On Donald Trump’s comments regarding General Pershing

With US President Donald Trump still reeling from the effects of his comments on the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and amid the most recent terror incident, this time in Barcelona, he once again entered himself to controversy when he tweeted on a long-debunked urban legend that dates back to the early years of American rule in the Philippines.

He talked about this particular story while he was campaigning, it was where General Pershing was said to have bullets dipped on pig’s blood, ostensibly to “fight” against “radical Islamic terrorism”.

It was immediately fact-checked by mainstream media, saying it never happened. But there must be another fact check, this time by us Filipinos.

At a time where our country is still reeling from the effects of the Marawi crisis which broke out on May 23, amid our long-standing efforts at rectifying the historic wrongs committed against the Moro people, this should be an outrage, as it is insensitive.

This is not about what Donald Trump says is about “radical Islamic terrorism”. This is about the Moro people’s efforts to resist American rule, at a time when the Americans came when Christian Filipinos have already declared independence from Spain and are already at the first steps of nation-building. When the Americans have mostly pacified the rest of the archipelago by 1901, the Moro people have continued their resistance until 1913.

We are at a time where we are correcting this historic injustice by arriving at constitutional reform, shifting from a unitary to a federal form of government. At a time we are trying to build a lasting peace, we are also encouraging economic development in Mindanao after decades-long conflict, to discourage people from resorting to extremist ideology espoused by groups such as ISIS.

Donald Trump should have been circumspect before speaking, as he would risk alienating an ally, as he has offered support for the Philippines to combat the Maute group in Marawi.

The Philippines has already been at odds with the United States since President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 2016, over the controversial war on drugs which Trump has praised. In his 2017 State of the Nation Address, Duterte asked for the return of the Balangiga bells stolen since the 1899 Philippine-American War. This would further complicate efforts to resolve long-standing issues haunting US-Philippines relations.

In light of these historical backgrounds on what has transpired, Donald Trump has once again opened himself to controversy with these remarks. At a time when both the Philippines and the United States having populist leaders known for controversial statements, this may risk a diplomatic incident, or a war on words.

Sidenotes: With the terror attacks in Spain and the events in Charlottesville, may we stand united together against hate.

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US drone strikes in the Philippines? How about no?

Source of this entry: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/u-s-may-begin-airstrikes-against-isis-philippines-n790271

The Marawi crisis is far from over, with our soldiers engaging in fierce room-to-room combat aided by airstrikes using the new FA-50s bought from South Korea, with occasional assistance by foreign countries. Our traditional allies (United States, Australia, Japan) as well as non-traditional allies (China and Russia) are providing us military and non-military assistance, to combat the threat of extremism and for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

However, there is one thing that could potentially be worrisome, that is the US planning to use the Philippines a staging ground for drone strikes, which they have been doing to Yemen and Pakistan, ostensibly to eliminate the threat from extremist groups such as ISIS and affiliated groups.

The Pentagon is proposing such plan, subject to approval. Yet we have the consider the potential backlash and backfiring of said plan, as US intervention in Iraq, Libya, and Syria among others have only worsened the situation. The traditional left (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) has already spoken out against this proposal, and so I do.

This proposal could violate constitutional provisions prohibiting the maintenance of foreign military bases on Philippine soil and the inevitability of ethical implications, such as civilian casualties, not to mention the potential interference in the domestic affairs of another sovereign state, and further fanning the flames of extremism, prompting terror groups to stage more attacks.

Combating this kind of terrorism entails efforts of all nations in the world, but with the present-day realities there has to be a more systematic approach, where cooperation is necessary but still allows individual nations take different approaches in solving this common problem. Intelligence sharing, combat training, and weapons assistance will be enough. But at the same time implementing long-term policies such as education and integration, as well as mutual respect which will help in making sure future generations will not be tempted in resorting to extremism, as well as policies aimed at eradicating prejudices and fosters understanding, hence the dream of being able to live side-by-side in peace and harmony becomes a reality.

Reforms on the public transport system

With the jeepney strikes protesting against the impending phaseout in favor of jeepney modernization last Monday which almost paralyzed public transport in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces (and to lesser extent other cities in the country) and the LTFRB’s controversial decisions against Uber and Grab (which is increasingly becoming the preferred mode of transport among certain segments of the riding public), one thing is for certain, a comprehensive reform of the public transport system. 

How do we propose such a reform?

  • Continue with the jeepney modernization, which is necessary as our distinctive mode of transport which is a sign of Filipino ingenuity must keep up with modern times. (which will also help local manufacturers)
  • The government could employ the jeepney drivers which will make them entitled to benefits like housing, health insurance, and regular pay, as opposed to a per boundary basis. 
  • The government could professionalize drivers through seminars on a regular basis (seminars on traffic laws, among others), so as to mitigate concerns on drivers beating regulations such as no-loading zones, speeding, etc.
  • Develop and expand the railway system (LRT, PNR, MRT) across the country, not just in Metro Manila but also in other urban centers like Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, Baguio, among others so as to reduce road congestion, as well as improved connecivity

These are the only tangible solutions available to the government if we truly want to reform our public transport system in the country. As citizens we can offer solutions but it’s still up to them to decide whether or not to carry out those mentioned above, but in our opinion it’s the way to go.

It will take a long time, until then, tiis-tiis muna. 

My Take: NYT’s piece on Du30

With the New York Times’ article on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte dominating the political discussion, general sentiment is, as always, negative, with spokesperson Ernesto Abella stating this is part of a larger plot to unseat the president.

To start, what did the NYT do? They published an article detailing his rise to power, first as Davao City mayor, then uploading a documentary documenting the supposed “human rights abuses” committed along the course of the illegal drug war, and an editorial proposing economic sanctions on the Philippines, similar to what the US and EU have imposed on countries like Iran, North Korea, Russia, and others.

To much of the Filipino public, this is seen as yet another attempt to unseat the president and restore the old order, or to some, another example of Western-facilitated attempts to remove any leader straying away from its sphere.

This blog will try to avoid political subjects as we try to avoid getting caught in the crossfire, but the urge to discuss this topic is unavoidable. It is particularly difficult to explain to foreign audiences what is happening in the country, and at home we’re having a particularly difficult time setting aside differences so other agendas like federalism and economic reform sets into motion.

As for parting words, we do hope that things don’t spin out of control and we have to stay involved in the larger discourse.

War on drugs: Learning from experience

In an editorial piece published in the New York Times, former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria had some words for Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, that is avoiding the mistakes he committed in leading his country’s war on illegal drugs which the Philippines has done since Duterte took office in June last year.

It is noted that during Gaviria’s time drug lord Pablo Escobar was put to jail (inside a facility built in his specifications) and jailing numerous suspected drug users, which of course has led to numerous casualties and suspected human rights violations.

Days after this was published, in a televised address, Duterte who is known to shrug off any form of criticism against the war on drugs, called Gaviria “an idiot”, and said that “he will not commit mistakes” because “he is not stupid as him”. In most cases he has also noticed the contrasts between Latin America and the Philippines, with Colombia as well as Mexico and other countries in the region being flooded by cocaine (with some help from the US because the of huge consumption in the US market and supplies coming from these countries), while the top drug of choice in the Philippines being shabu (or methamphetamine hydrochloride), being sold by Chinese syndicates.

With the drug war enjoying popular support in the Philippines despite the growing international criticism, and the growing casualties (both from legitimate operations by police and vigilante killings), it is yet to be seen whether Duterte’s administration will change tack in his approach in this campaign.

The police force’s participation has already been tainted by scandal, with the death of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo in the hands of rogue policemen, as a result the duties of overseeing the drug war transferred to the military.

In the course of this campaign, we have seen (from official data from the PNP) the crime rate cut down 49% (with the murder rate going up), almost 1 million users and pushers surrendering to authorities, and the vigilante killings being blamed to syndicates trying to turn in on each other and rogue policemen trying to cover up their tracks.

In light of these criticisms, it really is hard to explain the Philippine war on drugs to the international audience, as the experience in Latin America and Thailand have shown were entirely different in what the authorities intends to do.

Coupled with the black-and-white mentality prevailing now, it really is hard to speak up on these issues. What we should do is that we focus more on rehabilitation efforts and treating drug abuse as more of a public health and poverty issue, and instead of running after the low-level users and sellers, we must focus our energies in running after the large-scale syndicates and their sources of finances. Otherwise, we will achieve nothing in this campaign.

Again, things are easier said than done and we never know what happens next, so we just wait for things to unfold.

Clarifications: The author supports the present campaign against illegal drugs although with the growing number of casualties and the prevailing corruption in our police force we must instead change tactics and focus our energies towards rehabilitation. I do not want to be tagged as some sort of a fanatic by both the “yellows” and the supporters of the administration, as I have my own set of principles and political beliefs. For our international audiences,  I know it’s difficult to justify the conduct of this campaign but we’d like to present as much as possible a full picture. We will encourage everybody to rely on research and form your own conclusions and not relying on everything we read, from news media to blogs like these.

The Filipino left desparately needs a new voice

In a disturbing turn of events, the Communist Party of the Philippines’ armed wing New Peoples’ Army announced a termination of their unilateral ceasefire starting Feb.10. The stated reasons were the government’s refusal to comply with their demands of the release of more than 400 political prisoners and the military’s withdrawal from their “territories”. 

As a response, President Rodrigo Duterte announced a lifting of the Armed Forces’ own unilateral ceasefire, citing incidents involving the capture and murder of soldiers in separate incidents in Bukinon, North Cotabato, and an NPA raid in Batangas. In an apparent tone of exasperation, Duterte said “peace cannot be realized with communists at this time”.

It is truly sad to hear of these developments but if there’s one thing we should learn with this experience, it is that more moderate forces on the left must begin to be heard.

Peace talks have become impossible mainly due to the NPA’s demands to free all of their political prisoners as a condition to further peace talks when in fact it should be an outcome, numerous violations on their side (they accuse the military of committing atrocities when they shoot unarmed and off-duty soldiers, on the part of the military, if validated, they should be put into court martial). And on the so-called “encroachment of their territory”? It’s as if having a state within a state. 

Now that the mutual unilateral ceasefires have been lifted and that Duterte has ordered peace negotiators to come home, now it really is the time to rethink and a new long-term program to implement socialist-oriented reforms which the Philippines needs to truly succeed. 

Over time, the Maoist strategy of protracted people’s war has become obsolete, factors include the downfall of the Marcos regime and subsequent economic growth over the succeeding decades (though poverty and income inequality has still remained, along with a focus on service-oriented jobs instead of manufacturing and agriculture). 

Add to that is the still unresolved issue of land reform and contractualization, which if unresolved will continue to build a base of support to these Maoist guerillas. The conditions creating the roots of armed conflict must be solved through peaceful means.

The urban front groups, some of which are elected in our Congress, though they may have legitimate concerns but have instead used methods like burning effigies, vandalizing, and others have only earned them the ire of the public instead of support.

Complicating these are the still-lingering negative mindset of Filipinos towards left-wing politics, given the absence of more moderate voices and the effects of Cold War-era propaganda. 

Now, the Filipino left must reinvent itself in order to look more like social democratic or green parties in Europe, or like the movement Bernie Sanders have built in the United States.

That is engaging in people-to-people contact, engaging in social work, building grassroots community organization to earn trust and support (which I think the partylists are hopefully doing).

The burning of effigies and other disruptive stuff will do nothing. We would prefer direct action, that is actually doing something to get things done. 

To fill this void, the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas-1930 must be reinvigorated. It is the Philippines’ legal communist party (it has abandoned armed struggle in 1974 in exchange of achieving legal status after the defeat of the Huk rebellion and the ideological split of the 1960s). It’s time for us to follow the suit of Japan, Russia, and countries in Latin America and Europe, all of which have elected communist representatives in their respective legislatures. 

If we are to follow a communist path, Yugoslavia is the best example. It has supported equal rights for its various nationalities and workers’ self-management. The Maoist model the CPP-NPA-NDF and front organizations will simply won’t work in the Philippines and (sorry to say this) most likely we’d end up like Venezuela. (Even the FARC has given up arms.)

The radicals might not like this but we have to accept this fact. It really is the time for more moderate voices of the left to rise up. You may think we already have Duterte, but he’s only a catalyst for things to come (as his administration also has it flaws, i.e. the war on drugs). 

We rest our case. (In case being tagged as ‘revisionst’, we’ll tell them they’re no different to fascists. Their failure to adapt and their treatment of socialist concepts as if it were religious dogma are making them become what they have hated.)

(photo credit: cprf.ru)

Embracing language diversity in the Philippines

(Note: The post should have been published during the Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa last August 2016 as part of a two or three-part series. Apologies for the delay.)

The Philippines at present uses Filipino and English as official languages. However since then, it has become the topic of various debates, on whether Filipino is just another branch of the Tagalog language instead of being a amalgamation of all Filipino languages as originally intended, and why the use of English is more prominent than the use Filipino in various discourses, and the never-ending stigma of calling non-Tagalog languages as dialects, which earns the ire of non-Tagalog people especially the Cebuanos. (We have already debunked that in the first part of the supposed series.)

Now, how should we correct this? 

It’s time for us to enact a new policy in embracing this reality, that is declaring the most common languages as co-equals (Tagalog, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Ilokano, Pangalatok, Kapampangan, Bikol, Tausug, Chavacano) and recognizing and protecting the rights of the minority languages (Akeanon, Kinaray-a, Ibaloi, Kankana-ey, Maranao, others). We must also protect them by having a national language institute regulating and protecting them.

There should also be a promotion of the use and proficiency in English (promotion of global competitiveness) and Spanish (to rekindle ties with our cultural cousins in Latin America).

We should also encourage our children to know at least 3-5 languages aside from their mother tongues.

Filipino languages must also be taught since elementary with the option of further studies in college.

Lastly, we must also launch a campaign promoting and encouraging multilingualism to end the still-lingering stigma that all Filipino languages are “dialects” (through schools, media, others).

For us to have a true sense of unity, we have to embrace diversity. We are one nation of many distinct cultues and tongues.