Playing Democracy 3 helps me in further developing my political views

(Interface of the game’s homepage. Screengrabbed from my iPad Mini 2. No coyright infringement intended.)

I’ve been playing this game for 2 years since I asked my mom to buy me this (expensive considering the Philippines’ status as a developing country, costing around $4.99 I think, costing around 249 in Philippine pesos), nonetheless the game helped me shape further my politics and as a guide for future policy, either for future politicians out there or dream about being president, which will always be fantasy.

This game, Democracy 3, is a government simulation game developed by Positech. You could play 6 countries (United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Germany, France, Australia, I hope the developers add more countries including the Philippines, though for the desktop model modding is possible though I have no knowledge of which), be the president or prime minister and be in charge of policy, staying popular, and not end up assassinated (I was always ending up being assassinated so I turned it off in my settings). 

I have played all countries, but this time I played the United States. My usual formula in my games are as follows:

  • Significant budget increases in the health, education, welfare systems, initializing public housing and pension systems
  • Prioritizing infrastructure development, like railways and road, also setting up monorail systems, telecommuting, bus subsidies
  • Imposing a 75% tax on alcohol and tobacco (which is already punitive by most standards) 
  • Strict pollution controls, with major fines and occasionally imposing tax on carbon emissions
  • Instituting childcare provision and subsidies in raising children, disability and unemployment benefits
  • High spending on renewable energy, ensuring low pollution levels
  • Labor laws favoring workers, with full maternity pay, shorter working hours, safety laws, wage increases
  • Flexible tax policy, increasing and decreasing taxes whenever possible
  • Ensuring the debt is entirely paid off and there’s significant budget surplus to accumulate reserves
  • Law enforcement focusing on rehabilitation, increasing legal aid, preventing race discrimination, reliance on community policing
  • Medium foreign aid, a moderate immigration policy
  • High spending on the arts (presumably includes public broadcasting of which I’m a strong advocate, it is not specified in the game)
  • Strong intelligence, police, military
  • Encouraging agriculture and organic farming
  • Encouraging small businesses and rural development
  • A space program
  • Rehabilitation of prisoners
  • Public libraries, adult education, college grants
  • So on and so forth (drugs remain illegal, abortion is for limited circumstances, strict alcohol and gun laws, etc.)

I would normally introduce these in packages, thus resulting in huge increases in popularity (and disapproval in some sectors) and might put a strain on the budget, though on most occasions I ensure there’s a balance. Whenever I run into a budget crisis (that is accumulating budget deficits) that puts me in huge amounts of debt, I don’t roll back on the social programs and infrastructure programs I have put in place (conventional austerity measures), and instead increase taxes on property, inheritance, on vehicles, carbon, airlines, sales taxes, CGT, corporate taxes, income tax, and institute a flat income tax until the budget gets back on track. Thankfully I’m able to pull this one off which would be hard in the real setting.

I will show you my budget as President of the United States:


And where do I get the money? 


How does that affect my performance? 


Where exactly am I in the political spectrum? I personally consider myself as a socialist but, in this one I’m more of a left-libertarian. You can see me slowly do away from the previous neoliberal/neoconservative policies when I started by term? 


Where do I get my support? 



How popular am I? 


How are my policies faring? 


And how that that effect my country? 


I hope that impresses you, but in the real world this could be difficult to achieve. At least I have you an idea how this game has helped me shape my political views.

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.

Trump’s foreign policy, its consistencies, and how it might affect the world

Have you noticed how inconsistent the Trump administration is when it comes to foreign policy? In much of his speeches and policy, Donald Trump has been promoting cooperation with Russia in issues like terrorism (and the war in Syria) and how “he would like to get along with President Vladimir Putin” but at the same time has advocated a hawkish stance on countries where Russia has built up strong relations like Cuba, Iran, China, and others.

Trump has advocated a hawkish stance on the South China Sea at a time when the claimant states like Vietnam and the Philippines has adopted policies setting aside their differences in exchange of economic cooperation.

Trump has threatened to reverse the progress made since the Iran deal was signed and appears to be heading to a position of war, again contradicting Trump’s promises of not heading into another war and instead focus on domestic issues.

In Israel, despite criticisms over its settlement program, Trump as well as Republicans are turning a blind eye.

When it comes to the wall, Trump has proudly stated that Mexico will “pay for the wall” (Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said many times Mexico will not pay for a wall)  when in fact should a import tariff be imposed on Mexican imports American taxpayers will pay for the wall.

Across Europe, there is widespread concern on whatever course Trump might be taking as the continent reels on an economic slowdown, migration crisis, and wave of terror attacks. In the Eastern part of the continent, the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine are concerned that Trump’s plans to improve ties with Russia will jeopardize their security interests, especially in Ukraine which has been embroiled in political turmoil and civil war since 2014 and renewed violence in the Donbass. On the other hand, far-right parties are taking cues from Trump’s victory and fears of a domino effect which will put an end to the European Union.

The recent immigration ban in seven countries in the Middle East (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria) has provoked backlash. Interestingly and coincidentally, Middle Eastern countries with Trump businesses were not included (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, etc.).

When it comes to North Korea, which has been quiet for some time and with its southern neighbor embroiled in political crisis, and has stubbornly refused to give up its nuclear ambitions, it is yet to be seen what Trump will do.

With these contradictions and inconsistencies in mind, it appears we’re heading for the worst and possibly head to war. But let us hope we can do something to reverse whatever damage it will bring to the world.

 

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)

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!

 

Banat Top 5 for 2016

With this blog barely a year old and due my relatively busy schedule (coupled with a penchant for procrastination), we have not been able to post that much content, but we would like to end the year with the top 5 issues that we feel  made a lot of impact.

5. Geopolitical earthquakes one after another

The rise of populist movements from both sides of the political spectrum, the resignations of and removals of various heads of state, struggles to resolve armed conflicts, among others. To enumerate:

  • Impeachment of Park Geun-hye (South Korea), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil)
  • Resignation of British PM David Cameron, New Zealand PM John Key, Italian PM Matteo Renzi
  • Death of former Cuban Fidel Castro, Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Uzbek President Islam Karimov
  • Brexit and the upset victory of the ‘leave’ camp
  • Ratification of the Colombian FARC peace deal and its subsequent rejection in a referendum
  • Increased Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war, especially Aleppo
  • Failed coup attempt in Turkey which resulted in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cracking down further on dissent
  • North Korean nuclear threat
  • Resolution of the Spanish government crisis with Mariano Rajoy keeping his seat
  • Election victory of Tsai Ing-wen and the resumption of cross-strait tensions
  • The rise of the alt-right movement
  • Victory of Donald Trump
  • The Philippine drug war
  • Rescue of the Chibok girls
  • Economic collapse of Zimbabwe
  • Continued tensions in Ukraine

The list goes on.

4. Terrorist attacks

The most recent of which, the Berlin attack, assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov. Some of those were:

  • Nice, France
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Davao City
  • Cairo, Egypt

The list goes on.

3. Social media responsibility

The use of social media has become more prominent, with calls for responsibility increasing. The spread of so-called “fake news” and the heavily toxic air of debate has been a worrying trend.

The above mentioned are meant for our international audience, as this year we have tried to reach a readership outside of the Philippines. The top 2 will be geared towards our local readers.

2. Media trends

  • The never-ending claim for television rating leadership (ABS-CBN vs. GMA)
  • MMFF’s shift to one based on independent productions
  • Baron Geisler’s issues

The list goes on. For more on these, visit Ralph Domingo’s From The Tube (fromthetube.wordpress.com) or Timow’s Turf. (timowparagas.wordpress.com).

1. Philippine political landscape

By next year, the blog might start to avoid talking about Filipino politics as it has become so divided at such a point people are being bullied.

  • Duterte’s victory
  • The ruling on South China Sea
  • The war on drugs
  • Marcos burial
  • Independent foreign policy

The list goes on.

We have not delved into details as it might be depressing and provoking to some and it takes lots of research to squeeze an entire year in one short post.

From us in Banat, we wish you a happy holidays and may 2017 bring us peace in our minds.