De Lima accused of connivance with Bilibid drug lords back in 2012

Senator Leila de Lima claims that the accusations against her – that she protected the drug-lords in Bilibid National Prison and their criminal activities there, in exchange for tens of millions of pesos when she was justice secretary in the past Administration – are merely part of her political persecution. She alleges that her persecution is President Duterte’s retaliation for her opposition to the many extrajudicial killings that she associates with his war against illegal drugs.

She even played the victimized woman card when her intimate relationship with her security aide-cum-driver — who, however, has been accused of being her bagman, or one of them — was brought up: “Babae ako, hindi ako nahihiya sa aking pagkababae,” she said.

These are totally rubbish, de Lima’s shameful attempts at concealing her crime.

Why do I say so?

Because as early as more than three years ago, such accusations were already swirling around her, when nobody in his wildest dream (or nightmare) thought that the “Dirty Harry” Davao City mayor would run for President, win and then launch a bloody war against the illegal-drug criminals. It was also at this time when portions of the alleged video of her having sex with her security-turned-lover surfaced.

How could she claim Duterte hatched a conspiracy to hurl these accusations against her?

Proof of such accusations against de Lima that started three years ago is the column I wrote back on Dec. 21, 2014, accessible through this link:

The article referred to statements that she has known about the corruption in Bilibid since 2012. That she didn’t do anything about it could only be an indication that she was already conniving with the drug lords inside the prison at that time. Neither de Lima nor any other government official contested the article.

President Aquino 3rd did not order, covertly or otherwise, an investigation into the accusations. What does that tell us? I suspect he knew about it and that his inner circle may have told him that the drug lords’ humongous earnings at Bilibid could even help fund the Liberal Party’s campaign kitty for the 2016 elections.

The column was entitled “P10 million per month ‘rental’?” which I republish en toto as follows:

December 21, 2014. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was informed a year ago by Philippine National Police officers that organized-crime lords were living luxury lifestyles inside Bilibid Prison, with the drug kingpins even continuing their drug operations from there.

Yet de Lima had dragged her foot for months and refused – until last week – to raid the prison so as to stop those scandalous operations at Bilibid. Why?

“We were very angry why de Lima was not doing anything,” a police officer said. “We risk our lives in operations, police officers were killed by these criminals, we refuse millions of pesos in bribes, only to find out that the criminals we sent to jail are living in luxury in Bilibid and are even allowed to get out for entertainment,” he said.

In a radio interview, jueteng whistle-blower Sandra Cam also disclosed that her group had brought an ex-jail guard Kabungsuan Makilala to de Lima, who told her under oath all the corruption at Bilibid back in 2012. De Lima, though, refused to take him into the department’s witness protection program and refused to believe his testimony.

P10M monthly

“One informant told us about two-dozen gang leaders there, especially the drug lords,” the police officer said, “contribute to pay P10 million monthly, their ‘rent’ to officials in charge of Bilibid—from the guards to officials at the Justice Department level—so they would be allowed to do as they please inside Bilibid.”

What has recently been exposed in the media, the officer claimed, is only the tip of the iceberg, as the convicts were tipped a week before that there would be such a raid. “So only those who were so hard-headed that they didn’t believe in the warning are in trouble now,” the officer claimed.

De Lima’s raiding party contained not a single PNP personnel. She had not informed even the top leadership of the PNP, even Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, about the raid.

The officer claimed that President Aquino seemed to have totally trusted de Lima that his group’s efforts to push her to act through media exposés accomplished nothing. Throughout this year, there have, indeed, been occasional reports in newspapers and television about Bilibid being run by drug lords.

Chief Inspector Roque Merdegia Jr, of the PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force, was bold enough in June 2014 —six months ago —to publicly ask the justice department to investigate the VIP treatment of the drug lords who had been arrested by the task force.

Merdegia reported at that time that his task force had conducted an operation inside Bilibid and discovered that some high-profile convicts were staying in air-conditioned rooms with their own flat screen television and hot and cold shower. Merdegia also claimed that top drug lords were even allowed to go to top-of-the-line hospitals for “check-ups” and whenever they feel they have to consult with their doctors.

The Justice Department ordered a probe, which, however, investigated solely why certain convicts were allowed to leave prison to go to their chosen hospitals, and even to visit their homes.

It is astonishing how in the face of this national embarrassment, this total failure of government (how could drug lords continue their criminal operations in a jail, and even have high-powered assault rifles?), those accountable for it aren’t immediately suspended.

These are Justice Secretary de Lima, who supervises the Bureau of Corrections, its director Franklin Bucayu, his deputy in charge of prisons, Celso Bravo, and the New Bilibid warden Roberto Rabo.

They should be immediately suspended, all their files and computers confiscated as these may contain evidence of their collusion with the convicts. Their bank accounts must be investigated by the Anti Money Laundering Council to determine if they received suspicious funds.

If there is a topic the Senate should be investigating in aid of legislation, it is the penal system. On one level, it has become the center of drug syndicates and a luxury resort, and on another it is hell for most of its occupants.

I’m astonished why President Aquino seems nonchalant about the scandal that is the “Bilibid Resort,” telling de Lima that it’s only the “high powered guns that worry him.”

Our penal system under Aquino has given an entirely new meaning to South African legend Nelson Mandela’s famous quote: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.”

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Too many credible witnesses claim Bilibid drug lords gave her tons of money

There’s just too many credible witnesses alleging that Senator Leila de Lima, when she was President Aquino’s Justice Secretary, protected the lucrative billion-peso drug trade in the Bilibid National Prisons, and that they, upon de Lima’s demand, raised at least P20 million for her campaign to get a senatorial seat in the last elections.

I listened yesterday to the testimonies of seven out of the more than 30 witnesses whom the Justice department said submitted sworn testimonies linking de Lima to the Bilibid drug lords. Contrast that to the single, very dubious witness Norie Unas who accused former Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s “electoral sabotage” in the 2007 elections, for which she was incarcerated for four years. Unas was a long-time assistant of Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., the top suspect in the Maguindanao Massacre, and was threatened to be included among the 36 accused if he didn’t testify against Arroyo. Or to another single witness, an admitted killer Edgardo Matobato, who implicated President Duterte in the operations of the Davao Death Squad.

I watched the whole afternoon the other day until the evening the House of Representatives’ Justice Committee’s hearings in which Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre presented the witnesses, together with their signed, sworn testimonies.

You can only appreciate how credible the witnesses are, how much De Lima is in deep trouble, if you endured eight-hours listening to the hearing, as I did.

The hearing revealed how far from being an Inquisition the hearings were, contrary to those conducted during the Aquino administration. Justice Committee chair Reynaldo Umali, who presided over these recent hearings, was a Liberal Party stalwart, its treasurer during the past regime. How certain congressmen grilled the witnesses in their clumsy attempts to destroy their credibility but failed, as Rep. Vicente Veloso tried to do in an irritating, stupid way. How deep de Lima’s personal and financial involvement had been with the drug lords, that she visited its maximum-security section a dozen of times. How much the National Prison had been made into a drug lords resort, that one Chinese-Filipino drug lord claimed he paid Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan P1 million to be transferred back from its prisons in an island province to Bilibid. How huge the illegal drug trade had been under de Lima and Aquino, with two Chinese-Filipino drug lords estimating it as a billion-peso industry. How intimate De Lima’s relationship with her driver-security aide Ronnie Dayan, with the man reportedly even dominating her, at the same time acting as her agent, who collected the dirty drug money for her.

She needs a miracle: Alleged druglord inmate Colanggo, among many, testifying against De Lima at the House hearing. (Right) Praying at the CBCP chapel.
She needs a miracle: Alleged druglord inmate Colanggo, among many, testifying against De Lima at the House hearing. (Right) Praying at the CBCP chapel.

It is a shame, and even scandalous, that the TV networks devoted only a few minutes to its coverage of the hearings. GMA 7 even had a much longer coverage of de Lima crying (literally) that she is being persecuted, and speaking in a Holy Mass at the CBCP chapel. (Are these priests and nuns who allowed her to do so ignorant or plain stupid that they didn’t see that she was simply using them to stage her fake drama of being persecuted, as Jun Lozada did?)

No doubt on witnesses
I have watched so many such hearings in Congress, and I have to say there can be no doubt on the veracity of the witnesses’ main testimony. “Main,” as there were differences in some details they presented, but such inconsistencies only mean that they weren’t given a script to follow, and they were in certain cases, trying to save their own necks. For example: Jaybee Sebastian claims he wasn’t the top drug lord in prison, contesting Herbert Colangco’s testimony. It was Colangco who was the top drug lord, Sebastian claimed.

The witnesses’ backgrounds were so diverse and their involvements in activities inside the Bilibid Prison so different.

Among them: the Filipino-Chinese drug-lord inmates Vicente Sy and Peter Co, who procured the supply of shabu from abroad and in the country; the three gang leaders who distributed within and outside the prison camp the illegal drugs supplied by the Chinese-Filipinos, Herbert Colangco, Jaybee Sebastian and Nonilo Arile; Colangco’s “talent manager” Reynante Diaz, a non-inmate who managed the gang leader’s concerts in the national prison, and procured high-class prostitutes for him; a former National Bureau of Investigation deputy director who supervised Bilibid for a time, Rafael Ragos; former police officer and kidnapping convict Rodolfo Magleo; and even de Lima’s two close-in security personnel, who were soldiers assigned from the Presidential Security Guards.

Such a diverse a group of witnesses against de Lima – all accusing the former justice secretary De Lima of mainly two things:

First, that she made her security aide and driver Ronnie Dayan not only her lover but her personal assistant and accomplice in asking for and physically receiving bribe money from the Bilibid drug lords amounting to tens of millions of pesos. Dayan, through de Lima, asked the drug lords for more money to finance her bid to become senator in the 2016 elections.

“De Lima and Dayan were the “powers that be” at the justice department and in Bilibid, former NBI deputy director Ragos, who claims his family had been close friends of de Lima, said. De Lima had fallen for Dayan so much that in a quarrel, one witness claimed, the driver even pointed a gun in anger at the justice secretary. Dayan has refused to appear before the committee on justice hearings, so that the committee issued an arrest order for him and directed law enforcement agencies to capture him.

Second, de Lima, according to the witnesses, received tens of millions of pesos from the drug lords in exchange for their protection against the law, including the alleged payment of P800,000 from the enterprise that provided the Bilibid staff’s meals. While the precise amount could not be determined as it wasn’t clear if money delivered to her by different people, for instance by NBI official Ragos, was different from those the drug lords claimed they raised for her. The former counted P14.5 million as the amount he delivered to de Lima. Incumbent Justice Secretary Aguirre said he has proof that the total bribe money de Lima got since 2013 would not be less than P100 million.

I think De Lima had been so confident that her involvement in the Bilibid drug trade would never be exposed since she expected the Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas to win the presidency, and that her becoming a senator would make her politically invincible. Hubris has often been the cause of the haughty politician’s fall.

Complicated operation
Not by any stretch of imagination could this administration expect a justice secretary to be so scheming as to have hatched and implemented such a complicated operation for these diverse witnesses to make such allegations against de Lima.

Such project is simply beyond this administration. So far, it has even demonstrated such clumsiness and lack of central control — it has even forgotten to fire officials of government corporations appointed by, and extremely loyal to, the past president —that it would be impossible for it to have orchestrated thee accusations against de Lima. With the level of commitment and intelligence those congressmen have, they would never have been able to stage a persecution.

It is striking, really, that de Lima has not denied that Dayan was her lover. She dismisses this as something personal she has the right not to discuss. Her accusers, though, say their relationship had moved out of the personal dimension, as it was Dayan who had mainly received the dirty money for her, and because of her reputation as de Lima’s lover and accomplice, had even his own money-raising rackets in Bilibid and even in other justice department jurisdictions. The number of credible witnesses against her has demolished her pretense of being victimized by people “who don’t have balls” as she claimed.

What kind of a country have we become under Aquino that Bilibid, the national prison inside which those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes are supposed to be locked up and suffer for their crime, had become not only some kind of a hotel resort, a little “Las Vegas” as the drug lord inmates themselves dubbed that maximum-security compound? That it has also become the headquarters of convicted drug lords from where they continue to operate and enjoy life with the tons of money they generate from their drug dealings to afford the cost of regularly bringing in prostitutes, including paying former starlet Rosanna Roces P25,000 each time she pimped for them, as she claims?

What kind of a country have we become under Aquino that the justice secretary had become one of the country’s worst violators of the law, and yet was able to acquire a seat in the Senate?

If the extent of corruption under the Aquino administration could transform Bilibid into such a criminal’s paradise from which they benefited by receiving tens of millions of pesos of dirty money, what other dark secrets of their corruption have not yet been brought to light?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Duterte could break up the telecom monopoly

The foreign and local oligarchs controlling the virtual telecom monopoly in the country — made up of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) and Globe Telecom — probably would have sleepless nights after President Duterte warned them the other day that if they don’t improve their services, they’ll bring in competitors from China.

If that happens, it will be devastating for PLDT (and its cell phone unit, Smart) and Globe. It would result in the end of its virtual monopoly, which would be a boon to cell phone and internet users, as well as for the economy in a country that remains the laggard in the region in terms of its telecom efficiency and infrastructure.

The world’s biggest telecom firm now, after overtaking the American Verizon last year, is China Mobile Ltd., while the tenth largest is China Telecom. These could undoubtedly bring a lot of resources into the Philippines to dismantle the local monopoly.

And it would be so easy for Duterte to get these companies into the country. Why?

Because both are state firms, their biggest stockholder being the government itself of the People’s Republic of China.

China would certainly jump on Duterte’s offer, in order to get closer to the country that has been antagonistic to it since it had been the US surrogate under past administrations, especially with regard to the South China dispute. Being state firms, the Chinese leadership would simply order either of the state firms to enter the country’s telecom industry one day, and the next day its executive and technicians will be here.

Not only that, it’s a fantastic business proposal for Chinese telecom firms: with our 100-million population, we’re a coveted market, being the 12th largest market for cellphones in the world.

And guess what are the large cellphone manufacturers in the world?

The Chinese firms, Huawei, ZTE, Oppo and Xiaomi, whose combined sales are more than all the revenues of Samsung, Apple and Nokia. The cellphones, and even smartphones of these companies, are now priced at a third or even a fourth of the cost of Samsung and Apple, which means, since the upper-class here is so small, these phones could overwhelm the Philippine market in a very short time. Already, industry sources say that Huawei, ZTE and Oppo’s cellphones — the cheapest now in the market —are accounting for 60 percent of new sales of cellphones in the Philippines.
telecom20161010With Duterte’s support, the entry of Chinese firms into the country won’t suffer the sorry fate of the attempt of the Australian firm Telstra and San Miguel to break PLDT and Globe’s duopoly. Telstra actually had already made substantial investment in Metro Manila for its entry, building cell sites which, when the company gave up in March, already covered 40 percent of the region. Telstra had also already employed 1,500 employees.

Worryingly “too cold”
Telstra, sources said, felt the government was worryingly “too cold” to its entry. Telstra was even told that the oligarchs owning PLDT and Globe Telecom were very close to then President Aquino, and so was his candidate for the presidency, Mar Roxas, who they were told would win the May elections because of its huge campaign finances and its control of government. Telstra allegedly was told that cases would be filed in court that could, at the very least, delay its entry for years. “What foreign company wouldn’t be scared with such threats, and a President supporting its rivals?,” a foreign consultant privy to Telstra’s attempt in entering the Philippines said.

Duterte’s unexpected rise to power has totally changed the game, especially as he has been at best apathetic, and at worst, antagonistic to the oligarchs. “I hate oligarchs,” he said in one of his speeches. Sources claimed that the telecom oligarchs’ attempts, through various third parties, to have an audience with Duterte have been rebuffed, in stark contrast to their first-name-basis relationship with Aquino.

The entry of a third telco in the country could take the form of China Mobile or China Telecom taking a 40 stake in the firm, in order to comply with the Constitutional limit on foreign investment in public utilities — despite PLDT and Globe Telecom’s violation of it. The government could take a 20-30 percent stake through equity by the Social Security System, the Government Service Insurance System, or by the Development Bank of the Philippines.

San Miguel, since it still owns the crucial, and valuable 700-megahertz spectrum, a frequency that would give a spectacular boost to the cellphone company that is authorized to use it, could be the biggest Filipino investor in the firm, taking up a 20 to 30 percent stake. That, however, depends on whether the May sale of its spectrum to PLDT and Globe is stopped by the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), which appears likely to, so that Globe in panic filed a case against its intervention in the Court of Appeals.

The government’s entry into the telecom industry isn’t at all inappropriate, nor even unusual. Except for Thailand (because of Thaksin’s sale of the biggest telco to Singtel, which was one factor that led to the successful coup in 2006 that toppled him), all Asian nations’ telecom industries — from Japan to Vietnam — are dominated by state firms, with foreign firms allowed in the past decade to enter the industry but may take only small market shares. (Cf. Chapter 2 of my book “Colossal Deception: How Foreign Firms Control Our Telecom Sector”)*

But Duterte’s threat to get Chinese telcos to enter our telecom sector and give PLDT and Globe a run for their money isn’t the only worry for PLDT and Globe oligarchs. Duterte is the first President – ever since the two firms got to be controlled by foreigners – who is not their friend, who appears even to be antagonistic to them not just because they are among the oligarchs he says he hates, but that he is becoming mad at their poor service.

And Duterte has the legal, easy means for them to eat out of his hand. This is to order the Securities and Exchange Commission to simply implement the Supreme Court decision in 2011 and 2012 that would have ruled them as violating the 40 percent Constitutional limit on foreign equity in public utilities.

That on Wednesday.
The second slowest in Asia
Duterte certainly has a strong basis to claim that the PLDT-Globe duopoly has been providing lousy service, if we use as measures the country’s average internet speed and the percentage of users with internet speeds of above 4 Mbps.

We have the second lowest average internet speed in Asia-Pacific, according to the latest first-quarter 2016 report of the Massachusetts-based Akamai Technologies, a leader in the internet industry (see table). Our internet average speed is 3.5 Mbps., below the global average of 5 Mbps. That puts our global rank at 113 among 137 nations. A war-ravaged country like Vietnam and a poor country like Sri Lanka have faster internet speeds, at 5 and 5.4 Mbps, respectively

Indonesia, the country of Anthoni Salim, PLDT’s biggest controlling stockholder, has a faster speed of 4.5 Mbps. Singapore, the country of Singtel, Globe Telecom’s biggest stockholder, has a rocket speed — compared to ours, that is — 16.5 Mbps.

The picture is worse if we use the percentage of users having speeds of more than 4 Mbps: We’re on the bottom rung in Asia, with only 18 percent of users having that speed, way below the global average of 63 percent. I find it shocking that the comparable figure for Vietnam is 55 percent and for Sri Lanka, 71 percent. How could that happen?

What’s that again, Dr. Bernardo Villegas, and the neoliberals of the Foundation for Economic Freedom – that foreign investors ensure efficiency in an industry?

Or was it just a fluke that the biggest telco, PLDT, has been scrimping on its capital investment since it suffered a P5 billion loss in 2015 by investing in 2014 a whopping P20 billion in a 10 percent stake in internet site-maker Rocket Internet, which later tanked in the stock market with a huge drop in its share price.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

After 100 days: Paradigm shifts in the Philippine presidency

Whether you hate or love President Duterte after 100 days of his rule, for good or bad, he represents a paradigm shift in the Philippine presidency. And history tells us that shifts in the paradigms a society holds are crucial to its long-term growth, for it is these paradigms that determine how we think and act.

It was philosopher Thomas Kuhn, in his groundbreaking 1962 book about the history of science,  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, who crystallized and popularized the notion of paradigm shift. Kuhn, however, used the term in a strict sense as referring to epochal changes in civilization’s world-views.

For example, there was the shift in the 18th century (two centuries after Copernicus proposed the theory in 1543) to the now universally-held view that the earth orbits the sun, replacing the old tenet that all celestial bodies revolved around the earth. (Many think that civilization is now undergoing one of its most important paradigm shifts in centuries, from a universal belief in a Divine, All-powerful Being to a secular, scientific worldview.)

We use the term paradigm shift, however, in its looser, common usage, which my dictionary defines as “a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.” Going by this definition, Duterte is the first President to attempt a shift not just in one paradigm but in several.

Whoever thought that a President could wear a casual shirt, the “polo shirt” Filipinos love to wear (with the oversized Polo or Lacoste logos), at official functions, even in such solemn rituals as reviewing the troops?
Even the “man of the masses,” President Magsaysay, wore short-sleeved dress shirts, and not the checkered shirts and Polo or golf shirts that have now become Duterte’s OOTD (outfit of the day). I suspect they may even be cheap rip-offs. A barong over a maong pair of jeans at state dinners?

After all, the barong has been the elite’s preferred outfit since the Spanish colonial era, which for the wearer was a neon sign announcing to everyone his high social status. The masses’ common outfit during those times was the camisa chino, the modern version of which is the “Polo” shirt Duterte loves to wear. The barong tagalog is the common public outfit of the elite and the middle-class, not the working class. Much more, of course, in the case of the suit, tellingly referred to by Filipinos as “Amerikana,” which translates to “American-style,” the outfit of the American colonizers.

Duterte’s preferred daily outfit symbolizes a paradigm shift: The Philippine President must constantly represent the masses, one they could very easily identify with, even just by the clothes he wears daily.

Masa image

President Estrada tried to project a similar masa image, but his designer jackets (his preferred daily wear), his daily all-night feasts over bottles of $500 Petrus wine with his drinking buddies, his lavish gifts to mistresses (with one gifted with a mansion), and his imported Lucky Strike cigarettes – all quickly demolished that image.

There are three very important paradigm shifts Duterte appears to be trying to effect, which because of the overwhelming support for him (76 percent of Filipinos support him, the latest poll show) could change Filipinos’ worldview — if he survives his term as popular as he is now, that is.

First, while he has not fully articulated it, nor has he announced a program to address it, Duterte has expressed antagonism toward oligarchs, whose hold over the country, political scientists and keen observers have long claimed, has been the root of Philippine underdevelopment, and the consequent poverty it has generated.

“I will destroy oligarchs,” the President told a crowd of soldiers at the Camp Lapu Lapu in Cebu City in early August. While it isn’t clear how he defines oligarchs, vis-a-vis the entire economic elite, he correctly hinted, in referring to magnate Roberto Ongpin, that an oligarch is one who uses the state, or the incumbent President, to unfairly expand his business empire: “I’ll give you an example, publicly: Ongpin, Roberto. Malakas kay [Ferdinand] Marcos noon, trade minister, I think. Malakas sa succession: [During] Ramos he was a hanger on and, kay Gloria [Arroyo], PNoy. Now he owns online [gambling],” he said.

If he pursues his anti-oligarchic view, it would be an earth-shaking change in the worldview of Filipinos, who think their poverty is their God-given fate or, for the educated, that they are merely unlucky. Even the intelligentsia’s paradigm is neoliberalism, that poverty will be eradicated in the course of economic development, as the wealth generated by the rich trickles down to the masses.

No Philippine President has ever dared to express disdain against oligarchs, not even to claim their existence. One presidential candidate had even confidently announced that he planned to get Manuel Pangilinan — who was really merely an Indonesian oligarch’s manager — as his vice presidential running mate.

America’s brown brothers

Second, Duterte is changing the view of most Filipinos that we are America’s little brown brothers, that the US is not only a staunch ally, but that our prosperity depends on its patronage. Even the elite has embraced that myth that we have a special relationship with the US, which will always care about us since we share their American values, and that we were their only colony and protégé in the world.

The corollary of such a view is a deep antagonism toward communism, so much so that China and the Russian Federation — the two countries that are or were under communist rule are suspect, even feared, by most Filipinos. Yet these countries are or will be the world’s economic and military superpowers in this century, with which the country must have ties as strong as it has with the US.

To do this, Duterte even said in a speech, “Go to hell, Obama.” The last time a state leader spewed out such venom at a US president was in 2006, when in his address at the United Nations General Assembly, Venezuelan socialist President Hugo Chavez called President George W. Bush “the devil,” who talked “as if he owned the world.” Despite a coup, massive labor strikes and a recall referendum, Chavez had a third term, which he didn’t complete, dying of a heart attack in 2013.

Duterte declares he prefers developing closer ties with China and Russia, than with the US. With about 3 million Filipino immigrants to the US, about 500,000 having filed applications to become US citizens, with the elite having studied in the US and sending routinely their children to US colleges, that paradigm shift Duterte trying to effect is as radical as can be.

Third, Duterte is changing the view of most Filipinos that communist insurgents are godless anti-democracy people intending to capture political power, which they will just monopolize. Instead, Duterte’s paradigm is that communists are pro-poor patriots devoting their lives to uplift the people’s welfare.

Duterte has done what had been unimaginable. He appointed communists to head two government departments – that for social welfare and development, and agrarian reform, with another Marxist-Leninist as labor department undersecretary. It could even be three departments if reports are true that education secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones and her husband Carlos were cadres of the pro-Soviet Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, and had emerged from the underground after Marcos struck a peace deal with the Partido in 1976, and gave all its members amnesty.

Peace deal

Duterte has rushed to reach a peace-deal with the communists — which would even allow them to retain their arms — even bringing to Norway for the negotiations the Communist Party’s top imprisoned leaders, such as its chairman Benito Tiamzon, to make sure that any settlement is backed by the insurgents’ real leaders.

Duterte’s paradigm shift to an anti-oligarchy and anti-US view, and one sympathetic to the communists, obviously risks his hold on power. No President ever has had such a worldview, much less articulate it in public.
When he actually moves to implement these views, the oligarchs and the US obviously will fight back, and they have all the resources to do so.

It is Duterte’s fourth paradigm shift that has created fierce opposition against him, which oligarchs and the US will exploit to bring him down.

He is trying to shift Western civilization’s paradigm on human life — that each and every life is sacred, with no state having the right to take it—to one in which lives may, and even must be sacrificed, even with no judicial proceedings, for the good of the majority of society.

Under this view, the lives of illegal-drug criminals, those suspected to be such, and even those who make up the illegal-drug community, i.e., addicts, can be rightfully snuffed out so that the majority of Filipinos, their children and their children’s children, would be free of this scourge that has been one of the main factors for horrific crimes, such as the rape and murder of children.

I don’t embrace this worldview. Modern civilization’s morality evolved not out of religious dogmas but in the gradual embrace of the seemingly illogical belief that an individual’s life must be cherished, and cannot be sacrificed for the group, which had been a tenet of humanity’s past eras.*

I am, to be honest, in a quagmire whether or not Duterte’s different paradigm on an individual’s life, as the Yellow Cult has been arguing, requires a moral stance of opposing his rule, since I fully embrace the other three paradigm shifts he is trying to effect.

*See Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arc (2015),

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Gone, Matobato, gone

Admitted killer Edgar Matobato – who had claimed he was a member of the purported Davao Death Squad, and whose sensational testimony against Rodrigo Duterte was probably expected by Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes 4th to trigger events that would topple the President — is gone, both literally and figuratively.

Matobato will be going the way of previous fake “star whistleblowers” like Ador Mawanay and Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, forgotten, with everyone incredulous how they had their moments of fame when their tall tales were taken hook, line, and sinker.

Even the prestigious New York Times on September 15 ran an unusually long (for one on a Southeast Asian country) report headlined: “Rodrigo Duterte Ordered Philippine Killings, Professed Hit Man Testifies.”

The article even had an embedded 5-minute video clip entitled “Life on Duterte’s Death Squad” of Matobato relating his yarn in which he made shocking claims, for example: “We would throw the body there at sea. We would tie bricks to it, the abdomen cut open so the insides were exposed, so it will sink.” The clip didn’t even have any interviewer probing it to see if he was lying or not. It only had Matobato talking, the New York Times implicitly judging that he was telling the truth.

“We were all taken for a ride by Mr. Matobato. And it’s so frustrating that after all, we’re not smarter than the first grader,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said, in reference to Matobato’s first grade education, in the Senate hearing Monday.

Justice committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon exposed in the hearing that Senator Leila de Lima had not disclosed that Matobato was charged with kidnapping for ransom of a one Makdum, whom the admitted gun-for-hire alleged was killed by Duterte’s “death squad” — with the President even knocking all of the poor man’s teeth using his golf club.

What, no more “whistleblower”? Newspapers’ front pages Sept. 15 and Oct. 4
What, no more “whistleblower”? Newspapers’ front pages Sept. 15 and Oct. 4

Seething, Gordon said: “Matobato’s kidnapping case is a vital piece of information. A very critical piece of information that should have been revealed here… In order to evade the light of scrutiny, Matobato deliberately misled us, to make us believe that he had no case, that in fact, it was not him and other people, and that it happened at a different date, and most important of all, he implicated other people here, who per NBI investigation, are not even part of that investigation.”

After a heated exchange between him and De Lima, after the lady senator’s walkout — her second — and after Gordon was about to call Matobato to explain his lies, he was informed that the “whistleblower” had vanished, spirited out by Trillanes’ staff when his kidnapping case was revealed.

A note from Trillanes’ office, who had put Matobato under his protection, reported that the admitted gun-for-hire “was no longer available to answer the panel’s questions, that he had to leave so his security won’t be compromised.”

Suddenly disappeared
That, of course, angered Gordon. He said: “Para bang nu’ng nabuko na, biglang nawala na. (It’s like, when his lies have been exposed, he suddenly disappears.”

The committee, with Trillanes keeping quiet and with de Lima having walked out of the hearing, voted to suspend the hearings indefinitely.

The committee might resume the hearing, to focus on its original intention to investigate charges of numerous extrajudicial killings undertaken as part of Duterte’s “war” against the illegal-drug industry – and not, as De Lima steered the hearing, to the alleged death squad in Davao when Duterte was its city mayor.

But nobody is betting that Matobato will ever appear again, what with the kidnapping for ransom and another murder charge (filed by a survivor) against him likely to be revived. I’ll bet a month’s salary that Trillanes would just tell the committee he couldn’t find Matobato anymore. And I don’t think Catholic nuns, as they did with Lozada, would keep Matobato, who looks as if he really had killed 50 people as he claimed, in their nunnery.

From the start, the credibility of Matobato’s testimony was shot down for its factual inaccuracies; for instance, Matobato claimed that Duterte ordered the killing of the bodyguards of Prospero Nograles, who was the mayor’s political rival in Davao. Nograles’ son quickly retorted that all their bodyguards were still alive and kicking, and while they might be Duterte’s political rivals, they belonged to one clan, who wouldn’t go on a shooting war against each other.

One major indication that this Matobato chapter is closed is De Lima’s walkout, which she had announced she was doing because Gordon accused her of concealing the fact that the fake whistleblower faced a kidnapping charge, which she said “pained” her.

That’s obviously a very flimsy excuse, and looks more like a pretext to get out of the Senate as her plot with Matobato was totally exposed. Kapatiran Party Rizalito David, a staunch defender of de Lima, however, has a different explanation. He claims in his Facebook post that “walking out is what wives (legitimately) do when husbands fail to do what they are supposed to do (David even astonishingly claimed in his post: “Mga syoki lang di nakakaintindi niyan” (Only gays do not understand that.” What? I, and most Filipinos, are syokis?)

It’s the end of this Matobato episode, and people will forget about him they have forgotten about alleged star “whistleblowers” like Ador Mawanay and Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, who turned out to be charlatans.

It is another case study of how a biased media manipulates people’s minds. It was astonishing – or not – that none of the above accounts of the Senate hearing, which demolished Matobato’s yarn, was reported at all in all broadsheets.

Contrast that to screaming headlines on September 16 when Matobato first appeared: Philippine Star: “Executioner Emerges”; Philippine Daily Inquirer: ‘Duterte Ordered Us To Kill’.

Did these newspapers report the Senate hearing the other day that demolished Matobato’s allegations? Not at all. They solely reported the denial of the “Davao Death Squad” by the four Davao policemen, whom Matobato had accused of staffing that group. The New York Times had not published any story that the Senate hearing Monday demonstrated that Matobato was telling lies.

Years from now, those with gullible minds would still claim that there was an eye-witness to Duterte’s dark deeds in Davao, but that he had just vanished.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Reuters: ‘Duterte likens himself to Hitler’ CNN: ‘Duterte decries Hitler comparison’

We all would have been spared the brouhaha over President Duterte allegedly likening himself to Hitler if journalists, especially the two Reuters reporters who first reported it, just had some common sense, or didn’t have some yellow bias.

C’mon guys, who in this day and age would liken himself to Hitler and praise the genocide of millions of Jews? I’ve never heard any political leader liken himself to Hitler — not even mass murderers like Pol Pot and Suharto, not even lunatic dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The only people I can think of as being Hitler-lovers are redneck sociopaths or motorcycle gangsters with swastikas tattooed on their faces, or racist groups in the lunatic fringe such as the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, or the White Aryan Resistance.

Duterte certainly often acts and speaks like a street thug, and he is the first ever (and would probably be the last) President who would use the now notorious P-word to accentuate his speeches in public, and who would even encourage extrajudicial killings.

I don’t think, though, by any stretch of imagination, that he could be a fan of Hitler and his genocide against the Jews. Try to retrieve your common sense, guys. Hitler has been condemned so much — and proven by all historians — as a mass murderer by modern civilization, even by communists, especially because of his treacherous attack on the Soviet Union during the world war that cost that poor country 11 million lives, half of whom were innocent civilians.

Only lunatics would be fans of Hitler, or those as crazy as the ancient believers of the notion that the earth was flat.

Of course, the Yellow Cultists may even claim that Duterte is crazy. But if he were so, and they should produce more than an iota of evidence for this, if they do, then it is the most urgent issue facing us today, and every Filipino must now move to remove him from power, even by force.

Pause, guys, and breathe deeply, and think: Is Duterte one of the very few people in the world who are Hitler lovers, or is it just what the Yellow Cultists want us to believe, who jumped on an erroneous Reuters report that itself exploited his clumsiness in the use of metaphors and hyperbole?

Newspapers’ Oct. 1 and 2 issues: Are they reporting on the same country?
Newspapers’ Oct. 1 and 2 issues: Are they reporting on the same country?

The facts, indeed, show it’s another case of the foreign press’ misreporting Duterte’s statements, after that episode a few weeks ago when it was reported that he called President Obama a “son of a whore.” It turned out, though, that Duterte threatened to curse the US president, but only if he ever raised the human rights issue on his war against illegal-drugs (which Obama didn’t).

The P-word
That was also a “lost-in-translation” case one could expect from lazy foreign journalists, since it was clear that Duterte used the P-word not in reference to Obama, but as an interjection — Filipinos’ common use of the P-word to express anger or exasperation, in the way Americans use “fuck” to preface their sentences.

In this Duterte-loves-Hitler episode, however, Filipino correspondents of Reuters (the British news service) made this misleading report. So it’s not a case of not understanding the nuances of the Filipino language.

The Reuters dispatch had a lede (the first paragraph that usually summarizes the piece), that read: “Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte appeared to liken himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler on Friday and said he would “be happy” to exterminate 3 million drug users and peddlers in the country.”

Note the word “appeared,” which means that the Reuters reporters were interpreting what Duterte said, not what he actually said. “Appeared” is a word (together with is relatives, “apparently,” “seems,” “seemingly,” etc.) often used by reporters to put words into the mouth of their subjects. There’s a risk there. Such paraphrasing sometimes accurately represents what the subject wanted to express, and in a succinct, clear way. But sometimes it is totally inaccurate, which is the case in the Reuters’ report on Duterte’s Hitler statements.

The Reuters’ report was headlined: “Philippines’ Duterte likens himself to Hitler, wants to kill millions of drug users.”

Contrast that to the more accurate CNN Philippines report on the same speech, which was headlined so differently as follows: “Duterte decries Hitler comparison, but ‘would be happy to slaughter drug addicts’.”

The CNN Philippines report read: “President Rodrigo Duterte lashed at his critics, whom he said were comparing him — unfairly — to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

‘Kaya kung ikaw nandito, bakit hindi ka magmumura? [If you were in my position, why wouldn’t you curse?] You’re portrayed or pictured to be some… a cousin of Hitler. And you do not even bother to find out, to investigate,’ the President said in a speech early Friday morning.

‘The tough-talking President then embraced the comparison, and said that if Hitler massacred millions of Jews, he would do the same to millions of drug addicts in the country.

‘Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts [in the Philippines. I’d be happy to slaughter them. At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have…’ he said as his thought trailed off.

Duterte added, ‘You know, my victims, I would like them to be all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition,’ he said.”

What Duterte meant
What Duterte clearly meant was: “I’m sick and tired of being compared to Hitler. But Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews. I’ll be killing only criminals and drug addicts, and save the next generation of Filipinos from perdition.”

Why did the Reuters correspondents report it so wrongly? Probably in order to give their otherwise ho-hum report a spin that would make the agency’s editors in Singapore sit up, be used as banner stories by local newspapers with their by-lines, and ahem, earn kudos for them. It’s the old tabloid sensationalism.

It could also be the result of their weak common sense, mixed with a yellowish bias against Duterte, and a lack of understanding of the techniques of sarcasm and hyperbole.

It was the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who, during the campaign period pointed out how to “read” Duterte: “Mayor Duterte and I are alike. We are best friends because sometimes we descend to the level of hyperbole. You exaggerate what you are saying so it becomes more effective, you better catch the attention of listeners even if it’s not literally true.”

Reuters and other foreign wire agencies’ news-gathering systems make their inaccuracies so difficult to correct. It is SOP for a wire-agency editor to immediately transmit a story even if inaccurate as the Duterte-loves-Hitler or the Duterte-curses-Obama pieces to their bureaus around the world to get the reaction of officials in the concerned countries.

The problem, especially since we’re nobodies in the world, is that these officials don’t even bother to call Malacañang or the President’s spokesman to check if the reports they are asked to comment on are accurate. The reactions to the inaccurate report, in effect, repeat it again and again, as if it were true.

Also illustrative of that was the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s banner story yesterday, which screamed, “Rody‘s ‘Hitler’ reaps international censure,” telling the reader that Duterte did praise Hitler, and the world is angry. Never mind if the “Duterte-loves-Hitler” Reuters report had been proven wrong.

The news agencies’ editors would, of course, hesitate to correct their stories, as the officials would likely shout at them: “Why the hell did you give me a false story to comment on?”

It was solely the Philippine Daily Inquirer which banner-headlined Reuters’ inaccurate Duterte-loves-Hitler dispatch on Saturday, even using the wire-agency’s lede and several of its paragraphs.

It’s unusually huge banner headline for the story screamed: “Heil Digong.” If readers didn’t understand that headline, the paper’s subhead was “If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have…” And to make sure Duterte would be linked to Hitler in their readers’ mind, the Inquirer even had that iconic photo of Hitler with his fascist salute.

Has the Inquirer gone all out against Duterte this early?

But still, the Duterte-curses-Obama episode and this recent Duterte-praises-Hitler one should be lessons enough for the President’s inner circle to beg him to wear a muzzle, or to read prepared speeches verbatim and stop those ad-libs that have given him so much trouble.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

De Lima’s paroxysm: Was it a script that got her too carried away?

In our post-war history, I don’t think there has ever been a public paroxysm of hysterics by a member of the Philippine Senate as demonstrated by Senator Leila de Lima the other day.

Two things I found very strange in de Lima’s paroxysm of anger, though. First, there is usually an immediate trigger for such hysterical rage, some remark made by somebody that hits straight at the heart of another person’s ego, and unhinges him or her to go into a fit. In one such case involving President Duterte, it was a question during a media briefing how he would reply to President Obama if the US leader raised the issue of human rights abuses.

In De Lima’s case, however, no reporter asked any question that could have sent her through the roof. It was she who provoked herself: “Now we saw a news item quoting Speaker Alvarez saying that somebody must be out to silence (high-profile inmate) Sebastian,” she said calmly in her press briefing.

De Lima in her paroxysm of anger: As if possessed by some other spirit, even her voice changes
De Lima in her paroxysm of anger: As if possessed by some other spirit, even her voice changes

But her succeeding statements stunned the media, as she spoke in an entirely different manner and tone, as if suddenly possessed by some demon as in those exorcist movies, a reporter at the press briefing said. (If you don’t believe me, watch the video at From that point on she kept screaming, her voice breaking so that reporters thought she would then sob uncontrollably. (She didn’t and recovered from her victim pose to a defiant one, even slamming the sheets of papers she brought with her.)

Second, such loss of total control normally occurs at some unguarded moment. But De Lima displayed such behavior in a situation requiring one to be most guarded: a press conference, before national television and radio broadcasters.

De Lima isn’t a newbie in facing the press; she’s been doing this, occasionally when she was chair of the Human Rights Commission during President Arroyo’s time, and twice or thrice a week when she was President Aquino’s justice secretary for six years. De Lima, in fact, had been among the most interviewed members of Aquino’s Cabinet. She knows that one can’t lose control before the TV news cameras. In fact, she even seems to be so deliberate, so self-conscious in her English pronunciation.

Why would somebody allow herself to lose total control at a press conference, so much so that, really, she looked like arguing with someone in some back alley.

Three explanations

There are three explanations for these anomalies in de Lima’s public outburst.

First: De Lima simply shouldn’t be a public official at all, and definitely not a Senator. Our entire government system (and rule of law) is built on belief in reason, that it is the only way really to express one’s views, argue against others’ views, and to determine what’s needed to be done. De Lima, a lawyer at that, unless she skipped a lot of her classes, is supposed to have trained in law schools not to get provoked, to keep her cool, to argue using facts and reason. De Lima demonstrated that she, instead, believes in screaming and theatrics to express her views.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wasn’t a lawyer, and she was so much unjustly persecuted by Aquino, with De Lima, in defiance of a Supreme Court order, even barring the ailing Arroyo from seeking urgent medical treatment abroad. She spent four years incarcerated for charges that turned out to be totally flimsy.

Has she ever faced nationwide TV, or even responded to reporters’ questions in the insane yet self-righteous way de Lima did the other day? Arroyo has been a portrait of dignity, in sharp contrast to the picture of crassness and vulgarity that was shown by de Lima.

Second: She lost it upon hearing news of the Bilibid Prison riot, in which drug lord Tony Co was killed and Jaybee Sebastian – whom two inmates claimed in the Congress hearings as having regularly given de Lima dirty money – was wounded, but alive. Sebastian now would spill the beans, and de Lima would be in big, big
trouble, which led her to panic so much she became delirious.

Same day, different banner stories, or at least one was different.

The third explanation is that de Lima’s atrocious behavior was really all scripted, a PR project, which, however, got out of control. Her PR operator must have told her: “Ma’am, you should act like Duterte’s poor victim, so much persecuted that you have become so angry, and then offer yourself to be taken as a sacrifice a-la Jesus Christ and shout: ‘Take me, I’m here.’ Then we’ll take care of the press. The banners will scream your cries of anger.”

But de Lima got so carried away by her role she overdid it, portraying herself as so deliriously angry she teetered on the verge of a breakdown.

Is that a preposterous scenario? The banner story of Philippine Daily Inquirer was de Lima’s main anti-Duterte line, “Stop this madness,” an ironic one, though, because her delivery of that line sounded like the speaker was going mad. The paper did not even report de Lima’s near-breakdown, which has been the talk of the town.
Compare that newspaper’s banner with those of other broadsheets, which reported the main news, not de Lima’s dramatic line that made her look like a heroine.

Whatever the true explanation is, De Lima has shamed herself severely I am astonished how she could still show her face in the Senate.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Helped by communists, oligarchs demonized Marcos to conceal their rule

I’ve written several columns debunking the Yellow Cult’s distortion of the history of the Marcos era, certainly not to defend the strongman. Indeed, Marcos’ biggest crime was his failure to prevent the country’s steep recession in 1983-1985, which explains much of our quagmire to this day.

Rather, by exposing their deception over Marcos’ demonization, the basic problems of the country can be revealed as clear as day: A greedy oligarchy unconcerned over, even blocking, the redistribution of assets and radical basic reforms that could improve the lives of majority of Filipinos.

Other strongmen in Asia who had much worse human rights records had not been similarly demonized. Two of these are Indonesia’s Suharto, whose 17-year regime killed at least 500,000 Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity and South Korea’s Park Chung Hee, with his infamous, dreaded Korean Central Intelligence Agency. (Park’s daughter Geun-hye was even elected President in 2012).

Why, in contrast, has Marcos and his rule been painted so black, that none of his accomplishments are recognized, and that there is even opposition to his remains’ burial at the military’s official cemetery? (That martial rule wasn’t all bad is indisputable: the average GDP growth rate during Martial Law — excluding the recession from 1983 to 1985 — was 5.6 percent, higher than under Cory Aquino, when the pace of growth was at 3.4 percent and Ramos, at 3.5 percent.)

There has been a practical reason for Marcos’ demonization. It was a major project, ironically, by both the Communist Party of the Philippines and the oligarchy, since this advanced their respective agendas.

The communists’ objective was to expand the organization and get sympathizers in a country extremely anti-communist because of Catholic Church dogma (that the communists were atheists) and the US cold-war propaganda. And to them the only way to achieve that was to portray the Marcos regime as a ruthless, fascist state.

The communists realized early enough that its political program, encapsulated by the slogan plagiarized from Mao Zedong’s writings — the toppling of “US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic-capitalism” — wouldn’t in a hundred years rouse the masses to revolution.

Game of thrones? The Marcoses and the Lopezes (Eugenio Sr. and Fernando, who was then vice president of the country) in happier times.
Game of thrones? The Marcoses and the Lopezes (Eugenio Sr. and Fernando, who was then vice president of the country) in happier times.

The massive student demonstrations in the first quarter of 1970 were a big lesson for the communists. These broke out not because of protests against the US bases, landlordism, or corruption, but because of the police brutality against student demonstrators — for the first time vividly reported by media — that occurred at Congress right after Marcos delivered his 1970 State of the Nation Address.

Plaza Miranda bombing

Learning from that episode, the Communist Party undertook the Plaza Miranda bombing of the Liberal Party’s miting de avance in 1971, and blamed it on Marcos to depict him as a ruthless fascist. (The Liberal Party knew it wasn’t Marcos, but played to the communist’s script because that allowed them to win the senatorial elections that year.)

Middle-class organizations and clerics supported the Communist Party and its front organizations, not because they believed in Marxism-Leninism, nor in the communist-led “National Democratic Revolution,” but because they were hoodwinked by communist propaganda that Marcos was a fascist in the same mold as Hitler or Mussolini, and that it was their moral duty to fight the regime.

Most of the reports on Marcos human rights abuses have been by communist cadres. One “victim,” who seems to delight in relating his torture story of how his penis was electrocuted, headed the Party’s  dramatically called “Explosives Movement,” which developed the NPA’s lethal mines that horribly killed or maimed Philippine Army troopers, and which is now considered by the civilized world now as weapons against humanity.

The Indonesian communists couldn’t do what the Filipino communists did — exploit Suharto’s human rights abuses — because they were literally  exterminated by the strongman in 1965-1966, so that his atrocities would come to light only in the 1980s. In contrast, except in cases where they were killed in firefights with the military, most Filipino communists lived through Marcos prisons to join the revolution. Jose Ma. Sison, furthermore, a former English teacher and frustrated writer, wasn’t a communist theoretician, nor a mass leader: his skill was in demagoguery and propaganda.

The Communist Party’s propaganda and intellectual assets have, therefore, been fixated almost totally on projecting Marcos and his successors as American-supported fascist regimes: US-Marcos, US-Aquino, US-Ramos etc., which must be overthrown by force. So much so that other than “agrarian reform” and the “anti-imperialism,” few people don’t’ really know what they stand for now.

The Left has even totally abandoned the working class, allowing BS Aquino to boast that there had practically been no labor strike and that the communist movement had gained no amount of significance under his term (excluding Hacienda Luisita, of course.)

Why would the oligarchy want to demonize Marcos? Because that conceals their greedy class rule, unchanged since the nation was born, strengthened through martial law, and which distracts us from looking at the real basic problems of the nation, which is the oligarchs’ unequal hold over productive assets.

The Ayalas

The Ayalas cleverly portrayed themselves as being anti-Marcos after 1986, with its propaganda coup being its patriarch’s, Don Jaime Zobel’s, joining Cory Aquino rallies in 1985-1986. But there was, of course, Enrique Zobel, an avid Marcos supporter, who actually led the Ayala conglomerate’s phenomenal growth during Martial Law. Why shouldn’t they have supported Marcos? The South Luzon Expressway Marcos built opened up the vast Alabang areas, which the Ayalas owned, for Ayala’s residential and commercial development. Without their monopoly status (Marcos classified the beer industry as “overcrowded”), San Miguel Corp., which the Ayalas, with the Sorianos, owned until 1983, couldn’t have become the country’s biggest conglomerate at that time. (And when for some reason, Marcos allowed Lucio Tan to enter the beer industry in 1982,  the Chinese businessman was called a crony by the oligarchs!)

These are only glimpses of the oligarchs’ support for the Marcos regime; most of them, of course, condemned him when he fell.

The Lopezes, the country’s epitome of the political-economic-cultural elite, were one of the few oligarchs Marcos attacked, as they were the most involved in politics and had the resources to overthrow him.

In just weeks after they returned from exile, President Cory Aquino turned over to them the power-distribution monopoly, Meralco, payment for which allegedly did not include its huge Martial-Law capital investments. They moved fast into power-generation and water services with huge loans from the state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). Two Philippine Daily Inquirer columnists, the late Neal Cruz and Conrado Banal, reported that the DBP wrote off P1.6 billion in loans to Lopez firms in the last decade.

The Lopezes’ ABS-CBN Network has been a powerful molder of the Filipino mind since 1986, and, therefore, a most effective tool for Marcos’ demonization. It was sweet revenge for the Lopezes: How dare a politician from the poor North, married to a commoner from Leyte, which was the source of the sugar industry’s near-slaves called sacadas, imprison the Lopezes and the Osmenas, the vanguards of the country’s sugar oligarchy?

In contrast, Indonesia’s Suharto had not attacked any oligarch when he grabbed absolute power in 1965, except his predecessor’s military men and the Indonesian Communist Party. Although his regime killed thousands of Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity suspected of being communists or communist sympathizers, Suharto made cronies out of the rich Chinese, such as Soedono Salim, giving them lucrative monopolies. As a result, when Suharto fell in 1998, there were no powerful oligarchs like the Lopezes in our country who went after him, in life and in death, and demonized him.

The Aquino-Cojuangco oligarchy

What kind of oligarch rule was restored? The Aquino-Cojuangco oligarchy managed to impose a fake agrarian reform option, “corporatization,” or the fraudulent transformation of farmers into shareholders of a firm “owning” the hacienda. The clan would block its hacienda from being put under real agrarian reform for 25 years, until the Supreme Court had to rule against it — costing Renato Corona his Chief Justice post. Such has been the power and greed of our oligarchy.

Because of their demonization of Marcos, the oligarchs made us believe that the country’s basic problem — with the strongman as a model — involves entirely the President, whether he is corrupt or not. Most Filipinos still have that view.

Prodded by Western governments and big businesses, the oligarchs have succeeded in creating an economic-policy environment, in which they were basically allowed to do what they wanted, justified under the ideology euphemistically called “neoliberalism,” but which means nothing but unbridled capitalism.

This has resulted in such things that hinder our development as weak government revenues, because of massive tax evasion by the oligarchy, and the consequent underinvestment in quality education for the masses and infrastructure. Under oligarchic rule, there has been, of course, a dearth of reform that would have converted part of their super-profits to better wages and living conditions for workers. The country’s inheritance laws merely transfer one oligarchic generation’s wealth intact to the next generation, perpetuating their rule.

It has resulted in the weakening of the state apparatus so much so that oligarchs have captured regulatory bodies, among them the Energy Regulatory Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the National Telecommunications Commission.   The most scandalous instance of such regulatory capture  has been the Indonesian oligarch Anthoni Salim’s building of a Philippine conglomerate in the public utilities sector — an area off limits to foreign investment as mandated by the Constitution. President Fidel Ramos deregulated the telecoms industry in 1992, leading to its turnover to Indonesia’s Salim and Singapore’s Singtel.

President Duterte had referred to oligarchs only once – a month ago. I hope he realizes that drug lords aren’t the more serious enemies of the nation, but the oligarchy.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

What Marcos prisons were really like

Second of Two Parts

What they were like was completely different from what a crackpot writer, who has never seen even a picture of a single detention center, recently depicted in a rabidly anti-Marcos book, which is simply a huge money-making project if it is adopted as a textbook in our schools, as the Yellow Cultists are lobbying for now.

I can speak of only five Marcos detention centers where I was incarcerated, together with my late wife Raquel, from 1973 to 1974: the Philippine Constabulary’s (PC) 5th Constabulary Unit in Camp Crame; that of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) in Camp Aguinaldo; that of the National Intelligence Coordinating Authority in its headquarters at V. Luna Road in Quezon City (where it still is); as well as the Ipil Youth Rehabilitation Center and the maximum security Youth Rehabilitation Center, both in Fort Bonifacio—these latter two being the biggest during the Martial Law period.

For me and most other political prisoners of that time, the horror part of our saga, from which much of the tales of “torture” emanated, was our “processing period”—the weeks after our arrest when Marcos’ intelligence services raced against time to extract from us information that could lead to the capture of our other comrades, especially the big fish.

I was arrested in July 1973, together with nearly all of the Communist Party’s Manila-Rizal Regional Committee, which I headed. Several of the committee’s members would, three decades later, constitute the core of the revolution’s leadership, among them the party’s chairman, now Benito Tiamzon, his wife Wilma, and secretary-general Adelberto Silva.

We were jailed for several weeks at the 5th Constabulary Security Unit’s headquarters in Camp Crame, all 20 of us in a cell roughly half the size of a regular classroom. A bucket at a corner was our urinal, so small that you had to kneel to piss in it and which got to be so stinky in the morning. The cell was so cramped that we got into each other’s nerves: I once lunged at Tiamzon for making fun of me meditating in the lotus pose, which I credited for my keeping my sanity.

Such cells shocked our middle-class comrades, especially writers romanticizing themselves as glorious heroes of a Revolution, as they, of course, had seen nothing like those circumstances in their cloistered lives.

I, and my lower-class comrades, knew better. The PC cell was actually much better than the horrific bug-infested and crowded Marikina City Jail, where I spent three nights in 1970 when I was arrested, together with several other Atenean activists, for joining a labor strike at the Goya Chocolate factory in Marikina.

Detention cells the same
Detention cells during Martial Law and after Martial Law are the same, with many of those now even much worse, as shown by TV news footages of crowded prisons in Quezon City and elsewhere.

Our society’ class system, of course, was followed at the 5th CSU jail, and every other prison. After several punches at my solar-plexus and liver by soldiers who, I learned later, routinely slug a bottle of gin to fight off fear in operations against communists, I wasn’t touched again, other than through a truth-serum session later at the headquarters of the army’s intelligence services. However, my bodyguard and other staff who were from the poorer classes were beaten up badly, sometimes just for fun by these soldiers to relieve their tension.

Again middle-class political prisoners are shocked by such beatings, which however, routinely occur today in detention cells in police precincts.

After a month, when the military felt they couldn’t get any useful information from us, we were taken to join about 2,000 other detainees to the Ipil Rehabilitation Center at Fort Bonifacio, which was the regime’s biggest detention center. As I entered Ipil, with its huge grounds, and seeing our other comrades, I think I heard choirs of angels singing hallelujah.

Ipil was nothing like the terrible detention centers ignorant anti-Marcos writers describe. I think this is the reason why the Yellow Cult, even with their absolute power in 1986, had not preserved—in the manner they have done with Ninoy’s cells in Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Pangasinan—any detention centers during Martial Law as these would conflict with their horror tales. I haven’t found even a single photo of these centers.

Ipil was converted from a training school for non-commissioned officers, and consisted of five buildings, two of which where our barracks, another for the women detainees (which was separated by a gate from our barracks, closed in the evening). The fifth building, which had an elevated stage (for graduation ceremonies mainly), was our dining hall.

It reminded me of the Ateneo High School complex, with the desks, of course, replaced with two-level bunk beds. What would be a more familiar analogy would be that Ipil looked like public elementary schools in the provinces, but with higher ceilings. And like these schools, Ipil had vast grounds, which we tilled into huge vegetable plots encircled by a jogging path. There was a regulation-size basketball court, the scene of not a few fisticuffs between detainees’ and the guards’ teams.

The bunk beds were in high-ceilinged halls of the three buildings. It wasn’t really so bad, after one has gotten used to sleeping deaf to the orchestra of snores from several people around.

Not a few comrades decided to bring in their children into Ipil — as my wife and I did with my daughter Andrea, who stayed at the women’s quarters for months. A comrade of ours we called Dolphy, from a poor area of Tondo, set up in one corner of the hall his very own territory, surrounded by two bunk-beds covered by banigs, where he, his wife, and child lived.

Revolutionary government
We were left mostly on our own, and we set up our own covert “revolutionary government” of sorts, which I led being the highest ranking communist there, until I resigned form the party. We had communal vegetable production, a store, a cultural group, a medical group (which, unfortunately administered bad acupuncture) even our own security unit, which on one occasion beat up a detainee whom we suspected was a mole.

We set up a library, which I volunteered to run with the sickly writer Ricky Lee, as this had the privilege of living with private space in the quonset hut were the library was housed.

Ipil’s warden was a grandfatherly Master Sergeant we called “Master.” He often practically begged us not to do anything that would mar his service record, since he was to retire soon. His two main assistants were young army privates from some distant provinces who were so self-conscious like awkward teenagers and apologetic when they held the morning assembly to check if no one had escaped.

The food was bad, of course, especially if you came from the middle or upper classes that accounted for probably 70 percent of the detainees. But I later learned it was the same chow distributed to all soldiers in Fort Bonifacio. Our relatives brought the best food they could every time they visited, and we shared these with our poorer comrades.

I was transferred to the Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC), also in Fort Bonifacio, where I stayed for a few months, for leading (with a priest) a hunger strike at Ipil for reasons in hindsight so trivial I forget now what it was.

YRC was supposed to be a higher-security prison, where well-known communist leaders like Nilo Tayag and NPA commanders were detained, together with rich people Marcos thought were financing the movement to oust him, such as the Araneta brothers, Antonio and Enrique. YRC was in an old castle-like building and had fewer detainees, perhaps about 100.

After a week in a solitary cell like you see in the movies—the worst episode in my detention—I was “released” to join the other detainees. While YRC was dreary, and didn’t have the vast open spaces of Ipil, detainees had more privacy, with most of them living in two-person cells, which in my entire stay there I never saw locked. YRC was run in practically the same way Ipil was by the AFP, which Fidel Ramos supervised.

It is understandable for those detained during Martial Law, who are now in their 60s, to try to give meaning and drama in their lives through narratives that they heroically fought dictatorship, and suffered terribly under it in detention.

Communist cadres
What isn’t mentioned at all in such narratives is that many, if not most, of them were cadres of the Communist Party, which would have tried to overthrow any government.

In my case, I not only headed the Party’s organization in metropolitan Manila, but was also organizing the first armed group intended to operate in the metropolis, the prototype of which would later be the dreaded Alex Boncayao Brigade. Why shouldn’t the state arrest and detain me?

How many of the political prisoners during Martial Law, who spent years in detention centers, were cadres of the Party, or instead were – as a common Filipino joke always says of innocent young victims of circumstances, which was popular in detention camps – merely sent out by their mothers on an errand to buy vinegar from the store, when they were arrested?

We dramatically portrayed ourselves as freedom fighters, a concept which our non-communist supporters – especially gullible clerics looking for some meaning in their otherwise empty lives – fell for, hook, line, and sinker. Yes, we were fighting a dictatorship, but we were also fighting to install a dictatorship of the proletariat, represented, of course, by the Communist Party. We were waging, as Party Chairman Jose Maria Sison repeatedly wrote, a people’s war. For Marcos’ military at that time, they were waging a war against Communists and Moro secessionists.

There were, of course, torture, rape, and summary executions by Marcos’ military. But what war has there ever been in the world in which there were no atrocities by the sadists, the cruel rogue elements from both protagonists? Even the Communist Party, in the 1980s committed such atrocities, even against their own comrades, in their paranoia that the revolution had been massively infiltrated by spies and moles.

The crucial questions are whether there was a Marcos policy to undertake such horrific human rights abuses and if these occurred in such scale as the Suharto regime’s genocide of at least 500,000 Chinese-Indonesians in 1965 or the institutionalized torture by the Chilean state under Pinochet in the 1970s.

That Filipinos voted Fidel Ramos as President and Juan Ponce Enrile as senator for several terms—the two men who supervised the military and the police during Martial Law—implicitly provides us with a resounding answer to those questions.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Inside Marcos’ prisons

First of Two Parts

I bet given that title, you’d be expecting a tale of horrors inside the dictator Marcos’ prisons. I rest my case: The Yellow Cult has been extremely successful in painting a one-sided picture of the Marcos era.

An objective assessment is much, much more complicated than the good versus evil narrative of the Yellow Cult that overthrew Marcos. That is unfortunate for us, as a nation has to have an accurate picture of its past. Marcos’ wife, Imelda, and his children, have long abandoned efforts to counter the Yellow Cult’s narratives.

These have even been given new impetus recently because of Bongbong Marcos’ bid for the vice presidency this past May and President Duterte’s order to allow the strongman’s burial at the official government cemetery, misnamed “Libingan ng mga Bayani.” The Ilocano trait of parsimoniousness must have gotten the better of them.

The Marcos family’s near silence to defend the strongman — “Let history judge my father,” was all Bongbong could say — is in contrast to the strongman’s aggressiveness in addressing accusations against martial law,  even several books to defend his regime in detail.

 Marcos, political detainees after a jog, with the two ladies as visitors:  Three of these were members of the Communist Party’s Executive Committee, its highest commanding body, who were released after at least two years.  In the photo is one who is now a ranking executive of PLDT-Smart, another a top Singapore-based executive of the French news agency, Agence France Presse; and another a top negotiator for the Communist Party in the peace talks with the government. Several of them now live comfortable, middle-class lives in North America and Europe.
Marcos, political detainees after a jog, with the two ladies as visitors:  Three of these were members of the Communist Party’s Executive Committee, its highest commanding body, who were released after at least two years.  In the photo is one who is now a ranking executive of PLDT-Smart, another a top Singapore-based executive of the French news agency, Agence France Presse; and another a top negotiator for the Communist Party in the peace talks with the government. Several of them now live comfortable, middle-class lives in North America and Europe.

For instance, in Marcos’ Five Years of the New Society (published in May 1978), obviously to debunk claims of military abuses,  the strongman stated that that 2,083 members of the AFP had been “dismissed and penalized for various abuses, including torture and ill-treatment of detainees and 322 had been sentenced to disciplinary punishment.” General Espino as well as Jose Crisol, Deputy Defense Secretary in charge of civilian relations had also reported that 2,500 to 2,900 military personnel were discharged as a result of complaints by detainees. In a speech marking the lifting of martial law in January 1981, Marcos claimed that more than 8,800 officers and men had been dismissed from the AFP during the period of martial law, because of human-rights accusations against them.

While obviously self-serving assertions,  no Yellow narrative has ever reported these claims by Marcos and his officials, and to this day, these figures have not been disputed.

Rabid anti-Marcos writers have also routinely claim that during the regime,  50,000 Filipinos were detained. This is a half-truth as while this many probably would have been detained in the first few months of martial law. However, reports, even by the Amnesty International that has been critical of martial law,  point out that many of those detained in these first months were released a few months after,  that by 1980, there only 1,913 political prisoners, and by 1981 – to prove that martial law was indeed lifted — only 243.

I believe that there was indeed a drastic reduction of political prisoners after martial rule was stabilized,  since in December 1974, I was among probably a thousand out of the 1500 detainees released from Marcos prison euphemistically called Ipil Rehabilitation Center, which was the biggest in the country, in the “spirit of Christmas”, Marcos had declared.   Many of those released returned to the underground, even becoming top communist leaders and NPA commanders.

Enrile and Ramos’ silence

Sadly, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who was officially the administrator of Martial Law, and Fidel V. Ramos, who officially supervised the military and the Philippine Constabulary (PC) had shirked from their duty to give their assessment and explanation of military abuses during martial law.

Ramos even has a public forum through his wordy, half-paged columns in the Manila Bulletin. Yet he has never written, a word on the issue, not even in recent weeks when martial law abuses have become a hot topic

The officials who were responsible, and accountable, for Marcos’ prisons and alleged human rights abuses, were indisputably Enrile and Ramos. Marcos in November 1972, or two months after he imposed martial issued General Order No. 16 which created the “Command for the Administration of Detainees” (COMCAD) with Enrile appointing Ramos as its commander, who was the authority supervising all detention centers, including that of the armed forces. The implementing guidelines of the COMCAD had detailed procedures for investigating whether the detainees should be kept in prison, with its main goal to be that of minimizing the occurrence of arbitrary detention.”

Enrile and Ramos obviously have been political opportunists, afraid that their accounts would create the image that they were defenders of that strongman rule. After all, would Ramos have won their presidency in 1992, would Cory Aquino have endorsed him if he explained the real score of alleged martial law abuses?

I cannot fathom though why these octogenarians in their twilight years, and retired from politics, remain silent, refusing to provide us with their detailed account of the martial law years — after they supervised the military until the very end of Marcos’ rule. They should at least release to scholars and researchers documents regarding their administration of martial law, which I’m sure they have.

The crucial questions they have to answer: Was it state policy during Martial Law of using torture, extra-judicial killings, and detention of those who opposed the strongman? Or were these just then illegal actions by rogue even sadistic military men and police, the same kind of crimes committed before and after martial law? *

Did they attempt to stop these human rights abuses, and bring to court, even the military courts these criminal men in uniform? How many of the political detainees were Communist Party or New People Army members who were trying to topple government, and how many of those killed were in fire-fights with the military or paramilitary groups? How many were the Moro casualties as result of the MNLF and MILF’s secessionist war against the Republic, and were these listed as part of those allegedly killed or “disappeared” during martial law.
Yellow narratives of the Marcos years do not even raise these questions.

Cut-and-paste book

In a cut-and-paste book on the Marcos years totally based on narratives of biased sources and second-, and even third-hand accounts — funded I was told by either Manuel Lopez or his clan and rushed as a propaganda tool against Bongbong Marcos’ bid for the presidency — the author claimed that the dictator’s detention camps were “similar” to the USSR’s horrific prisons that made up the so-called The Gulag Archipelago, depicted vividly in Nobel laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel of that title.

I nearly fell off my seat reading that. That’s total rubbish.

It was that reference to Gulag Archipelaego that triggered a surge of memories for me. I read Solzhenitsyn’s book in fact while I was in a Marcos prison. How can you not believe the narrative of a man of letters who spent eight years in several gulags?

I compared the Marcos prison where I was reading to Solzhenitzen’s description of the Soviet gulag: Marcos’ prisons, in comparison, would be a middle-class drug rehabilitation camp, or teen-agers summer camp .
The Gulag Archipelago in fact helped convince me in 1974 to resign from the Communist Party. If communism’s first ever experiment resulted in such horror such as the Soviet gulag  (and similar prisons in the second big experiment, Mao’s China), Marxism-Leninism must have —even if it is a powerful tool for social analysis — some deep flaw that goes against the humanist values civilization had struggled to develop for centuries. Marcos’ dictatorship was after all still part of the set of capitalist political systems.

I can speak of what Marcos prisons were because I was there, together with my late wife Raquel, in five detention centers, spending most of my 21st and 22nd year of life on this earth there.

These were the detention cells of the Philippine Constabulary’s 5th Constabulary Unit in Camp Crame, that of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) in Camp Aguinaldo, that of the National Intelligence Coordinating Authority in its headquarters at V. Luna Road in Quezon City (where it still is) as well as Ipil Youth Rehabilitation Center and the maximum security Youth Rehabilitation Center both in Fort Bonifacio — these latter two being the biggest during martial law.

I just hate it when a book is written by a gullible, crackpot writer expecting to make money out the Yellow cult’s panic over Bongbong Marcos’s vice-presidential candidacy last May. I was told the author was promised that the book would be distributed to all high schools as a required textbook, if the Yellow candidate Mar Roxas had won. With 7 million high school students , the author would have been a multi-millionaire if that had happened.  Yellow Senator Riza Hontiveros has been stupidly trying to still implement that money-making plot, reportedly asking  the Lopezes and Osmenas   to pay for the books’ distribution, the store  price of which is an astounding P2,500.

The author didn’t even care about martial law when it was upon us, and had a reputation for being so credulous  in her reportage that the newspaper’s editor told me she  wanted her fired. Her gullibility is much worse now:  she quotes without question mostly anti-Marcos American writers, communist party members, and the narratives of the Yellow Cultists to portray Marcos’ prisons so different from I actually experienced.

As an actual detainee, I owe it to history to correct these distortions of what happened.

My account of the Marcos prisons will be Monday, and I am glad that I have to cut this essay in two parts for editorial space-concerns. I ask my fellow detainees in Ipil and YRC, to present their assessments of Marcos’ prison, especially those that are contrary to mine, in the comment section of this column, or through email, and I promise they will be published in the internet version of this paper.

Marcos’ crimes against the nation are beyond the small minds of ignorant Yellow writers, too lazy to even do real research. The worst was his refusal to bring his dollar holdings back to the Philippines and give it to the central bank, which could have used it to prevent our debt default in 1983.

It wasn’t any Marcos economic policy but solely that debt default that caused us a steep three-year economic depression that put us in such a quagmire for nearly two decades.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns