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Posted at Jun 19 2017 10:55 PM | Updated as of Jun 19 2017 11:00 PM
In eleven days, it will be one year since Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines. When he took his oath in 2016, it marked seventy years since the country last had a president of Cebuano ethnicity. To put our president’s age in context: he was a Liberation baby, one year old when Sergio Osmeña became president, and in turn, he became president seven decades after Osmeña left office.
In fact when President Duterte became president at the age of 71, he became the oldest person to assume office. Of our three oldest presidents, Sergio Osmeña, was 66 when he became president in 1944, and 68 when he left office in 1946.
Ferdinand Marcos, who had started out as one of our youngest president, was 69 years old when he was removed from office in 1986.
And Fidel V. Ramos, who’d been the next-oldest to Osmeña, was 64 when he became president in 1992 and 70 when his term ended in 1998.
But age, in and of itself, is no guarantee either of ill-health or a short presidency. Osmeña himself was only a month younger than his predecessor, Manuel Quezon, but succeeded to the presidency.
However, by 1946, white-haired and hard of hearing, Osmeña suffered in comparison to what people considered his younger, more vigorous rival, Manuel Roxas.
Osmeña ended up having the last laugh. He outlived Roxas, who died in office in 1948, by 13 years.
When Roxas died of a heart attack, the second constitutional succession in our history took place. The problem was, when Roxas died, Quirino had been at sea, recovering from a heart attack.
He would continue to have heart trouble during his presidency, spending most of his reelection campaign in 1953 in a hospital room.
So, not only did Osmeña outlive Roxas, he outlived Roxas’ own successor, Quirino, who died in 1956, by 4 years. And he even outlived Ramon Magsaysay, who became our youngest elected president in 1953, by 3 years: Magsaysay died in a plane crash at the age of 50 in 1957.
This meant that aside from Emilio Aguinaldo, seen at the right, Osmeña, on the left, outlived three of his successors. Aguinaldo outlived five of his successors.
This only goes to prove two things. As a government and a people, we have lots of experience handling ailing presidents and situations when they die in office. But we owe our current rules on what to do when presidents are sick, to one president.
That president is our current president’s idol, Ferdinand E. Marcos. By the late 1970s, the formerly vigorous dictator had begun to have health problems, and as the years wore on, they increased.
If you thought the rumor mill was in overdrive over the five days President Duterte was out of the public eye, ask the older generation what sort of rumors swept the country about Marcos.
In 1986, during the snap election campaign, the focus became the obvious ill-health of the great dictator, something that couldn’t be hidden from the public.
From photos where people saw his bandaged hand, to reporters snooping on everything down to what was in the toilets during the president’s campaign pit stops, health became an issue.
When the time came for a new constitution, the framers of our 1987 Charter had Marcos in mind when they put in this provision. It’s in the article on the Executive Branch:
Section 12. In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health. The members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall not be denied access to the President during such illness.
So what does this tell us? Well, first of all, it tells us that Rep. Gary Alejano’s wrong when he said being informed about the president’s health is a matter of national security. It’s not. It’s about the public’s right to information about the president’s health.
And here, we have lots of examples about how it’s supposed to go.
Former President Ramos had everything from surgery to a chipped tooth and it was all revealed to the public together with regular updates, including then-Vice President Estrada being informed.
Former President Arroyo, during her times of being under the weather, also had her procedures and health status detailed to the public.
You might even remember that when former President Aquino had a cold or the flu, the media was informed, and he himself told the public in his last State of the Nation Address, that he had dispensed with marching down the aisle of Congress because he wasn’t feeling well.
For his part, as he approaches his first year in office, it’s fair to say President Duterte has been forthcoming about his health, even during the campaign. He himself revealed he has various ailments, ranging from Barret’s esophagus, Buerger’s disease, to migraines and dizziness, leading to the past use of the pain reliever Fentanyl and, most recently, using an oxygen concentrator machine to help him sleep at night. Chronic ailments, maybe, but not life-threatening.
Over the weekend, he reappeared and told everyone he’d been tired, and even took a secret trip. Perhaps in his second State of the Nation Address, he might even say what that trip was about and where he went.
As is the privilege of his office, he has the last word: I’m not worried about my health, he said, because after all we have a Vice-President. And as history shows in the case of our other Cebuano president, it might just be Rodrigo Duterte will have the last laugh, too.
It turns out martial law in the Philippines isn’t quite so simple after all
By Manuel Quezon IIIJune 15
Government soldiers stand guard as troops continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City, Philippines, on Thursday. (Romeo Ranoco/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.
It has been almost a month since President Rodrigo Duterte responded to the outbreak of fighting in Marawi City, in the center of the island of Mindanao, with a declaration of martial law. The army is still struggling to wrest back control of part of the area from a group of Muslim insurgents.
But how have Philippine institutions reacted to the declaration? The current Philippine constitution, which dates to 1987, contains provisions meant to prevent a repeat of the “self-coup” staged by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972-1973, when his imposition of martial law laid the basis for years of authoritarian rule. To prevent this from happening again, the designers of the constitution included a series of safeguards.
The constitution stipulates that a state of martial law cannot be used to shut down Congress or the courts, or to deprive individuals of their rights under law. It says the Supreme Court can review the factual basis for martial law if any citizen files a corresponding case. And it commands Congress to immediately convene if martial law is proclaimed during a recess, specifies that the president must submit a report to it, and gives it the power to vote, in a joint session, on overruling the state of emergency.
When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo imposed martial law in 2009, the two institutions did as the constitution expected them to do: Congress held a joint session, and the Supreme Court accepted cases, but Arroyo lifted the state of emergency before either institution could formally approve or disapprove of the measure.
But when Duterte proclaimed martial law on May 23, something strange and disturbing happened. In stark contrast to 2009, the other two branches of government diverged when deciding what to do next. Congress, which is controlled by a pro-Duterte majority, opted to ignore its own behavior eight years ago, instead adopting the novel theory that a joint session was required only if Congress opposed martial law. Instead, both chambers passed separate resolutions expressing approval, brushing aside the constitution’s stipulations.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Maria Lourdes Sereno, had other ideas. She made a point of registering her objections. She reminded subordinate courts they should continue doing their jobs, and delivered a graduation speech reminding students of the dark period under the Marcos dictatorship. What’s more, the Supreme Court’s pointed insistence that civil rights were not canceled out by martial law found an unexpected echo in the very institution that had been instrumental in establishing the Marcos dictatorship: the Philippine military.
Both the secretary of national defense and the armed forces chief of staff took pains to point out that neither of them had recommended martial law. And even as Duterte vowed to implement martial law like Marcos(the president he admires most), the defense department issued an instruction to the troops enumerating constitutionally prohibited acts. This was formalized when Duterte signed a General Order adopting the military line, a detailed enumeration of rights that contradicted his own fire-breathing rhetoric.
The Philippine president had spent his first few months in office trying to woo the military, touring their camps and trying to charm them. He eventually stopped when it became clear that officers had grave reservations about his anti-American and pro-Chinese and pro-Russian policies, his eagerness to appoint high-ranking Communists to important cabinet departments, and his touting of peace negotiations with the Communist rebel leadership in exile. The military, too, rather pointedly declined to take part in Duterte’s war on drugs, announcing so many conditions — including publicly requesting written orders — that it would’ve made their participation next-to-useless. In the initial days of martial law, the military spent almost as much time playing down the president’s assertions of Islamic State infiltration of Mindanao as it did fighting house to house in Marawi City.
For his part, the president tried proposing that Muslim rebels engaged in peace negotiations be allowed to join the fighting, along with Communist rebels — ideas publicly rejected by the military. Meanwhile the president and the House speaker took turns denouncing the Supreme Court, both saying they would ignore the justices if they dared to declare martial law invalid. The court didn’t go that far, but it did choose to accept several cases challenging martial law.
The Supreme Court has just concluded three days of hearings on challenges to the proclamation of martial law, filed by church, civil society and political leaders. The plaintiffs generally raise two objections: the factual basis for the proclamation, and the refusal of the Philippine Congress to convene a joint session. Because the constitution states that the Supreme Court must rule on any challenge within 30 days, a decision should be forthcoming by early July.
The prospects of an extension will depend in part on how the Supreme Court decides on the cases before it. It’s revealing that the House speaker has continued making combative statements about the Supreme Court. Duterte, for his part, recently backpedaled and said he will abide by the court’s decision. What’s clear, however, is that of the three branches of government, the Supreme Court is now on its own as far as oversight of martial law is concerned.
As the hearings in the Supreme Court on the martial law petitions take place, many hope to find out what ought to have been put on the record weeks ago—namely, what factors contributed to President Duterte’s decision to impose martial law in Mindanao.
Yesterday, for example, media reported Solicitor General Jose Calida’s assertion that on May 18, government obtained intelligence that the Mautes were planning to burn down Marawi on May 26 and raise the flag of the Islamic State. This led to the May 23 arrest operation that turned into the Battle of Marawi. It also explains Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s somewhat cryptic statement in Moscow—that the arrest mission’s turning into urban fighting was not a failure of intelligence, but a failure of proper intelligence appreciation. We might, indeed, get bits and pieces of information and a counteranalysis to the President’s report to Congress. However, all of this was properly Congress’ to discuss, except that it passed on the opportunity to do so.
Which is one of the questions now confronting the Supreme Court: whether Congress ought to be compelled to convene (or told it was remiss in not convening) in joint session and vote on martial law proclamation, whether for or against. The other question is: Is there enough factual basis for martial law?
What both questions mean is that the Supreme Court is on the horns of a dilemma. The Constitution requires it to rule on the factual basis of martial law, but doing so places it on a possible collision course with the other two branches of government—the executive and the legislative. This is pointedly, and painfully, the problem. Since both the President and half of Congress in the person of the Speaker of the House have raised the ante by making dismissive and hostile statements about the Supreme Court, nervous types have become skittish over the possibility of a constitutional crisis.
In this instance a constitutional crisis would be in the form of both the President and Congress laughing in the face of an adverse decision by the Supreme Court, and shrieking that the justices have no clothes. The result would be a Supreme Court that produced thick wads of paper with no effect on the rest of government.
When the House tried to impeach then-chief justice Hilario Davide Jr., it was Speaker Jose de Venecia who was on the horns of a dilemma. The Supreme Court then had ordered the House to cease and desist. The House had to decide whether it should proceed and risk of the Supreme Court telling the police, under the executive branch, to carry out its orders. This raised the possibility of the police invading the session hall of Congress on orders of the President, upon orders of the Supreme Court. In one of the most important speeches in our political history, De Venecia addressed his colleagues to plead with them to stand down, averting a crisis.
The Supreme Court back then wasn’t beyond brinksmanship when it’s chief justice was embattled, just as it reversed almost half a century of precedents to allow one of its own to become chief justice by virtue of a midnight appointment a decade later. It can be lion-like in defending itself; but in the face of a roaring chief executive its record is a little more mixed.
What was, and is, fundamentally at stake in both 1972-73, and in 2017, is the collective courage of the Supreme Court and the character of the individual justices. Lawyers can argue any question from any angle, taking any side (including the most reprehensible). Which means that all things being equal, in a possible confrontation involving institutions, it is human frailty, not judicial skill, that can dictate the outcome.
This was the fundamental lesson of the confrontation between Marcos and the Supreme Court in 1972-73. There was nothing to stop the justices from confronting martial law, except the justices themselves; what they did was provide legal cover for their buckling under intimidation. Not a single one of our present judges matches the stature of their predecessors in 1972, not least because, then, the justices represented a Court with untarnished institutional and personal reputations. Yet we saw how many of them raised the white flag.
Then, as now, it will be personal character, not abstract law, that will prevail.
(SPOT.ph) We mark Independence Day with displays of the flag, and generations of schoolchildren are reminded of its evolution, and the meaning of the sun and stars on it. The first eight provinces placed under Martial Law when the 1896 Revolution began, and the three main geographical groups of the nation, Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.If you look into things a bit more, you’ll discover that what we’ve been taught has evolved over time. The star that we identify as the Visayas as a whole for example, was originally identified as Panay; the red, white, and blue are a tribute to the American flag, and so on.
The same applies to what we consider to be our country. We consider it a kind of organic whole that always was, and will always be. But it was a creation of a specific point in time: the collapse of the Spanish Empire in Asia, the rush to pick up the pieces by newer colonial powers, and the edging aside of Filipinos trying to create their own country.
A Spanish historian once told me that while the Filipinos obsessed over Sabah (North Borneo) and the Spratleys, we could just as easily obsess over a Philippines that stretched from the Spratleys on one side, all the way to Guam on the other. Naturally, I asked him why that was. He replied, “Because under Spain, the definition of the Philippines included not just what you consider your country today, but Palau (now the Republic of Palau), the Marianas (now known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas and the separate island of Guam), the Carolines (which was also referred to as the New Philippines, now known as the Federated States of Micronesia).” Collectively, this sprawling set of islands was referred to by the Spaniards as the Spanish East Indies (in contrast to, say, the Dutch East Indies, which was the pre-independence name for Indonesia), and were ruled from Manila.
Philippine map from 1857. The Philippines as the Spanish viewed and administered it until 1898. Palaos is Palau; Carolinas is Micronesia; Guajan is Guam, with its capital, Agaña, labeled “Capital and residence of the governor of this archipelago, a dependency of the Captain-General of the Philippines.”
What is interesting—and requires study, to my mind—is how and why the Filipino concept of what constitutes our country deviated from that of the Spaniards. For example, “Will the distinguished gentleman from Palau please register his vote,” would have been a normal statement to hear, in the sessions of the Malolos Republic. That’s because Palau was considered part of the Philippines by our First Republic. But why not the Carolines, or the Marshalls, or even Guam (which was, in terms of Church administration, for example, considered part of the Archdiocese of Cebu)? These places weren’t included in the Philippines, even by our revolutionary generation.
Our Moro brethren nowadays challenge, as well, for example, the inclusion of Mindanao in our standard definition of the Philippines, while the Malolos Republic considered it part of the country. On the other hand, in the Visayas, the urge toward Federalism has always been strong –so where did it come from? The simple answer is: It’s complicated.
On our Independence Day, it would be good to see how our country evolved not from one, but in a sense, many revolutions. Each one contributing to the geographical and political entity we call home. These maps put online by the government in past years, serve as a helpful guide to understanding what happened and why some parts of our national story continue to be hotly debated until now.
The French famously said that a revolution devours its own children, and our Independence Day, June 12, is a tell-tale sign of this. While historians continue to heatedly debate where and how the start of the Revolution against Spain began (Balintawak or Pugad Lawin? Take your pick), one thing is sure: We don’t mark our Independence Day on the date that revolution began unlike most other countries that trace their origins to a revolution. But this airbrushing can’t totally erase Bonifacio, the Katipunan, or the moment in time the Spaniards finally realized they had more than your usual localized revolt on their hands. That moment was August 30, 1896, when Governor-General Ramon Blanco proclaimed Martial Law in eight provinces: Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Batangas, Pampanga, Bulacan, Tarlac, and Nueva Ecija. (Yes, Manila was also a province with its own territory in that era.)
Interestingly, these provinces aren’t exactly the eight rays of the sun in our flag. The June 12, 1898 proclamation of independence says the rays represent “Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Laguna and Batangas” as the provinces placed under Martial Law, substituting Bataan for Tarlac.
Proclamation of Martial Law on August 30, 1896: when the Spaniards recognized they had a serious situation on their hands.
What we often overlook is how the Spaniards, too, two months later, on October 25, 1896, recognized that things were getting even more out of hand. On that date, the same Governor-General Blanco issued another proclamation, this time placing Bataan, Zambales, and Sibugay (in the then-province of Zamboanga) also under Martial Law. So Bataan belongs to the second set of provinces placed under Martial Law, two months after the Revolution began, and ended up edging out Tarlac in the flag.
Extension of Martial Law in October 1896: The Zamboanga part is complicated, best explained in the original presentation: “Ken from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra website illustrates an area corresponding roughly to Zamboanga. However, this map seems to indicate the present political boundaries of Zamboanga, Sibugay. Our extrapolation to resolve this is to represent the Martial Law proclamation as covering the then province of Zamboanga.”
By 1897 if you asked the Spaniards which provinces the indios were uppity enough to have engaged in revolt, they would have pointed to a map like the one below. The dark red portion shows the first provinces to have risen in revolt; the parts in pink shows how widely the Revolution had spread before it began to be rolled back after reinforcements were brought in, while the Revolution itself had led to a purge of its original leadership (Bonifacio) in Tejeros in the early part of 1897, when the Katipunan government was abolished and replaced by a Revolutionary government. By December 18, 1897, Aguinaldo had abolished the revolutionary government and put up the Biak-na-Bato Republic, which signed a peace treaty with Spain. On December 27, 1897, Aguinaldo went into exile, setting up the Hong Kong Junta.
The Spanish view, at least, of the maximum extent of the First Phase of the Revolution, which came to an end in late 1897.
While Aguinaldo and friends continued to plot in exile, and Spain thought it had won, there were others who decided to take up arms once again. In February 1898, a revolt erupted in Cebu under the leadership of Francisco Llamas who’d been a municipal treasurer in the town of San Nicolas. The revolutionary committee that was established proved durable: It would later recognize the Authority of Aguinaldo when he returned to resume the Revolution (its Second Phase).
Cebu revolts, early February 1898
A month after Cebu rose up in revolt, Panay started preparing to do the same. With the daring name of “The Conspirators’ Committee” and its headquarters in Molo, meetings began in March 1898 and led to the formation of the Revolutionary Central Committee of the Visayas when the revolt began in August 1898, evolving, in turn, into the Provisional Government of the District of Visayas.
Panay revolts, August 1898
But between the rising up of Cebu in March 1898 and Panay resuming its fight against Spain in August, Aguinaldo came home, assisted by the Americans who were now at war with Spain and who had sunk the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. Aguinaldo unfurled the flag on May 28, 1898 and by June 12, 1898—the date he spent his entire life lobbying to be the one and only Independence Day of the country—he had proclaimed himself dictator of the Philippines. In this period, from May to June, 1898, seven Luzon and five Visayas provinces resumed the Revolution, which marks the Second Phase of the fight against Spain. We know from the maps above that Cebu was already engaged in fighting Spain and that Panay was uniting to fight Spain. The Spaniards of course made no distinctions as to whether the indios in Luzon or the Visayas had different ideas of what the objective of the fight was (we’ll get into this next). While Aguinaldo, besides declaring himself dictator and declaring the Philippines would be under the protection of the United States, also daringly asserted independence for the entire country, as defined by the stars in the flag: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Aguinaldo’s return, Second Phase of the Revolution from May to June 1898, including the February to August goings-on in the Visayas
But someone was unhappy with the proclamation of independence on June 12. Apolinario Mabini had been summoned by Aguinaldo and arrived just in time to witness the ceremonies in Kawit. Mabini was upset by it. He did not like the fact that Aguinaldo had declared himself a dictator and he found the proclamation of Independence defective on two grounds. First, he said it was premature to tell the world we were an American protectorate when it wasn’t clear if the Americans were committed to such a relationship. Second, he argued Aguinaldo and friends simply couldn’t just stand by the window and shout that they were both proclaiming and leading the new nation on their own say-so. Why should anyone take them seriously? He insisted that Aguinaldo turn his dictatorship into a revolutionary government and that a mechanism had to be found for duly-elected representatives of the provinces to ratify the proclamation of Independence.
Not everyone could be elected, some had to be appointed, but on August 1, 1898, the ratification of the proclamation of Independence was formalized by representatives of Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan, Bataan, Infanta, Morong, Tayabas, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Mindoro, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, La Union, and Zambales. But the Visayas were left out, even though they were engaged in fighting Spain.
First Ratification of the Proclamation of Independence, August 1, 1898
Fighting America in Cuba and the Philippines, both of which also had their own revolutionaries fighting them, Spain hoped European powers, particularly Germany, would come to its aid. Within days of the American victory in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, the British, French, and Germans, all of whom had colonies in Southeast Asia, had sent warships to Manila Bay to see how things would unfold. The Germans, according to a French naval officer, at least, were particularly being relied on by the desperate Spaniards to come to their aid, but played coy, waiting to see if America would stay or go.
The Spanish forces in the Philippines collapsed. The Americans took Manila. Except for isolated pockets—in Baler, then in the province of El Principe, and in some towns in the Visayas—the Spaniards had surrendered. By September 15, 1898, Aguinaldo had convened the Malolos Congress and on September 29, 1898, the delegates to the Congress (a combination, again, of elected and appointed delegates—most were appointed) then ratified, for the second time, the June 12, 1898 proclamation of Independence. This time, formally at least, in the name of all the component provinces of the former Spanish colony of the Philippine archipelago.
But here’s something we often overlook. Through the composition of the Malolos Congress itself, and thus, the delegates who made the ratification, the Philippines of the First Republic was different from the Philippines of today. That’s because we should note the return in Malolos, for the last time, of a view of the Philippines extending beyond what we consider it to be today. You see, the delegates to the Malolos Congress included a certain Ramon Arriola, who was appointed delegate for “the islands of Palaos,” which we could take to mean the entire Caroline Islands. Formally-speaking, at least, the Philippines as envisioned by the revolutionaries of 1898 extended to at the very least, Palau, and more likely, included, in their mental map, the entire Caroline Islands group, today’s Micronesia.
Aside from asserting Palau as part of the Philippines, two other things are worth noting. First, the Moro sultanates were included, but not because they sent representatives. For example, Benito Legarda, who was from Manila, was the appointed delegate for Jolo (Aguinaldo would try to rectify this, for example by inviting the Sultan of Sulu to join the Republic in January, 1899 but Aguinaldo’s letter was never answered). Second, the Visayans had been happily—and successfully—doing their own thing. By the time the second ratification of independence rolled around, the Visayas had the Cantonal Government of Negros, the Cantonal Government of Bohol, and the Provisional Government of the District of Visayas: All of which had fought Spain, but weren’t entirely keen on being under a central government. So while their membership in the First Republic was formalized by the Malolos Congress, the territory of these governments is marked with stripes because it wasn’t all that neat and tidy, then.
Second Ratification of the Proclamation of Independence, September 29, 1898. The striped areas indicate the Visayas, included in the ratification, but which also had their own governments.
This brings us to another thing we often entirely overlook: The different approach the Visayans took in fighting Spain and organizing themselves afterwards. Remember that Cebu had risen up in February 1898, even before Aguinaldo returned. Panay was organized and in full revolt by August 1898 when it became the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the District of the Visayas, which included by then the then-provinces of Tablas and Romblon. Bohol had also risen up in revolt in August, 1898. All this, even before the Malolos Congress was convened in September.
When the Malolos Congress was convened, these Visayan governments sent word they would recognize the Malolos Republic but on certain conditions. They wanted a Federal System; so while they would recognize Aguinaldo, they would have their own governments, collect their own taxes, and raise their own armies. By November 1898, Negros had risen up in revolt and organized itself into the Cantonal Government of Negros, and by December 2, 1898, they (Cebu, Bohol, Negros, Panay and its other component provinces) had all organized themselves into the Federal State of the Visayas to strengthen their case.
In the end, just as whatever setup was originally conceived of under the Malolos Constitution never fully operated, because the First Republic was by now engulfed in a war of survival against the United States, whatever relationship the Visayas really wanted was overtaken by military considerations. Two military districts—of Guimaras, Antique and Iloilo, basically covering the territory of the Federal State of the Visayas—and of Samar, Leyte and Marinduque, were organized by the Malolos government, with troops sent by Aguinaldo from Malolos to take charge. But the seed of Federalism had been planted, and continues to be a deeply-held belief among quite a few people to this day.
The Visayas in the time of the First Republic, 1898-99: Showing the different states as they originally came into being, their union as a Federal State, and the military districts that overshadowed them.
By 1901, though there would continue to be isolated pockets of resistance for years to come, the First Republic was gone, defeated, and destroyed. But aside from the flag, anthem presidency and Independence Day that are its most obvious legacies today, it also created our view of what the Philippines is: The map you see below.
The Philippines under the First Republic. Don’t forget Palau!
But even this map was the result of subsequent editing, so to speak. Remember Palau? The story of how our country came to be defined by the map you see above unfolded even as the First Republic was still fighting for its life. First, of course, was the decision of the United States and Spain to settle matters, ignoring the existence of our First Republic. The Philippines, as defined by the red bordered area below, was transferred to the United States, which also gained Puerto Rico and Guam. Cuba was given its independence, but as an American protectorate.
The year after, in 1899, its prize possessions gone, Spain let go of its remaining real estate by selling it to Germany. The Germans had acquired half of New Guinea in 1884, and the Marshall Islands in 1885. Buying up the Caroline Islands, Palau, and the Marianas (except for Guam, which had gone to the Americans) made perfect sense, so they did.
The partitioning of the Spanish East Indies and the creation of the boundaries we recognize today, 1898-1900.
The British, for their part, so long as the Sultan of Sulu had been weak, and Spain too weak to be either a rival or a threat, had concentrated on placing North Borneo under their control, accomplishing this by 1882. With a new, vigorous power in the neighborhood, however, the British embarked on clarifying (and, along the way, strengthening) their claim by negotiating a treaty with the United States in 1900. It was this combination of actions: The American decision on what to acquire and not to acquire from Spain, and their willingness to establish borders with the British, that established the Philippines along the lines of what we consider the country to be today.
When Germany was defeated in World War I, its Pacific colonies were taken away and placed under the trusteeship of the League of Nations, which assigned control to Japan. When Japan lost World War II, these island groups in turn were placed under the trusteeship of the United Nations, which assigned control to the United States, until they achieved their present-day status.
Yet there’s one remaining footnote to this story of loss. A kind of echo of the Philippines that once was exists in the stories of our First Republic’s leaders as they were sent into exile by the Americans. Mabini himself with others, was exiled to Guam—which once upon a still recent time, had been considered part of the Philippines and which had been administered as part of the Archdiocese of Cebu. This marked, in a sense, the last in a line of Filipino exiles to the Marianas from 1872 when prominent Filipinos suspected of involvement in the Cavite Revolt of 1872—the revolt from which the whole idea of a Filipino people and nation is widely considered to have emerged from—had been sent there. It can be argued that those two batches of exiles, the first sent in 1872 to what was considered the remote outpost of the Philippines, and the last, sent in 1902 to what was no longer, and would never again, be a part of a now-disappeared definition of the Philippines, marks a story still waiting to be told. Of a geography that had lasted centuries, and which is now completely forgotten.
When the fighting in Marawi City began, public opinion, broadly speaking, rallied around the flag and our troops—something made even easier by the military establishment’s obvious reluctance over martial law and relative transparency over the unfolding events.
Somebody observed that Moro refugees willingly evacuated Marawi City not only to save themselves but also to assist the military in clearing out the terrorists. But these refugees are now critical of the government because of the military air strikes. A refugee rued that even if the military sprayed all their houses with bullets, they could patch them up; but to bomb is to utterly destroy, and that they could not accept.
To compound matters, up to that point the refugees had heard no assurances from officials that government would help them rebuild. Instead, what traveled through the refugee grapevine was news of which areas were being destroyed, resulting in people forming a fairly complete picture of who still had homes, and who no longer has one to return to. It is the destruction of homes that is turning refugee opinion against the armed forces.
A Metro Manila resident who heard this responded, “Do you think any government would dare to do to Metro Manila what is being done to Marawi City?” An opinion born of experience with the last time there was urban fighting in the capital—in 1989. Destruction was significant, but nowhere near what it could have been—as was the case with Manila in 1945, when fanatical, suicidal, ruthless Japanese troops systematically set about murdering as many civilians and killing as many Filipino and American soldiers as they could.
One of the most difficult and bloodiest forms of fighting is the kind that takes place in an urban setting. A small, motivated and ruthless force can tie down a much larger one.
The instinct of the military is to shoot and demolish first and ask questions later, rather than risk the lives of its troops. Gen. Robert Beightler who commanded the 37th Infantry Division during the Battle of Manila in 1945, summed it up this way: “Although I know there was plenty of weeping and wailing from property owners who saw the buildings disappear in the blasts of 240-mm shells, if I could have had those dive bombers too, I might have made the big rubble into little rubble.”
That is the military mind at work: Once the mission starts, the instinct is to throw everything into the fight, to finish it faster, with minimal loss of military lives. Civilian casualties are justified—resulting in a smaller overall loss of life than if things had gotten bogged down and protracted.
But the danger, as quite a few voices from Mindanao civil society expressed last Friday, is that as government tries to accelerate its operations, the toll can have unexpected repercussions not just on the Moro people, but also on the wider public opinion. It can radicalize younger Moros; and it can fan the embers of old prejudices.
If we are troubled by the thought of jihad, we should be equally troubled by images of the crusades. Back in 2008 when news of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity agreement broke, one Mindanao blogger recounted how citizens rushed to their church, brought out the town’s statue of the Virgin Mary, and held an impromptu procession, vowing to defend their homes to the death against the Moros.
Another blogger wrote about their mayor closing his oration about rumors that the city [Iligan] would be ceded to the Moros with the cry, “Viva Señor San Miguel!” as his fellow Iliganons thundered, “Viva!”
“The Mayor was speaking the heart language of the Iliganon, something that they could understand. He was speaking the old language of the Spanish times at the time when the citizens of the old fort of Iligan defended the fort and even waged battle against the Moros,” he recalled.
And yet today, Iligan is one of the places where residents of Marawi City have found refuge with relatives and friends. And it is in Marawi where story upon story has emerged—of Moros standing up against the terrorists, risking life and limb to protect and rescue Christian town-mates. When has the nation seen such authentic spirituality, such heroic solidarity, in the face of brutality? And if such voices insist there must be a different way to free Marawi, shouldn’t the first instinct of those who serve and protect be, to listen?
Three months after the 30th anniversary of the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, the democratic consensus that Charter represented has come to an end. The final rites were pronounced by Congress this week, when the House announced on Monday it would merely convene as a Committee of the Whole to sit in executive session for a briefing on martial law. And yesterday, 15 senators excreted a sense of the Senate resolution surrendering their even limited ability to influence events by saying they supported martial law. A far cry from the Senate of 2009 which passed a resolution critical of martial law.
No one expects anything but parochial subservience from members of the House. But senators are expected to put forward a national point of view and scrutinize executive actions as the only officials outside the executive who also possess national mandates. While no one reasonably expected anything but approval by Congress of martial law, it was reasonable to expect it to at least make the proclamation legally iron-clad (and lay out the case for it) or subject the decision to some kind of scrutiny—and put on record each member’s vote for or against.
Then again nothing is obvious to those who refuse to see.
In 1973, Ferdinand Marcos, bayonets at the ready, at least permitted those constitutional convention delegates he hadn’t arrested to go through the motions of a final vote on the constitution he instructed them to approve. However token the opposition, it was put on record. As was the enthusiastic approval of the delegates salivating over their vote being a ticket to a seat in the Interim Batasan Pambansa, an ambition shared by senators and congressmen who quietly approved of martial law. Having privately threatened the Supreme Court with abolition, Marcos fortified his position when the Court put its cowardice on record by meekly stepping aside and declaring the Marcos constitution in full force and effect.
The present Charter’s command that Congress convene without need of a presidential proclamation in case of a recess, and that they vote in joint session on martial law, had its origins in the post-1986 democratic consensus that no man or woman should ever have an opportunity to nullify our institutions in one fell swoop. Through an exercise of creative imagination, Congress invented reasons to excuse its dereliction of duty.
By doing so, the 17th Congress of Pantaleon Alvarez and Aquilino Pimentel III has proven itself worse than the 8th Congress of Cornelio Villareal and Gil Puyat: At least, Congress was in recess when Marcos proclaimed martial law, and its abolition before it was scheduled to reconvene in January 1973 provided the excuse that any institutional response was impossible.
But individual responses were possible. There is a reason the country will always remember Doy Laurel, Monching Mitra, Eva Estrada-Kalaw, Gerry Roxas and Jovy Salonga—they were the only senators who showed up to bear witness to their chamber being padlocked by Marcos’ military); whatever they did before or after, in 1973 they bothered to take their mandate as senators seriously when their chamber was shut down.
Similarly, there should be goodwill reserved for Senators Pangilinan, Hontiveros, Aquino, Trillanes, Drilon, De Lima, Escudero and Poe. Each may have different attitudes towards martial law but knowing well enough a joint session was required, at least did not sign (nor were even asked to, it seems).
And particular disgust should be reserved for Senators Gatchalian, Legarda, Villanueva and Ejercito who, despite announcing they were for a joint session, negated their stand as they ended up signing yesterday’s defeatist resolution; and for Zubiri and Gordon who had participated in the joint session of 2009 only to roll over this time, not least when other participants in 2009 like Edcel Lagman remained consistent in insisting that Congress ought to convene.
Four months from now, we will mark the centennial of Ferdinand Marcos’ birth. We can only assume that by then, the country will be closer to his dark vision of the office he once held, more than ever since his disgrace in 1986. Recall American senator Mike Mansfield’s famous quip, describing the Philippines as “a nation of 40 million cowards and one son of a bitch.”
In late January to early February 1956, Sihanouk, then prime minister of Cambodia (he was king from 1941 to 1955 and, afterwards, head of state from 1960 to 1970 and from 1975 to 1976, then king once more from 1993 until his death), visited the Philippines. He would recount in his memoirs that “President Magsaysay invited me to a farewell dinner to which he had also asked the director of the National Library. After the meal was over, he asked the director to produce famous historical documents which showed that during the 17th century, when an ancestor of mine was about to lose his throne, he was saved by Filipino mercenary troops. ‘You see,’ said Magsaysay, ‘we did not remain neutral when your throne was imperiled. We will soon all be in danger of Chinese aggression—but you want to remain neutral’.
“‘Mr. President,’ I replied, ‘if ever the day comes that your independence is threatened, we will not remain neutral. The Cambodian people, the Cambodian government, and I, personally, would not remain neutral. We will repay our debt if you become the victim of aggression, and this applies also to communist aggression’.”
He then added, “My departure from Manila was in marked contrast to my arrival. The US Ambassador was absent from the frigid airport leaving ceremony… (Subsequent) Public disclosure of the scandalous events in Manila had their consequences. Vice President Garcia complained rather picturesquely that I had not even shown ‘gut gratitude’ for I had eaten Philippine food, then had ‘bitten the hand that fed me’.” Sihanouk pointedly observed, “The sight of a nation which had fallen so completely under the domination of a foreign power strengthened me in my resolve to defend Cambodian independence to the end.”
A little later in his memoirs, Sihanouk narrated, “In an ironic turn of fortune’s wheel, in early 1964—eight years after the events described—the then President of the Philippines, Macapagal, asked whether, in view of my good relations with President Soekarno of Indonesia, I could play some role in easing tensions between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It was the time of Soekarno’s ‘confrontation policy’ with Malaysia. The Philippines also had territorial claims on Malaysia. I invited Tengku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia and President Macapagal to Cambodia. First of all we met at Angkor—the calm of which I have found useful for cooling tempers—later to Phnom Penh, where I arranged a tremendous reception for the President of the Philippines—a hundred thousand people lining the streets from the airport.”
Sihanouk continued, “The next step was for me to visit Kuala Lumpur, Djakarta, and Manila. No welcoming crowds at the Manila airport—just President Macapagal and his wife, bravely clapping as I stepped down the gangway. He had arranged for schoolchildren to line the streets with Cambodian flags. But seemingly unbeknown to the President, National Assembly (i.e. Congress) deputies had sent out trucks to pick up the children: ‘Go home!’ they were told. ‘Don’t wave those Cambodian flags!’ So I was met with banners reading: ‘Sihanouk slandered us in 1956,’ ‘Sabotage his visit,’ ‘Sihanouk — enemy of The Philippine People!’ We drove through empty streets.”
Sihanouk, writing as an ex-king in Beijing exile at the time, closed with this reflection: “It was one of the worst moments of my life—worse even than being deposed, because then I knew that I had my people with me and that we would fight back and win. But to be humiliated in this way in a so-called friendship visit was galling to the extreme, and further embittered me towards the US and its satellites.”
So he became a Chinese one, serving as head of state while the Khmer Rouge engaged in mass murder, until he and they were ousted by Vietnam. He lived long enough to return to be king of a nation committed to alliance with China, with a prime minister, Hun Sen, who was former Khmer Rouge.
In our country, Martial Law has been imposed four times. The first was by President Jose P. Laurel on September 21, 1944, effective the next day. The second was announced by President Ferdinand E. Marcos on September 23, 1972 (he seems to have signed it on the 22nd but backdated the proclamation to September 21). Both these proclamations were national in scope. The third was by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on December 4, 2009, covering the province of Maguindanao. The fourth, covering the entire island of Mindanao, was by President Rodrigo Duterte late in the evening, Manila Time, of May 23, 2017. It comes months after the President’s September 4, 2016 proclamation of a State of National Emergency due to “lawless violence in Mindanao” which still stands.
You might ask, what provoked this proclamation? The armed confrontation in Marawi City, which resulted from an attempt to apprehend the terrorist Isnilon Hapilon early Tuesday afternoon. Bluntly speaking, it took quite some time for people to notice, then care, about Marawi City being in the midst of an urban assault.
Along the way there were rumors, much-shared on social media, of the armed forces preparing to conduct aerial strikes on the city; and a concerted appeal by activists and others, to prevent the armed forces from doing so, even as others angrily demanded to know why the armed forces seemed unable to swiftly smash the Maute Group which, as photos posted online showed, not only responded ferociously to the joint AFP-PNP operation that failed, but quickly grew in scope, including the Maute Group people raising the banner of ISIS.
Many unanswered questions remain. We have been told by the Secretary of National Defense that there was intelligence, but it was poorly interpreted. We have been assured by the armed forces, that what took place was planned, and not a surprise, and that furthermore, that the situation is under control, the Maute Group having fled after it burned down some homes and other buildings. The military says that isolated reports (by this they probably mean both news reports and tweets, FB posts, and pictures from Marawi residents) gave the impression of enemy swarming but what was happening was isolated attacks by sympathizers, as the rebels fled. The military further denied stories of proposed bombing by air, or hostages being taken in a hospital, and so on.
Time will tell if the military can assure the public that their narrative is the most accurate. We know little else besides there being the destruction of property, traumatized Marawi residents, and an alarmed nation, and that the incident claimed the life of one policeman and two soldiers.
Which means one question that needs to be asked is, if President neither Fidel V. Ramos, when 200 soldiers were killed in an encounter with Misuari forces, nor President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, after incidents like the Kauswagan attack in Lanao del Norte by the MILF did not proclaim martial law, and if President Arroyo did so only in one province after the greatest single massacre of civilians in living memory, what, exactly, is epic enough in scale and scope, to justify martial law over all of Mindanao now?
We don’t know. If you look at the military’s statements, it doesn’t seem to know either. Besides our having been told that the President cut short his visit to Russia and has proclaimed martial law over all of Mindanao, and comments, here and there being pieced together by the media, we know little as to what happened, and why the President believes he has no better option that to impose martial law.
But precisely in light of the President repeatedly having mentioned martial law over the past year (he has said he wanted it, then said it was toothless so useless, then said it should be given teeth and used, then said he didn’t want it—but might be forced to proclaim it—then said no he didn’t want it, then said he might be forced to do it, and most recently said he will do it just as Marcos did it), a more helpful question might be, did the goings-on in Marawi City really justify the President’s proclamation, or did it finally give him an excuse to do what he has long wanted to do, anyway?
I’ve seen voices on line loudly insisting that being from Mindanao, they have nothing to fear, outsiders should butt out, because after all they trust their fellow Mindanawon, the President, to do what is right by them.
The problem with these points of view—the President’s pining for Marcos-style martial law, some loyalists saying they have absolute trust in the President—is the Constitution. It neither presumes, nor concedes, absolute trust to any chief executive when it comes to motives or intent, when proclaiming martial law. Instead, it aims to subject any martial law proclamation to—hopefully—thorough public scrutiny, according Congress and the courts, a chance to weigh in. This, of course, assumes a majority of the people who compose both institutions, are not only capable of being objective, but of understanding both the spirit, and not merely the letter, of our laws. We forget how Chief Justice Concepcion went into early retirement because he was broken-hearted over how his fellow justices failed to boldly confront the arguments and methods for executing Marcos’ martial law, and instead, surrendered to it, and blessed it. All the rules in the world can exist but it takes people to live up to those rules, otherwise they’re useless.
The last time we faced a president eager to test the formal (whether written, legal, or informal, the willingness of not only officials, but the public, to accept or reject a president’s actions) rules governing presidential powers in an emergency, that president faced enough people inside and outside government committed to limiting a president’s actions, that in the end, the exercises proved only limited successes.
President Arroyo had declared a state of national emergency in 2006, and the Supreme Court later ruled some of the acts committed by virtue of that proclamation were illegal. It was widely reported at the time that President Arroyo had really wanted to proclaim martial law, but one of the biggest obstacles proved to be then-ambassador Albert del Rosario in Washington, who refused to endorse it (Arroyo dropped the idea of martial law, and promptly fired del Rosario). In 2009, her imposition of martial law on Maguindanao lasted eight days. During two days of Congressional hearings on martial law (December 9 and 10, 2009) her supporters had taken a beating; a final vote was scheduled for the following Monday, December 14. On December 12, President Arroyo cleverly pulled the rug from under the feet of both Congress and the Supreme Court by announcing the was lifting the proclamation of martial law, making any speeches, votes, or cases academic at best.
But first things first. The President is obligated to submit a report to Congress within 48 hours of the proclamation of martial law (see for example, the one President Arroyo submitted to Congress in 2009). Congress in turn must automatically convene to deliberate on the report, and decide whether it will uphold or set aside, the proclamation of martial law. If it upholds it, it remains in effect for 60 days, unless Congress decides to extend it. The Supreme Court, for its part, can look into the “factual basis” for martial law, upon receipt of a case filed by any citizen.
What is martial law? The online Encyclopedia Britannica defines martial law in this manner: “temporary rule by military authorities of a designated area in time of emergency when the civil authorities are deemed unable to function. The legal effects of a declaration of martial law differ in various jurisdictions, but they generally involve a suspension of normal civil rights and the extension to the civilian population of summary military justice or of military law.”
But our Constitution, written when memories of Marcos’ Martial Law and its abuses were still fresh, has imposed many limits on martial law. Neither Congress nor the courts can be impeded in their functions; the Writ of Habeas Corpus is only suspended for individuals, not all of the citizenry, who are charged in court within three days of their capture for rebellion or participating in, aiding, or abetting, an invasion. About all martial law permits, under these limits, is the use of the military where the police would have been otherwise required; and to facilitate arrests which still have to undergo scrutiny in the courts.
Sounds reassuring. But all this can’t cover up the fact that all the best-intentioned rules, elaborate as they may be, depends on the people manning each institution to do their part as expected. The rules assume that a president will behave responsibly, or if not, that Congress and the courts will. It assumes civilian and military people will abide by the limits imposed by the Constitution.
There are three ways in which all the rules could fail. First, Congress: the Constitution requires that the Senate and the House vote as one body, and not two separate chambers. This essentially makes the Senate useless as their numbers won’t matter if the House decides to support the President. Second, the courts: the rules assume our present Supreme Court will never repeat the cowardice of their predecessors in 1972-73. Never say never. Third, it assumes the bureaucracy and the military won’t allow martial law to be used for purposes for which it isn’t intended –a dictatorship, for example. But it can happen, for reasons that go beyond what the Constitution allows.
And here is the heart of the matter. Martial Law is many things, but it is not a cure-all to all of society’s ills. When Marcos proclaimed martial law in 1972, he went down the list of reasons permitted by the Constitution, but added one not in the Constitution: “to reform society.” This was important because being outside the Constitution, it could not be addressed by the charter; and being so broad and ambitious—to change society itself—it could mean anything, and justify everything. Marcos’ “New Society” would last from 1972 to 1981, when it was rebranded as the “New Republic” which lasted another five years until he was ousted.
In a similar vein, martial law as cure-all has been suggested by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III on Wednesday when he said, maybe martial law can finally solve Mindanao’s ills, including crime. The President himself has famously said martial law would cure all of Mindanao’s problems. But martial law never was, and never is, meant to be a miracle drug for society’s cancers. But suppose, as Marcos did, that if you dangle a juicy enough reason, then public opinion—and the military and bureaucracy are part of the public, too, in that they pay attention to public opinion—will go along with your going beyond what the rules allow?
Which is why, as a debate on martial law now takes place, it would do well to step back and reflect on public opinion. How do people feel about martial law?
Last January, Pulse Asia had released survey results with the following snapshot of public opinion as of December, 2016 (and had also asked the same question in September of that year). Back then, the President had most recently proposed amending the Constitution to give more teeth to a martial law declaration.
I asked Dr. Ronnie Holmes of Pulse Asia if there had been a more recent snapshot of public opinion, and he replied the most recent dates to two months ago, in March. With his permission, here’s the snapshot:
As he observed, “In the March 2017 survey, 65 percent disagreed with Martial Law as a solution. 71 percent in NCR, 76 in the rest of Luzon, and 58 in Mindanao. Visayas registered lowest disagreement at 45 percent with 36 percent agreeing.”
Aside from looking at opinion on the basis of geography, one can also look at it from the point of view of age, sex, educational and employment status:
What does public opion tell us? Martial Law is a tougher sell now, than it has been in recent years. But not an impossible one. The numbers uneasy with, or actually opposed to, martial law might be large, but the numbers for it may be small but they aren’t so small as to be insignificant. And while Luzon is overwhelmingly opposed, the case is much less so in Mindanao and even less so in the Visayas, and among the poor and less educated, and older Filipinos.
The first battle will be in Congress. Here, the national voice of senators will be drowned out by the local interests of representatives. The second battle may be in the Supreme Court, the most traditional of our institutions and thus, the one that hopefully has the longest memory about martial law and dictatorship. But all of them: senators, congressmen, justices, generals, even the President—will be looking to the people, to see if this great gamble can be pulled off, or whether the Palace will have to settle for proclaiming victory while quietly sounding the retreat, as happened in 2009.
The President has been candid about his views. He has now turned his views into reality. This is now about Congress, the courts, and us.
I am thankful to Dr. Ronnie Holmes for permission to publish the results of their March survey; for historical comparison, see below my compilation of previous Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations surveys on martial law, which I’d posted in my blog back in November, 2015.
Over the weekend, news of the appointment of retired general Danilo Lim led to chatter on why so many military men get appointed to executive positions. Especially because Lim’s last appointment, to the Bureau of Customs, did not end well.
What is it about military men that tempts civilian presidents to put them in positions of civilian authority? It is the urge present in all chief executives: to have decisive people, leaders of men in their own right, who don’t debate or question orders but instead, implement them. Over the past half century, many generals reach star rank having taken management courses, too. This makes generals, in many ways, even better, for presidents, than technocrats: they know how to manage, and know how to get things done, with force if necessary.
Ever since President Magsaysay appointed Fred Ruiz Castro, then Judge Advocate-General of the AFP, to become executive secretary, presidents have turned from time to time to retired generals or military officers to be their Little President: Marcos appointed Alejandro Melchor, Jr.; President Arroyo had the most, ranging from retired AFP generals Renato de Villa and Eduardo Ermita, and retired PNP general Leandro Mendoza. But here, the built-in problem of putting military men in important executive positions can be seen in what presidents eventually did with these generals. Castro was fired, because he allowed the president’s relatives to merely visit his office; Melchor proved so powerful and independent-minded, Marcos not only removed him, but abolished the position of executive secretary altogether. President Arroyo created a new position, chief of staff, in the Palace, in parallel with that of executive secretary.
Not all generals are cast in the same mold.
We have had five generations, roughly speaking of generals in our national life. There were the revolutionary generals, then the generals of World War II, the generals of the post-war years until martial law, the generals who earned their spurs during martial law, and the post-EDSA generals. Each generation of generals approached power and politics differently.
Revolutionary generals like Aguinaldo were not professional military men, they were landlords, officials, and prominent individuals who happened to engage in warfare out of necessity, not training. Our first professional soldiers rose through the ranks in the American and Commonwealth periods and were tested as generals under fire during World War II.
Their subordinate officers became the generals of the premarital law era, and historian Al McCoy divides them into two types: those who took civilian supremacy over the military seriously, and those who believed civilians had to give way to the military.
The dividing line between the two was Ferdinand Marcos, who retired the older generals who opposed martial law, and put in place generals eager to carry out his orders to impose a dictatorship. These generals, as they overstayed in their positions, were challenged by younger officers who viewed them as inefficient and tainted with scandals. In turn, these young officers would end up choosing one of two paths: to rebel against authority in the hope of instituting a military dictatorship by means of a coup, and those who remained loyal to civilian authority.
Today, our present crop of generals are the tail end of the generations that divided along the lines of coups and people power, and it can be argued that unlike their immediate elders and upperclassmen, they are fundamentally more inclined to take civilian authority as a given, and aren’t as interested in politics. But even if this is the case, appointing them to civilian positions still reminds older Filipinos of the martial law years.
But just as each generation was molded by its era, each general has to be judged according to his record. For every Danilo Lim who once participated in a coup, there is an Año, who some view as decisively opposed to military intervention in politics. If there are supposed to be 12 retired military officers (not all of them generals) in executive positions today, one has to see if the balance tilts towards generals with a record of political causes or involvement, or strictly professional soldiers.
At first blush, the composition is mixed. There are allies who served or were promoted under former President Arroyo: Roy Cimatu, Hermogenes Esperon, Ricardo Visaya, and Ricardo Jalad. We can call them political generals. There are the ones some believe are professional soldiers wary of involving the military in politics or the drug war: Delfin Lorenzana and soon, Eduardo Año. Then there are the former military rebels, Nicanor Faeldon and Danilo Lim, who are at odds with former soldier-rebels in politics, namely Senator Trillanes and Rep. Alejano. Alexander Balutan for his part, once defied an order from President Arroyo, testified in Congress about cheating in Mindanao, and criticized the Aquino administration. Aside from countering Trillanes and company, then, we could classify them as impatient with civilian processes and governance. The rest, former general Jalad, former Major Jason Aquino, are less well-known, so prudence dictates classifying them as unknown factors at this point.
This rough accounting, however, suggests one thing. Just as the civilian allies of any president represent different factions in a coalition, so too do the retired officers and generals a president decides to hire. That the former generals most outspoken against politicizing the military hold both the National Defense and Interior and Local Governments departments, might be reassuring to some. Only time will tell if they really matter, or if all the other retired officers represent the more powerful faction in official circles.
The genius of a great villain lies in knowing that the decent, law-abiding family men and women viewing his antics may publicly proclaim that they loath him, but that they’re most likely secretly cheering him on—until he fails. This is in comparison to the crime-fighting goody two-shoes caped crusader types out to take him down, because Batman, beyond his costume, is not only boring, but a preachy upper-class twit. After all, the Joker likes to present himself to the public as an unfiltered truth-teller, a liberated soul out to do what everyone secretly wishes they could get away with.
If Tom Wolfe, with his linen suits and homburg hats, is a dandy among novelists, then Roger Stone, who dresses like an impeccably-tailored 1930s mobster, is a dandy among political operatives. He’s been called the “The Dirty Trickster,” by The New Yorker, and the “Sinister Forrest Gump of American Politics” by reporter Jeffrey Toobin.
Last Friday, Netflix released a documentary, “Get Me Roger Stone,” which extensively interviews Roger Stone (and Donald Trump), tracing the life and career of the man who claims he has been out to make The Donald president since 1988, and who claims paternity over the methods and messages of the winning Trump campaign.
Stone likes to brag he was the youngest (at 19) to be mentioned in the Watergate hearings. He takes pride in having been mentored by the notorious Roy Cohn, the lawyer-fixer who served everyone from Sen. Joseph McCarthy during his anti-communist witch hunts, to Ronald Reagan. (Like so many notables in our legal profession, Cohn used to say, “Don’t tell me the law. Tell me the judge.”)
Having helped elect Reagan, Stone partnered with Paul Manafort and Lee Atwaler to connect Washington’s powerful with clients like Ferdinand Marcos. His critics say he is a genius at being a publicity hound, but that his claims to being at the center of things is exaggerated.
Beyond chronicling its subject, the documentary relies on “Stone’s Rules”—the maxims he’s been plugging since 2009 when he came out with a book titled “Stone’s Rules for War, Politics, Food, Fashion, and Living”—to lay out today’s political landscape in terms of Stone’s life and time. Some of those mentioned in the film:
1.“The past is f—–g prologue.” Whether true or not, success today can always be explained as having been made possible by a conspiracy to betray past greatness, in Stone’s case, the unfair persecution of Richard Nixon. Think of the ongoing rehabilitation of Marcos.
2. “It is better to be infamous than to never be famous at all.” Only the weak and ineffectual worry about taste, tact, propriety and ethics. Say anything today to ensure being the headline tomorrow. You can always take it back, which guarantees another headline the day after.
3. “The only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring.” (As Gideon Resnick of the Daily Beast pointed out, this was a famous quip of Oscar Wilde). No one likes the facts. No one likes reason. What people crave is excitement and to hear what they already believe.
4. “One man’s dirty trick is another man’s civil political action.” Everything is relative, so there is no good, or right, side; there is only the winning side, because to concede otherwise is to limit your ability to win at all costs.
5. “Hate is a more powerful motivator than love.” Perhaps the most basic insight of Stone’s political playbook. You must fuel rage, even if you have to invent facts, because rage is the best shield against argumentation, and instantly kills debate—and it brings people to the polls.
6. “To win, you must do everything”; 7. “Attack, attack, attack. Never defend”; 8. “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack”; 9. “A man isn’t finished when he’s defeated, he’s finished when he quits.” All self-explanatory, as well as 10. “Nothing is on the level.” There’s no such thing as good sportsmanship or a fair game.
The documentary ends with Stone sneering. “I revel in your hatred because if I weren’t effective, you wouldn’t hate me,” he says. And for this political cycle at least, in America and here, he can claim he’s been right—so far.
It was supposed to be huge. A big, beautiful firing, straight out of The Apprentice. So when President Donald J. Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, it was meant to project strength and decisiveness. Instead, it revived memories of alarming incidents from the past, and turned into a week of increasingly negative breaking news concerning the White House.
We need to take a step back to understand why. For Filipinos, media and our political class and perhaps a big subsection of the public, too, are hypersensitive to anything that reminds us of Ferdinand Marcos and how he instituted a dictatorship.
For Americans, their hypersensitivity involves Richard Nixon and the manner in which he tried to cover up the Watergate burglary during his reelection campaign in 1972. At one point, angry at Archibald Cox sending him a subpoena to obtain Nixon’s White House tapes of conversations with visitors and staff, Nixon decided to fire Cox, who’d been appointed as a special independent prosecutor to investigate him. Nixon ordered the Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to fire Cox. Richardson not only refused, but resigned in protest. So Nixon then went to the next in line, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, and ordered him to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also said no and quit. Finally, Robert Bork, the Solicitor-General of the United States who became acting Attorney General (that’s what they call their Secretary of Justice), complied. But the damage had been done and has come to be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”
The question that galvanized the American nation at the time was, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” It eventually reached the point where Congress decided it had to impeach Nixon, who resigned when he was told he would be convicted by the Senate.
In the case of James Comey, the issues boil down to these. There are allegations of improper dealings between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. The FBI opened an investigation in the midst of the 2016 campaign. Once elected president, Trump talked to FBI Director Comey not once, or twice, but four times, allegedly asking each time if he could rely on the personal loyalty of Comey, who also allegedly replied that Trump could rely on Comey to tell the truth.
That’s the first issue –the impropriety of an American official, the President no less, inquiring into an investigation about himself and his team.
The next issue was, when did Trump decide to fire Comey, and why did the story keep changing? When Trump finally announced he’d fired Comey, he did it during a cable channel interview and didn’t even bother to tell the FBI director, who got the news as he was in a gathering to address FBI staff in California. Then the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, told the media the firing was due to Comey’s handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton. Over the next couple of days, the White House said it was the Department of Justice, and not the Trump, that insisted Comey had to go. They pointed to a memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod H. Rosenstein as the reason (the Attorney General, former senator Jeff Sessions, had previously inhibited himself from the investigation).
That’s what Vice-President Pence told the media, too. As did the Deputy Press Secretary –only for Trump to insist that no, their DOJ didn’t decide, he did –and in fact he’d made up his mind to kick out Comey months ago. The White House scampered to backtrack, even as Trump took to tweeting angrier and angrier tweets about the whole thing, including tweeting a threat that Comey had better be careful about what he says, because who knows, there might be recordings of his conversations with Trump.
As you’d expect, this was all too much a case of déjà vu for the media to take in its stride. Not only had the White House and the Vice President and the DOJ been left with egg on their faces, but the behavior of Trump’s been too Nixonian to ignore.
But here’s the difference. Back in the early 1970s, the US Congress –both House and Senate—were in the hands of the Democrats even though the White House was in Republican hands. Today, Congress is firmly under Republican control, and since US congressmen have two-year terms, they’re all gearing up for next year’s mid-term elections. Trump may be one of the most unpopular US Presidents in living memory, but he has a firm hand and high popularity among the Republican base of voters. And since Republicans have expertly set up House districts to be safe districts where it is almost impossible for Republicans to lose, at the back of their minds is the risk of criticizing an emotional president who just might campaign against them if they act disloyal.
It’s early days, yet. But among American pundits, aside from the political realities I’ve just outlined, there’s another reality. The FBI is one of the most trusted institutions in American public life, today, with a recent poll putting approval at 80%. Comey himself was deeply popular among FBI staff. His successor told Congress they stand by Comey as an institution. One American columnist observed in the PBS NewsHour, that the FBI is therefore highly motivated to investigate Trump and his people even more thoroughly than before.
There’s an old saying that you campaign in poetry but govern in prose. Trump is trying to prove that no, you can govern reality-TV-style. To be sure, the media, possibly the bureaucracy, and in private, probably most of the political class, are alarmed. Polling suggests the majority of Americans don’t approve of what Trump did –but it remains to be seen if this will have an effect on his political base, who serves as Trump’s insurance against any Republic daring to speak out against the president.
When Gina Lopez burst on the scene like some sort of environmental berserker, quite a few people applauded her passion and New Age enthusiasm. Keen watchers of the insider game in government viewed it as an interesting example of good cop, bad cop. A zealot can always be neutralized by the bureaucracy, as she quickly found out when the Executive Secretary, in typical bureaucratic style, blandly put the implementation of some of her decisions on hold.
In the end the Department of Finance weighed in, to the startling extent of Secretary Carlos Dominguez publicly picking a fight with Lopez not just in the papers but also before the Commission on Appointments. Congress, for its part, handled her inconvenient popularity in characteristic style. It instituted a long-delayed reform: the three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule in the Commission on Appointments, to put an end to presidents simply reappointing bypassed Cabinet nominees; it placed a veil of secrecy over the votes taken in the commission itself; and its members took turns making pious speeches proclaiming fervent love for nature on one hand, and deep unease over the impact of too much environmentalism on the economy, on the other.
The result was death by a few dozen cuts. Slowly but surely, under the cover of entertaining chest-beating by the President, Lopez was bypassed once, twice, thrice—and declared to have struck out. Chest-beating in the Palace was replaced with a meek statement on the separation of powers, respect for Congress, the announcement that a replacement was being sought, and the designation of a new secretary within days.
The slow but sure removal of Gina Lopez and her swift replacement with Roy Cimatu are a study in contrasts. Her appointment was trumpeted as the coming of radical change. His marks a return to business as usual. He will be a good security guard—bad news for the New People’s Army and mixed news for miners and loggers, depending on how he is instructed to do his job.
That this possibility even exists is testimony to the nature of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources itself, a schizophrenic institution in which contrasting priorities—promoting and defending the environment or maximizing the profits that can be gained from extracting natural resources—will always be possible. The only remarkable thing is that it has happened so quickly, publicly, and ruthlessly in the same administration.
Prior to the creation of the DENR, natural resources were under the Department of the Interior in 1901-1916. Then, for decades, it formed part of the agriculture portfolio, hence the old Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1917-1932 (renamed Department of Agriculture and Commerce in 1932-1947, with commerce being added to its mandate, and gaining the Bureau of Mines established in 1938 along the way) and 1947-1974. In 1974, a separate Department, then Ministry (starting in 1978), of Natural Resources was put in place until January 1987, when the Department of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources briefly came into being. Its current form was established in June of that year.
Shuffling portfolio responsibilities around during the Marcos years gave a bureaucratic sheen to things but papered over the acceleration of deforestation, with logging concessions being one of the keenly-sought-after political patronage plums that the president could hand out. The same applied to mining, with established mining companies subjected to hostile takeovers by political allies and relatives. The result was rebellion in the Cordilleras, and competition among the military, police, and NPA for protection money from loggers and miners.
Separating the environment from natural resources during the dictatorship arguably didn’t help the environment, but neither has combining the two since 1987.
It’s entirely possible it has made things worse, since by its very nature a combined natural resources and environmental department will always be at the mercy of a legislature with members looking out for their—or their allies’—interests, and of a presidency that, by its very design, is held hostage by political parties in large part funded, if not actually owned, by business magnates. The environment can wait.
So perhaps it’s time to consider what was proposed about a decade ago: Separate the two functions. It couldn’t be worse than the status quo.