The Explainer: China’s pleasant ASEAN picture

China’s pleasant ASEAN picture

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Aug 08 2017 03:14 AM


It ain’t necessarily so, that in diplomacy, actions speak louder than words. As we will see, a huge amount of time and trouble goes into the carefully crafted statements that result from meetings of diplomats. These are read very carefully because words do matter. In the case of ASEAN and China, for example, actions can punctuate the most carefully crafted statements, turning something vanilla into a rocky road-type mixed flavor, or changing what was supposed to be an exclamation point into a question mark.

Yesterday afternoon, the news was that the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting had concluded without a communiqué or official bulletin being issued to tie everything together. The widely-reported reason was irreconcilable differences between some ASEAN member countries with regards to the group’s stand on China’s island-building in the seas in our neighborhood. Too young to have the stamina of a Carlos P. Romulo or an Albert del Rosario, our Foreign Secretary was absent that day, because his throat was sore.

It would have been nice to have our Foreign Secretary in the thick of the action, trying to help achieve consensus. But all’s well that ends well, because later that night, a statement was finally issued. The communiqué proved stronger than expected.

Reuters reported –and here is a sign of how complicated diplomacy gets—that the statement was stronger than the original proposed draft, which was –Reuters said—a watered-down version of the one issued in Laos last year. The Manila statement issued yesterday, then, said self-restraint and non-militarization was called for and that some member countries were concerned about land reclamation and other activities that served to erode trust and confidence and increased tensions in our region. Reuters added that a vague statement was made about the arbitration ruling, without naming China.

Now here’s where actions speak as loud, if not louder, than words. In the world of diplomacy there’s no such thing as a coincidence. Late last month, the first anniversary of the historic arbitration ruling on our country’s case concerning the West Philippine Sea came and went. There was a lot of commentary on this but unnoticed by many, was something else. The Foreign Minister of China came to Manila, to talk about the thing that China had formerly insisted must not be named: the arbitration case and its impact on Philippine-China and ASEAN-China relations.

To visit Manila, to talk about the case that, up to this point, must-not-be-named, and a mere few weeks before he was due to visit Manila again for the ASEAN foreign minister’s gabfest, was a clear and pointed message from Beijing. Manila, the photos of the Filipino and Chinese foreign ministers competing to see who could have a bigger smile in press photos, was now firmly in Beijing’s corner. A further message: Good Morning, Vietnam! You’re going to have to go it alone on this one.

Which is what happened, with our Foreign Secretary resting at home, Vietnam couldn’t even look to its Filipino counterpart to ask, what happened? Let me point out one other thing, here: last Saturday, ASEAN had announced, to China’s delight, that a framework for a possible Code of Conduct for countries to follow in the South China Sea had been approved –which, as some critics pointed out, was a pledge to keep the clock running by doing more talking, considering everyone had agreed to have a Code of Conduct fifteen years ago and everyone’s been on-again, off-again, trying to talk since.

Back to yesterday’s proceedings. If no statement had emerged yesterday it would have been a very neat reversal of what happened in 2012, when the spoilsport at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh was the Philippines. Cambodia, long considered one of the, if not the, most reliable allies of China had its way, a vanilla statement ignoring the standoff between China and the Philippines would have been the result. After all, the default style of ASEAN is to limit itself to consensus and when no consensus exists, ASEAN simply keeps quiet. Prime Minister Hun Sen didn’t take into account President Aquino raising a fuss, which he did, and the result was no statement. Over the next four years, as more countries became concerned over China’s behavior, more ASEAN countries proved willing to quietly allow a more outspoken attitude towards China, while the Philippines and Vietnam found themselves allies on the question of China’s behavior in our region.

In 2016, ASEAN foreign ministers in Laos were able to issue a statement on the South China Sea, after years of dogged opposition from Cambodia. That a statement was issued at all thus became the main event, and not really what the statement itself said: this phrase –“full respect for legal and diplomatic processes”—had apparently led to the failure to produce a statement in two previous meetings; removing it made the 2016 statement possible. Everyone could leave happy –Cambodia delivered while Vietnam could fight another day.

And fight alone as it turned out. Earlier this year, in April, the new Philippine policy became evident when the Chairman’s statement issued in Manila deleted words Filipino diplomats had previously fought long and hard to include in ASEAN statements. But it was not, as Prashanth Parameswaran, writing in the Diplomat was careful to point out, a total surrender. The statement did retain mention of the importance of the rule of law and freedom of navigation and made one of those diplomatic “veiled” references to arbitration. What President Duterte’s statement as Chairman did do, was avoid making any references to the acts of China that had caused unease in the first place –something even Laos, the previous year, had allowed. Again, to punctuate the words came actions: our President then followed his ASEAN Chairmanship debut with a visit to Chinese warships when they docked in Davao. In his second State of the Nation Address, pictures again spoke as loudly as words, as the President’s statements on our independent foreign policy were accompanied by Brilliante Mendoza’s pictorial exclamation points: two photos of our President with China’s President.

Henry Kissinger in his book on China, preferred to refer to the country as the Central, and not Middle, Kingdom as most other books have it. This is a significant choice. As diplomats know, words can have multiple meanings and which meaning you allow, which ones you suppress, which ones you use in contrast to what others use and understand, represents both a challenge and opportunity. For us, who are now living in times of which Napoleon warned –China is a sleeping giant, he said, and when she wakes up, she will move the world—we can learn one fundamental thing from them. Words and actions matter in equal measure, but what matters most is to have a gameplan that spans generations, and not merely administrations.

The Long View: The North remembers


The North remembers

 / 05:14 AM August 02, 2017

That was the title of a newspaper ad that appeared in the papers when Gov. Imee Marcos was scheduled for her showdown with Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. Designed in the unique title font of the cable show “Game of Thrones,” it thanked the governor “for RA 7171 projects!” on behalf of “tobacco farmers, vegetable associations, Ilocos Norte zanjeras.” Predictably, the ad drove fans of the show crazy, but proved Governor Marcos’ shrewd ability to use pop culture for her purposes. Who can forget the video of her brother, dressed in Jedi Knight robes, waving around a lightsaber on the famous sand dunes of Paoay?

The Fariñas vs. Marcos showdown has engrossed political observers for months. The intricacies of Ilocos Norte provincial politics aside, something bigger was read into the conflict beyond it being merely the breakdown of the old division of territory between the two families: Laoag is supposed to be the Fariñas bailiwick while the province is the Marcos’.

That bigger thing was whether Rudy going after Imee had the blessings of the President or not. While the Majority Leader has always someone all administrations are keen to have on their side, he has become particularly essential at present, helping to smooth relations and crack the whip when required (which seems to be often considering the slender bonafides of the Speaker). This suggested to observers that Fariñas was in a position to act with relative impunity against the Marcoses, because the Palace needs him quite badly indeed. Another point of view suggested that the President’s enthusiasm for the Marcoses had waned, as he warmed to the job and stopped viewing his own presidency as a transitional one in place merely to pave the way for a Marcos restoration. There is no greater tonic for self-confidence than wielding the powers of the presidency. This view suggested that having discovered himself an essential man, the President would neither relinquish his office ahead of the expiration of his term, or be so imprudent as to actively promote the replacement of the current Vice President after he had quickly, and thoroughly, taken her measure and found her utterly non-threatening. Besides which, any political debt he owed to the Marcoses could be deemed paid off with the burial of the Great Dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

On the other hand, as Onofre Corpuz once observed in his Roots of the Filipino Nation, “[I]t is still a truism in modern-day Philippine politics that no President of the Republic gains anything by interfering in contests between provincial political ‘chieftains’.” Better to keep not just both sides guessing as to whose side he was on, but everyone else wondering what, exactly, might be up his sleeves—even if it might be nothing. Perception is King, and keeping everyone guessing is as good a way to prop up the throne as any.

For a time it seemed Fariñas, too, had taken the measure of the Marcoses and found them weak. The zeal—and zest—with which he made his case, corralled low-ranking provincial bureaucrats, conducted hearings with the requisite combination of verbal fireworks and skillful use of subpoenas and detention orders for contempt, and had the Speaker and his fellow representatives tag-teaming to take on all comers, whether in the form of possible relief in the courts (hence the Speaker’s fight with the Court of Appeals) or at the hands of the Marcoses (hence the threat to declare her in contempt if she not only failed to appear at the House proceedings, but refused to answer the committee’s questions), all these were signs of a man on the up-and-up, doing victory laps.

But he failed. Many wondered why, instead of say, Estelito Mendoza, Mother and Daughter Marcos brought Juan Ponce Enrile with them to the showdown in the House. You only have to remember the impeachment of Renato Corona and how Fariñas would genuflect, almost daily, before Enrile, to know that here was a man who, for whatever reason, the fearsome Fariñas held in awe. His presence was enough to put the Majority Leader on his best behavior; his strategic whisperings to the governor were enough to attribute the governor’s answers—so sorry, we meant well, do you hear the people sing, singing the songs of grateful men?—to his legal wisdom and deny Fariñas grounds to further detain the bureaucrats or continue tormenting Imee.

In the end, without a case, only face-saving rhetoric was left for Fariñas. The main point had been made: Marcoses do not lose. They do not undergo detention. They take on all comers. Their arsenal may be antique, but it works.

The Explainer: Fourth Estate under fire

Fourth Estate under fire

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Aug 01 2017 02:30 AM


Here’s a little experiment for you. Ask around and find out if kids today are still told that old fairytale, “The Emperor has no clothes.” I really wonder about this because it seems in our present age, if a kid stood up to point out the Emperor was nude, the kid would be lynched, or worse.

But if you want to understand the role of media, whether print, radio, TV or online, the fairytale says it all. Whether king, president, prince or policeman –and none of these people are lacking either bodyguards or power—someone has to speak truth to power. This is why media is traditionally referred to as the Fourth Estate, a term that arose in the 18th century when newspapers began to play what we Filipinos call a fiscalizing role in public life.

Back then, there were three traditional groupings or Estates in European society: the Nobility, the Clergy, and the Commons which really meant, the middle class. The nobility and clergy sat in the House of Lords, the commoners in the House of Commons. The press sat in the reporter’s gallery and their influence represented the public.

We are inheritors of this European point of view. Graciano Lopez Jaena and his fellow propagandists demanded a free press in the Philippines. And each of our Constitutions since 1935 has enshrined press freedom as one of the fundamental freedoms of our democratic society.

That doesn’t mean people in power like the press. Or put another way, just as one American Speaker of the House famously said that the best form of government was to have one party rule and the other party watch, a basic bias of every president bar none, and all the many officials down the line, is that the best sort of media is the controlled kind.

What are the instruments of control? The most basic is to strangle a media outfit by denying it ads. Then there are libel laws. The third instrument which applies more to radio and TV, is by threatening to deny a franchise or renewal of a franchise, which requires congressional action. The fourth is to take one’s criticisms of the media public, using the platform of the presidency to scold and shame media critics. And the fifth, crudest, and riskiest, is to liquidate individual journalists or shut down media outfits by force.

In 1909, when we still had American Governors-General ruling the roost, the newspaper El Renacimiento published a famous editorial titled “Birds of Prey,” which blind-itemed, by means of an editorial, a high-ranking American colonial official named Dean Worcester.

The official filed a libel case against the newspaper while authorities got even with the newspaper by cutting off government ads in the paper. The Philippines Free Press –then American-owned—denounced the move in an editorial, saying it was tantamount to government admitting it placed ads not for public information, but as a bribe to ensure a cooperative press.

The 20s and 30s was about rival newspaper chains set up on the basis of Filipino newspapers being established to challenge American-owned ones, or to have pro-government chains to counter the ones that were critical of the government, with libel suits periodically filed by outraged politicians. A story from the era best summarizes official opinion on the media then and now.

During a stay in Baguio, a house helper told President Quezon, “The press is here.” He thundered, “Tell the press to go to hell!” Only to be told, by the embarrassed maid, that it was one of the Dominicans from Letran. She had pronounced priest as press.

Our modern media era began after World War II, when a young sports journalist took to commenting on politics on radio. His name was Arsenio Lacson and his hard-hitting commentaries outraged President Roxas so much that his radio show was taken off the air in 1947. It turned Lacson into an overnight sensation, becoming a Manila congressman two years later. Then President Quirino compounded his predecessor’s error by going after Lacson too: there are stories of things getting so bad that President Quirino literally sent a tank into the streets of Manila to rumble around trying to find Lacson. No wonder Lacson ended up becoming the first elected mayor of Manila in 1952.

We know that President Marcos crossed a line no previous president had done before, when he shut down the media when he proclaimed martial law. Seven major English daily papers, one English-Filipino daily, three Filipino dailies, one Spanish daily, and four Chinese dailies were shut down; sixty-six community newspapers were closed, eleven English weekly magazines, seven television stations, and two hundred ninety-two radio stations were also closed. Only one newspaper, TV station, and radio station were allowed to stay open, because they belonged to Marcos’ friends.

Since 1986, things have returned to the old ways, but also, some new ones. The new ones involve the concept of the Right to Reply, which would require newspapers in particular, to allocate the same space to those objecting to a news story, as was originally given to the story that offended. The other way is simply to kill the offending media person.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, for one, maintains a database of media people who have been killed since 1986, a list that now stretches into the hundreds, generally in the provinces where local kingpins are subject to less scrutiny, and can exercise much more impunity, than in Metro Manila.

The revival of the old ways center on libel suits to target individual journalists or the publications they write for, and the use of presidential influence to mount advertising boycotts, most famously when President Estrada forced the sale of the Manila Times and nearly brought the Philippine Daily Inquirer to its knees. In 2006, President Arroyo sent troops to surround ABS-CBN and The Daily Tribune and might have gone further except her plans for martial law were derailed by our then ambassador to the USA, the future foreign secretary Albert del Rosario. Columnist Tony Abaya lost his column in 2006 due to being critical of the government, and the PCIJ at one point, had search warrants issued to look into its files.

President Aquino took a more traditional route, of publicly calling out commentators and networks he didn’t like, while President Duterte has been candid about his intense dislike for particular networks, newspapers, and online news outfits, harnessing the full power of the state to send a signal to big business not to support these outfits. At the same time, alert allies can take these frontal attacks as suggestions that renewals of franchises in Congress might not be a good idea.

In our current era, when the world is experiencing a revival of strongman rule, a shared characteristic of strongman types is a burning hatred for the media. Ironically, never has the sharing of information been so easy and yet, so susceptible to what has come to be known as fake news. A recent poll showed that for most people who get their news from social media, they are hard-pressed to recall the sources of the news in their feed.

This makes it easy to lump together the fake with the real, and to generally lower opinion of all media. It helps foster the view that media is unessential, and makes constitutional safeguards not just of free speech, but a free press, irrelevant. But so long as those guarantees remain enshrined in our Constitution and laws, a free press has a fighting chance. Then again you can simply amend the constitution, or, as we have increasingly seen in our national life, do what you want and stonewall or shout down, any questions to death. Most people might just shrug and even say media had it coming. People have done it before. But let’s never forget that the moment an independent media becomes controlled, it’s just the beginning of everything else being controlled.

When no one is free to point out the Emperor has no clothes, everyone is naked –in the face not just of an Emperor’s will –but his, and his subordinates’, petty whims and worse.

The Long View: Maximum Leader


Maximum Leader

 / 05:08 AM July 26, 2017

To be Maximum Leader requires demonstrations of stamina. The President’s second State of the Nation Address was a performance echoing Fidel Castro and Sukarno in their heyday: extemporaneous, combative, multi-hour speeches became proof that they were the masters of all they surveyed. The Sona had been preceded by repeated demonstrations of the new pecking order, applying to both enemies and uppity friends alike, either for forgetting their proper place as subordinates, or for their independence: Ongpin, Laviña, Sueno, Floirendo, Wongchuking, de Lima, to name just a few, have thus all paid the price for incurring the President’s ire.

But if his list of conquests is long, it can be longer. And if he has had to accommodate his coalition in the past, he shows little inclination to be burdened by their needs in the future. So in Monday’s address he announced his new Order of Battle: Congress, had it done more listening and less applauding, would have noticed the President praise Gina Lopez right before he launched a blistering attack on mining that seemed specifically aimed at Manuel Pangilinan, without naming him, which then turned into an attack on the remaining media organizations he perceives as unsuitably — and thus treasonously — unimpressed with his administration: Rappler and ABS-CBN. And, lest anyone think that the United States has regained leverage due to the Battle of Marawi, he scored an easy win by demanding the return of the Balangiga bells, while categorizing the West in general, and the European Union, the International Criminal Court, and human rights organizations in particular, as rapist-coddling, hypocritical Onanists (to put it mildly). Communists and Lumads, he announced, now have him as foe, not friend.

In olden days this is probably how rajahs boasted during feasts. Reuben Canoy in his history of Mindanao pointed out that unlike Tagalogs or Visayans, where leadership was chosen on the basis of “age, wisdom or magical powers,” leadership in Mindanao was selected on the basis of “bravery and skill as warriors;” succession to the throne was based on prowess rather than lineage, with conflicting claims settled either through combat or decision by elders.

The historian Mina Roces, for her part, suggests the way to understand our politics lies in understanding our culture’s affinity for “malakas,” contempt for “mahina,” and the way one’s status as “malakas” or “mahina” is demonstrated — through “palakasan:” “Malakas implies special status, blatantly stressing the inequalities in the social structure between those in power and those out of power. But malakas status is not dependent on social or economic class (although one could argue it represents the current political class, a position far from being static, as family alliances constantly move in and out of political office). Since the criterion for malakas status is solely political power, a wealthy person can lose out to a relatively poor but more influential family alliance. A group of squatters in a Manila slum area may be malakas because they have close ties with the mayor and therefore feel no threat of eviction. The person who owns the land illegally occupied by the squatters, though wealthy, has no hope of retrieving his or her land or of evicting the squatters as long as these squatters maintain their malakas status vis-a-vis the mayor …” This is in contrast with the importance the West places on objectivity, impersonal, professional institutions and even Christian empathy.

The demonstration of chiefdom didn’t end when the President concluded his address. That was only the opening in what proved to be a three-part drama. The second part was his going out into the streets. Not since 1939 has a president personally confronted militants in a public place. The usual practice is for the Left to be summoned to the Palace to be courted, or administered a dressing-down, or both. So when the President proceeded from the Session Hall of the House of Representatives to give as good as he got from militants gathered in the streets, he was tapping into a kind of subconscious political memory that stretches back not just to the Commonwealth, but to prehispanic times.

The third part was the press conference he held, in which he repeated the main theme of the day. It was not, as his unfortunate communications people had hoped (they received presidential mockery of the director and speechwriter for their troubles), “a comfortable life for all.” Instead, the theme was, “Don’t tread on me.”


The Long View: What comes next for newspapers?


What comes next for newspapers?

 / 05:26 AM July 19, 2017

Recently I was surprised to see an ad for The New Yorker magazine in my Instagram feed. The surprising part was that the ad said it was a “special offer for the Philippines,” or something to that effect. Granted that these things are automated, it still suggests that the Philippines is a market and probably a bigger one than most people realize. Anecdotally speaking, it seems that never has subscribing to foreign content been more affordable or accessible: You can access The New York Times, the Washington Post, or The Economist, aside from digital content from Netflix and music from Spotify.

Just yesterday, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay tweeted that the “Grab & Uber story is about technology getting ahead of rules.” The same seems to apply to the media. When it comes to papers, the old ways and rules, such as limiting ownership to Filipinos, have become irrelevant in the sense that consumption is no longer location-dependent. The internet has abolished geography and the laws within a territory as limits on where people can obtain reading matter.

While newspapers and magazines are seeing their physical circulation drop, which leads to a kind of death spiral in terms of ad revenue, it doesn’t mean the market isn’t there. It has just moved elsewhere, in terms of where reading material is coming from. I once read an estimate of the Manila Times’ premartial law circulation being in the neighborhood of 200,000 copies daily, and I was struck by the corresponding fact (about 20 years ago, if memory serves me right) that at the time, the top three dailies boasted a circulation of about the same, each. Even back then, despite the population having grown exponentially, the print-reading public remained virtually unchanged.

I doubt if anyone can seriously claim anything beyond the numbers claimed for circulation 20 years ago. And yet, even if one grants that today’s millennials read less in print (or in general), the middle and even upper classes have grown — but they are taking their pesos elsewhere, and those pesos are paid in dollars to buy foreign content. Which includes, from time to time (and, apparently, enough, to satisfy Filipino subscribers), news and views on the Philippines. As for other news, there’s social media, which is supposedly free, and plentiful, but not paid for by subscriptions.

Whether in the past or today, media outfits displayed an institutional point of view, embedded in the institutional—reportorial, editorial—DNA of the paper, reflecting the times in which that paper was born, so to speak. The British comedy series “Yes, Minister” put it best:

Hacker: Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; the Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country, and the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.

And you could basically create a similarly satirical list for our domestic papers. On a serious note, this leads to the new era that is about to open for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It was a paper born (and not reborn, unlike its early rivals) of the People Power Era, and for more than 30 years it has led, or was at the forefront of, public opinion for its readers. But that era is over, socially and politically. Politically, it ended with the arrest of Randy David on Edsa in 2006, though there was a brief Indian summer when 100,000 who rallied at the Luneta in reaction to the Inquirer’s stunning exposé of Janet Napoles some six years later. Socially (meaning the old assumptions of an informed and active citizenry), it ended with the passing of Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc in 2015.

The sale of the Inquirer opens up avenues of opportunity — and their challenges — for a paper in the digital age. The legacy of its outgoing owners is that this paper is still best positioned to undertake the challenge. The challenge for the new owner is whether the paper’s DNA will be allowed to survive, and seek new relevance in a new era.

The Explainer: The great gamble for peace

The great gamble for peace

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Jul 18 2017 04:05 AM


This afternoon, the consultative commission tasked with revising the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) proposal is submitting its work to the President. Allies of the President have urged him to simply forward the document being submitted today, to Congress next week, so ensure BBL gets out the gate and gets tackled sooner, rather than later. This suggests that the President will make submitting the BBL to Congress either the focal point, or at least one of the major highlights, of his second State of the Nation Address next week.

In accepting the report, the President has an opportunity to lay out not on only why he believes the BBL is important, but also, to create a favorable political momentum for one of the major objectives of his administration. In recent months his aims for Mindanao have been overshadowed by terrorism and the Battle of Marawi. This second wind for the BBL gives him a chance to reframe the narrative for Mindanao.

One thing is obvious: he does not intend to repeat the mistake of President Arroyo, when she announced the proposed BJE-MOA in her State of the Nation Address. The proposal was made without warning. So much so, that at the time, analysts and commentators, with very few exceptions, didn’t even notice she’d made a historic announcement. When people finally realized just how important her announcement was, government had lost the initiative and found itself on the defense, eventually losing the argument.

The BJE-MOA failed due to several reasons. Politically speaking, first and foremost, was the element of surprise. It meant that panic due to misinformation spread like wildfire, as Christian towns and provinces got alarmed over the possibility they would be included in the Bangsamoro. Even other Moro areas got uneasy, as the new entity threatened to disrupt existing power relationships. Then, the plan suffered a reversal in the Supreme Court, which decided some of its provisions were unconstitutional.

These two factors led to efforts to ensure they wouldn’t be repeated, in the agreement between the MILF and the government that is the foundation for the BBL. First, consultations were held, to ensure no one would be taken by surprise. Second, efforts were made to ensure it would pass scrutiny if challenged before the Supreme Court. But the momentum was broken because of Mamasapano. Political factions that, until then, had to keep quiet because the international community and the domestic political situation were favorable to the BBL, recovered their voice. BBL ran out of steam.

President Duterte identified these problems and decided to tackle it in a different manner. First, he opened talks with the MNLF and assured them they would have a voice. Second, he revamped the consultative commission. Third, he pledged that objections on constitutional grounds would be addressed. Third, he raised an alternative possibility, Federalism. And fourth and most important of all, he put the full weight of his office behind continuing BBL.

The BBL is not about dismantling the Philippines, or creating a Malaysian protectorate in the South, or the setting up of a sub-state within the Republic.

What the BBL is, is the creation of a new entity that grants autonomy to the Bangsamoro, within the Republic, as an integral part of it, but in a manner that respects the customs and aspirations of the Moros who have decades of grievances behind them. It aims to give Moros a fair share of revenue and resources so that they can have what the rest of the country takes for granted: a peaceful, stable, functioning local government setup where they are no longer second-class citizens.

Important issues remain to be clarified to the public. Among the most complicated parts of any BBL are the revenue-sharing agreements, for example the share for the Bangsamoro and the national government, respectively, of income from minerals, future oil wells, and fisheries. Most BBL discussions envision a kind of parliamentary setup for the Bangsamoro in contrast to other parts of the country. There is the question of Sharia Law, and how those laws apply or don’t apply, to non-Muslims. And there is the question of territory, whether the Bangsamoro will be more, or less, than the present-day ARMM. And there is the question of the international partners in the peace process, particularly the EU and the United States, Malaysia, Japan, and Australia. Many of these relationships are currently complicated, but there is more optimism now than a few months ago, ironically because of the Battle of Marawi, which has resulted in renewing security ties, at least, with the United States and Australia, for example.

It will take a few days at least, to clarify whether the BBL as it’s been revised, includes the input of the MNLF, and substantially adheres to the BBL agreement already signed. The relationship between the BBL and proposals for Federalism also has to be clarified. It’s probably fair to say the various Moro leaderships are not too excited about Federalism, while quite a few of the President’s political and civil society allies are actually more interested in Federalism. Public ignorance about both the BBL and Federalism, on the other hand, remains high.

What we do know is a basic time frame put forward by advocates: From July to December of this year, culminating with President Duterte signing BBL into law by December. Then, from January to May, 2018, to obtain a victory in the plebiscite to approve the BBL. Finally, from June to July 2018, to obtain support from the ARMM leadership and enable a smooth transition to its replacement, the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority or BTA. This tells us the BBL must be put in place before the 2019 mid-terms. This is a narrow political window.

Politically speaking, making a big splash by submitting BBL to Congress next week is the easy part. Obtaining the votes in both the House and the Senate to enact BBL –without so many amendments that it’s either watered-down, or emerges substantially different from what it’s supposed to be—will be a challenge. The President does not have the luxury of time. Precisely because of the situation in Muslim Mindanao, the partners of the government in the peace process need to deliver to their followers, otherwise more radical groups will become more attractive to young Moros. Christian leaders and communities, on the other hand, have to be convinced to go beyond their traditional fears and biases and take the plunge, politically and economically. In this, traditional Moro political leaders must also be convinced to allow the MILF and MNLF to become important players.

The Long View: The military dilemma


The military dilemma

 / 05:06 AM July 12, 2017

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana issued a statement popping the Speaker’s martial-law-until-2022 trial balloon. His statement reasserted what the Armed Forces spokesman had said the day before: Martial law until 2022 is too long. The problem, for both Lorenzana and the rest of the military establishment that has been consistently — and rather boldly — arguing against martial law (before it was proclaimed), and pointing out it must be implemented in accordance with the 1987 Constitution and not Marcos-era principles in mind, is that it is arguing from a position of weakness.

As long as the military cannot proclaim victory in Marawi, then politically (and now legally, thanks to the Supreme Court), the President has no reason to lift his present proclamation—nor does Congress have an incentive to assert any opinion contrary to his. He has every incentive to issue another proclamation to extend it, which Congress shows every sign of accommodating. In the end, the President is Commander in Chief and for the same reasons the military establishment has tried to moderate the official interpretation — and implementation — of martial law, it cannot buck his authority. Both depend on the same laws and the same Constitution, after all.

This is the leverage the President has, and it limits the ability of the military establishment to maintain its post-Marcos, post-Arroyo attitudes toward its role in national life. But there is another lever of influence the President wields, and it is his power not only to hire and fire, and promote, but to shield the AFP from scrutiny as well.

As long as the Battle of Marawi is taking place, the AFP is shielded from serious inquiry. But eventually an inquiry will have to be held, if the military is to institutionalize the lessons learned from the battle and adapt its doctrines accordingly. The role of at least two generals will be crucial in the postmortem that should take place.

Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista was selected to be the first commander of the Presidential Security Group in the present administration, and he obtained his first star in August 2016. It was the revitalization of a career that had been marred by the loss of 18 men in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf in April of that year. In March this year he ended his stint in the PSG and resumed command in the field. It was he who gave the order to undertake the raid on the Maute Group that turned into the Battle of Marawi. Coverage at the time, including interviews with Bautista himself, suggest that what transpired was a rush to seize Isnilon Hapilon when he was spotted in Marawi. “We did not expect the outcome, the reactions,” Bautista said, adding: “We did not expect also their sniping capability.” But a quick reaction, the moment it failed in its objective—to capture or kill Hapilon—left the military unprepared, either in terms of establishing a secure perimeter around the area, or crushing the Mautes before they could burrow into the city, resulting in the ongoing siege.

Bautista made decisions as division commander with supervision over brigade commanders; here, the role of one of them, Brig. Gen. Nixon Fortes, is crucial. In January, Fortes was transferred to command the 103rd Brigade in Marawi, giving chase to Hapilon and his men; in March he claimed they had managed to wound Hapilon. On April 10 he donned his brigadier general’s lone star; last month he was replaced as the commander in Marawi.

The military denied it was due to any failure of leadership, while unnamed sources asserted it was due to his failure to bring in sufficient troops in light of intelligence that the Maute Group was gathering there.

Success in Marawi could thus result in the distribution of medals and promotions, or a fact-finding witch-hunt in Congress to find someone to blame for what has become a drawn-out battle. The President has been on his best behavior with the AFP (broadly speaking), controlling himself to the extent of reading speeches at the Philippine Military Academy and AFP events rather than speaking off-the-cuff, as he does to the more primitive police. But he could easily use the Battle of Marawi to reshuffle commands, and promote officers uninterested in holding the line currently being held by Lorenzana and Gen. Eduardo Año.

Unlike generals facing retirement, the President has time on his side.


The Explainer: Reverence for the Court

Reverence for the Court

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Jul 11 2017 02:47 AM | Updated as of Jul 11 2017 02:48 AM


A long time ago in a society far different from ours today, members of the Supreme Court were so jealous of their independence and so concerned with their integrity that they lived almost monkish lives.

Chief Justice Ramon Avanceña, for example, would dutifully attend official functions, but he would walk in, shake hands in the reception line, and walk straight out, having done his official duty while avoiding any opportunity for improper consultations with other officials present. Even the children of justices at that time, only played with the children of other justices, so that their parents would be spared being influenced by the parents of their children’s playmates.

Chief Justice Manuel Moran retired from the Supreme Court to become an ambassador, but when he was offered an opportunity to be reappointed to the Supreme Court, he declined-–because it was conditional on being a midnight appointment.

Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion, when the Supreme Court disgraced itself by declaring the Marcos 1973 Constitution in full force and effect, went into early retirement –even if it was a matter of only a few days before he was due to retire, anyway—out of heartbreak over what happened to the Supreme Court, which had been threatened with being abolished by President Marcos if they either questioned martial law, or declared his new constitution improperly approved.

The difficulty with our first generations of justices of course was that they believed in delicadeza, which is personal honor. You always hear the saying we need to have a regime of laws and not men, and the personal examples of these previous justices betrays the problem with delicadeza. It’s personal when impartial law and ethics ought to apply to everyone in every institution, and not on personal opinion on what’s proper or not.

Today, we live in a different world. Still, lawyers read the decisions of the Supreme Court and the individual concurring or dissenting opinions of justices to examine and understand the thinking behind the decisions. For lawyers and legal scholars, the background –essentially unprovable—of how a decision was arrived at, is immaterial and irrelevant. Only the decision and the penned opinions matter.

For everyone else, whether journalists or political scientists or the public, there are other ways to look at the Supreme Court and its decisions.

The first is on the basis of who appointed the Justices. This is based on the belief that a president, in appointing a justice, does so from a particular point of view, say a philosophy on law or how laws ought to be interpreted.

The second, related to the first, is whether patterns can be seen in the decisions, at least those considered important ones. The idea is, justices appointed administration by a particular will likely have a particular orientation you can see in how they vote in particular cases. Some might even go as far as to say aside from considerations of law, there are political considerations at play that individual members could be aware of when they write their opinions and cast their votes.

The third is from an institutional perspective, meaning whether the decisions of the High Court strengthened or weakened things like the separation of powers, our democracy, and so forth. This is related to the first and second, too: if they belong to a group, or cohort, within the Court that tends to think in an identifiable way, and if their thinking is revealed in patterns of voting, then this behavior will have an effect at certain times, when cases arise that can shift how government functions.

So let’s tackle the first.

In our present court, three presidents have appointed its membership.

President Arroyo appointed 21 justices in her nine years, of whom 7 are still in the Supreme Court. Antonio Carpio, her first appointment, is now the Senior Associate Justice; Justices Velasco, De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, del Castillo are her other incumbent appointments, including Justice Mendoza who will be retiring in August.

President Aquino appointed 6 justices in his six years, of whom 5 are still in the Supreme Court: Chief Justice Sereno, and Justices Bernabe, Leonen, Jardeleza and Caguioa. Justice Reyes retired just a few days ago.

President Duterte has appointed two in his first year in office, Justices Martires and Tijam. The President is expected to appoint a total of 10-11 in his six-year term, which will make him one of the most influential presidents in terms of determining how the court will vote for years to come.

As for the second, in terms of voting patterns, if any, you can look at some recent hot-button decisions. Let’s take three for example. The Enrile bail case, the Marcos burial case, and the Martial Law case just recently decided.

On the Enrile Bail Petition, Justices Bersamin, Brion, De Castro, Del Castillo, Mendoza, Peralta, Perez and Velasco voted in favor; 100% of them were Arroyo appointments.

On the Marcos burial, Justices Velasco, De Castro, Brion, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Perez, Mendoza, Bernabe, Jardeleza, Martires and Tijam voted in favor. That breaks down to: 66.6% of Arroyo appointments, 33.3% of Aquino appointments and 100% of Duterte appointments.

On Martial Law, Justices Velasco, De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Mendoza, Reyes, Bernabe, Jardeleza, Martires, and Tijam voted in favor. That breaks down to: 100% of Arroyo appointments, 40% of Aquino appointments, and 100% of Duterte appointments, being in favor.

You could say even if the smallest, the most consistent bloc is the Duterte bloc, followed by the Arroyo bloc, with the Aquino bloc split.

Which brings us to the third way of looking at Supreme Court decisions, which is, in crucial cases, is the balance in favor of strengthening or weakening institutions? This is perhaps the most subjective of all.

This has been the focus of reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision on Martial Law, where broadly speaking, 14 justices said the President had sufficient factual basis to proclaim martial law. Three justices, Sereno, Caguioa and Carpio further said the president should have proclaimed it in a more limited area. Only Justice Leonen rejected the proclamation of martial law, period.

Note that this decision was on the question of whether the president lacked a factual basis to make his proclamation. It was not a decision on whether Congress should have convened in Joint Session to decide whether to approve or reject the proclamation.

There are perhaps three views to what the Supreme Court decided. One is from a former Chief Justice; the other, from the Dean of a Graduate School of Law; and the third is from the Fourth Estate.

Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban seems to belong to the optimistic the glass is half-full school. First, he says the decision asserted the Supreme Court’s right to weigh in on martial law. Second, it emphasized that there need to be two conditions: invasion or rebellion plus the public safety requiring it; and third, clarity. The decision clarified that martial law is part of a president’s menu of options in a crisis; and that furthermore, the decision limited the Supreme Court’s role –it can only decide on the basis of what the president submits in terms of information, and not engage in its own fact-finding—while clarifying what Congress can do. Unlike the Supreme Court, Congress can ask and look for all the facts it wants, beyond what the president submits in his report. And finally, it clarified that martial law has many limits, not least the Constitution remaining in force and all the rights it guarantees.

Fr. Ranhilio Aquino comes from a different perspective, one which believes the decision is a timely turning away from an unhealthy preoccupation with Ferdinand Marcos. There are times when a president must act decisively when the country is in danger. He welcomes the decision as a timely reminder of what he argues is a necessary power which requires making a decision only a president is competent to make.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, for its part, in a recent editorial, argues that precisely because the Supreme Court limited itself in terms of facts, it handicapped its ability to fulfill the role given it by the Constitution. Furthermore, the Supreme Court said the president could impose martial law even in places where no invasion or rebellion was taking place— which the editorial argues, is actually a grant of addition powers to the president.

In the end, whichever of these opinions you might share, one thing is clear. We continue to have a reverence for the Court, or at least an instinct to obey it, whether or not we actually take the time to read what the Justices say. In this, Ferdinand Marcos said it best: we Filipinos, he said, “will accept any kind of radical reform provided it is constitutional and legal.”

The Long View: The new Filipino


The new Filipino

 / 06:08 AM July 05, 2017

The students who gathered at Edsa Dos were Edsa babies, products of the post-dictatorship society, imbued with the expectation that betrayal of the public good carried with it the threat of public protest in the streets. In other words, they were the product of their era, which was decidedly anti-Marcos in orientation. With their elders, they caused the fall of Estrada who, it should be remembered, was also heir to the Marcos coalition, Estrada being not only a Marcos admirer but ally, too. When, a few months after his fall, Estrada was arrested and jailed, the Estrada loyalists (often but not always, Marcos loyalists, too) revolted and the urban insurrection frightened Metro Manila enough to dampen any future ardor for People Power. Combined with disillusionment over People Power as an instrument of change, it meant that by the time People Power failed in 2006, a kind of bargain had been struck at great cost to public idealism: GMA would stay; and governments would change only by means of elections or other constitutional means (though every possible loophole in the post-Edsa impeachment route was swiftly blocked).

But something else seems to have happened beyond our being able to bookmark the era of People Power to having lasted from 1986 to 2006 and the Aquino ascendancy in public life from 1986-2016. I believe that something was a change in the system of education that thoroughly set apart the generations that reached maturity from martial law to the Edsa Dos era, and those who came after.

The first signal came in November 2001, when the Department of Education under Raul S. Roco modified the “Panatang Makabayan” or oath of allegiance dating back to 1955. Superficial as it seems, you can basically divide Filipinos into those schooled from 1955 to 2001, and those educated since. The fundamental, because most basic, articulation of citizenship remained superficially similar but different in orientation. As a reader, chances are you belong to the generation familiar with the old version; ask someone in school to recite the new version and judge for yourself.

Of course things had started to change much earlier, when the “Panunumpa ng Katapatan sa Watawat” or pledge to the flag was instituted by President Fidel V. Ramos on June 12, 1996, which ends with the kilometric national motto no one seems to know to this day (“Maka-Diyos, Makatao, Makakalikasan at Makabansa”). Things don’t happen overnight; so add to the 1955-2001 and post 2001 divide another subdivision: those who only knew the Panatang Makabayan from 1955-1996, those who had to learn two pledges from 1996-2001 (the Edsa Dos generation?), and those who have learned the 1996 and post-2001 pledges.

A more fundamental change happened after 2001. In 2002, the education curriculum was revised and formerly separate subjects were combined to create “Makabayan,” which some educators at the time pointed out wasn’t quite clearly articulated as to what it was supposed to be: was it a catch-all for formerly separate things like history and social studies, arts, music, and so on, with a dose of civics, or was it a values formation course which used formerly separate subjects as illustrations? Whatever one’s position on Makabayan was, what it meant was the overall time devoted to topics that had once been separate, was now reduced.

It would be interesting to look into this and see if there is a correlation between the reduced time and attention given to what used to be separate courses, and the effectiveness of the Marcos campaign of rehabilitation that kicked into high gear, by all accounts, around that time. Being taught less, students would be much more susceptible to stray information particularly if presented in places students prefer to go, such as YouTube and Facebook.

Last June 4, the Inquirer Briefing section laid out the new K-12 Curriculum and by all accounts, there will be much more time, and attention, given to history and social studies than before. Combined with efforts by educators not to let matters slide –which means actively ensuring there’s no whitewashing of the Marcos years—this promises a reversal of what may have occurred roughly from 2002 to 2012.

But this points to another cause for concern that should have compensated for the reduced hours devoted to history and social studies in the lost decade of 2002-2012: the lack of activities that foster civics. Gen. Vicente Lim, writing to his sons before World War II, criticized proponents of military service as a means to inculcate good citizenship. Being a good citizen was something the Boy Scouts should be doing, he said; the purpose of military service is to train soldiers and nothing more. One has to ask if such organizations even care about civics today.

The Explainer: Crunchtime for peace is coming

Crunchtime for peace is coming

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Jul 04 2017 04:02 AM

Last month, the world marked the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. This was the war between Israel and a pan-Arab coalition led by Egypt, which led to a stunning Israeli victory that hugely increased the size of that country, and an Arab defeat that sent shockwaves throughout the Arab world and which continues to have effects to this day as we’ll see. The Arab world had thrilled to the idea that Gamaliel Nasser, the charismatic President of Egypt, would wipe Israel off the map.

Nasser had led an officer’s revolt against Farouk, the playboy King of Egypt, in 1952. Besides being weak and corrupt, Farouk was accused of being a puppet of the British who’d controlled Egyptian affairs since the 19th Century. In place of the Egyptian monarchy, Nasser put in place a nationalist regime that looked to the Soviet Union for support. His government aside from being nationalist, saw itself as a modernizing force, which had little time or interest in traditional, Islamic belief.

Nasser’s brand of Arab nationalism inspired not only Arabs, but young Muslims around the world. Among those influenced by his example were young Muslims in the Philippines such as Nur Misuari. Misuari and friends rejected their traditional Muslim leaders, and dreamed of an independent homeland they decided to call Bangsamoro. This was a different concept from their Muslim elders, who, besides being hierarchical and traditional, identified more with their ethnic identities as Tausugs or Maranao and so on, rather than as an entire people.

Misuari and friends echoed Nasser’s views that the traditional leadership –in the case of Misuari, the sultans and datus who had become political leaders in the Philippine government, as collaborators and puppets.

The old view had been that in the 1920s to the 1940s, a kind of bargain had taken place between Christian and Muslim leaders In the Philippines. The Christians told the Muslims, you cannot rely on your old titles in a Republic. But here’s the deal: whether sultan or datu, join our political machines, and you can use your traditional authority to be elected in our new republic: you can be a mayor, governor, congressman, and even senator.

From the 1930s to the 1960s this old bargain held. Every party ensured there would be a Muslim in the senate, for example. But that was when parties were strong, and could offer such a guarantee, and it was at a time when Mindanao was relatively unpopulated so that there was room to accommodate Christian settlers. By the 1960s, this was no longer the case. There were so many Christians that they not only took unpopulated land, but began landgrabbing among the Muslims. Droughts in the 50s and 60s had shaken faith in the old leaders. A new generation of educated Muslims like Misuari looked at Mindanao and asked, if this republic and its leaders, both Christian and Muslim, can’t protect Muslims, then what is the point of adherence to an unfair republic?

At this point, Ferdinand Marcos and his brand of imperialism enters the picture. He had dreams of turning the Philippine claim on Sabah into an opportunity to send commandoes into the newly-created country of Malaysia to start a revolt which would then lead to the Philippines taking over North Borneo. But the training went wrong, the Muslims from Mindanao who were going to be commandoes were killed, and what has come to be known as the Jabidah Massacre further radicalized people like Misuari.

We know what followed: war in Mindanao, which was fought to a stalemate by our armed forces even as Malaysia, paranoid because of Marcos’ expansionist plotting, itself schemed and funded revolt in our South to keep the Philippines from causing further trouble to Malaysia. We know how due to that stalemate, Misuari ended up negotiating a peace agreement with Marcos; and how, under Ramos, an autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao was formed.

But at this point we need to return to Nasser. His disgrace, after the 1967 war with Israel, led to a revival of the very forces Nasser had once ignored and even condemned: pan-Muslim religious conservatism, in contrast to his Pan-Arab Nationalism with its many Socialist programs. Conservative clerics pointed to the defeat as a sign of divine anger with the secular, scientific, nationalist approach of Nasser and said this is a battle not between nations, but between religions.

The war Misuari had begun –with its claim of a Bangsamoro, and rejection of the old sultans and datus—was a Nasser-like revolt when it started. By the 1970s and particularly in the 1980s, Nasser’s point of view had lost its attractiveness to Arabs and non-Arab Muslims alike. Bangsamoro itself would be reinterpreted not as a community of subjugated peoples fighting for independence, but a battle for the creation of a religious state.

And so Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front would face challenges from old members who founded a new movement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Names do matter.

But even for the MILF, the world had changed. Malaysia, for one, now wealthy and more interested in stability in the region, was less interested in funding a war in Mindanao. There seemed an opportunity for a negotiated peace, supported by many nations. The Philippine government itself preferred to concentrate on external defense than crushing internal rebellions which have bled the country dry for nearly two generations. Most crucially, the MILF leadership, now old, just like their old enemy Misuari, were willing to compromise. And so the Bangsmoro Basic Law negotiations took place.

These efforts nearly collapsed in the aftermath of Mamasapano. Old prejudices proved irresistible for politicians like Juan Ponce Enrile and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who spoke boldly, and recklessly, to fan the flames of ethnic mistrust.

Rodrigo Duterte himself, during the campaign and once he became president, approached the matter pragmatically. He reassured his fellow Christian leaders that he would take their concerns into consideration, and proceeded to build a bigger tent for what he said would be an even better BBL: first, he reassured the MILF and its MNLF partner, the Sema wing of the movement, that negotiations would proceed; second, he brought in the part of the MNLF still loyal to Misuari, into the picture, on a separate track; and third, he preached federalism as a solution that, he said on more than one occasion, would be a bigger solution that would make a BBL unnecessary.

In the sense that politics is about movement, and that political success only occurs when you maintain momentum, this three-pronged approach worked. The MILF and MNLF have remained quiet and cooperative. For the most part, Christian leaders in Mindanao have been obedient to the president. But as the Battle for Marawi shows, now the government, the MILF, and the MNLF are on one side, looking for a Nasser-like political solution (with a heavy dose of Islamic accommodation by way of authorizing madrassas and Shariah Law for the proposed Bangsamoro), while a new generation of ruthless Islamic radicals pursue support for ISIS and the creation of a Southeast Asian home base for its caliphate in our territory.

Which means, even as nearly all expect our armed forces to prevail in Marawi, the future of peace in Mindanao now hangs in the balance.

Two weeks ago, during his four-day rejuvenation, the President was supposed to be presented with the report of the new BBL commission he’d established; instead, a cabinet member attended the ceremony. Last week, at the end of his seven-day vacation from the limelight, the President was supposed to present the BBL document to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House, but they were abroad on what is called official business. For Moro leaders with impatient followers, and other observers, these aren’t encouraging signs of presidential support.

For his part now that the president is back in the picture, he has reassured Moro leaders of his commitment. Still, the time for action, not rhetoric, is upon the ruling coalition.

When Congress reconvenes for its second regular session near the end of this month, it will have one of the most difficult tasks ever entrusted to our legislature on its lap. It will now have to reconcile three separate plans for establishing a new, lasting relationship between Muslims and Christians –and don’t forget, the Lumad, too—in Mindanao. There is the new version of the BBL, now submitted to the president. There is the MNLF plan of Misuari, whenever that will be turned in. And there is the federalism scheme. All three will be heavy on details, requiring precise definitions and realistic, workable, procedures for institutions. Against all the hard work and compromise that will be required, stands the easiest stand to take if you were a politician: to drag it out, kick the can down the road, talk tough but do little –because, in the end, the leadership is used to what we have, while to set up something new might carry with it unexpected surprises. But today’s more accommodating Moro leaders do not have the luxury of time. The black flag raised in Marawi represents an alternative that may never win, but which guarantees money, blood, and glory.

The Long View: Peek-a-boo



 / 12:08 AM June 28, 2017

This year the President has receded from public view thrice: in February for four days, and this month on June 12-16 and again on June 20-27. Two reasons for these absences have been given: rest, and catching up with paperwork. These are valid reasons that shouldn’t provide any cause for alarm. The presidency is an exhausting job. There is the tedium of so much ceremonial, which, however much you trim it, still requires showing up, standing around, shaking hands, making speeches, and answering questions from the press. There are internal meetings, external interactions, a constant procession of people seeking something, and deciding whether to give it or not and when.

I also think people generally tend to underestimate just how much paperwork the presidency involves. The volume tends to surprise presidents who come from a legislative background, but even those with an executive background can be shocked by the sheer number of documents that need to be read, referred to others, or signed. There are times when the paperwork piles up to the extent that presidents need to go into a kind of seclusion just to manage the backlog. And paperwork is tiring work, too.

The President is candid about not being a spring chicken. He himself has disclosed two health conditions, both, by all accounts, unpleasant and even quite painful, but not life-threatening, considering he has also taken basic precautions such as quitting smoking

The first condition is Barrett’s esophagus, which the Mayo Clinic says is when the tissue lining the tube connecting your mouth and esophagus is replaced with tissue similar to the intestinal lining. It’s often found in people who have long-term GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic regurgitation of acid from your stomach into your esophagus (most people will have heard of “acid reflux,” often associated with stress).

The second condition is Buerger’s disease, which the Mayo Clinic says is a rare disease of the arteries and veins of the arms and legs: The blood vessels become inflamed, swell, and can become blocked with blood clots. There is the risk of damage to skin tissue which in turn can lead to infection and gangrene, requiring, in some cases, amputation of all or part of the affected limb. It’s a disease nearly always associated with smoking, and quitting smoking is the only way to halt its progress.

The President has also often talked about migraines and dizziness, the past use of the powerful pain reliever Fentanyl, and, most recently, using an oxygen concentrator machine to help him sleep at night. Considering his age, the hours he likes to keep, and the stresses and expectations of his position, none of these things is particularly alarming.

Any president of whatever age, but particularly those who are of a certain age, have every reason to rest and buckle down for some desk work.

It’s not as if we haven’t been told what’s going on. The Presidential spokesperson, for one, has kept the public soothingly informed that the President is resting and rejuvenating. Comfortingly, we have been told he is alive, is well, is furthermore in the pink of health, and is being very busy — attending to paperwork because when he is out of the public eye is when he really gets to work.

Other helpful members of the Cabinet have reassured us that the President has spoken to them, and that by doing so has proven his capacity to carry on a two-way conversation. Photos have been provided, of the President scribbling away, complete with a note in neon green ink from Cielo Macapagal-Salgado on his desk, and standing beside a TV set tuned to the news. He then went to Villamor Air Base where, another photo proved to us the next day, the sun was still shining as he saluted the troops, in contrast to the gloom around Bahay Pangarap (renamed Pagbabago). Never mind if the same Villamor photo was released the night before, with the information that it had been taken that morning, before the Bahay Pagbabago photo. These are mere details, fit only for destabilizers.

As the President proved, when he showed up to make two speeches at the height of speculation in his second period out of the public eye, he was very much alive, ambulatory, and abrupt as usual (as his spokesperson had reassured us beforehand and since). This has delighted Sen. Chiz Escudero, who summed up what should be everyone’s opinion at this point. The President, he enthused yesterday, is adjusting appropriately well in office. Like Greta Garbo, that includes being able to say like a superstar, “I want to be alone.”

The Explainer: Lees behaving badly

Lees behaving badly


Posted at Jun 27 2017 04:31 AM | Updated as of Jun 27 2017 05:47 AM

You might remember last week we looked at former President Sergio Osmeña and how he lived to a ripe old age, dying in 1961. Let’s return to him for a moment, because Yet his sunset years was marred by a family quarrel that went public. In 1953-54, his son, Sergio Osmeña Jr., tried to have him declared mentally incompetent in an argument over his father’s will leaving most of the estate to his wife. A man can live his life in greatness, but as Charles de Gaulle famously remarked, “old age is a shipwreck,” for everyone. And the tales of the powerful include the destruction of family harmony in the old age, or upon the death, of the family patriarch.

This is the case in Singapore, where the family of the late Lee Kwan Yew has gone public with a fight over inheritance. The cast is a mind-boggling one: all three of LKY’s children, the eldest of whom happens to be prime minister, and the other two, respected individuals in their own right. The cause of the problem is a familiar one: anger and resentment between siblings over their parent’s will. Lee Kwan Yew by all accounts, made seven wills over his long life. Most of them, including his last one, specified that his house should be demolished after his death. The problem was that two of his wills did not specify the demolition of his house, a modest bungalow near Orchard Road which he acquired in 1945, which became not only his family home, but the nerve center for the leadership of the party that has ruled Singapore since independence.

In contrast to nearly all of Southeast Asia’s founding fathers, Lee Kwan Yew was uninterested in memorializing himself. The only monument to himself he allowed during his lifetime was an institution –the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He seems to have genuinely opposed the idea of his home turning into some sort of national shrine after his death.

Typical of the man was how this aversion to posthumous memorials was matched by both consideration and pragmatism.

It seems he felt sorry for his neighbors who, during his long political career, could never build up their properties for security reasons. Demolishing his house would give the neighbors a big financial benefit by being able to develop their properties at last. That’s the mark of a considerate man. But there would be a financial benefit, too, for the children: one estimate pegs the value of the property at 24 million Singapore dollars. Making possible such a windfall is the mark of a pragmatic man.

Whether he liked it or not, some of LKY’s partymates felt the nation should have some say in the disposition of this historic property. Even before his death, some felt the building was historic and should be preserved. Others proposed a compromise: the upper part of the house, LKY’s family home, could be demolished. But the basement, where many historic decisions in the independence movement and afterwards, the ruling party, were made, should be preserved.

Last year, Lee Hsien Long’s spinster sister shocked Singapore when she accusedher brother of having dynastic ambitions. It’s not just in the Philippines that national leadership can ride on a wave of nostalgia. After having done badly previously, Lee Hsien Long’s party obtained 70 percent in part due to public sympathy over Lee’s loss of his father LKY. These things happen. Singaporeans would say it was a vote of confidence in the party, and not the person. Hsien Long’s sister, Lee Wei Ling thought otherwise.

The situation from her point of view goes like this. Lee Hsien Long is due to retire when he turns 70. At that point, Singapore’s ruling party would enter into its fourth generation of leadership. Lee Kwan Yew himself, belonging to the founding generation of his party, had been succeeded by Goh Chok Tong, representing the party’s second generation. Lee Hsien Long belongs to the party’s third generation. A fourth generation of party leaders would logically be next in line –but that generation doesn’t include Hsien Long’s son, Lee Hongyi, though he could enter politics as his father leaves it, paving the way for his becoming the fifth generation leader in time. That’s the dynasty theory, Singapore-style.

It’s interesting that the sister blasting the brother was itself considered unacceptable dynastic behavior by some Singaporeans. Political dynasties proliferate in all of Asia, and the Lees, whether they like it or not, are often classified by outsiders as a dynasty. Besides their prime minister brother, the Lee siblings are accomplished in their own right and prominently placed in Singaporean public and commercial life. Lee Hsien Yang was formerly CEO of Singtel, and is the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore as well as board and advisory roles in other firms. Their sister Lee Wei Ling is senior adviser to Singapore’s National Neuroscience Institute.

The brothers Lee are both former brigadier generals, but their wives are tough mamas too. PM Lee Hsien Long’s wife, Ho Ching, was ranked No. 30 in Forbes’ 2016 List of the world’s most powerful women. Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, Lim Suet Fern, is a formidable lawyer, managing the Singapore office of the Morgan Lewis firm, which operates in both Singapore and Hong Kong.

Now it all came together –brothers, sister, wives, children– when the drama was revived on social media on June 14. That was when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long’s brother and sister issued a statement accusing their elder brother of using his position as Prime Minister to convene a special committee to study the matter. This, they claimed, was their elder brother’s way of trying to find a way to disobey their father’s final instructions. The battle was joined. Those opposed to demolition, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long, point to the penultimate –the next to the last—will, which did not specify the demolition of the house. But proponents of demolition, including the other Lee siblings, point to the final version of the will, which specified demolition and sale of the lot –adding that most versions of the will had the same provision.

The explosive statement was accompanied with Third World-style drama: Lee Hsien Yang, the PM’s brother, said he was so worried he decided he had to leave the country. Escalating revelations were made: of old man LKY facing pressure to modify his will, a struggle that involved emails between the spouses of the Lee sons, and Lee’s daughter. There were allegations of financial self-interest. How LKY’s penultimate will gave his unmarried daughter, an extra share of the estate, as well as allowing her to keep the house and live in it. The final version brought back splitting the estate three ways, equally, among the children, including demolishing the house and selling the lot, once Lee’s unmarried daughter, Lee Wei Ling, who continues to live there, decides to move out.

So far, you might think it was all a case of an old father trying to be nice to his spinster daughter, who was then maneuvered out of her extra share by her brothers. But then, spinster daughter and younger son united against elder brother, alleging, again, Third World behavior: dynasty-building, power-tripping, persecution and promoting personal, versus collective, interest. But the political angle wasn’t helped when Lee Hongyi –remember him? The grandson of LKY and son of Lee Hsien Long?– said he’s not interested in politics.

So the Singaporean rumor mill obsessed over another twist to the tale: could it all be a battle between the powerful wives? By which point the Prime Minister had issued a public apology to the Singaporean people, said he would take questions in parliament, and hinted he might sue for defamation in the style of his father.

In the end, this whole drama still remains to play out. But what it has done is clearly prove that the era of LKY is over.

What set the Lees apart was that no one could ever say any of them, individually or collectively, were incompetent, irresponsible, or corrupt. Lee Kwan Yew himself wrote in his autobiography that being the father of his son had hindered, not helped, his son’s rise to power: he would have become prime minister on his own merits years earlier.

But now, the Lees have proven they’re human, too, and where once there was only awe, for some, there is doubt. For most, there is irritation: just as the Lees took their fight to social media, in social media an anonymous letter was widely shared: keep Singapore out of your quarrel, it said. We have enough problems with China, terrorism, and the economy. Don’t shame our country, it said, ending with this truly damning line, “Your father put Singapore first and foremost above everything – you might like to do the same.”