Inquirer owners’ unpaid rentals on govt’s ‘Mile Long’ prime property: P2B

Including Dunkin’ Donuts P1.5B, that’s P3B
RENT on the state-owned prime Makati property called the Creekside/Mile Long complex which the Rufino/Prieto family, the main owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), owe government—but to this day have not paid—would total a mammoth P1.8 billion, computed up to May this year, according to a government suit filed in 2009.

(The PDI’s main, controlling owners are the Rufino/Prieto family with 75 percent. The next biggest shareholder, with 25 percent, is a firm set up using the pension fund of PLDT, which Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim controls.)

If government’s claims are valid, and its figures accurate, the Rufino/Prietos’ liabilities through their firm Sunvar Realty and Development Corp. would be this P1.8 billion, plus the P1.5 billion alleged tax evasion by another firm they own, Dunkin’ Donuts. That would total nearly P3 billion, putting them in the league of Chinese-Filipino tycoons notorious for being tax evaders.

No wonder President Duterte himself angrily said in a recent speech that he will investigate the case, which was reported to him as having been a “sweetheart deal” when it was leased by a state firm to the Rufino/Prietos’ firm Sunvar Realty Development Corp.

The P1.8 billion figure is based on what then President Arroyo’s Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera in 2009 through the metropolitan trial court asked Sunvar to pay, using figures determined by the government’s Privatization Management Office that had taken over the property. This consists of ₱630 million for the “illegal and unauthorized” use and occupation of the property from 2003 to March 31, 2009, and ₱10.4 million per month from April 2008 until the property was surrendered to government.

TWO PRESIDENTS, TWO TREATMENTS: Could the Mile Long case (background) explain it?

The property was originally leased to the Prieto firm in 1980 and 1983, allegedly at a scandalously low rental by the Technology Resource Center Foundation, controlled at the time by Imelda Marcos. The lease expired in 2002, although the Prietos continued to control the property as if nothing happened, and refused to vacate it.

If you think that P1.8 billion figure is unbelievably huge, consider the following. The Rufino/Prieto firm continued to control the 29,000-square meter prime commercial property in Makati (between Amorsolo and Chino Roces Avenue, valued now at about P6 billion) and collected rentals from the over 400 stores there for 14 years, after its lease expired in 2002. That P1.8 billion amount translates to a measly rent of P360 per square meter per month government is asking Sunvar to pay—a give-away price in a prime area where rents are at least P50,000 per sq. m. per month.

Country of oligarchs
Can you imagine anywhere else in the world where a rich family manages to control a government-owned urban prime property, and sublease it to businesses, even if its lease had ended 14 years ago? What a country ruled by oligarchs! Or perhaps as I pointed out in my previous column: such is the power of media in the Philippines.

For reasons unexplained or perhaps expected, the case dragged on that government asked the Supreme Court for help, which issued a decision in June 2012 that practically said the Rufino/Prieto firm should pay ASAP what it owned the state, since it didn’t even challenge the “factual issues” of the case:

“The Court notes that respondent Sunvar has continued to occupy the subject property since the expiration of its sublease on 31 December 2002. The factual issue of whether respondent has paid rentals to petitioners from the expiration of the sublease to the present was never raised or sufficiently argued before this Court. Nevertheless, it has not escaped the Court’s attention that almost a decade has passed without any resolution of this controversy regarding respondent’s possession of the subject property…

The Court emphasizes the duty of the lower court to speedily resolve this matter once and for all, especially since this case involves a prime property of the government located in the country’s business district and the various opportunities for petitioners to gain public revenues from the property.”

Only in the Philippines: Even with the order of the Supreme Court, it still look three years for the lower court to issue a decision. Metropolitan Trial Court Judge Barbara Aleli Briones in July 2015 ordered the Rufino/Prieto firm to pay up, although she reduced the amount to P555 million, 30 percent of the P1.8 billion government asked.

Sunvar would certainly go bankrupt if it is asked to pay just that P0.6 billion, as its assets amount to only P400 million.

In a country where there is a rule of law, and perhaps where even the most powerful media firm is treated just like any other firm, the Rufino/Prieto firm would have paid up immediately, and the story would have ended.

Next court levels
But not in the Philippines. The Rufino/Prieto firm filed several cases in the next levels of the court system, all of which did not question the facts of the case but merely raised such obscure technicalities as the metropolitan court’s jurisdiction and the need to consolidate all cases—which the company itself filed.

The orders last year up to March 2017 of the judges involved—Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 141 Maryann Corpus-Manalac and MRTC Branch 59 Judge Winlove Dumayas—have in effect allowed the Rufino/Prietos, to maintain the status quo—to control the property, collect rents from businesses there, and ignore government’s decade-long effort to collect P550 million to P1.8 billion from this billionaire clan.

Isn’t it uncanny that the efforts to reclaim the Creekside/Mile Long property started during the watch of President Macapagal-Arroyo, whom the PDI demonized, were practically suspended during the entire term of President Aquino, whom the paper unabashedly idolized and supported? And that the first real court decision on the matter was in July 2015, when Aquino just had a year to go?

Guess who really gets to appoint judges to higher level, even up to the Supreme Court? Such is the sad state of our institutions.

It would be so tragic if after fourteen long years, government because of sheer incompetence fails to recover a prime property and to get its rent from one of the richest clans in the country have managed not to pay.

What would the hundreds of thousands of urban poor squatters in the metropolis say when riot police try to eject them? “Why us poor, not the rich squatting on prime government land?”

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Inquirer ‘tax-case’ demonstrates awesome power of the press

WHETHER President Duterte is right or wrong in accusing the owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), the Prieto-Rufino family, of evading payment of P1.5 billion in taxes that their other company, Golden Donuts (which operates Dunkin’ Donuts), owes government, this case gives us a vivid demonstration of the paper’s awesome power and that of the press in general—which isn’t at all good for the country.

The silver lining here is that this President is proving that he has the balls to go against oligarchs and even a powerful newspaper, despite anti-Duterte critics’ claim that he will not succeed where ousted President Joseph Estrada, who also went against the PDI, failed.

A President branding the owners of one of the biggest broadsheets, especially one which portrays itself as God’s gift to journalism and democracy, anywhere else in the world would undoubtedly have been earth-shaking news. PDI, if it were in the league of the New York Times or the Washington Post, would have devoted a big part of its frontpage to debunking Duterte’s allegations. Instead, it arrogantly ignored the President’s very serious claim.

Imagine if US President Donald Trump, after ranting at the Washington Post’s “fake news,” were to accuse its owner Jeff Bezos a few days later that his Amazon online bookseller owes the IRS billions of dollars in taxes, and maybe you’d get a better picture of what I mean.

Worse, all of media would have put it as either their No.1 or No. 2 story as it has profound implications. Duterte’s tirade could only mean either one of two things: PDI’s owners have been using their media power to evade taxes, or Duterte has launched an attack on the Fourth Estate, which therefore is an attack on our republican democracy. Whichever is the case, isn’t it important enough to put on the front page?

The PDI owners’ alleged tax evasion would have also undoubtedly sold a lot of newspaper copies (and therefore revenues) during this tax-paying season when Filipinos grumble and groan, as I did, at having to pay what they think to be a huge amount of taxes, much of which will just be pilfered by corrupt officials.

President Duterte (left) exposes PDI owners’ alleged sweetheart property deal in Doha; headlines like this, reproducing an article from a foreign newspaper, (right) probably got his goat.

Guess what? Newspapers buried the story deep inside their inside pages, if they even carried it at all. PDI reported it in a short, 250-word piece in its page 13. PDI’s arrogance was evident with the article’s dismissive statement that “The Inquirer doesn’t own Dunkin’ Donuts,” even as Duterte himself had pointed out that it is not the paper itself but its owners who owned the allegedly tax-evading firm that operates the doughnut store chain.

Only Duterte
Only Duterte seems to have the balls in this government to talk against PDI. Neither the Bureau of Internal Revenue head Caesar Dulay, nor his boss, the usually talkative Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, bothered to expound – as they should – on their boss’ allegations. Are they afraid of PDI?

Why did our media, which has been boastful of its fearlessness, practically ignore Duterte’s allegations that PDI owners were tax evaders? The answer would give us a glimpse of one major mechanism for oligarchic power in this country.

As my late boss Raul Locsin of Business Day often told us: “A newspaper is a gun in the holster in this Wild West of a country.” Owners of one newspaper wouldn’t want to attack or offend another paper or broadcast media, even if it’s a competitor: because it would hit back. It could even send a team of investigative journalists to uncover the sins of the businesses of the owners of the other paper, particularly if they are also tax evaders, or in violation of other regulations.

That gun is especially important for a magnate, who with his ownership of a media outfit in effect sends the message loud and clear: “Cross me or make life difficult for my companies, investigate my firms’ tax payments, and I draw my gun from my holster and point it at you, and even shoot.”

Thus, the Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim (known in this country as Manuel V. Pangilinan) was extremely smart in risking violating the Constitution by establishing a media empire consisting of the Philippine Star, ABC-5, BusinessWorld, and even PDI (where he has 20 percent ownership), and scores of radio stations.

That is a lot of guns in his holster: Would any politician dare to pursue such questions as why a foreigner through PLDT’s pension fund controls media, in which not a single peso of foreign money is allowed by the Constitution? Has the PDI, which claims to have the best business reporters, ever run a feature explaining who really owns the Metro Pacific Group, one of the country’s biggest conglomerates now, which controls strategic industries?

I don’t think the Lopezes, whom all of the past five Presidents loved or feared, would have been able to recover much of the companies they lost during martial law if they had not controlled ABS-CBN and, in the 1980s, the Manila Chronicle.

Oligarchic control of media has been a feature of our history: The Manila Chronicle and ABS-CBN were so notoriously powerful before martial law that they controlled the nation’s agenda, and casually pulverized the Lopezes’ enemies – except Marcos of course who closed them down.

The fact that the foreign oligarch Salim and the local oligarchs Lopezes who had five Presidents behind them control a big chunk of our media shatters the myth that we have had an ideal independent press since Marcos was toppled in 1986.

Free press?
How can we have a free press, when our biggest media magnates have businesses—telecoms, power, infrastructure— in industries that are officially heavily regulated by government, or have crucial deals with government? Contrast that with the US where most owners of the biggest newspapers are only in media.

One of the crowns in the Prieto-Rufino family’s property empire is their control over the three-hectare lucrative Creekside/Mile Long commercial complex whose lease from a government firm had expired in 2002. Duterte in a speech in Qatar a few days ago claimed that the family’s possession of the land which started in 1986 was a “sweetheart deal as they went for Cory against Marcos”.

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration tried to revert the prime property back to government hands in 2009. The Prieto-Rufino family refused to return the land to government, and managed to get a court to block the government move, a case which is still pending in the courts. It was a year earlier in 2008, that former BIR officer Othello Dalanon submitted his report to his superiors alleging that Dunking Donuts evaded P1.5 billion in taxes by understating its sales and other income, and Arroyo did nothing to stop the BIR investigations. The PDI had been so vitriolic in its attacks against Arroyo in the last half of her administration.

Former BIR commissioner Kim Henares must explain, through a congressional investigation if necessary, why she had not enforced her staff’s findings that the Prieto-Rufino firm must pay immediately P1.5 billion, representing tax due and penalties. Didn’t she boast that she had gone after even such a popular figure, practically a national hero, as Manny Pacquiao to make an example of him for everyone to pay the right taxes?

Dalanon — who filed a complaint against Henares in 2014 allegedly for sitting on the Dunkin’ Donuts case — claims that the assessment became “final, executory and demandable” on January 29, 2011. I emailed PDI president Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez requesting her to get her family’s or their lawyers’ explanation or comments on this matter. I had not received a reply as of the deadline for submitting this column.

What demonstrates PDI’s power stares us in the face: Filipinos learned of the Dunkin’ Donuts’ tax case and the Mile Long controversy only now, when this had first emerged nine years ago. It would not have even entered public awareness if the President of the Republic had not exposed it.

A confession
Again, this is explained by the gun-in-the-holster theory, and I have a personal experience of it, which is a confession. I had been given a bunch of documents on the Dunkin’ Donuts tax case two years ago, when I already was a columnist for this paper. After some reflection though I didn’t write about the issue.

Why? Because I not only feared PDI’s gun in its holster, but was awed by it. What if in the future I get into trouble, and PDI front-pages my face? More importantly though, which explains why reporters and columnists shirk from ever criticizing the PDI, is the thought that maybe it could recruit me for some high position there someday, or get me to be a thrice-a-week columnist (I had written a once-a-week column there and gave it up when an old friend and colleague Dante Ang offered me a thrice-a-week one.).

But now I have realized I have to do my job as a professional journalist, with the President’s allegations requiring me to write a column on the topic so as to inform the nation.

In an interview, a few days ago at the Salim-controlled Bloomberg Philippines, PDI president Alexandra Prieto narrated the saga of how her paper survived the advertising boycott which the besieged Estrada had called against it, as it had been so critical of him.

I can’t help feeling that the timing of the interview and the mention of that topic was a message that if PDI wasn’t killed by Estrada and even became stronger, it would also emerge victorious over Duterte.

But then, Estrada’s attack against PDI was abruptly halted by his flight from Malacañang, when a people-power kind of outrage broke out during his impeachment. Would there be a similar impeachment against Duterte that would trigger outrage against him? At this time, and at least this year, that’s very unlikely.

And more importantly, in 2001, there was no such thing as social media, which any knowledgeable and objective observer would see as having overtaken in power and influence traditional media like the PDI. For some reason, social media so far it appears to be a DDS media.

Duterte’s fight with the Inquirer — largely ignored by mainstream media for reasons I explained above — could be his most crucial battle in his war against the Philippine oligarchy.

On Friday: Details of the Prieto-Rufino clan’s tax-case and its controversial control of the Creekside/Mile Long government property.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

The three worlds of Philippine society – and what it means for Duterte

ONE of our deepest illusions is that we live in just a single world, a delusion that derives from the time religion was invented and portrayed society as one big happy family, presided over by the Father (the King) representing the invisible Grandfather (God), with the exploiters and the exploited all brothers and sisters simply occupying their divinely appointed posts in life.

Centuries later, in our modern era today, there have been changes of course, but not really much. We can understand Philippine history and be more realistic about our society by realizing that there are really different worlds in our country.

The first world is the economic elite, the richest residents of the country. Forbes’ Magazine’s list of 50 richest business people gives us a glimpse of these immortals, among them the Sys, Gokongweis, Ayalas and Zobels, Tys, Consunjis, Gotianuns, Lucio Cos, Cojuangcos, Angs, Ongpins, Lopezes, Osmeñas. There are, however, many low-profile billionaires hardly known to the general public, many based in cities outside metropolitan Manila, who get to be known only when the Bureau of Internal Revenue publishes its list of top 500 taxpayers.

The income and wealth of these elites are inconceivable to us ordinary mortals. For instance, only because he complained that he wasn’t included in the BIR’s latest list of top taxpayers and consequently publicly disclosed his income, did we learn that Andrew Tan’s net income was P540 million in 2011. That means he earns P1.5 million a day—when 90 percent of Filipinos earn just P400 a day. Danding Cojuangco is said to have a two-storey building to park his 100 ultra-expensive cars. A banking tycoon has four mansions costing P200 million each in Forbes Park to house his mistresses, not too far from each other so it would be easier for him to move from one concubine to another.

In the rich Asian countries, the economic elites saw that their very survival as a class depended on the growth of their nation as a whole—the South Korean elite fearing the takeover of the communist-controlled North, the Japanese to reconstruct a war-ravaged country, the Kuomintang to create an economic powerhouse to fend off an invasion by Mao Zedong’s mainland, tiny Singapore separating from the bigger Malay Federation.

As a consequence, Asian elites were willing to give up much of what they could earn from their control of productive assets in order to raise wage rates, go into industries that weren’t immediately profitable but would develop their countries’ productive forces (as in Japan and Korea), or cooperate with their competitors so the industry where they are in will be globally competitive (as in Taiwan).

Not so in our unlucky country. Most of our economic elites came from Spain, the US, and China, who mostly view the country not really as their nation but merely as a place to make money in, and then live in Spain, London, and now China. The popularity of the notion even among the young that they are global citizens, is merely a reflection of the fact that our economic elite has all but discarded the sense of nationalism, of being rooted in one nation, and having the responsibility to develop it.

Little really has changed from medieval times, except the numbers: Today’s economic elite were the nobility of the medieval age, who rule the country.

We can never make our nation as developed as others unless our economic elite, as occurred in the rich Asian countries, is transformed to sacrifice for the country, to view it not just as a place of business but as a nation they are responsible for. Precisely because they control the country’s resources and assets, it is only the first world that normally can affect major changes our society, with the following two other worlds only playing a secondary, supporting roles.

The we-don’t-care majority
The second world, for lack of a better term, is the apathetic, we-don’t-care majority. This includes the well-off, even the rich, but who aren’t with the economic elite, down to the poorest who are largely unconscious of society, and don’t really care about anything except their own lives.

My notion is similar to the idea of the Silent Majority, which US President Richard Nixon popularized in the late 1960s to refer to what he claimed were the vast majority of Americans who were conservatives, who just didn’t get to have their views expressed publicly.

Most of your social circle, dear reader, belong to this second world, coming from different generations and socio-economic levels. He could be your boss, or the owner of the company you work for, obsessed with finally being able to buy a BMW. She could be your domestic help, living from month to month through loans from you, whose sole interest is to make sure her daughter finishes nursing school.

They hardly read newspapers, much less opinion pieces. They use their Facebook timelines mainly to post their selfies from their holidays, or their meals. They really don’t care who runs the country, or where it is going—either because they are so obsessed with their own families or because they have come to believe they are powerless to change society after all.

The third world is us –- readers of newspapers and columns like this, journalists, very recently, “netizens” and political bloggers, in urban poor communities and in rural areas, that guy who talks a lot about what’s happening in the country in those small gatherings at dusk seated at the stools of their popular sari-sari stores. This world is that of the politically active minority.

These are the people who have taken seriously the modern idea of a nation, that it is a community where each and every member has a role to play in choosing who its leaders are and how it should be run.

The derogatory term for this notion, used in the West, is the “chattering class,” which Wikipedia defines as a politically active, socially concerned and highly educated section of the “metropolitan middle class,” especially those with political, media, and academic connections.”

Read comments in opinion columns and posts in Facebook pages, and it is obvious that this “chattering class” is afflicted with the delusion that all their blah-blah solely will change society. They won’t, unless the first world, or a part of it, says so, and the we-don’t-care-majority acquiesces to such changes. Opinion columns like this aren’t worth the price of the newspaper they are printed on unless it convinces a faction of the elite.

What’s the use
Which brings us to the question: What’s the use of this classification of our society into the Three Worlds of the elite, the apathetic majority, and the chattering class. The answer is that it explains much of our recent political history, and points to what likely would be its course.

EDSA I involved a big faction of the elite— among them, the Ayalas, the Gotianuns, and Osmeñas—and even the supranational elite, the US, moving against the Marcos dictatorship, since the economic quagmire, which to a large extent was the result of the global debt crisis at the time, couldn’t be resolved unless Marcos was removed.

But the elite couldn’t have done this by themselves. It required the help of the anti-dictatorship chattering class that awakened a section of the silent majority to go against the dictatorship.

What is ground-breaking in the rise of President Duterte is this:

Even with only a few of the elite (mainly those based in Mindanao) behind him, and with the chattering class, represented by mainstream media, mostly against him, he was able to get the support of the silent majority by directly appealing to them. He did this through his street-language, through his comportment as a non-elite crusader, and, most surprisingly, his tight grasp of the fact, missed by many, that what Filipinos wanted was simply personal security that had been severely eroded in the last six years by the proliferation of illegal drugs.

What is also unprecedented is that the messenger that brought Duterte’s message to the silent majority was this new invention called social media, which couldn’t have emerged without technology and the economies of scale that brought down cell phone prices, because of the emergence of the vast China market. Social media weakened the hold of the economic elite, which controlled most of the newspapers whose views the chattering class in the past mostly followed and echoed.

The three-worlds map bodes well for Duterte. Except for the mining elite, he is drawing more and more supporters from the economic elite, evidenced in part by the fact that his ratings among the ABC class, according to the latest Pulse Asia survey, jumped from 69 percent in December to 86 percent in March.

The second world of the apathetic majority has been untroubled by the intense propaganda against extra-judicial killings in mainstream media. Anecdotal reports show that more and more ordinary citizens feel safe in their neighborhoods, because of the decline in the use of illegal drugs. The issue remains the concern only of the chattering class.

Social media has been dominated by pro-Duterte netizens, and the minds even of the chattering class more and more are being molded by it. It is only a go-for-broke character like Duterte who can throw caution to the winds and go against the elite-controlled mainstream media who have been against him, principally the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN.

Duterte is emerging as the President in our history that is the most independent of the economic elite. As a case in point, he recently threw under the bus the Mindanao magnate Antonio Floirendo, one of the biggest financiers of his electoral campaign.

The question is whether he can undertake the reforms that the elites are adverse to, but which, as proven in the history of the rich Asian countries, were critical for their growth — such things as getting them to pay more taxes, raise workers’ wages, and nationalizing the strategic telecom industries.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

What religion robs us of

THIS week, the only time when we think of things beyond, even as rituals of Christianity dominate our days, perhaps is a good time to critique, as modern man has to, what centuries or even just decades ago, we could not question at all religion.

Evolutionary scientists have pointed out that even without religion, homo sapiens through millions of years of its biological and cultural evolution had to develop—or perish—what clerics mystify as God-given values of charity (cooperation) and love. (See for example, Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom.)

Indeed, there hasn’t been found yet a tribe or society built on the values of selfishness and cruelty. Of course, no such society will ever be found since the members of such a tribe or society would have over the centuries killed each other to extinction. In the long run, as archaeologists have argued quite rigorously, the selfish member of a tribe gets to be exposed as such and either exterminated or banished.

As sociologists using game theory have pointed out, the best game plan is to be sometimes selfish, sometimes selfless—which is after all how most rational people live their lives. Even the most selfish individual in his twilight years gets to be good.

Is it just a coincidence that nearly all religions that flourished in humanity’s history were not just state religions, but religions of empires — Christianity that of the Roman Empire since Emperor (“Saint”) Constantine, and its successor the European states; Islam that of the empires of the caliphates and sultanates up to the modern era’s Ottoman Empire. No wonder Zen Buddhism — whose teachings rulers can’t use to subjugate peoples — never got to be a widespread religion.

Is it coincidental that that kings and their nobles claimed and ruled as God’s representatives on earth which allowed them to live off the blood and sweat of the toiling tenants? Did Spain get to rule over us for three centuries through force of arms and its higher level of culture, or through religion that convinced the people that they were children of God, whom the friars and the Spanish conquistadores represented, and therefore must obey?

Book explains why charity and love for humanity aren’t necessarily because of Divine revelations

Real problem
Humanity’s real problem has been the penchant of a tribe or a nation, because again of human evolutionary history, to exploit and even exterminate the other tribe or nation. The reasons for this run deep, perhaps ingrained in our DNA from the time millennia ago when resources were so scarce that a tribe’s survival required it to take the other’s hunting and foraging lands and get rid of the other. Or because it is etched in our collective mind that strangers bring disease to a tribe, which has not developed the immunities required.

Religions seem powerless to solve this problem, and may even have worsened it. Religions, which most tribes use as one of their distinguishing feature as against other tribes, have been used as justification for the cruelest wars in history.

How many times have we heard in YouTube videos that spine-tingling cry “Allahu Akbar!” while humans are beheaded, or even torched. But wasn’t it Christians and their Crusades in the Middle Ages who invented the notion of a Holy War, in order to expel the Muslims and recapture where Yeshua their founder walked the earth?

It is only religion, and nothing else, that can prod a young man to kill scores of infidels with the bomb that also blows him to smithereens, since he believes that there will be an afterlife for a mujahideen like him where he will enjoy 72 virgins.

The most basic appeal of religion is that it brainwashes one into believing that he is immortal, that he will be merely moving to a different kind of existence when he dies; for Filipinos perhaps, just like migrating to the US or Canada.

That’s certainly an attractive notion for one of the exploited class who has lived a life of misery and pain. Death will mean his moving to a better world.

That’s also great news if you’re with the exploiting class, that your huge donation to build your local church would get you the visa to enter that territory Christians call Heaven.

Recurring belief
It’s a recurring notion in most of the world religions: Muslims call it Jannah, the Hindus Swarga Loka, Romans the Elysian Fields, and the Vikings Valhalla, with its giant beer-drinking hall. But it is no longer a universal belief: ask a Japanese, Chinese, Korean, or a Scandinavian and he’ll reply a bit embarrassingly, “We hardly think of that.”

Still, the notion of a heavenly afterlife is so powerful that modern man is unable to shed it off, even if it goes against his rationality. There has been in fact a resurgence of the fantasy, with the plethora of best-selling books on “heaven” that have made millions of dollars for their clever authors in the US.

This is despite the fact there is nothing in the “heaven” they depict that hasn’t been in Christian depictions of it in art and fiction for centuries. A book written about a mujahideen’s encounter with 72 virgins in the afterlife, I bet, would probably be an instant hit. (The doctor who attended to best-selling “Proof of Heaven” author Dr. Eben Alexander when he claimed that he had died, reported in Esquire that he was in a medically induced coma, and was hallucinating.)

New scientific discoveries understood really only by professional physicists through abstract equations have been hijacked by creative writers to propound a theory that when one dies, he lives “alternate lives” – a la quantum physics’ “multiverses”– as a recent movie, The Discovery, dramatized.

What religion robs us of with its fiction that we are immortal is life itself, the enjoyment of the here and now.

Is it so terrible that in this vast cosmos, this unique creature, because of random events in immense stretches of time we cannot comprehend, has been given the opportunity, even if only for a limited time, to become aware of himself and of the universe, to enjoy life, love, family, friendship and achievements?

Why is that void in the future so fearsome when we really came from a void we don’t even remember?

“Be here now” is the mantra not just of mystics through the centuries, like Ramana Maharishi, Osho, and now Eckhart Tolle, but of a scientist like Sigmund Freud, who wrote:

“A flower that blossoms only for a single night does not seem to us on that account less lovely.”

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

P8 billion to P21billion DAP funds missing

Coa must now do a real audit
I APPLAUD President Duterte’s recent tirade against his predecessor Benigno S. Aquino 3rd and the latter’s budget secretary, Florencio Abad, over their Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was really an unprecedented, mammoth hijacking of government funds.

One of my biggest frustrations as a journalist, when I realized how puny the role of the press really is in this oligarch-ruled country, was during the previous administration when I wrote more than a dozen columns on the DAP, based not on opinion or haka-haka but on documents. Yet the Aquino government in its arrogance never commented or attempted to debunk a single one of my allegations.

My columns mainly dealt with:
• How DAP was thinly, stupidly disguised as an economic-stimulus program. Quite amazingly, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales swallowed this five-year-old lie in her recent decision acquitting Aquino of complicity over such hijacking of government funds. As the World Bank’s July 2012 update explained it, DAP was useless to the economy as it was a “mere realignment of funds”; and, while a huge loot for the Aquino camp’s purse, it was “minuscule (at less than 0.01 percentage points) relative to the size of the economy”.

The Philippines’ biggest governance crime (a newspaper headline in 2012) yet Ombudsman imposes a P120,000 fine only, and against just one of the perpetrators, Abad (right)? No wonder Duterte is so mad: “Ba’t di nyo kalkalin si Abad?”

• How it threw the Constitution into the dustbin, since it is Congress that has the power of the purse;

• How it was used to bribe senators to take out Chief Justice Renato Corona, which was a never-before-attempted attack on the judiciary; and

• How this huge fund very likely ended up in the pockets of the Aquino’s Yellow Cult, his inner core of officials, Congress members, and even local government officials.

It is understandable why Aquino could get away with such a crime when he was in power. The Senate was a recipient of the funds, so why would they investigate it. Our people had been brainwashed that the Yellow Cult would save the country, and of course the oligarchs had pending applications to build lucrative infrastructure projects, and supported Aquino.

Slammed media
Duterte slammed the media for not reporting on the DAP issue, scolding them: “Kayong mga media ngayon, ba’t gobyerno ko lang? Ba’t di nyo kalkalin si Abad? Anong nagawa ni Abad?” he said.

Why? Because media, except for a handful of articles (as headlined in the image accompanying this column), had been Aquino’s cheering squad in his decapitation of the Supreme Court, which was possible only because of the bribes from the DAP. How could they have done investigative journalism on the DAP when they were part of Aquino’s lynch mob against Corona?

Remember that screaming false, front-paged article claiming that Corona even got the University of Santo Tomas to give him a Ph. D. without his working for it reported by the PCIJ and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, intended to paint him as so thoroughly dishonest, which was the opening shot in his Senate trial? That was such a low point in Philippine journalism.

If the Mamasapano SAF 44 massacre was the Aquino regime’s bloodiest crime, the DAP was its most lucrative one, and justice must be served on both of these, so we can strengthen our institutions, an imperative for our nation’s growth.

The DAP was such a huge crime. Yet in the view of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales there was really no perpetrator, and in her decision asked Abad to only pay a fine of about P120,000, or his basic salary for three months?

Morales herself in her decision said Abad was guilty of the “usurpation of legislative powers”. You usurp the powers of the second branch of government and you’re just asked to pay a fine? No wonder our republic’s institutions are in such a mess.

I hope that the post-Aquino Commission on Audit would have the integrity to investigate the simple question: Where did the DAP money go?

The following is an example of the many  columns I wrote on the DAP issue (published July 9, 2012):

Through the secretive and utterly irregular nature of the DAP, billions of pesos have escaped government accounting, raising the distinct possibility that they were stolen in a scheme similar to Janet Napoles’ pork barrel scam.

Only President Aquino and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad know where the money went since only the two decided, at their whim, where to allocate the funds from the DAP. Not even Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa was consulted on this scheme, recently slammed as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Was Abad, as chief of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), so sloppy that he didn’t know how to count how much of the taxpayers’ money they have spent? The discrepancies and inconsistencies in the government data are so glaring that you would think this. But there is still the possibility that Aquino and Abad diverted the money for their nefarious purposes.

Perhaps this was in Mr. Aquino’s mind when he said, quite defensively, in his prime-time television speech devoted entirely to defending DAP on October 30, 2013: “I am not a thief.”

Discrepancies
Consider these discrepancies in the official reports from Abad on how much of the DAP funds were released:

• According to the document “Frequently Asked Questions about the Disbursement Acceleration Program” posted on the websites of the DBM and the Official Gazette (www.gov.ph), DAP funds released from 2011 to 2013 totaled P157.4 billion.

• According to “Evidence Packet No. 1,” which the DBM through the Solicitor General submitted to the Supreme Court during its hearings on the case, the DAP funds released totaled P149.2 billion (cited in page 2 of Senior Justice Antonio Carpio’s concurring opinion).

• According to Abad’s memorandum to the President dated December 28, 2013 that recommended the termination of the scheme, DAP funds released in the same period amounted to P144.3 billion.

• And finally, according to the DBM’s press statement issued July 4, the DAP amounted to only P136.8 billion.

Did you notice how the funds kept getting smaller? But these aren’t just minor discrepancies due to some clerical error. The last three amounts mean P8 billion to P21 billion less than the amount in the first report.

What happened to the money? Who pocketed this missing P8 to P21 billion? These discrepancies alone are reason enough to fire Abad, being the brains and creator of the DAP.

Two of Abad’s memos to the President in fact were even sent to him through the President’s “Private Office”—as the “receipt” stamps on these show—and not to the Office of the President, obviously to bypass Ochoa. Documents sent to the “Private Office” since these are precisely considered “Private” are not recorded in Malacanang’s Records Office.

Already there have been denials of receiving DAP funds as claimed by government. Senator Joker Arroyo, known for his probity and one of the few who didn’t accept pork barrel money, strongly denied that his office received P47 million in DAP funds. But the Aquino government claimed that the good senator received DAP money.

Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council president Manuel Sanchez similarly denied that his agency, chaired by Vice President Jejomar Binay, received P2.2 billion in DAP funds, as Abad’s records claimed.

DAP funds unreported
Several of the DAP funds supposedly released also were not reported in the recipient agencies’ annual audits by the Commission on Audit.

Some P6.5 billion of DAP funds were purportedly released to the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) in 2011 and 2012. However, there is no report of such huge infusion of funds in the COA’s annual audits of the DILG.

The only reference to the DAP was in its 2012 audit which noted that out of the P1 billion funding for the department’s so-called Performance Challenge Fund (extra funds given to local governments), some P253 million were supposedly from “DBM’s Disbursement Allocation Fund.”

Some P1.8 billion of DAP funds were, according to Abad, released to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) for its funding of a rebel group’s “livelihood projects”.

There is no record of such receipt of funds from the DAP in the COA’s audit reports of the OPAPP for 2011 and 2012. A huge amount of DAP money released to a government office, but no COA recognition or audit?

Some P8.6 billion of DAP funds were released to the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for the so-called “Transition Investment Support Plan.” Aquino even boasted about this funding in a public event in Cotabato City, and ARMM governor Mujiv Hataman was reported – even photographed – distributing P10 million checks from the DAP to local officials in the region in January 2013. (See my column July 1, 2014, “Aquino used P9B of DAP funds for his Nobel Prize fantasy”).

“This year (2013), the government has committed P8.59 billion for the Transition Investment Support Plan on top of the P12.93 billion already allocated through our budget,” Aquino was quoted in several newspapers at the time.

But the COA’s audit of the ARMM for 2011 to 2013 doesn’t have any reference to this money, and the regional government’s cash inflow do not reflect any increase in its funds from the national government.

Nearly P9 billion in taxpayers’ money, and not audited by the COA? Was the DAP intended to fall between the cracks in the government’s accounting system?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Silver lining in the Alvarez-Floirendo feud: Oligarch loses

THE feud between Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and his former crony Antonio Floirendo is certainly such a messy scandal that critics of the administration have been discoursing on it in gleeful triumph.

In his wishful thinking, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s minion, party-list congressman Gary Alejano, has even jumped up and down to claim that it would lead to President Duterte’s losing his hold over Congress, making his impeachment a sudden possibility.

There is a silver lining though to this cloud that has appeared in Duterte’s political firmament, even very good news for us ordinary citizens, which is really plain to see: Surprisingly, in this oligarch-ruled country, it is the big businessman Floirendo, an oligarch since the Marcos era, who appears to be the loser in this feud.

Whatever the emotional reasons for it—one account claimed Floirendo told the speaker’s girlfriend in the crassest manner that he was Alvarez’s financial lord—the feud has led to the speaker triggering a corruption case against an oligarch who had been his and Duterte’ s big financial backer in the 2016 elections.

Alvarez’s political career had seemed over when the Liberal Party faction in President Arroyo’s Cabinet got her to fire him as transportation secretary on the ground that he and several other government officials were involved in the alleged corruption in the construction of the NAIA Terminal 3 in 2001. Despite his achievements during his stint as transport secretary, Alvarez had to grapple with a graft suit filed against him and several other transportation department officials involving the NAIA Terminal 3.

IN HAPPIER TIMES. Speaker Alvarez and big businessman Floirendo, with (right) the latter’s partner, Cathy Binag, who had a verbal altercation with the speaker’s girlfriend Jennifer Vicencio (inset) that led to the two lawmakers’ feud.

After five years, and huge legal costs for him, the suit was dismissed in 2010. Probably because of the financial and emotional costs of that suit, Alvarez’s political career in Davao del Norte seemed ended, with Liberal Party stalwart Antonio Rafael del Rosario winning his former post as congressman for Davao del Norte’s first district for two terms.

Alvarez’s financier
As things turned out, though, Alvarez would manage a political resurrection through the 2016 national elections. He and other Davao politicians and big-businessmen threw their lot with the Davao City mayor’s presidential bid, with Alvarez piggy-backing on his long-time buddy Duterte’s popularity but financed mostly by Floirendo, who was also one of the biggest, if not the biggest, financiers of the President’s electoral campaign. Floirendo’s donation was a reported P75 million, although this could in reality have been at least P200 million, sources said, given politicians’ and donors’ penchant for under-declaring their actual donations.

Moreover, it wasn’t only the fact that Duterte backed Alvarez that made him the House Speaker. It was Floirendo’s political and business network—which was built up starting in the Marcos era by his late father Antonio, the strongman’s biggest crony in Mindanao—that was mobilized to put Alvarez in the speaker’s throne. Without Floirendo, Alvarez most probably wouldn’t have become speaker.

Isn’t that such a perfect illustration of the old Marxist theory that the state, to paraphrase the Communist Manifesto, “is nothing but the executive committee of the ruling class to manage the common affairs of the bourgeoisie”?

For whatever reason—pride, loyalty to his mate, or even overpowering biological urges—Alvarez has gone against his financier, and refused to be the lackey of the Davao “bourgeoisie” who can insult him anytime. And Duterte seems to be backing him.

If such a quagmire had occurred during the previous Aquino presidency, I’m sure he and everyone in the Yellow Cult would have rushed to patch things up, and keep the feud under wraps. The dogma would have been the political class cannot defy the economic ruling class, which after all really controls the country.

In the Alvarez-Floirendo feud though, Duterte hasn’t bothered to calm Alvarez down, and I haven’t heard or seen a report that the two were called by the President to settle things in front of him. Alvarez consequently has turned the wheels of his political machine that is the Congress against Floirendo.

House resolution
He asked the House of Representatives to issue a resolution asking the justice department to investigate the allegedly anomalous 25-year lease by the Floirendo banana producer company, Tadeco, of the Bureau of Corrections’ lands that Tadeco has been using for its plantation. The lease actually was first given in 1969 and renewed every 25 years since. Alvarez even did his homework well to focus not on other possible violations (for example, that the lease wasn’t bid out) the firm could have committed, but on a very easy-to-prove, even air-tight, one: Floirendo was a congressman when the lease was renewed in 2003, which is a clear violation not just of any law, but of the Constitution itself.

Section 14, Article VI of the Constitution bars senators or congressmen from having direct or indirect business interests “in any contract with, or in any franchise or special privilege granted by the government, or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including any government-owned or controlled corporation, or its subsidiary, during his term of office.”

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II obliged, saying his department will investigate the allegation. The allegation though appears to be an open-and-shut case in that Duterte’s credibility will suffer if the case against Floirendo is withdrawn.

Alvarez—and Duterte—may in fact be proving the more modern Marxist theory of the state: that while the state is based on the ruling class’ agreement for it to exist, it has what has been called “relative autonomy”. In the form in which political scientist Nicos Poulantzas expounded the theory, the state, and the politicians and bureaucrats that run it, is not just an instrument of the ruling class, but at times defies the interests of that class.

Welfare states
That explains the phenomena in several countries in which the state went against the interests of oligarchs and big capitalists, to create societies that made life worthwhile not only for the rich but for the bulk of its population, whether they are powerless or asset-less. This is what occurred in the Scandinavian welfare states, and in Canada, as well as in Japan, and in certain aspects in all countries we call developed nations.

Let’s not kid ourselves. While the masses—the “people”—of course played a big, even deciding, role in the 2016 elections that put Duterte in power, even he had to rely on the resources of a faction of the ruling class, mostly of course those in Mindanao who were not within the loop of our Manila-based national elite.

That one of Duterte’s two main political lieutenants, even for petty reasons, has gone against an oligarch, and he has done nothing to stop him, is an indication of this government’s strong “relative autonomy” from the ruling class. In a roughly similar style, Duterte has allowed Environment Secretary Gina Lopez to defy the mining elites that include even some of his biggest Mindanao-based campaign donors.

Perhaps this administration will prove to be—I certainly hope—the most independent from the ruling class among Philippine Presidents. That would be such a fundamental break from this country’s sorry past.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Robredo is politically dead

Social media reports so, but traditional media is oblivious
IF the Yellow Cult still believes that Vice President Leni Robredo is their great hope for recapturing power, they should squarely face the facts. When they do so, the inescapable conclusion is that she is politically dead, and what we see now is a mere ghost who cannot accept her demise.

Look, the rally which drew a sizeable crowd Sunday of at least 5,000 patriots, billed as “Palit-Bise” is the first ever in our history undertaken to demand that a vice president—for chrissake, a vice president who is supposed to be just an idle spare-tire—give up her post. This is unprecedented and historic.

The fact that the rally was organized through social media makes it even more groundbreaking. (“Palit-bise” which means “Change the Vice President” was to mock Robredo’s false claim in her message to a United Nations gathering that police had a ruthless “palit-ulo” scheme by which police arrested an illegal drug suspect’s relatives if he couldn’t be found.)

One reason for such a demand is that she allegedly cheated to win the elections last year. The more important reason though is that she is just hated so much, perhaps for her unending tirades against a popular President.

But what triggered the Sunday demonstration was her video sent to the UN gathering that was full of lies and falsehoods, intended to denigrate President Duterte but which painted the country—of which she is Vice President—as a land ruled by killers where corpses litter the streets.

In politics, one episode that triggers so much outrage against a political leader is irreparable. And Robredo isn’t in a government post which she can use to repair that damage.

If she hadn’t angered Duterte so much that she wasn’t fired as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, perhaps she could have portrayed herself one day as having given hundreds of thousands of poor Filipinos decent housing. That would have salvaged her from her UN boo-boo, and her reputation as too eager to be President that she bad-mouthed him, and in the process painted the country black.

Only the Manila Times out of five broadsheets put this historic event in its front page.

In politics, out of sight is out of mind. Robredo doesn’t have any government position she could use to keep her face appearing in the newspapers. People have already gone tired of her bad-mouthing the President. She isn’t even fiery and passionate enough to do so—as demonstrated in her UN video in which she had that what-me-worry smile as she spoke that thousands of Filipinos were being killed in the streets.

Only if jailed
The only way she could become a high-profile figure would be if she were jailed, but I don’t think Duterte would give her that opportunity.

The gradual disappearance from the public mind of Senator Leila de Lima (and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla as well, whom many thought would have a shot at the presidency before they were jailed) also doesn’t make that kind of jail-me-plan too attractive.

What is very interesting in Robredo’s political demise is that in this case, her ruination as a political force is so crystal-clear in social media, but of which traditional media is oblivious.

The last time social media’s political assessment contrasted with that of traditional media was in the months before the last elections, when the former reported the groundswell of support for Duterte, which the latter didn’t. The pro-Roxas Philippine Daily Inquirer for instance portrayed Duterte as a candidate so corrupt (his alleged secret bank accounts) and so much a killer (through his Davao Death Squad) it was impossible for him to win. It consequently focused its fire on candidate Jojo Binay, who had been the frontrunner in 2016.

Four of the five broadsheets reported Sunday’s “Palit-Bise” rally only as minor news stories and in their inside pages. Only the Manila Times reported such a major historic event in its front page, with an accompanying photo.

In the biggest social media platform Facebook, Robredo has been cut up with a hundred thousand blades, and a favorite topic by netizens ever since her message to the UN. Even with the Yellow Cult’s deployment of trolls, she has been buried in thousands of critical posts, with only very few, mainly the internet-only website Rappler, defending her.

By social media, I just don’t mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or similar platforms. I consider as social media the internet versions of newspapers, whose articles are now mostly spread and read though posts in Facebook et al.

Because of this, newspapers’ reach—especially as the price of their printed version has become beyond ordinary people’s capacity—is now determined mainly not by the number of copies of their print versions sold.

Instead, their reach is now mainly through the ‘viewership” of their internet versions’ articles. This are spread mainly through Facebook and other social media platforms. This has occurred in this country only in the past several years, when smartphones became cheaper because of Chinese-made phones and consequently ubiquitous, allowing people, even without computers to log in into their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Outrage against Robredo
Our newspaper’s analytics of its internet version conclusively show the outrage against Robredo.

“Views” (readers) of my column “Robredo lies to the world, shames the nation” broke all of Manila Times records, having 200,000 views (and 49,000 “likes”, as of yesterday), larger than my two other “best-selling” columns which were during President Aquino’s term that each had 180,000 views. News articles, “VP Robredo sidesteps #Nagaleaks revelations” and “Leni’s Fil-Am backers plotting vs Duterte,” had 65,000 and 92,000 views, respectively. My colleague Antonio Contreras’ column “The tragedy of Leni Robredo” so far is his most-read piece, viewed by 65,000 readers.

If that were “converted” into mainstream media format, Robredo’s political destruction—by her own hands, or rather mouth—would have been front-page news, even newspaper’s banner headlines for days.

Another indication of Robredo’s political demise is out of 50 regular opinion writers in broadsheets, only one went to her defense over her UN tirade: Philippine Daily Inquirer Rina Jimenez David. Even David wasn’t really sure of her convictions, and merely quoted a statement by “Pilipina,” which she claims is a women’s group, but which you can’t even find any information on through Google. David also merely played the woman card, writing in her column that “our tough-talking macho officials have trained their guns so far on women.” What?

With the outrage against her, if Duterte for some reason has to vacate his post before 2022, I’m afraid Robredo’s assumption to power would probably be blocked by some form of uprising. That would lead our country to a very explosive episode. She should find in her heart the patriotism to resign now, to relieve the country of the worry over such a nightmare scenario. In her heart of hearts, anyway, she doesn’t believe she really won the elections for vice president.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

‘Duterte raking in cash for the Philippines’

NOT all American media coverage is fixated on EJKs, or on President Duterte’s bloody war against illegal drugs. The Washington Post—yes, the newspaper that brought down a US President, Richard Nixon, in the 1970s—chose to report instead on the bigger picture, in the following article on Duterte’s playing the superpowers to get billions of dollars (renminbi?) in development aid.

Of course, you’ll have somebody like BS Aquino III’s so pro-American ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia belittling Duterte in the article and bad-mouthing China as if he’s the White House press secretary.

The article titled “Duterte finds ‘strategic sweet spot’” was reported as the Washington Post’s second front-page banner in its March 28, 2017 issue. Compare that to the front-paged but least important article in the New York Times March 22 that was a hatchet job on Duterte, but which the Philippine Daily Inquirer made as its screaming banner story. (See my recent column “New York Times takes over Philippine Daily Inquirer”.) But of course we have freedom of the press in this country.

The Washington Post article was headlined in the inside pages with, “Duterte’s volatile policies paying off”. The article in full:

Since his electoral triumph last summer, the man famous for cursing foreign leaders and calling for mass killing seems to be raking in the cash for the Philippines. A tidy $24 billion in deals with China.

Fresh billions from Japan. Not to mention the tens of millions in military and development aid the United States sends each year—despite his call for a “separation.”

Indeed, eight months into his tenure, with President Trump in power and Asian affairs in flux, Duterte’s devil-may-care diplomacy and relentless talk of “slaughter” seem to be paying off, propping up his domestic popularity even as an International Criminal Court prosecutor warns of a possible war-crimes investigation against him.

Will the PDI ever use this as their banner story, like they did NYT’s hatchet job on Duterte?

Courting the President of the Philippines are new friends such as China, which last week sent a vice premier to Duterte’s hometown, and Russia, which recently dispatched two warships to Manila on a goodwill visit. Both see Duterte as an ally against the US military’s Asian ambitions.

Old partners such as the United States and Japan might bristle at Duterte’s rhetoric and rights record, but they are willing to speak softly because they need his help countering Chinese claims to most of the South China Sea.

Duterte, meanwhile, seems happy to flirt with his various suitors, alternating between swearing and sweet talk, backtracking as required.

As a presidential candidate, the longtime mayor of Davao City promised Filipinos an “independent” foreign policy, vowing to stand up to the Americans and make money from everyone else. With deals and dignitaries streaming in, Duterte can credibly say he delivered — at least for now.

But much of the Philippines prefers the United States to China; Duterte may want to align himself with Beijing’s “ideological flow,” as he put it, but swaths of the country’s establishment do not.

Duterte’s defense secretary, Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, recently expressed concern about Chinese survey ships lingering in waters off the Philippine coast. Faced with questions from reporters, Duterte seemed confused; he eventually asserted that he would ask the military to tell Beijing to back off — but in a friendly way.

There is a growing sense that his foreign policy is a short-term fix, said Herman Kraft, a political scientist at the University of the Philippines. “We have a tiny window when we can still play both sides.”

Duterte has a flair for the dramatic, and his entrance to the foreign policy stage was nothing short of spectacular.

Casting insults at President Barack Obama, he made a show about finding new “best friends” in Moscow and Beijing — although his calls to curtail the decades-old US-Philippine military partnership were quickly played down by members of his own cabinet.

China, seeing an opportunity to curry favor with a key US ally, invited him to the Chinese capital, where he signed billions in deals. Duterte thanked his hosts by railing against the United States.

Not a month after his speech in Beijing, Donald Trump’s triumph had Duterte singing a different tune. The two countries could now stop feuding, he said — a turnaround that gave him room to quietly reach out to the United States.

While Trump prepared for his inauguration, a US ally stepped in. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a visit. He toured Duterte’s home in the southern Philippines, reportedly admiring his bed and mosquito net, and announced $8.7 billion in aid.

Duterte’s diplomatic maneuvering allowed him to press ahead with state-led killings of alleged drug dealers and users while securing billions of dollars worth of deals. “Despite all his shenanigans, he hit a strategic sweet spot,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, an assistant professor of political science at Manila’s De La Salle University.

“But,” Heydarian added, “this may be a bit of strategic beginner’s luck. If he keeps at this for a few years, he will be seen as a flip-flopper.”

Filipino and foreign experts are skeptical about whether big promises from China and Russia will actually materialize and, if they do, whether the money will keep coming.

China will eventually make a move in the South China Sea that Filipinos find unpalatable, said Jose L. Cuisia Jr., who, until June, was the Philippine ambassador to the United States. When that happens, it will be hard for Duterte to do as China pleases, and those Chinese pledges could dry up, Cuisia said.

“I am not sure that we will see a strong relationship with China and Russia in the long term,” he said.

For now, Duterte seems likely to woo as many allies and investors as possible, said Aileen S.P. Baviera, a China expert at the University of the Philippines’ Asian Center.

“Because of Trump, most countries want to hedge their bets and remain as flexible as possible,” she said. “And right now, China looks like a more stable partner than the US.”

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Enrile: CPP-NPA — and China — provoked Martial Law imposition

THE Yellow Cult’s narrative has been that Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in September 1972 in order perpetuate himself in power, as the Constitution barred him from running for a third term, as he was already on his second, which was to end in 1973.

But history, as has long been pointed out, is written by the victors. In our case, these were primarily the Aquino-Cojuangco clan and a faction of our ruling class, especially the Lopez and Osmeña clans that Marcos had persecuted and portrayed as his Exhibit A as the rightist oligarchs threatening the Republic.

The resurrected oligarchs of course needed badly to demonize Marcos to propagate the myth that his overthrow was a national uprising against him, and not just a metropolitan Manila episode backed by the US and triggered by a bungling coup attempt against him. And, of course they had the press, the creator really of what the public thinks, to spread their version of history.

But that was 30 years ago, and the Yellow Cultists are no longer in power, and their big-business allies don’t really care about them and their narrative, and as usual have sought more powerful political patrons. Only ABS-CBN and to some extent the Philippine Daily Inquirer remain, as the latter’s late editor had put it, as the torch-bearers of the People Power Revolution that the media in the 1980s had glorified.

Now, one of the leaders that brought down Marcos, his defense secretary two years before and during the entire martial law period, Juan Ponce Enrile. perhaps wants to put the record straight in his retirement years. In a speech last month at the Methodist Protestants’ Cosmopolitan Church in Manila, Enrile said:

Did Mao (center) and Communist Party chief Sison (right) provoke Marcos to impose martial law?

“The most significant event that made President Marcos decide to declare martial law was the MV Karagatan [ship’s name – RDT] incident in July 1972. It was the turning point. The MV Karagatan involved the infiltration of high powered rifles, ammunition, 40-millimeter rocket launchers, rocket projectiles, communications equipment, and other assorted war materials by the CPP-NPA-NDF on the Pacific side of Isabela in Cagayan Valley. The CPP-NPA-NDF attempted a second effort – their MV Andrea project – but they failed. The MV Andrea sank in the West Philippine Sea on its way to the country.”

Enrile, to the credit of his sharp memory, related many details on the episode, which bolsters his narrative’s veracity, among them: that it was one Lt. Edgar Aglipay (who would become Philippine National Police chief 32 years later) who headed an eight-man police team that intercepted and boarded the MV Karagatan; that an Army platoon headed by one Lt. Arsenio Santos (who would be Enrile’s aide whom Marcos alleged was among the mutineers that plotted a coup against him in February 1986) was dispatched by helicopter to save Aglipay from the superior force of the New People’s Army of 300 men who were tasked to recover the arms; that Air Force fighter planes and even the Presidential Security Command soldiers were deployed to save the Army platoon; that the Liberal Party called the incident a “palabas” with the Lopezes’ Manila Chronicle headlining it as “a hoax”.

Enrile said that after several days, the NPA retreated, with the military recovering 1,000 M14 rifles and 166,000 rounds of bullets and magazines for those arms, and 564 rounds for 40-millimeter rocket launchers.

Perhaps feeling like a statesman, Enrile, however, was totally silent about where the arms shipment came from. It came from China, more precisely its Communist Party intelligence department headed by Kang Sheng, under orders of Mao Zedong himself.

Enrile (in leather jacket) inspecting the crates of Chinese-made M14s captured from the communists’ MV Karagatan.

Former ranking communists Mario Miclat (in his book Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions: A Novel) and Ricardo Malay (in an article on March 25, 2005 in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, where he was an editor) had disclosed in the minutest detail how their group, dispatched to China by Sison, organized with Chinese Communist Party intelligence cadres how the arms shipment would be undertaken. That was the era when Mao Zedong didn’t hide from the world his intention to export communist revolution.

Enrile in his speech said:
“The MV Karagatan event affected President Marcos immensely. He wasted no time convening a military conference where he said: “The Karagatan presents a new and serious dimension to the insurgency problem of the country. It means the subversive elements have succeeded to open a supply line to support their operations.”

He asked the command conference to reassess all military plans. Ominously he added: “I will not allow the problem to go out of control. I will nip it in the bud.” I never saw or heard President Marcos talk or act that way before. He was grave, firm, and resolute. On my way out of that command conference, the thought flashed in my mind that martial law was nigh.

True enough, not long after, he convened another command conference. This time, he ordered the preparation of a plan for the declaration of martial law. No one in that command conference asked any questions or raised any objections.”

Martial law was publicly announced September 23, 1972, two months after the Karagatan incident. Perhaps Marcos would have declared it a week after the attempted arms shipment, if he had learned the scale of the Chinese Communist Party’s project to send arms to the NPA.

100,000 Chinese-made rifles
This was inadvertently disclosed only in the past several years by arms traders and enthusiasts who wanted to determine the quality of Chinese rifles, particularly an M14 clone called M305. The M305 was becoming popular in America as a cheap, but reliable rifle, with the Chinese firm Norinco aggressively selling it. Norinco is a huge manufacturing company whose many products include rifles and pistols that it clones known Western products such as the Smith & Wesson and Colt guns, which are also getting to be popular in our country because they cost a third of the American pistols.

As one of the blogs by an arms trader on this matter read:
“In the late 1960s, the Chinese government reverse-engineered the design for the US rifle M14 from weapons captured in Viet Nam. 100,000 M14 rifles and the necessary magazines and ammunition were produced by the Chinese for export, to arm rebels in other countries. These Chinese select fire M14 rifles were made to look just like captured American M14 rifles, including even the serial numbers. The rifles and ammunition were manufactured with US and British markings so as to avoid any connection to the People’s Republic of China, and possibly to serve a role in disinformation (propaganda) campaigns for the planned uprising.

The Communist Chinese government made two attempts to ship its select fire M14 rifles to the Philippines. The first attempt was largely unsuccessful and the second was a total failure. A source was recently shown the remainder of the approximately 100,000 Chinese-manufactured M14 rifles. The Chinese M14 rifles were packed in crates in one warehouse while the British-marked, Chinese-produced 7.62 x 51 mm NATO ammunition was stored in a separate warehouse. “

China had built a factory to produce 100,000 rifles to arm the NPA, which, if it had enough revolutionaries to carry and use them, would have resulted in a bloody civil war in our country. The arms shipment plan was such a huge operation that, ironically, when China embraced capitalism, it jump-started its small-arms industry.

What Enrile did not disclose was that the arms shipments from China made up just one of Sison’s two-pronged plan to foment revolution. Sison in June 1971 confidently told the executive committee of the party central committee, his innermost core of followers, about the arms shipment from China, with Karagatan and Andrea only to be the first, intended to debug the supply line. “But even if we get the rifles, we don’t have enough revolutionaries to carry them,” he said.

“So, we have a plan to trigger another revolutionary flow like the First Quarter Storm,” Sison said. As Miclat related it in his Secrets book, Sison explained what this was: The attack on the Liberal Party miting de avance at Plaza Miranda on August 21, 1971.

Fascist face
Miclat quoted Sison as saying before the attack: “We will force Marcos to declare martial law… People will rise up in arms when he finally shows his fascist face.”

That plan of course didn’t quite work out. Instead of imposing martial law, Marcos simply suspended the writ of habeas corpus after the Plaza Miranda bombing. While that made it easy for government to detain for days suspected subversives, the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality, and Marcos used it only sparingly, arresting less than a dozen suspects, defeating Sison’s expectation that Filipinos would rise up in arms when he “showed his fascist face”.

Instead, what made Marcos decide to declare martial law was Sison and his operatives’ bungling nearly a year later: the interception of the MV Karagatan arms shipment from China.

Enrile ended his speech as follows:
“If President Marcos did not declare martial law, what could or might have happened to the country? I am sure every one of us has an individual opinion about that.”

Good question.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

The NYT’s hatchet job on Duterte: We should all be outraged

Proposes economic sanctions as those vs Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria
IF, after reading with a critical eye, the New York Times’ editorial last Friday entitled “Accountability for Duterte,” and you aren’t outraged and even cheer it—as Vice President Robredo and the news website Rappler seem to have—you have lost all sense of being Filipino.

Because of the stupidity and temerity of that NYT piece, by-lined by the paper’s “Editorial Board*”, I am convinced that it is part of a Yellow plot to oust President Duterte.

What the NYT piece asked the US government and the world to do is an outrage: “The EU has proposed hitting his government where it may hurt the most — by imposing tariffs on Philippine goods. Other democratic trading partners should do the same,” the editorial proposed. This sentence alone indicates how rushed or ignorant the NYT piece is, that it is simply a cheap black propaganda.

The NYT—whose biggest stockholder is the world’s second richest man, the Mexican businessman Carlos Slim—is disseminating fake news: that European nations have condemned Duterte and are in the process of imposing sanctions against us. Or perhaps the NYT editors are ignorant of what the EU is and its institutions.

It is not the EU—the union of 28 nations in Europe of 510 million citizens—that has proposed reducing our access to European markets to punish us.

Rather it was only a resolution—and not even a bill—of the European Parliament (EP), which is just one of the three institutions of the EU, the other being the more powerful Council of the European Union (which passes laws with the EP) and the “executive” body, the European Commission. Members of the Council and the Commission are appointed by the governments of the EU nations; the EP by direct vote of each EU nation, in special elections.

Parliament resolution
A resolution of the EP has as much chance of being implemented by the EU as the thousands of resolutions by members of our Congress which are approved only for the sake of camaraderie but which everyone there knows won’t be implemented, since a law – an entirely different thing – would be required for that. House Resolution CR 0004 “granting consent to Senator Drilon to accept the Grand Cordon of Order of the Rising Sun from Japan” by any stretch of the imagination can’t be interpreted as the wish of the entire nation.

NO LONGER IN AMERICAN HANDS? NYT’s biggest stockholder, the Mexican Carlos Slim, who vies with Bill Gates for the title of the world’s richest man.

More importantly, though, how can the NYT so cavalierly – or ignorantly – ask that our country’s “democratic trading partners,” which includes the US, renege on their multilateral commitments to the World Trade Organization and bilaterally to the Philippine state and impose economic sanctions that will hurt not just our businessmen but the poor, especially destitute farmers? When China slowed down their exports of bananas because of President Aquino’s belligerent stance against it, was it Davao’s banana magnates who cried, or was it rather the thousands of minimum-wage banana plantation workers?

The short 400-word (a third of the length of this column) NYT proposal is so idiotic as it is appalling that it could have been drafted not by a professional journalist concerned with facts or logic or even human rights, but by a Filipino political partisan launching a black propaganda drive against Duterte. Was it something a rich New Yorker Filipina handed over to a NYT editorial writer after dinner at her posh Manhattan apartment, telling him: “Just my draft, do whatever you want with it.”

How many countries in the world have the US and the EU imposed trade and other economic sanctions against in the postwar period?

Seven, four of which are troublesome—or “hate-America”—Middle East countries: 1) Iran, as a means to force it to stop its nuclear-bomb program; 2) Iraq, when it invaded Kuwait in 1990; 3) North Korea, also over its nuclear-bomb and missile delivery system; 4) Russia, for its invasion of the Ukraine’s Crimea territory; 5) Burma (Myanmar), in order to force it to free the renowned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and undertake free elections; 6) Libya to stop alleged killing of anti-government protesters; and 7) Syria, ostensibly to stop its President Bashar al-Assad from killing the opposition, but in reality to force him out of office.

Burma case
The Burma case is informative, as the NYT or the New York-based Yellow leader, wants the world to confuse what happened to that sorry country with us, or wish would happen. But it was not the European Parliament which ordered the sanctions against Burma, but the Council of the European Union, which means that all of the EU states approved the move.

The NYT thinks we’ve done something as “bad’ as what Iran, Iraq, Russia, North Korea, Libya, Syria did that we deserve to be punished by trade sanctions?

That’s why I’ve said we should all be outraged. Our government must issue a formal protest against the NYT editorial, and our Embassy there request the millions of Fil-Ams in the US to boycott it for their insult to our nation.

I cannot fathom how the NYT concluded that Senator Leila de Lima’s jailing for her alleged involvement in illegal drugs and the deaths due to police operations against suspected drug dealers are as threatening to the world as Iran and North Korea’s nuclear-arms programs, and Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Is our system of republican democracy and rule of law on the same level as Burma? Does the NYT think we’re a failed state like those in Africa that it thinks the US can bully us to comply with its notions of human rights, that actually do not correspond with Philippine reality?

As atrocious as NYT’s putting us in the league of Iran, North Korea, Russia and Burma deserving trade sanctions, are its arguments for proposing to do so.

The NYT claimed: “More than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers, witnesses and bystanders — including children — have been killed by the police or vigilantes in the Philippines since last July.” The NYT piece came out March 24, and I’ve written two articles, March 20 and March 22, debunking that lie the news website Rappler spread around the world, which was fabricated by adding the 2,555 deaths the police claimed were killed in its anti-drug operations to the 4,525 of murders and deaths due to any reason. That Rappler made a mistake is incontrovertible, yet NYT uses that false number?

To argue that Duterte is so bad that trade sanctions are needed to force him out of office, the NYT claimed: ‘The Philippine lawmaker Gary Alejano filed an impeachment complaint against Mr. Duterte, accusing him of corruption, murder and crimes against humanity in connection with his bloody antidrug campaign. ‘We are of the firm belief that he is unfit to hold the highest office of the land,’ Mr. Alejano said.” Are the NYT writers so ignorant that they didn’t know that Alejano isn’t your ordinary “lawmaker” but the lackey of coup leader Antonio Trillanes IV, who has lied so much against Duterte few people believe him?

Jude Jose Sabio
To claim that Duterte is so bad he will be tried by The Hague-based International Criminal Court, the NYT said: “Jude Josue Sabio, a lawyer for two men who say they belonged to a death squad that operated under Mr. Duterte… says he intends to bring a case against Mr. Duterte in The Hague.” Didn’t the NYT bother to do a background check on this mediocre lawyer Sabio, who got to be mentioned in jurisprudence because the Integrated Bar of the Philippines reprimanded him in 2007 for violating the lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility, which the Supreme Court in 2007 upheld and even fined him? What was his violation? For filing a groundless suit against a judge, who ruled against his client. Is that a habit of Sabio’s?

To claim that we have no rule of law, the NYT said: “Last month, Mr. Duterte’s Justice Department ordered Senator Leila de Lima, one of Mr. Duterte’s most vocal opponents, arrested on spurious charges that she took bribes from drug traffickers.” Spurious charges? Didn’t NYT’s fact checkers check that six former drug lords testified that they gave bribes to De Lima, which her own former lover and an assistant had confirmed? If NYT bothered to do some quick research, they would have discovered that De Lima asked the Supreme Court to be released. Does the NYT think it is just a tool of Duterte, when its chief justice and four other justices were appointed by former President Aquino?

The Yellow pieces all fall into place, into a plot: the 7,000 false figure fabricated and disseminated by Rappler’s yellow editors, the impeachment complaint by Trillanes’ minion, the suit purportedly to be filed at the International Court of Justice by a mediocre lawyer, and then De Lima’s portrayal of herself as a human rights victim. All to make up the narrative that Duterte must be taken out, with Filipinos threatened to be hurt through trade sanctions if they don’t move against him.

What a worn-out script.

* Unlike the set-up in most Philippine newspapers, the NYT’s editorial board that writes its editorials consists of 16 full-time journalists. They take turns writing the editorial for the day, edited and approved by the editorial page editor, currently James Bennet. Although the NYT claims that the editorials represent the voice of its board, its editor and publisher, the paper’s deadline constraints do not require each editorial to be approved by the board. None of the current editorial board member are described as having covered Southeast Asia, or the Philippines.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns