name of a revolution, which he said would be different from the Left or the Right in that it would come from the Center.

But Marcos was a wide reader of history and knew what Mabini argued: violence is the key. Just as a revolution can be stopped by force of arms, force of arms can be used to simulate a revolution.

Again, borrowing Mabini’s definition, we can see Marcos, using the armed forces, neutralized the three branches of government. Anyone in the executive disagreeing with him could be arrested under martial law. He padlocked Congress, neutralizing the legislature. He told the Supreme Court, leave me alone or I will abolish you.

In Latin America, they have a name for what Marcos did, and it’s not revolucion. It’s autogolpe. The dictionary defines an autogolpe as a military coup with a difference: it is initiated by the elected leader, to establish total control of the state.

In 1986, we had a different kind of revolution, peaceful because the military disobeyed Marcos’ orders to fire on Camps Crame and Aguinaldo and to plow, shell, or bomb their way through the crowds on EDSA. With the military having changed allegiance, President Cory Aquino proclaimed a revolutionary government, abolishing the Marcos-era institutions. By 1987, this was replaced by the democracy we now have.

But this democracy is far from being universally loved. Since last year, some supporters of the President have argued that the system is corrupt, dysfunctional, and inefficient. It too easily allows individuals and groups to use the system to slow down or even stop, some of the President’s advocacies.

In response to the defects they see in our system of government, these supporters have argued, publicly, and passionately, for a Revolutionary Government to be proclaimed. This call has been made time and again, in August, September, and December last year, and February and June this year.

These supporters have tried to organize locally and nationally. The idea is to prove that there is a massive demand for a revolution to happen.

These supporters argue that since it’s obvious there is wide public support for the President, then it is time to show these numbers not just online, but in the real world. And not just in Metro Manila, but throughout the country.

Their dream is gatherings of passionate citizens demanding four things. First, to proclaim the 1987 Constitution null and void, and to use the 1973 Constitution that was abolished in 1986 as the basis for a new one. Second, to establish a Federal government suited to local behavior and conditions. Third, to crush corruption in government and in the private sector, including reclaiming all stolen wealth. Fourth, to crush drug syndicates and other criminal gangs. The petition circulated by these advocates envisions a two-year revolutionary government to accomplish these things.

The latest measure of public opinion, for its part, tells us that these objectives, at this point, may be pretty far removed from what people really want government to fix. For example, locally, the top three issues are bad roads, flooding, and drugs.

Nationally speaking, public opinion tells us that controlling inflation, higher salaries, more jobs and fighting corruption are the top concerns. Changing the constitution is at the very bottom, with only two percent of people having the opinion this is a priority.

The challenge for advocates of a revolution is to connect these dots. As early as last June, advocates of revolutionary government online used real world problems to justify why a revolution is needed. Now that the President has said he is willing to consider a revolution as an option, the debate is a serious one, since it essentially involves a saying lawyers love: “When the guns speak, the law falls silent.”

Other supporters of the President are pushing Charter Change through normal channels as an alternative. The President himself has publicly stated he prefers this path. But he is showing signs of impatience and frustration.

The Long View: Unintended consequences


Unintended consequences

 / 05:04 AM October 18, 2017

A two-day holiday for kids in school is a wonderful thing — for the kids. By the time you get to college, it’s still rather nice but by then you’re old enough to worry about what will be done to compensate for lost time. For adults in the real world, an unexpected holiday presents headaches. For school administrators, it requires revisiting the academic calendar, rescheduling exams, and other related headaches. For workers and bosses alike, it raises problems ranging from what kind of compensation is required by law, as well as lost opportunities and income due to diminished productivity.

As soon as the Palace announced it would respond to the PISTON (Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide) jeepney strike by cancelling government work and classes on all levels nationwide last Monday, a business reporter immediately observed that one consequence would be no check clearing and possibly, the shutdown of financial markets for a day. This was in response to a terse statement from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) deputy governor that there would be no Philpass and BSP Treasury operations. Sure enough, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) then announced there would be no trading, nor clearing and settlement at the Securities Clearing Corp. of the Philippines.

As it turned out, Monday did feature the PISTON strike but also news that a whole bunch of jeepney operators did not participate in the strike. Local governments in many places mounted ad hoc transportation services, complete with tarpaulins blaring the goodness of the mayors concerned, to ferry stranded workers. The Department of Transportation (DOTr), for its part, went on the offensive and pointed out that contrary to allegations by PISTON and friends, the planned PUV modernization scheme was not anti-poor due to the alleged high cost in procuring new vehicles.

In the first place, according to DOTr, a major component of the program is a financing scheme available to public utility jeepney (PUJ) operators and drivers who are willing to borrow money to buy new units. DOTr said the financial package for the acquisition of vehicles endorsed by the Department of Finance is actually “generous” with equity as low as 5 percent, a 6-percent interest rate, and a repayment period as long as seven years. It pointed out that bus operators applying for bank loans to acquire new buses currently saddle themselves with 20-30 percent equity, with an interest rate of 7 percent, and a repayment period of three to five years.

And there’s more! DOTr said it would offer a subsidy of up to P80,000 per vehicle to cover equity payment, which actually comes out to a bigger value because of zero or low maintenance costs for the first three years. In turn, this translates to higher earnings for the driver and increased confidence and capacity to repay the loan.

A financial analyst responded to this with a comment on Twitter: “[For] Modern jeepney lowest price P1.2m less 80k subsidy = P1.12m. At 6% p[er] a[nnum], 7 yrs to pay, monthly amort[ization] = P16,360. Is this affordable?” A response to this tweet said: “Poor ROE [return on investment] right? Moreso with traffic.” To which the analyst responded: “Very. Especially for drivers who will probably see a big increase in their daily boundary;” adding further that the cost of the new vehicles exceeded diesel Innovas marketed at P1 million.

The truth is, the present administration is on the horns of a dilemma: Something ought to be done but it’s not possible for government to either nationalize public transport or simply replace obsolete jeeps with something new without jeepney operators having to foot the bill. So only partial solutions are offered, such as offering loans to drivers and operators who are unwilling to take on debt. Not least for unproven vehicles that may or may not work as advertised. (Batteries? In a nation where brownouts happen for all sorts of reasons?)

The best that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board could do in response to the whole thing was to trot out one of its officials to scream that the transport strike was a destabilization plot against the government. Except that, a strike by a minority of operators is nothing new. Why did it result in the shutdown of government nationwide, the cancellation of classes, and a day’s lost opportunities in the markets as well as a paralysis in business because checks couldn’t be cleared (after a weekend at that)? To top it all off, government excitedly decided work and classes would be called off for another day. Despite the suspension, the BSP operated PhilPass, which allowed the stock market to reopen.

Destabilization? As the Great Eagle Father himself likes to say: “He, who is the cause of the cause is the cause of them all.”


The Explainer: A new sun rising

A new sun rising

Manolo Quezon — The Explainer

Posted at Oct 17 2017 03:31 PM


In his book, “China in Ten Words, Yu Hua tells a story about what it was like growing up in China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.

This was the era when, to regain control over the Communist Party, Mao unleashed students to go against his enemies, branding them traitors to Communism.

At the heart of the Cultural Revolution was a massive personality cult centering on Mao. The anthem of the time was, “The East is Red, and Mao was called the sun.

Which brings us to Yu Hua’s story. One day, a classmate watched the sunset and remarked, “the sun is setting.” The next day, the classmate was denounced in front of the whole school. By saying the sun is setting, the kid was accused of saying Mao was dying.

The kid was bullied and teachers and students alike tried to force the child to confess that he was a counterrevolutionary. What saved the kid was he got so confused, he gave contradictory answers in between wails and sobs. It convinced enough of the mob that he was innocent.

After Mao died, his widow and allies, called the “Gang of Four,” tried to sieze power but instead lost the power struggle.

After the destruction and killings of the Cultural Revolution, the surviving leaders rallied around Deng Xiaoping, who ushered in reforms, but only up to a limit, as the Tiananmen Massacre proved. That limit was, control had to remain one-hundred percent under the Communist Party.

Deng also pursued a more consultative approach to leadership. No one, after Mao, should again be considered the sun. Leaders would be bland, even grey, but there would be stability and instead of winner-take-all power struggles, members of the party could expect to smoothly move up, then bow out after fixed periods of time.

Ziang Zemin, the successor of Deng, in turn demonstrated this new type of collective leadership. He would have two, five-year terms, and then retire.

His successor, Jiang Zemin, also followed this type. He too would rule for two five-year terms, and the power structure would be such, that everyone would move up and move out.

But Deng belonged to the generation of the revolutionary fathers of China. Ziang and Jiang in turn belonged to the successor generation, who had also risen through the ranks. But when Jiang retired, China’s new leader turned out to be a different kind of Communist altogether.

Xi Jinping is what is called a “princeling,” that is, he is a son of one of the pioneer generation of Communists. A new kind of Communist, a dynastic one. Like many other princelings, he had risen to power in the shadows and with the patronage of elder Communists from the first and second generations.

Now, he is due to embark on the expected: a second five-year term, after which normally he would be expected to bow out. But something is happening that is making China watchers unsure if this will actually be the case.

A brief word on how leadership is decided in China. First, it is almost entirely a decision of the Communist party. Very simply, tomorrow, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party—the first was in Shanghai in 1921, and these days, two congresses are held every decade—will convene in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Let’s use The Atlantic as a guide. A couple of thousand reliable party representatives from all over the country will elect a couple of hundred from among themselves, to form the Central Committee of the Communist Party. In turn, the Central Committee will elect two dozen from among its members, to form the Politburo of the Communist Party. The members of the Politburo will then pick seven from among its members, to constitute the Politburo Standing Committee, and this Committee in turn provides the top leader, the General Secretary of the Party who inevitably becomes President of the People’s Republic of China.

Tomorrow, the ceremonies will be kicked off by Xi Jinping laying out the next five-year plan for the party. People will be listening to see what he says. Then, perhaps by October 25, Xi will make another speech and introduce the party’s new leaders. People again will be watching to see who are announced. Will the Standing Committee, for example, be composed of people perceived to be loyal to Xi? And Will Xi follow tradition, by introducing people who will start to be promoted as Xi’s successors in five years? This is, after all, how Xi himself came to be known—introduced in the People’s Congress in 2007 ahead of his assuming power in the next People’s Congress in 2012.

What makes the coming days exciting—and troubling—is that for some time now, it’s been widely perceived that Xi is preparing to end the post-Mao system. He may actually be preparing for a third, unpredecented, five-year term. News reports have pointed out most recently that two prominent generals have disappeared ahead of the Party Congress. And for the past few years, many leading Communist officials have been purged for various offenses. State Propaganda has taken to referring to Xi as the “Core” leader, itself a term not used since Mao’s time.

Part of the drama is the way the Chinese prefer to conduct political maneuvering—behind the scenes, and in the shadows. All the public sees is a prearranged ritual, designed to convey unity and strength. Whether results meets expectations will determine how the world sees China in the next five years. Will it remain a predictable dictatorship? Or one returning to an older era of personality cults?

The Long View: Racing against the clock


Racing against the clock

 / 05:09 AM October 11, 2017

In politics, the most direct path from point A to point B is a zigzag and not a straight line. To try otherwise is to line up possible opponents all in a row: big business, media, the military, the bureaucracy, the Supreme Court, foreign allies (or those with influence), the Church, and the political class. Creating one collision after another heightens the risk factor in terms of the two variables — public opinion and time — that can get in the way of achieving your objective. In his time, Ferdinand Marcos, who famously said never make a decision when you are angry, hungry, or happy, mastered the management of time and public opinion as he island-hopped his way to dictatorship, isolating or co-opting each possible opponent in turn. Cory Aquino, intent merely on presiding over a constitutional handover of power, was able to weather a collision with the military. Fidel V. Ramos, in attempting Charter change, nearly did it, except memories of Marcos were still too fresh. Joseph Estrada was reckless. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo first played the China card to stay in power, then moderated her aims to finishing her term and laying the foundation by means of midnight appointments, to ride out her successor’s term. Benigno Aquino III alienated big players by taking a level playing field too seriously, anointing a successor perceived as a traitor to his class by his peers, offended the middle class by attempting to confront emotion with reason.

What the President’s — or his coalition’s — objectives lack in detail or focus are more than made up for by ambition. Eliminate direct election by the public of the head of government; unite executive and legislative to assure department control by legislators (securing, in turn, iron-clad fiefdoms for local barons while eliminating national figures as rivals); and reorganize (purge) the bureaucracy, while allowing local business to sell out to foreign ownership. All of this under cover of the very thing the ruling coalition wants to eventually eliminate as a factor in our politics: national opinion, which confers (and takes away) public support on presidents.

The President’s dilemma — as the Plaza Miranda government rally last Sept. 21, and the barely – noticed gatherings at the Quirino Grandstand and Plaza Independencia in Cebu over the weekend showed — is that online fervor and high survey ratings still can’t be translated into warm bodies to publicly show support. At least, this hasn’t been the case since the campaign. Convinced that the best defense is a good offense, the President continues to present a moving target: when it became indisputable that public opinion had turned against the police, the President made a cosmetic announcement yesterday: The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, he said, will now do all the talking on the so-called war on drugs (a smokescreen he’s been belching since January, with statistics handed over last May and repeated trial balloons in August and in September).

He must govern by fear. Big business has been taught to toe the line by avoiding expressing anything other than praise, what with the fate of those businesses that have angered the President or his people. Media remains on the defensive as audiences shrink. The military, under sane and cautious leadership of Delfin Lorenzana and Eduardo Año, is holding the line against political adventurism by civilian leaders (even the recent appointment of Gen. Rolando Bautista as Army Chief does not change this). The bureaucracy is what it is. In the Supreme Court, yesterday’s decision on Senator Leila de Lima suggests the four appointments of the President so far (with at least two more by next year) are fortifying a comfortable majority in important decisions to come. The China card neutralizes all other foreign opinion. The Church is still practicing prudence. This leaves the political class, which has a breather in terms of barangay elections finally being postponed, while depriving the President of the opportunity to appoint OICs. While the Comelec (and one assumes, enterprising politicians) figure out what to do with the 59 million blank ballots already printed, the May 2018 polls presents a problem: All the machines will have to calibrate, not now, but in a year.

This is why Koko Pimentel announced PDP-Laban will stop accepting new members this December. Carpet-baggers from the executive branch can be kept out this way, fortifying those in politics before the current era — and ensuring their relevance even beyond the current dispensation. With dropping ratings comes the imperative to position for a post-administration future. After the budget passes next month, impeachment will eat up congressional time, but Charter change has to be concluded by May next year. Otherwise May 2019 will serve as the prelude to the 2022 presidential derby.


The Explainer: The dangling of Damocles’ sword

The dangling of Damocles’ sword

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Oct 09 2017 07:43 PM | Updated as of Oct 09 2017 09:45 PM

For anyone in politics, each snapshot is also a means to measure how high, or low, Damocles’ sword is dangling. Because for every administration, public opinion as measured by the polls, is like a referendum. More than a taking of the pulse, a survey is an reaffirmation, or a possible rejection, of the mandate that administration got at the start.

But, of course, there are two ways of looking at the same snapshot. You can look at the different responses, and report them individually: broadly speaking, approve, disapprove, and don’t know. Each response is reported separately and you have Gross Numbers. So the chart above, for example, only tells you the gross numbers for satisfaction. But there’s another way and it uses taking approval and subtracting disapproval, and the result is a net number. At a certain point, if the disapproval gets big enough, you start having negative numbers, as you can see in the chart below. It’s simpler and also more exciting for reporters. Note that the lines more or less maintain the same ups and downs.

For now, let’s use Net numbers simply because the media taking its cue from the Social Weather Stations (SWS), which likes to use these figures because they’re easier to report and, I might add, they can be more dramatic Two of the most significant things looked at by SWS are satisfaction and trust. How satisfied are you, with the President in terms of his doing his job? How much do you trust the President?

As you can see from this chart on satisfaction, there’s a rule of thumb: there is no way for any president to go, but down, in public opinion as time passes. Some presidents will recover, lose, recover again, and so on. Others nosedive and hardly recover. As more points get added –more snapshots are taken—all sides look to see if a pattern can be seen.

The other way these snapshots are useful, is to see if there is a picture of health or not, in comparison to previous presidents at the same time in their terms. Presidents Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rose to power not on the regular, June schedule, but earlier; so their timelines are different. President Estrada didn’t have a September survey one and a half years into his term. So the best we can do is to compare the President, now, with two of his predecessors at the same point in time in their terms. At plus 48, he is not doing as well as Fidel V. Ramos (FVR( who had plus 62 and Benigno Simeon Aquino III (BSA) who had plus 56 this time in their terms.

Now before we go on to further zeroing in on his performance results, let’s refresh our memory about two things. The first is geography. That is, where a President can count on people because they delivered votes to help him win. Two places count the most for the President: Metro Manila, and Mindanao. Which is not to say he didn’t do well in other places. But these are the places he did best.

The other thing is, well, the people. What kind of people delivered for the President to help him win? Looking at the exit polls in May 2016, Mahar Mangahas observed the wealthier, the more educated, and the younger you were, the more likely you were to be a supporter of the President, and more males and non-Catholics went for him in comparison to his rivals.

Bearing all of this mind, looking at the surveys since he took office combined, the President can take comfort in Mindanao being steady in its support. He has a problem with the Visayas, which has dropped the most steeply, although National Capital Region (NCR) and Balance Luzon have dropped too.

As far as the President is concerned, urban and rural opinion are practically the same, though he had done better among urban people in the past.

But in terms of his core support, they remain with him, firmly indeed. That’s the green line indicating you, the likely ANC viewer, who belongs to class ABC. In contrast to you is the sharp decline among the poorest of the poor, Class E. And a significant decline in the biggest portion of our population, Class D, as well.

As far as men and women are concerned, the President has faced a steady decline among men, who used to prefer him more. In the recent past, he had enjoyed an increase in female support but he’s lost it, with slightly fewer women approving than do men.

In another core demographic of the President, College Graduates among whom he did well in 2016, he has done the worst. That’s the pink line, which started dropping sharply this year. All other levels have dropped as well except for those with Some College or Vocational education, who are holding the steadiest.

How does it all come together? For this we have to thank JC Punongbayan, who is a doctoral candidate at the School of Economics of UP. Looking at the President’s performance ratings year on year, that is, from two snapshots, September 2016 and September 2017, he’s zeroed in on where the President has gone.

It’s generally negative, across the nation, regions, economic classes, ages, sexes, and educational levels –with the exception of Class ABC–you, the viewer—which is the only place where he is marginally better today than he was in September last year. The President has lost the most satisfaction in Balance Luzon and the Visayas, among rural Filipinos, among Men, and among those ages 35-44 who are young parents, perhaps, followed by millennials 25 to 34 and seniors 55 and above.

Now this brings us to the second question: trust. The President, before he won, had only slightly over half of the public trusting him. When he won, trust went through the roof. It stayed there, in the low eighties, until June this year.

Much has been said and written about how victory crowns our officials with public trust. In a sense, the winner takes all. All the power, and all the trust of nearly all the people. But since June, the latest snapshot tells us something different. Trust has dropped nine percentage points since then.

Last September, that is, a year ago, I looked at the President’s trust numbers and made some observations. It was very early on his term, and the changes were tiny. So tiny, they were statistically not worth mentioning. So, in looking at the numbers then, I put forward a thesis. Either these tiny changes were little hairline fractures that could develop into wider cracks, or they were things that would go away and not matter in a few months or a year.

Just as JC Punongbayan did with the President’s satisfaction ratings, I went back to look at the snapshots from September last year, to see where public trust has gone, in the full year since. I’m grateful to SWS for providing a copy of their detailed findings on trust.

Last year, I noticed that it was in the Visayas that Little Trust in the President grew. As it turned out, year on year, the erosion was slow but sure; and added to this was a drop in trust in NCR which doubled in a year, and in Balance Luzon, though not quite the 6% change that would really matter. Also significant is that the number of people undecided about whether they trust the President has doubled in a year, too.

In terms of urban and rural citizens, last year the President had improved his trust ratings among rural people whose indecision went down and who decided to trust him. But in the year since, the President is down 13 in terms of rural trust although urban trust seems to be holding. Indecision, too, has doubled among rural people while little trust doubled among urban people.

For the ABC classes, satisfaction in performance is matched by trust in the President. But indecision has doubled, taking away some who’d formerly lost trust. In Class D, however, distrust has nearly doubled and trust is down, overall; for Class E. trust has gone down by no less than 16, with indecision and distrust both doubling.

As for men and women, tiny cracks had begun to reveal themselves in September last year among men. As it stands today, in a year the President has gone down 10 and 12 points each among men and women, with more women shifting to indecision, and little trust hitting low double-digits.

As far as educational attainment is concerned, last September, the President was solidly popular among those with a College degree; he’d gained a tiny amount among those with some College education; but little trust back then tripled among those with only some elementary education. In the year since, the President has lost most from those with some College education, down 13 points in trust, with indecision nearly doubling and distrust doubling; he’s down 11 points among College-educated people, indecision has doubled, and distrust has doubled. A similar drop among those with some elementary education.

So, what do these latest numbers tell us? Let’s not forget the big picture. By most measures, seven out of ten to six out of ten Filipinos are satisfied with the President’s performance and trust him, if you look at the gross numbers. The net numbers tell a slightly different story: at +48, the President’s job satisfaction is no longer a majority opinion. Trust in him, net-wise, though, is better, with +60. But in both cases, this is a far cry from where he was just last June, and where he’d been, steadily, from the June before that.

So, in a year and a half, the President has gone from exceptional, to normal or even slightly less than normal, compared to the only measure that matters for someone like him, his predecessors. This comes at a time when the President is gearing up for a lot of big battles, involving politicians who can read the numbers as well as he does. His popularity, still very high, reveals that he is now a victim of his past success: more normal numbers means he is not, at this point, a political superman anymore.