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. 

Proposals for a federal government

(image courtesy of CNN Philippines)

With the Duterte administration yet to fulfill its promises of shifting to a federal system, and the never-ending debates on whether we should initiate such a shift, please let us lay out own proposals for reform.

A ceremonial presidency with some reserve powers

The president will remain the nominal head of state. The president will be elected to a six-year term with no limits. He will remain to appoint judges, cabinet members, and other officials, sign bills into laws, and grant pardons. He will also remain commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president will set his agenda through the state of the nation address. 

The presidency is largely ceremonial but will largely maintain some emergencg powers including the imposition of martial law (to be approved by parliament) and states of emergency, rebellion, or others. 

A strong premiership

The president will appoint a prime minister which shall come from the largest party forming the majority. The prime minsiter has an indefinite term limit but could be removed by a no-confidence vote, a replacement appointed by the president, or direct elections.

The prime minister makes sure the agendas set by the president are carried out and responsible for the inplementation of government policies. The prime minister will have the power to recommend the state budget to the president. 

He will also make sure there is a proper coordination between the federal and state governments. 

A bicameral legislature

We envision a bicameral Batasang Pambansa to serve as our legislature. The lower chamber (Batasang Bayan or assembly) will be selected from the constituent states and representatives of various sectors. They will be responsible drafting bills which if passed will be recommended to the speaker, then the prime minister, then the president. 

The upper chamber (Sanggunian or Council) will be responsible for decisions for the federal level (national defense, taxation, foreign policy, and other matters). It will be made up of the 18 leaders of the different federal subjects, with a rotational chairmanship.

Federal subjects

The Philippines will be divided into 19 co-equal federal subjects (or if you may, republics):

  1. Metro Manila Special Administrative Region (composed of Metro Manila and Rizal)
  2. Ilocos
  3. Cordillera
  4. Sierra Madre and Batanes (Cagayan Valley)
  5. Central Luzon
  6. Southern Tagalog
  7. Bicol
  8. Mimaropa
  9. Panay
  10. Negros (both Negros provinces and Siquijor)
  11. Cebu (composed of Cebu and Bohol)
  12. Eastern Visayas
  13. Caraga
  14. Davao
  15. Cotabato
  16. Northern Mindanao
  17. Zamboanga
  18. Bangsamoro
  19. Federal Capital Area (Baguio City shall be the new capital)

They will have their own legislatures and own laws or systems but at the same time federal law shall remain supreme.

Court system

The court system will largely remain the same: Supreme Court, Ombudsman, Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals, the Regional and Metropolitan Trial Courts, and others, but initiate reforms to make it more effective and less prone to corruption.

Other areas of reform

There will be a federal police force, federal armed forces, progressive tax system, a new public broadcaster, making the major languages of the Philippines (Tagalog, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Kapampangan, Tausug, Bikol, Waray, Pangasinan, Ilokano, Chavacano, etc.) official alongside English and Spanish, among others. There are many areas where the Philippines has to reform but these are the most fundamental, basic reforms we are proposing. In the end, however, it is still up to them to decide.

My Take: How to effectively counter a potential ouster plot


With social media abuzz with the so-called #LeniLeaks, i.e. the supposed exchange of messages between journalists working for 2 respectable media institutions, leaders of overseas Filipino groups, and the office of the second highest position in the land. If these are verified, as some top Duterte apologists (Thinking Pinoy, Sass Rogando Sasot, and others) allege, there is indeed a serious plot to remove the duly-elected president and reinstate the old political establishment, again evoking the narrative of a “fight between evil and good, democracy vs. dictatorship”. 

Before I start, let me be clear. I have promised myself to remain silent and keep my views to myself and a select few to avoid getting involved in this increasingly bitter discourse. And both sides (dilaw and DDS) are playing a sinister game. I just want to stay in the middle and go on with my life. 

Now, in the event these plots are put into motion, I will offer myself to put up a resistance to these plots. Here are those: 

  1. Go out and be involved. They were able to organize people to get out on the streets during protests against the burial of former president/dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Personally, I’m opposed to the move but there’s nothing we can do. (It really was meant to be in opposition to Marcos but some placards have strayed from the original motive.) You may be laughing at them because they were only able to mobilize some 5,000-20,000 people. But counterprotests of so-called “Duterte Youth” gathered only 8-10 people, giving them the impression “they are only many in cyberspace but do not even turn out when the time comes.” This is time for you to prove them wrong. If you are truly concerned for the welfare of this country and if you do not want an ouster plot to materialize, get out there.
  2. More media exposure. You are enraged your voices are not being heard by mainstream media yet you still get their news from them. It’s time we have to develop state media (PBS & PTV) and support alternative outlets which you feel will hear you. At the same time, you have to be extremely vigilant, be careful of the news you consume because these may be hoaxes or meant to distract you (like those click-bait fake news sites). They have access to international media (CNN, The Guardian, BBC, others) and you’re enraged they’re not listening to your side of the story and their reports do not reflect your genuine sentiments. Should they not listen, you have Channel NewsAsia, Russia’s RT or Sputnik, or China’s CGTN. They might listen.
  3. If the ouster plot materializes, give them a headache. If ever the succeed in this plan to oust the president, you should recognize they have disrespected the your mandate. 30 years after the EDSA revolution and 2 Aquinos in Malacañang yet you have failed to reap the fruits and only benefitted the political establishment, yet the same establishment would want to take it away from you. Engage in civil disobedience and show them you will never let this pass.

Personally, I have given Robredo the benefit of the doubt and even dismissed the claims she cheated her way to the Vice Presidency. I even hoped she would be sincere and be as hardworking as the President, she is willing to set aside personal differences to have a working relationship, but subsequent events proved me wrong. In my personal opinion, we wouldn’t even be in this mess had Alan Cayetano successfully convinced people he would make a good VP. Moving back, I always had the suspicion the “yellows” will try to devise a plot to remove President Duterte from office but I don’t think it will ever push through because it would be so stupid and tantamount to political suicide. With 8 out of 10 Filipinos giving their support, that is according to a recent survey by Pulse Asia, and the number of achievements within 6 months, and much of the people losing trust with the Liberal Party, and with Robredo having a rather lackluster performance (despite efforts showing the opposite), this will give them a very hard time in convincing people the president has to step down. They have nothing to blame but themselves on why we ended up in this situation.

In light of these developments, we have to stay vigilant because it will get more interesting as time goes by. Whether these allegations will be confirmed or not, this will further stain the credibility of the vice president and the Liberal Party by extension. Best hopes, this never pushes through, if they do, all we have to do is resist.

Note: As much as I wanted to avoid openly speaking out to avoid being caught in the political crossfire, I think it is best to speak out as these events are not helping the country. Despite some reservations over the President’s present policies and his brash manner, I still maintain my support and will not accept any attempt to reverse the verdict of the people expressed in the May 2016 elections. I will maintain an assertion we will not be caught in this mess if Alan Cayetano was able to pull off a victory which sad to say he did not. The only way for one administration to succeed if his second-in-command comes from his team. The US maintains a joint-ticket in elections, presumably to avoid these situations. Bongbong Marcos would have been a great vice president and appears to be willing to set aside differences but given the association with the Marcos name and efforts to abstain himself from responsibility over the atrocities committed under his father’s 20-year presidency he would have a hard time. The Liberal Party very much symbolized the political establishment and only have themselves to blame on why people resorted to populist tendencies, as is the trend across the world. 30 years since the EDSA revolution and the restoration of democracy but people have failed to reap the fruits of their newly-restored freedoms and felt it only benefitted the establishment, and this frustration gave rise to people promising swift solutions, and any attempt to reverse this in the guise of defending democracy will only be seen as an attempt at restoring the old establishment which is already in the process of being dismantled, at least in the eyes of those supporting Duterte. In this modern era where emotions trump thought, we must share a mutual responsibility in restoring this, as it will help us all. For both sides, let us not be blinded by fanaticism, instead be guarded by rationality and make sure it doesn’t violate our principles. It’s tiring. 

New friends, new partners

russian-navy-vessels-001_cnnph

(The Russian Navy anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributz, as photographed, docked in Manila for a four-day goodwill visit. Photo courtesy of CNN Philippines.)

One of the first major stories of the year is the  four-day goodwill visit of the Russian Navy in Manila in an effort to expand contact and relations. This has culminated a long-standing effort of the Duterte administration to seek closer relations with the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China amid worsening relations with the United States.

Highlights of the visit were the demonstration of Russian Marines of their capabilities and skills and the press briefing held by Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev in which he stated Russia’s intentions to aid the Philippines in its efforts to curb terrorism and maritime piracy. Russian Navy Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, who lead the delegation meanwhile expressed wishes that the Philippines could conduct joint military exercise and the Philippines is free to decide whether it can pursue cooperation with either Russia or the United States and that Russia will not interfere with our decisions.

What are we going to get from this?

I see an opening of wide opportunities. The Philippines will be able to project itself as an important player in the Pacific region, the Russians seeking closer relations with Asian countries such as China and Japan as it seeks to develop its Far East regions and as a result of tensions with the West.

The Philippines will be supplied with modern military equipment in considerably cheaper prices rather than relying on second-hand equipment from the United States. We can even arrange with the Russians to have those weapons produced locally, which requires of course intensive investment.

Third, this can be seen as a sign for all players in the South China Sea to pursue a path of peace. Russia has close economic, political, and military relations with China, maintained a naval base in Vietnam, has close relations with India and Indonesia, a key player in the North Korean nuclear talks, and seeks to sign a formal peace treaty with Japan 70 years after World War II.

This will create a win-win situation to the best interest of everyone in the region. Besides, Russia have said it should not cause the traditional allies of the Philippines a huge deal of concern, and what is being offered is not a formal alliance.

In light of these developments, we must say hello to our new partners and wish us the best of luck. Spasibo and salamat!