Supreme Court ruling: ‘Putang ina mo’ doesn’t mean ‘your mother is a whore’


I’m not kidding.

The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in 1969, and affirmed in another decision in 2006, that in effect, onion-skinned people like President Obama — or his stupid advisers and uninformed foreign press— shouldn’t really be offended and think that their dearly beloved mothers’ virtues are defamed when the word ”putang ina,” or even the more direct ”putang ina mo,” is used in statements directed at them.

In 1961, an employee at the Naval Exchange in Sangley Point, Rosauro Reyes, got so angry with the store’s managers, especially one Agustin Hallare, for firing him, together with 20 others. Reyes pursued Hallare to his home, and as he was closing the gate, the angry man shouted at the manager: “Agustin, putang ina mo. Agustin, mawawala ka. Lumabas ka, papatayin kita.”

Hallare filed a case accusing the employee of two crimes: grave threat (for saying he will kill him) and oral defamation (for his putang ina). Hallare, in his complaint, claimed that Reyes’ insult, “Agustin, putang ina mo,” “if translated into English means, ‘Agustin, your mother is a whore.’” (That exactly was how the foreign press translated President Duterte’s “putang ina mo” as part of his comment on a reporter’s question about US President Obama during a pre-departure press conference in Manila before his Laos trip. That, of course, sent shock waves around the world.)

The Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling convicting Reyes of both crimes. But Reyes appealed to the Supreme Court in 1962. In 1969 the High Tribunal affirmed his conviction for the crime of grave threat (for threatening to kill Hallare). However, it acquitted him of oral defamation, for his “putang ina mo.”

In its en banc decision written by Justice Querube Makalintal (who later served as Chief Justice from 1973 to 1975), the Supreme Court declared:

“’Putang ina mo’ is a common enough expression in the dialect that is often employed, not really to slander but rather to express anger or displeasure. It is seldom, if ever, taken in its literal sense by the hearer, that is, as a reflection on the virtues of a mother. “

The High Tribunal in session.
The High Tribunal in session.

That’s what I said, ahem, in my column Wednesday.

The Supreme Court made that “putang ina” decision part of jurisprudence by citing it in another case (Villanueva v People, G.R. No. 160351) 2006, with Associate Justice Minitia V. Chico Nazarario as ponente:

“In Reyes v. People [137 Phil. 112, 120 (1969)], we ruled that the expression putang ina mo is a common enough utterance in the dialect that is often employed, not really to slander but rather to express anger or displeasure. In fact, more often, it is just an expletive that punctuates one’s expression of profanity.”

But really, blame putang ina mo and the brouhaha it created in our relations with the US to our Spanish colonizers, and the Americans’ limited and unimaginative vocabulary for its expletives:

Putang ina came from the Spanish favorite expletive “hijo de puta,” which is still commonly used by Ilonggos (although pronounced as “yodeputa”), especially by those who want to send the message that they are not from the lower classes who utter putang ina. That is why Mar Roxas sounded so fake when he shouted putang ina in an anti-Arroyo rally. Everyone knew he would have used what would have sounded yodeputa.

Obama’s or his advisers’ shock at Duterte’s putang ina is due to the fact that except for “motherfucker,” which really doesn’t refer to the mother, and the rather ambiguous “son of a bitch,” there isn’t an American expletive that accuses a mother of the oldest profession outright. “Your mother is a whore” (stupid foreign journalists’ translation of Duterte’s putang ina) is an accusation, a statement, not an expletive like “putang ina”.

Tricia Zafra wrote an excellent blog piece in which she cited a list prepared by a Michael Estrada, who claimed that most Spanish curses are “mother-directed,” such as hijo de puta (son of a bitch), puta madre (bitch mother) and tu puta madre me la chupa (your bitch mother sucks my dick).

Citing a 2015 BBC article by James Harbeck (“Mind your Language! Swearing Around the World”), Zafra wrote: “The Latin culture has also been specified by Harbeck as among those that have the mother involved most in a list of offensive language. These cultures tend to be extended-family rather than nuclear-family societies.” Hello, Philippines.

Harbeck also pointed out: “The cultures that swear the most about mothers tend to swear about prostitutes a lot, too.” It seems to me that the Spanish, and most probably their colonized peoples, are obsessed with prostitutes in a love-hate relationship, even as they are mamas’ boys yet hate being so.

In contrast, Americans, as in their cuisine, are unimaginative in their expletives, which are as limited as the menu of their fast-food eateries: the all-time favorite “fuck,” “shit,” “bitch,” “bastard,” “asshole,” “cunt,” and “faggot.” Even their British cousins have more colorful expletives, “bollocks” and “bugger” being among my favorites.

Compare these with the height of imagery by certain Spanish expletives that would have made Obama nuke us if Duterte had uttered them: Jode tu madre ayer noche; Yo cago en la leche de tu puta madre; or even Tu hermano no tiene la ingle.

While we may fault Americans for their lack of imagination in their expletives, we should admire them for making the common term for that biblical injunction to multiply — “fuck” — their all-time favorite expletive, a magical word, as my former guru Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) explained:

“Just by its sound it can describe pain, pleasure, hate and love,” Osho pointed out. He explains: “In language, it falls into many grammatical categories. It can be used as a verb, both transitive (John fucked Mary) and intransitive (Mary was fucked by John), and as a noun (Mary is a fine fuck). It can be used as an adjective (Mary is fucking beautiful).”

“As you can see, there are not many words with the versatility of ‘fuck.’ Besides the sexual meaning, there are also the following uses:

Fraud: I got fucked at the used car-lot; Ignorance: Fucked if I know; Trouble: I guess I am fucked now! Aggression: Fuck you! Displeasure: What the fuck is going on here? Difficulty: I can’t understand this fucking job; Incompetence: He is a fuck-off; Suspicion: What the fuck are you doing?

Enjoyment: I had a fucking good time; Request: Get the fuck out of here! Hostility: I am going to knock your fucking head off! Greeting: How the fuck are you? Apathy: Who gives a fuck? Innovation: Get a bigger fucking hammer. Surprise: Fuck! You scared the shit out of me! Anxiety: Today is really fucked.”

May I add its use to express outrage: What the fuck has become of our country?

(Note: My gratitude to reader Jose Oliveros, who pointed out the Supreme Court decision I discussed through his comments on my column Wednesday.)

COMMENT MODERATOR’S NOTE: We are normally very strict with expletives and other guidelines in moderating comments . Due to the subject of this article, we would be remiss if we censor  as we usually do for this piece.

Filed under: Analysis and Commentary

No longer the region’s American boy


Shocked or scandalized you may be by President Duterte’s alleged insult against US President Obama, this incident, as well as his earlier unflattering remarks against the American ambassador, marks a momentous break from the past.

In our  history as a Republic, Duterte would be the first President to declare to the world, “I will not be America’s boy in this part of the globe.”

Duterte made it clear that his outburst was not just an emotion of the moment, but reflects his view of our country’s place in the global scheme if things: “The Philippines is not a vassal state. We have long ceased to be a colony of the United States. We are not the lapdogs of the US.” Was there ever a Philippine President who tried to even make such a hint?

Undiplomatic Duterte’ statements may be, his view of the US is totally different from those of all previous Presidents, who were either ideologically brainwashed to have the American worldview (as a West Pointer President I think was), or believed there was no other pragmatic foreign policy possible except to be subservient to the US, the sole superpower in this planet.

I had a first-hand experience of our subservience to the US when former President Gloria Arroyo asked her small circle of advisers, which included me at that time, to discuss whether to join the US demand that we join the absurdly named “Coalition of the Willing” that supported the American invasion of Iraq in 2002. I had thought it was a no-brainer, since the US was claiming it needed to invade Iraq because that country was developing “weapons of mass destruction.” Such claim seemed to me then, and was proven to be correct by subsequent developments, to be a total lie.

Did he really say that to Obama?
Did he really say that to Obama?

Probably because I had been journalist and then a spinmeister as Arroyo’s spokesman, it was easy for me to “smell” that the Americans were lying. The term “weapons of mass destruction” was a propaganda phrase that created terrifying images of a Hiroshima kind of nuclear devastation in which hundreds of thousands were killed in the blink of an eye. Yet the US was actually referring to chemical and biological weapons, as there was no way for the Iraqis to have nuclear, deliverable weapons at their disposal in 2002.
Decision already made

We debated the issue for hours, with only myself and one other Cabinet member insisting that we could not support a war based on a fabrication. During a coffee break, though, very late in the evening, a foreign affairs official who represented then secretary Blas Ople in the meeting, pulled me aside and told me: “The decision has already been made, let’s not waste our time.” It was then I realized why Ople wasn’t in the meeting: I was told he also opposed the Iraq war but had to go along with the decision. I walked out of the meeting, of course.

After that, however, Arroyo declared later her foreign policy that was a departure from those of previous Presidents, one, she diplomatically said, that would have to recognize the economic and political realities in our part of the world. Everyone, especially the Americans, of course, knew she was referring to the fact that the People’s Republic of China had grown phenomenally that it had become the superpower not only in Asia but the third (or even second) superpower in the world. Arroyo had seen that China would, in a few years time, be our biggest economic partner, which it in fact did in 2012.

Arroyo had cozied up to the Chinese like no other Philippine President ever had. Diplomats in 2000 were talking in amazement how Arroyo and the conservative Chinese President Jiang Xemin seemed like long lost friends singing their hearts out using a karaoke aboard the presidential yacht.

I believe that one way or another — perhaps by providing the Yellow Cult with their PR and propaganda expertise or by tapping her cellphone — the US contributed much to making Arroyo so unpopular, she couldn’t get her candidate win in the 2010 elections.

Arroyo was getting too much Chinese ODA, and, horror of horrors, she let the Chinese telecom giant ZTE —which evolved from China’s Ministry of Aerospace and still had state equity — bag the contract to build the backbone for the country’s broadband, that surely would have made our internet speeds today a lot faster, and probably allowed a third telecom player, owned by the Chinese, in the country. Check the makers of your modem, cheap cellphone, and portable wi-fi devices sold by Globe and Smart: If it’s not made by ZTE, then by its competitor, Huawei.

US worried over ZTE

The Americans, of course, were worried that the Chinese could put some software or device that would allow them to tap all communications on the internet, including those of lazy ala Hillary Clinton diplomats. At that time also, the US still had fantasies that its Motorola and its other telecom firms would still be able to recover to be globe’s suppliers of telecom equipment.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd dismantled all goodwill Arroyo built up with the Chinese, as if following the US “pivot to Asia” policy.

Can you think of any more pro-American Philippine ambassador to the US than Jose Cuisia? How can he not be pro-American when he has spent much of his working life as an executive of the American AIG-owned PhilAm Insurance, and even when he was ambassador, remained employed there, and was even the chairman of the firm distributing Chevrolet cars in the Philippines? Can you think of any other Philippine foreign affairs secretary more pro-American than Albert del Rosario? His wealth had been due to his businesses with the First Pacific Co., Ltd. (where he was a director for many years), which is 45 percent owned by Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim, and 20 percent by US mutual funds?

Check out my columns on how we lost Panatag Shoal, which was the reason given by Aquino and del Rosario when we filed the Arbitration Case against China on its territorial claims in the South China Sea. You would be convinced that the Americans expertly played Aquino so that the Philippines would file that case against China over their claims in the South China Sea —and not Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, or Malaysia, which had more resources to spend for such a case.

Ask any diplomat from Asean, and he will tell you that our reputation in the region is that we’re the US’ reliable stooge in the region, its loyal proxy even if we’ve been getting really lousy treatment from the Americans. Asean nations all believe it was the US that prodded (or hoodwinked) us into filing that case against China, and are very happy with it: It created a political obstacle to China’s expansionism in the region, even as Asean nations are so happy that they—especially Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia—can now convince China to give them more ODA, and encourage more Chinese investments and forget the Philippines.

Duterte’s rejection of the role as the American lapdog in Asia, though, is certainly fraught with dangers. Expect the Yellow Cult to beg the Americans for help to topple Duterte before he ends his term.

Lost in translation

I have described above Duterte’s insult against US President Obama as “alleged”, since I had listened to the President in that press conference before leaving the Philippines for his trip, and what I heard was also what the transcripts, as posted on the internet, show. The relevant parts are as follows;

Q: Sir, there have been concerns on extrajudicial killings, sir, and you will meet leaders. Any line of communication that we have prepared to address this issue in front of other foreign leaders?

Duterte: Extrajudicial killings?

Q: Yes, human rights.

Duterte: To whom shall I address myself and who will be asking the questions, may I know?

Q: Like Obama, sir.
Duterte: You know, the Philippines is not a vassal state. We have long ceased to be a colony of the United States. Alam mo, marami diyan, sa mga kolumnista they look up to Obama and the United States as if we are the lapdog of that country. I do not respond to anybody but to the people of the Republic of the Philippines. Wala akong pakialam sa kanya (I don’t care about him). Who is he? When, as a matter of a fact, at the turn of the century, before the Americans left the Philippines in the pacification campaign of the Moro on this island, there were about 6 million ang population ng Moro. How many died? Six hundred. If he can answer that question and give an apology, I will answer him …

You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Putang-ina, mumurahin kita diyan sa forum na iyan. Huwag mo akong ganunin.” (End of transcript. Emphasis added.)

It seems plain to me that Duterte wasn’t calling Obama a “son of a whore” as nearly all foreign reports reported, for two reasons:

First, it was prospective, that he would curse Obama in that planned forum if the US President raised the issue of judicial killings. It is not even clear if by “mumurahin kita,” he meant he would say “Putangina mo, Obama.”

Second, and more importantly, this is a case of lost-in-translation. Duterte didn’t’ say “Putangina mo, Obama” as he did during the campaign when he clearly said “Putangina mo, Papa.”

He simply prefaced his sentence with “Putangina,” which really translates, not into “son of a whore,” but is a stock exclamation of annoyance, with the meaning closer to “shit,” “fuck”, or the British “bollocks,” with which Americans or their Old World cousins habitually use to preface their sentences when agitated, even in the slightest way.

Filed under: Analysis and Commentary

High time to end Abu Sayyaf scourge


The utterly senseless killings of 14 innocent people enjoying themselves at a night market could still lead to something good for the country, if President Duterte’s government musters the political will to finally wipe out this scourge on the country, the Abu Sayyaf.

It has been a national shame for us that a small group of about 200 young armed Muslims has been able to survive five administrations since 1995, and undertaking kidnappings at will of both Filipinos and foreigners, and even beheading several of them and then heartlessly releasing the video of their horrific act.

What is also really scandalous for our military is that the Abu Sayyaf doesn’t have vast territories like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in which to move around, nor does it have armed encampments. In hindsight, it may have been a better move for then President Joseph Estrada in 1988 to hunt down and destroy the Abu Sayyaf, rather than the MILF.

The Abu Sayyaf has been, since the late 1990s, prowling the jungles of Patikul, Sulu and in the northern parts of Basilan, although the latter appears to have been largely cleared of this ruthless band of murderers. They are mostly the sons (and even grandsons) of veteran fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the 1970s.

Unlike the MNLF though, these younger insurgents have imbibed the Islamist jihadist cause, with their principal ideologue Abdurajak Abubakr Janjalani (who was killed in 1998) believed to have even met (and later given funds by) the infamous Osama Bin Laden when he fought with the Afghan mujahideens against the Soviets.

What I find inexplicable is that past administrations would undertake an intense hunt for the Abu Sayyaf, right after they undertake kidnapping operations. Once the hostages are released though, usually upon secret payment of ransom (or after they were beheaded), the military slowed down their operations, to revive these only in the next breakout of a kidnapping. Why is this?

While many MNLF fighters who have been integrated into the military have demonstrated loyalty to the Republic, and even made the ultimate sacrifice in battles with Islamic insurgents, there have been consistent reports that the Abu Sayyaf has its moles within the military, mostly distant kinsfolk or townmates.

Duterte kissing a victim of the Davao bombing
Duterte kissing a victim of the Davao bombing

Worse, because of the huge funds at their disposal raised through kidnapping — as much as P200 million, I was told — the Abu Sayyaf has been able to bribe police and even military officials to give them information that has allowed them to escape military operations.

One clear indication of the Abu Sayyaf’s links with the military is that their improvised explosive devices, the kind reportedly used in Friday’s bombing in Davao City, is a relatively simple device of installing a fuse to an artillery mortar shell. There hasn’t been a case of the Abu Sayyaf or the MILF overrunning a military camp rob its mortar shells, nor does any insurgent group have such artillery. The only conclusion is that these mortar shells were sold by unscrupulous military men to the Abu Sayyaf.

The Abu Sayyaf does not really have bases in Sulu and Basilan as the MILF has had in Maguindanao. Instead, they merely hide their arms and go back to their families after a kidnapping or raiding operation has ended.

While such has been the usual advantage of guerillas, it could also be their weakness. The military should require all adult males in the limited territory in which the Abu Sayyaf operates to register, and even appear personally in a military camp. Sooner or later, with good intelligence operatives, our forces could come up with a detailed, accurate list of Abu Sayyaf fighters, and hunt them down one by one the way law enforces hunt down ordinary criminals.

I do think, though, and hope that President Duterte would finally destroy this scourge. The attack on the Davao night market Friday is undoubtedly personal to him. It is his city, and it wouldn’t have happened if he were not President. The Yellow Cult and Liberal Party sympathizers have even mocked Duterte, claiming that after all he can’t keep safe his own city. The Abu Sayyaf scourge had not, till now, become this personal for all the past Presidents. It is something he would extract revenge on even if it becomes the only accomplishment of his administration.

I don’t think, as Duterte hasn’t in the case of the killings in his war against illegal drugs, that his campaign against the Abu Sayaff would be hampered by charges of human rights abuses.

And there would certainly be more serious human rights charges filed against his administration as the Abu Sayyaf families and sympathizers claim military atrocities as they pass through villages in pursuit of the jihadists.

There’s something eerie, even spine-tingling in the manner Duterte visited the Davao morgues right after the attack. He was totally silent, and even kissed on the head a victim’s corpse. It’s as if he whispered something to the corpse, perhaps a vow to never rest until he has killed every single monster in this savage group.

Filed under: Analysis and Commentary

Was the Indonesian Salim Aquino’s biggest crony?

Second of Two Parts


Forbes magazine has been the definitive listing of the billionaires of the world and of each country. Yet wittingly or unwittingly, Forbes in its 2016 roster helped conceal from public view Anthoni Salim, the newest, yet hidden, oligarch in the Philippines.

While ranked as among Indonesia’s three richest individuals in the past several years, Salim vanished from its 2016 lineup. However, the regional magazine GlobeAsia ranked him as the second richest Indonesian in 2016, with $11 billion in net worth, just below the wealthiest Indonesians, the banking and tobacco-based Hartono brothers, with $14 billion.

The net worth of Salim’s shares in PLDT, Metro Pacific Investments Corp., Philex and Meralco alone is about $4.5 billion. That would make him — if Forbes ranked him among the country’s richest — No. 3 richest magnate in the Philippines, the only foreigner in the list. Yet, he has built and continues to run his conglomerate by remote control as it were, with his executive Manuel V. Pangilinan portrayed in the public mind as its principal owner.

richest billionaires

Salim is also the youngest by far at 67 and the newest, overtaking such magnates (in the Forbes listing) as David Consunji, Manuel Villar, the Ayala-Zobel brothers, and even Enrique Razon, in just a decade.

Is it another success that should be credited to Salim’s PR machinery in keeping him unknown to the world?

Or were the Forbes editors incredulous that a huge chunk of an Indonesian billionaires’ wealth is not in his home country but in another? Indeed, in the history of Forbes’ roster of the world’s billionaires, Salim is the only such tycoon, much of whose wealth is in a neighboring country, the Philippines. Such has been the sorry state of our country. Don’t you think that means something terribly wrong is happening in our nation?

Salim’s main sources of wealth in the Forbes and GlobeAsia listings have always been reported as Indofood (the world’s biggest noodle maker) and First Pacific.

But First Pacific’s reports show that its profits from PLDT totaled $2.4 billion from 2000 to 2015, its biggest profit-earner, with that of Indofood at $1.5 billion. This is hardly surprising: PLDT is mostly in the mobile phone industry now, the most profitable sector in the past decade, and a near-monopoly, accounting for 70 percent of mobile and fixed-lines phones in the country.

Pangilinan’s “corporate citizenship,” as discussed in the first part of these series, is indeed admirable, a quality so much needed in a country ruled by oligarchs, who view the Philippines merely as a country where they make profits, and not their real nation.

There is obviously, however, a big ulterior reason for First Pacific’s huge public relations campaign to portray Pangilinan as a tycoon with a high sense of civic duty, one who spends hundreds of millions of pesos on philanthropy, social causes, sports and the academe.

This is to etch, falsely, in the mind of Filipinos that Pangilinan owns the First Pacific conglomerate, concealing the reality that it is tightly owned by an Indonesian magnate, in violation of constitutional provisions limiting foreign capital in public utilities.

We need, of course, foreign capital especially in areas where Filipino capitalists could learn from their technology.

But Salim’s investment in the Philippines is mostly in public utility firms, in which the Constitution limits foreign capital because these exploit natural resources (the radio spectrum in the case of cellphones) and monopoly features (as in the case of Meralco and tollroads), which should be reserved for Filipinos, or for the state itself. No Asian nation, in fact, allows such dominance by a foreign magnate of its telecoms, power, and other public utility firms.

Such control, has, in fact siphoned off from the country much needed capital: From 2000 to 2015 Salim and the other mostly US shareholders in First Pacific have received $8 billion in profits from PLDT and MPIC alone. This is equivalent to the amount of net foreign investment inflow the country had received in six years.

If you think that this is merely capitalism at work, check out the court records in which respected taipan Alfonso
Yuchengco testified under oath that then President Estrada threatened him in 1998 to throw his son in jail on trumped-up illegal-drug charges if he didn’t sell his PLDT shares to Salim. (That case also certainly debunks the argument that we need foreign investment because we lack capital. Yuchengco wanted to organize his consortium to buy out the Cojuangcos.)

Check out the several accounts, including that in the book of incumbent Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr., in which he claimed Estrada got P3 billion in illegal income from First Pacific’s takeover of PLDT. *

Harry Stonehill

The last time in Philippine post-war history that a foreigner wielded such economic and political power in the country was in the 1950s, when a former G.I., Harry Stonehill, built a conglomerate of cigarette, glass and cement manufacturers. His net worth was estimated at $50 million at the time, equivalent to $400 million today.

That’s peanuts compared with Salim’s estimated assets in the country of $4.5 billion, based on the value of his shares in PLDT, his infrastructure holding firm Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and Philex Mining.

(Stonehill became the subject of a sensational congressional investigation in 1960, which exposed his bribery of top government officials in order to build and maintain his empire, and was subsequently deported.)

A recent article by the respected London-based The Economist magazine defined “cronies” as billionaires heavily involved in “crony sectors,” or those “vulnerable to monopoly or heavy state involvement.”

“They are more prone to graft, according to bribery rankings produced by Transparency International,” the magazine explained. The Economist is saying that one would be so naive to believe that giant companies engaged in public utilities in developing countries are regulated strictly according to the rule of law, and operate at arms’ length from the incumbent political rulers.

Out of the 10 such “rent-seeking sectors” the magazine listed, Salim’s conglomerate in the Philippines is based on three of these: telecoms, utilities and infrastructure. Salim, in fact, is the only billionaire in the Philippines whose conglomerate is deeply engaged in public utilities and infrastructure.

Going by The Economist’s definition of “cronyism,” therefore, Salim is the biggest and newest crony capitalist in the country now.

The Salim conglomerate’s expansion into infrastructure projects last year together would explain The Economist’s finding that the Philippines’ ranking in the crony-capitalism index worsened from fifth in the world in 2014, to third this year, after Malaysia and Russia. Marcos had cronies, but Filipinos. Now we have, going by The Economist’s definition, an Indonesian crony?

new salim 8

What bolsters such appellation is that Salim’s conglomerate made major breakthroughs in each of the past four administrations, which could not have been undertaken without each government’s active participation:

 Under Fidel Ramos’ administration, Salim’s consortium won the prized Fort Bonifacio property project, backed by state institutions, beating the group led by the country’s old-elite Ayala clan. Salim would have captured San Miguel Corp. had Ramos moved just a bit earlier in lifting the sequestration of coco-levy shares in the food and beverage conglomerate, which is the biggest in the country;

 Joseph Estrada very actively assisted Salim in capturing PLDT from the Cojuangcos, even removing the SEC chairman at that time, Perfecto Yasay, Jr. who raised questions over the buy-out. PLDT became Salim’s launching pad for his rapid expansion in the country in the next two decades, with PLDT funds even used to take over Meralco and build a media empire;

 During Gloria Arroyo’s administration, Salim acquired the power-distribution monopoly, Meralco, from the Lopez elite, which became its base for expanding into the power sector. Salim also captured in 2009 the country’s biggest gold producer, Philex Mining, with the crucial help of the Development Bank of the Philippines.

 Under Benigno Aquino 3rd, the Securities and Exchange Commission defied Supreme Court decisions in 2011 and 2012, which could have stopped or even closed down Salim’s operations in the country as he was in violation of constitutional limits on foreign capital in PLDT. A Supreme Court decision in 2014, made final and non-appealable in 2015, ruled that corporate-layering schemes such as that which Salim uses to conceal his foreign ownership of local firms is unconstitutional. Yet, the decision has been ignored by the SEC, the very agency tasked to enforce it. Under Aquino’s watch, the Salim conglomerate has grown rapidly to include the largest infrastructure investment management and holding company, running even the country’s longest toll-road network.

Will President Duterte prove different?

First Pacific’s mechanisms for extracting profits from the Philippines are exactly the same as those used by capitalists from the superpowers in the last century, a form of exploitation called neocolonialism.

But now we suffer from a neocolonialist who is not even from a superpower, but from a neighboring country that is not even superior to us but stands at roughly the same economic level where we are.
What kind of a country have we become?

* * *

*These are explained in detail in my book Colossal Deception: How Foreigners Control our Telecoms Sector — A Case Study of Corruption, Cronyism and Regulatory Rapture in the Philippines. Order at

book cover

Filed under: Analysis and Commentary

The newest, yet hidden, Philippine oligarch isn’t even Filipino: Anthoni Salim


First of Two Parts
This is how bad our country has become. The newest, yet hidden oligarch in the Philippines isn’t even a Filipino: He is the Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim.

If President Duterte tries to make a list of oligarchs in the country — the few who rule the commanding heights of the economy — he is likely to miss Salim, for he may not have read his name in the country’s biggest newspapers.

In three of these, which he totally controls or has substantial stakes in — Philippine Star, Philippine Daily Inquirer, BusinessWorld — and in the third biggest TV-radio network in the country, Channel 5, which he also dominates, “Salim” is the name that can neither be written nor spoken.

It’s the elephant in the room of Philippine media, which practitioners pretend does not exist: How can a foreigner become the country’s media mogul despite the fact the Constitution prohibits even a single coin of foreign money invested in the press?

Salim has never ever set foot on Philippine soil, yet his First Pacific Co. Ltd. conglomerate in the Philippines has achieved growth through major moves under each of the past four Philippine administrations, with each President apparently extending crucial assistance and support — a phenomenon that would fit the definition of cronyism. With such support from sitting Presidents, Salim has overtaken many of the old magnates in stature in just two decades, even capturing the prized corporations of two of the country’s old elites, the Cojuangcos and the Lopezes.

There’s worse news. Salim’s conglomerate is based on telecoms, power, water distribution, and other public utilities — the few sectors the Constitution bars foreigners from controlling since they exploit natural and national resources that in all nations in the world are reserved for citizens. How bad can it get?

The Indonesian oligarch and his P2M/day executive: Salim (left), who owns 45% of the First Pacific conglomerate, and Pangilinan, his most valuable professional (Salim photo from Tempo magazine)
The Indonesian oligarch and his P2M/day executive: Salim (left), who owns 45% of the First Pacific conglomerate, and Pangilinan, his most valuable professional (Salim photo from Tempo magazine)

Salim, 67, has probably even become the most powerful oligarch in the Philippines.To situate Salim as an oligarch, Roberto Ongpin, whom Duterte had identified as an oligarch, actually simply acted as a clever investment banker who packaged Salim’s acquisition of Philex in 2009, after the Indonesian was rebuffed by the Social Security System (SSS) and when he faced a stiff challenge for control by the San Miguel Corp.

Salim is the controlling owner through his 45-percent stake in First Pacific Co. Ltd. This is the mother firm of the country’s biggest public utility companies, which include the lucrative cellphone sector (PLDT’s Smart), the electricity monopoly in metropolitan Manila (Meralco), the water distribution firm for the western half of the metropolis (Maynilad Water Services), the company operating the longest toll road system in the country, the infrastructure firm that is constructing the country’s expressways and light-rail systems, and the nation’s largest gold mining company, Philex Mining.

new salim 9

The reason why most Filipinos outside of big-business have never heard of Salim – even if they have most likely bought his products and services such as Smart phones, electricity, water and toll roads — is that he has been hidden very successfully from public view by the face of his top executive Manuel V. Pangilinan.

Instead of Salim, his top executive Pangilinan has been portrayed — falsely — as the biggest stockholder, or leads the stockholders of First Pacific, the Hong-Kong based, Bermuda-incorporated holding company of the vast Philippine conglomerate.

Colossal deception
This has been such a colossal deception foisted on the nation, so successfully that Salim’s conglomerate is routinely referred to as the “MVP Group of Companies.” Likewise, Pangilinan has always been known as the “top businessman” controlling the First Pacific group of companies, and never, ever, as “Salim’s executive.”

However, Pangilinan, despite his more than 30 years as Salim’s employee, receiving over P2 million a day in executive pay from Salim’s firms, owns insignificant shares in Salim’s conglomerate.

■ Pangilinan owns only a total of 1.4 percent stake in First Pacific Co., while Anthoni Salim owns 45 percent. This is exactly the same percentage share his father Soedono held when, with three other cronies of the Indonesian strongman Suharto, he set up the company in 1981 in Hong Kong. First Pacific was intended to move their crony wealth outside Indonesia, in a strategic move to prepare for the fall of Suharto, who at that time had already been in power for 14 years.

One of these cronies, Sutanto Djuhar, who had held 45 percent in 1981, is First Pacific’s next biggest stockholder with a 3 percent stake. The rest of First Pacific shares are distributed among 600 of the world’s most lucrative fund management firms, with 20 percent held by US institutions, making the firm essentially a Salim-US multinational.

■ Pangilinan holds only token shares — less than half a percent — in PLDT, MPIC, Philex and other Philippine companies of the Salim conglomerate. In all of these firms, the biggest stockholders are intermediaries or subsidiaries of Salim’s First Pacific. (The other Filipino who has been behind Salim’s expansion in the Philippines, having been his adviser since the 1980s, is former Philippine Ambassador to the US and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who has been a director of First Pacific from 2003 until 2011, and several of its biggest Philippine firms. Del Rosario’s wealth – he was the richest of Aquino’s Cabinet members – appears to have come mostly from his compensation from and business with Salim’s firms.)

del rosario
Aquino’s foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario: The other Filipino behind Salim’s expansion into the Philippines.

One reason why many believe Pangilinan controls First Pacific is that his public image has been deftly managed since the 1990s, that he has a high-profile “corporate citizenship” unmatched by any tycoon or executive, past or present.

He has been portrayed as a patron of the sports, especially basketball, a generous donor of academic institutions (mainly his alma mater Ateneo), and a board member of prestigious universities to which he gives his precious, free financial advice. It has been, of course, Salim’s firms, mainly through the huge advertising budget of PLDT and Smart, that have been bankrolling these activities.

There is even a website for the “MVP Group of Companies CSR”, which reports the “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs of the MVP Group of Companies.” Its site includes firms like First Pacific Co. (Pangilinan’s employer) and Indofood, the Jakarta-based Salim-owned firm with which he doesn’t have any connection to at all.

A brilliant PR move for Pangilinan has been First Pacific’s acquisition of 12 hospitals, which include iconic ones such as Makati Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center and Manila Doctors’ Hospital. This has portrayed him (but not Salim whose Metro Pacific Hospital Holdings owns these hospitals) as a tycoon concerned not only with business profits but also with humanitarian endeavors such as medical care. But this isn’t solely philanthropic activity: First Pacific’s income from these amounted to $66.4 million (P3 billion) between 2010 and 2015.

Pangilinan’s “corporate citizenship is, indeed, a laudable quality so much needed in a country ruled by oligarchs, who view the Philippines merely as a country where they make profits, and not their real nation.

There is obviously however, a big ulterior reason for First Pacific’s huge public relations campaign to portray Pangilinan as a tycoon with a high sense of civic duty. This is to build up public sympathy for him, to make it easier for gullible Filipinos, including its political leaders, ,to believe the myth that he owns the First Pacific conglomerate, concealing the reality that it is tightly controlled by an Indonesian magnate, in violation of constitutional provisions limiting foreign capital in public utilities.

Beneath the hullabaloo of our wild democratic system, the drama of presidential contests, the seeming gravity of issues such as the US military basing agreement and China’s intrusion into our territory, and the drug pandemic, the heights of our economy has been quietly taken over by an Indonesian, and billions of dollars are being siphoned off the country as super-profits from public utilities — and most Filipinos aren’t even aware of it.

What a sad, unlucky country.

On Friday, even Forbes magazine now conceals Salim, who is not only an oligarch, but going by the UK-magazine The Economist’s definition, a crony.

Sources of data and a more comprehensive history and account of the Salim empire in the Philippines are found in my book, available online at and soon at major bookstores:


Filed under: Analysis and Commentary, Editors' Picks

Duterte can mold Supreme Court after his image


Before the time he is ready to step down from office on June 30, 2022, President Rodrigo Duterte must have appointed 12 of the 15 justices of the Supreme Court. The number could even be higher at 13 if rumors that a powerful cabal moving within the Court and the Congress to oust Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno proved true — allegedly, and ironically, on charges of tax evasion.

If Sereno keeps her position, however, three of the six Supreme Court justices appointed by two predecessors of Duterte will be in the Court when he ends his term. The rest will have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, and replaced by Duterte by then.

It would be a unique opportunity for a President who is both anti-elite and an outsider from the country’s traditional ruling class, to mold the Supreme Court, and therefore our legal system, according to his own unusual, pro-poor view of the world. The Supreme Court, even by design, has really been one of the bastions of elite rule, although there, indeed, have been unique cases when the Court defied the elite, as in its ruling that the Hacienda Luisita agrarian reform was fake. (It cost its Chief Justice Renato Corona his job, and tragically I have to say, even his life.)

But not only that, the reality of the legal community is that with Duterte picking 12 justices in the next six years, about two justices per year, he has in effect the means to ensure that the judicial system consisting of Sandiganbayan, the Appellate Court, and the Regional Trial judges support him, even in what would likely be his controversial moves.

Traditionally, and perhaps logically, (until President Aquino basically broke the practice and appointed mediocre legal academics like Chief Justice Sereno), justices of the Supreme Court are picked from the most experienced pool of judges and justices from the country’s advanced courts, mainly from the special anti-graft courts Sandiganbayan, the Court of Appeals and Regional Trial Courts.

It would be human nature, of course, for even these judges to aspire to the highest court of the land, which would be the pinnacle of their legal careers. While they would do so by seeking connections to the President, or to those close to him, the one thing they can do to increase their chances is not to cross the President in cases in which his policies and programs are put on the line.

No doubt he’s out to bury her. And no doubt he likely will.
No doubt he’s out to bury her. And no doubt he likely will.

The Commission on Human Rights and Senator Leila de Lima should kiss any plans of bringing to the courts their claims of extrajudicial killings goodbye.

Following is the schedule of retirements at the Supreme Court during Duterte’s term:

• 2016 and 2017:
Justices Jose Perez (Dec. 14, 2016)
Arturo Brion (Dec. 29, 2016)
Bienvenido Perez (July 6, 2017)
Jose Mendoza (Aug. 13 2017);

• 2018
Presbitero Velasco (Aug. 8)
Teresita de Castro (Oct. 8)

• 2019
Mariano del Castillo (July 29)
Francis Jardeleza (Sept. 26)
Lucas Bersamin (Oct. 18)
Antonio Carpio (Oct. 26)

• 2022
Diosdado Peralta (March 27)
Estela Perlas-Bernabe (May 14).

In contrast, Aquino was able to appoint only six Supreme Court justices, although Presidents Ramos and Arroyo did install 14 and 21 justices, respectively, but sadly failed to mold the Court to their world-views. Or did they?

De Lima should resign
Sen. Leila de Lima should start thinking of giving up her Senate seat. Her position has become untenable, even as President Duterte, who has emerged as an extremely popular and powerful president, is undoubtedly out to bury her — and the scenario seems to be unfolding at this time when his political capital is at its height.

And for all of De Lima’s playing of the woman card, she has not at all denied that she has had intimate and sexual relationship with her subordinate Ronnie Dayan, her former bodyguard-driver. Shortly after his first de Lima slam, Duterte went for another strike by announcing in a televised comment that the senator has taken another lover, an MMDA motorcycle escort, after she apparently got tired of Dayan.

While we live in a liberal age, a senator having a relationship with her married subordinate, and allegedly gifting him with houses and even vehicles, create a dent on the integrity of the entire Senate, which is supposed to be a model of uprightness for citizens, and especially the youth.

If proven that she did gift her lover with houses, the obvious question is where could she have made the money for this when she had been in government for only 12 years since President Arroyo’s term, as head of the Commission on Human Rights?

What makes her position untenable is that she was Justice Secretary for six years, the Republic’s prime law-enforcement officer. Yet in her six years in office, just like his boss President Aquino, she had hardly alerted the nation to the rapid proliferation of illegal drugs and the monstrous social menace that has created. She hadn’t undertaken even a fraction of the scale of operations against it that the present administration has lunched in just two months.

It is difficult to believe that she had been largely ignorant of the illegal drug industry’s proliferation in this country. It is as difficult to believe that she simply closed her eyes to this while it was happening, free of any blame.

Now we are all shocked that illegal drugs use has been uncovered as a plague upon the nation, with 10 percent of our adult population dependent on them, and that the industry has become a main generator of corruption and crime in our society.

What could be a clearer indictment of an incompetent justice secretary than the fact that the Bilibid National Prison, which was under her supervision, had become not only the command center of drug lords, but also their distribution point and even manufacturing facility?

Had the extent of the illegal drug problem been disclosed during the last elections, there is no doubt de Lima would not have been elected as senator, and would have even landed in the lowest rungs. A senatorial contest for a non-incumbent senator has been estimated to cost at least P500 million. From where and how could de Lima have raised such kind of money?

In the final analysis, de Lima as senator is a fraud, having been elected on a completely false premise that she did her job as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, and if the allegations by President Duterte against her turn out to be correct, she even probably raised campaign funds from the very criminals she was supposed to put in jail. On the other hand, what value can she add to the Senate when her purported qualification for the post, that of basically being a former justice secretary, proves to be spurious?

Never before has such a sitting senator been exposed to so much public scrutiny for allegations of being a fraud. De Lima should spare the country, and herself, from such ignominy. She should scour deep in her heart to find some patriotism, and resign her post in what is often referred to in a cliché, but in a fervent wish, as the country’s august body.

Filed under: Analysis and Commentary

Communists’ big-guns at peace talks: Our first real shot at ending the insurgency

For the first time since formal peace talks in 1987, the communist insurgency’s real big guns will be de facto part of the actual negotiations: Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria, Adelberto Silva, Renante Gamara, and Alan Jazmines.

Tiamzon had been party chairman for the last decade until his capture in March 2014. His wife Wilma, who was captured with him, had been the secretary general. Adelberto Silva, the party’s Organization Bureau head, had succeeded Austria as secretary general until his capture in June 2015. Jazmines ran the National Democratic Front supervising all the party’s above-ground political struggles. Gamara headed the party’s powerful Manila-Rizal Committee until his capture in 2013.

The communist leaders — twelve of them — were technically consultants to the National Democratic Front per agreement in past peace talks, and on this basis were freed and allowed to go to Oslo to join the peace talks with government, which started yesterday.

This is such a game changer.

It was an unprecedented move by President Duterte to make sure that the insurgents were actually represented in the talks, as he had started think that founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison and his small gang in Utrecht may no longer be accurately representing the insurgents’ views, as he had been away from the Philippines for three decades already. There were also reports that Sison had not been consulting enough with the communist leaders left in the Philippines in the past negotiations.

It was really a bold, move on the part of Duterte, which the communists themselves had not expected, and represents the breakthrough in the peace talks since these started in 1987. Any other president could not have undertaken it since it risked the ire of the military, which has continued to suffer casualties from NPA attacks in the past several years.

Duterte’s move risked the demoralization of the military’s intelligence service, which had worked for many years to capture the communist leaders. This is likely one reason why Duterte in his first two months in power has given speeches to military groups more than his successor Benigno Aquino 3rd did in his five years in office.

Duterte lucky
Duterte of course was lucky to have at his disposal the communist leaders to join the peace talks in the first place. Tiamzon and several others were captured only since 2013.

Off to make peace at airport: Communist leaders Reynante Gamara, Alan Jazmines, Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria, and Adelberto Silva
Off to make peace at airport: Communist leaders Reynante Gamara, Alan Jazmines, Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria, and Adelberto Silva

Tiamzon’s group represents the second generation of leaders of the Communist Party, who almost all became communists only through the surge of the student movement in the early 1970s. In contrast, Sison was with the pro-Soviet Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, and he single-handedly recruited his core-group, believing in him as the country’s Mao Ze Dong.

Sison and his “Politburo” were all die-hard Maoists, partly because it was funded heavily by China in its ardor to export revolution during Mao Ze Dong. Among his Politiburo, only Sison actually remains active in revolution, with several of his original comrades killed or have died of natural causes, and three becoming citizens of Spain, Germany and Canada, and living quiet lives.

In contrast, Tiamzon’s Politburo members were recruited through the student movement, by different cadres. While still mouthing their adherence to “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Ze Dong Thought,” they are known not to stick to dogmas, and have instead learned from their experience in actual revolution. Several of them in their revolutionary careers have been through heated debates on the strategy for the Philippine revolution, and had experimented on the late NPA commander Romy Kintanar’s and fiery Manila-Rizal leader Filemon Lagman’s urban model for a political-military uprising.

What would be going for Duterte’s round of peace talks is the personal dimension. Sison has lived in the Netherlands for three decades and appears to have, as most old men do, planted deep roots there. Read his books, and he is living in his own little world, out of touch with Philippine reality — and the world — that he thinks, as he had thought in the 1970s, that a “People’s Republic of the Philippines” would be the glorious outpost of communism in Asia, just waiting for capitalism to collapse worldwide.

Utrecht gang
I don’t think Sison and his Utretch gang were ever really interested in reaching a settlement with government, unless it is one in which he as returned Party chairman shares power with the Philippine President. The peace talks now make up the chance for Sison to be interviewed in media. Why would he ever want this to be ended, with a settlement?

In contrast, Tiamzon and his Politburo have lived in the Philippines for the past 40-plus years. They have seen their “Red bases” rise and fall, they have seen revolutionary flows — as those in Davao and Manila in the 1980s — ebb and forgotten so quickly. They are seeing their rural bases overtaken by even farmers using cellphones and watching television. They have realized that countries that had been more backward than us when they stared to make revolution in the 1970s — countries like South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia — became rich countries even with their class structures.

I believe that Tiamzon’s Politburo would be more realistic and drop Sison’s pipe-dream for a People’s Democratic Republic of the Philippines ruled by the Communist Party, and instead undertake steps through the peace talks for weakening the landlord and oligarchic rule. Some useful role for the Communist cadres and NPA commanders, and I would think they would agree to a settlement, to spend their twilight years in relative comfort and peace of mind.

Duterte has cleverly appointed Tiamzon’s comrades into high positions in his government, very significantly peasant leader Rafael Mariano as head of the Agrarian Reform department, a body officially tasked to undertake what had been the communists’ top agenda, the end of tenancy in the Philippines.

I don’t think Mariano will report to Tiamzon that his post has been a useless one. His experience will instead open the possibilities for Tiamzon’s group on how to work within a democratic system, rather than spending their resources — and lives — in trying to violently overthrow government. After 40 years, I think they aren’t that stupid to believe that that will ever happen in this day and age.

Filed under: Analysis and Commentary

Why didn’t the Aquinos investigate these crimes?

Yesterday is one of the most significant dates in our post-war history, when two historic, connected events happened, the consequences of which have made up our messy present.

Two dastardly crimes were committed on the same day, August 21; two Aquino presidents, surprisingly or not, despite their huge resources as the country’s chief executive officers, refused to unearth the real masterminds.

One event on August 21, 1971 triggered events that led to the imposition of martial law and the start of Marcos’ 13-year dictatorship. Another, on the same date 12 years later in 1983 triggered events that led to the fall of that dictatorship.

First: The Plaza Miranda bombing on August 21, 1971. Four grenades were hurled at the stage of the Liberal Party’ grand miting de avance, killing nine and wounding 95 others. Many of the party’s leaders and senatorial candidates were seriously injured.

The bombing was blamed on President Ferdinand Marcos, and public opinion believed so. As a result, most of his senatorial and congressional candidates lost in the elections that year, drastically weakening his political strength.

Kept secret for decades, the bombing was gradually unearthed as having been ordered by the Communist Party of the Philippines chairman then, Jose Ma. Sison, and executed by his most inner circle, called the party’s Executive Committee of the Political Bureau. Only Sison’s inner circle—and the brave, young activists who undertook the operation, believing it was for a just cause—knew it was the Communist Party leadership’s operation. Present Communist Party Chairman Benito Tiamzon, as well as everyone in the top leadership now, didn’t know it was Sison’s secret operation.

The motive: In the words used by communist party documents at that time, “to intensify the split within the ruling class” in order to create another “revolutionary flow.” In ordinary language, the bombing would push the opposition Liberal Party and their ruling-class supporters to strike back, even violently, at Marcos. The country would plunge into civil war, which the Communist Party as a very organized and armed force could take advantage of to capture power.

Two earth-shaking crimes on the same day August 21, both blamed on Marcos. Would history have a different take?
Two earth-shaking crimes on the same day August 21, both blamed on Marcos. Would history have a different take?

The Plaza Miranda attack was one of the events that convinced Marcos, and the military establishment, to plan carefully, and eventually impose Martial Law 13 months later.

Marcos, Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff Romeo Espino and all other service commanders were convinced that the opposition leader Ninoy Aquino had allied with the communists and their NPA. How else could one explain that he was the only Liberal Party senatorial candidate—and its luminous star even—who was spared from the attack since the grenades were exploded while Ninoy was still far from the Plaza?

Few believed the most commonsensical question then: Why would Marcos, whom even his enemies credited as a brilliant strategist, undertake such an attack that obviously would be blamed on him?

Aquino and the Liberal Party didn’t bother to pursue an investigation into the carnage, and instead roused public opinion against Marcos, as “The Mad Bomber,” even after they took control of the Senate in the elections three months later.

The Assasination
Second, the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. on August 21, 1983. Much of martial-law era growth—as well as those of Latin American countries—in that era was due to massive infusions of foreign debt, which Western banks sourced from Middle East countries, which didn’t know what to do with their dollars after they took control of their oil industry, set up the OPEC, and ended the era of cheap oil.

Because of Westerns banks’ greed, as always, they didn’t bother to check if the countries they got addicted to foreign debt could sustain even just their interest payments. They were shocked to wake up one morning in August 1982 that Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Chile could no longer keep up with their interest payments, and stopped paying their debts. The first global debt-crisis broke out, pushing up interest rates, and banks refused to throw good money after bad by stopping their short-term lending.

By the start of 1983, we already were feeling the crunch of the debt-crisis, with the peso gradually depreciating to P8.50 to $1.00 from P7.50 to $1.00, and everyone in business, especially the banking community, felt we couldn’t avoid a Latin American kind of debt crisis that would mean a severe economic downturn for us.

Worse was that Marcos’ disease had worsened during this time, and on August 7 had his kidney transplant operation, with his son Bongbong as the donor. According to Juan Ponce Enrile’s biography, Marcos emerged from his bed-ridden state only on August 15.

For the first time in Marcos’ eleven-year strongman rule, there emerged a major chance that his life could abruptly end. And this happened in a period when political and economic instability were building up, and his party sharply divided between the pro-Enrile and pro-Imelda/Fabian Ver factions.

And it was during this time that Ninoy Aquino made moves for his return to the Philippines, his journey which ended with his assassination on August 21, 1983. The assassination triggered events that led to “People Power I’s” overthrow of Marcos in February 1986.

Few believed the most commonsensical question then: Why would Marcos, whom even his enemies credited as a brilliant strategist, undertake such an assassination that obviously would be blamed on him?

Such precision
I find it astonishing that Aquino was killed with such precision, by a single bullet to the head. The habit taught to anyone who uses a gun, is to shoot at least three times, to make sure the target is incapacitated. But that’s probably for amateurs.

I find it astonishing that it was done in broad daylight, even risking so many eyewitnesses (there was only one, the so-called “crying woman”). I find it astonishing that the alleged killer, Rolando Galman, was killed even before Aquino’s body slammed on the tarmac. It was an operation of such precision that I don’t think our race is known for.

As astonishing is the fact that despite 12 years Ninoy’s widow Corazon Aquino and his son Benigno Aquino 3rd wielded the tremendous powers of a Philippine president, they did nothing to unmask the murders’ brains.

How difficult would it have been to fund a crack group of investigators to unearth the truth, especially with 16 officers and soldiers just there in jail convicted by the Sandiganbayan for conspiracy over the murder. Why didn’t the Aquino presidents offer them pardon—and maybe even money to live comfortably abroad—in exchange for identifying the brains of the murder that shaped our history? (Compare that to President Kennedy’s assassination, in which the alleged gunman Oswald was killed a few days later, with no other suspects found.)

The only logical explanation I could think of is that the two Aquino presidents, Cory as early as 1986, were informed by unimpeachable sources—maybe even provided indisputable evidence—who, or what group, was the mastermind of Ninoy’s murder.

But if it were Marcos, why did they not disclose this to the nation and provided the body of evidence, in order to absolutely demonize him beyond any historical revision?

Or was Cory told that if she made public the brains of her husband’s murder, she would be so easily toppled by Enrile’s RAM rebels, so that she just had to suffer quietly, the patriotic thing for her to do. After all, she probably could have been told, her entire narrative of the widow going after her husband’s murderer would collapse if she were to disclose the real mastermind.

There is another question that bothers me a lot. Was it just sheer coincidence that two historic events occurred on the same date?

I wonder. In what would be his death voyage, Aquino arrived in Taipei on August 19, 1983. But he booked his flight to Manila August 21. Was the date of his return to the country some secret message to the dictator, one that only he and Marcos would understand?

Filed under: Analysis and Commentary

So how did Indonesia bury its own much, much worse, dictator?

One of the irritating inane comments against the planned burial of strongman Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani is that we would be the laughing stock of the world. Such view only points to the commentators’ astonishing ignorance about the recent history of our neighbors.

Let’s look at what happened to Indonesia’s strongman Suharto, who ruled his country as dictator for 33 years, toppled in 1998 in a people-power kind of revolution. Compared with Suharto, Marcos was a liberal, setting up a legislative body in 1978, though, of course, he controlled it. His dictatorship lasted only 13 years, given that the first part of his rule from 1965 to September 1972 was based on electoral politics.

While I doubt the accuracy of its figures, which are based on newspaper accounts, Transparency International in 2013 ranked Suharto as the most corrupt leader, allegedly embezzling $15 to $35 billion. It ranked Marcos number 2 (and Estrada No. 10) allegedly embezzling $5 to $10 billion. Suharto’s cronyism was incomparable to that of Marcos, and the wealth and monopolies held by his closest crony — Soedono Salim, father of Anthoni who now has a public utility-based empire in the Philippines — were more enormous than those of all of our local cronies combined.

The starkest contrast, though, is in terms of human rights abuses. A study released in July by an international panel of judges concluded that the Indonesian military under Suharto in 1965, when he assumed power through a coup d’état, massacred over 500,000 Indonesians, mostly of Chinese ethnicity, on the pretext that they were communists. Another one million Indonesians were incarcerated, tortured, and/or raped. The report only served to confirm several counts over the years written by scholars.

How many, even by the most rabidly anti-Marcos propagandists’ account, were killed under Martial Law? Some 4,000 “extrajudicial killings” and 40,000 incarcerated after the declaration of Martial law, with only 3,000 remaining in detention centers by 1975, according to an Amnesty International report.

Suharto’s funeral in 2008: full state honors even attended by his enemies, and the US ambassador.
Suharto’s funeral in 2008: full state honors even attended by his enemies, and the US ambassador.

Suharto was buried 23 hours after his death in January 28, because of Islamic teachings that a corpse must be buried within 24 hours after death.

While there were pockets of protest against the state honors given Suharto, the account by the New York Times, I think, entitled “Tributes flow at burial of Suharto state funeral,” describes the more dominant atmosphere at that time. Excerpts:

New York Times account
“SOLO, Indonesia — Suharto, the former strongman of Indonesia, was buried Monday in a family mausoleum near here with a military honor guard, Islamic prayers and an overlay of the Javanese mysticism that, for some people, had given him the aura of a king.

Twenty-three hours after his death in Jakarta following a three-week hospitalization, Suharto’s coffin was lowered into the ground in a crypt on a sacred mountain just outside Solo, beside the tombs of his wife, Siti Hartinah, and of three other relatives.

It was a state funeral fit for a president, or a king, as if Suharto had not been driven from office 10 years ago by rioting, demonstrations and a rejection by his military chief and cabinet ministers.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was one of those military officers, and a roster of the nation’s most powerful people, flew here Monday in a small fleet of government aircraft.

‘We offer his body and his deeds to the motherland,’ Yudhoyono said at the funeral, where he gave a military salute. ‘His service is an example to us.’

He asked Indonesians to ’open our hearts for everything he has done,’ noting that Suharto had ‘made mistakes because no one is perfect.’

No one since (Suharto’s fall) then has so dominated Indonesia, and his death seemed for some people to stir a longing for a strong and even overpowering leader.

‘I feel that Suharto is the king in the hearts of the people, and I also feel that Suharto is different from other leaders in Indonesia,’ said Emha Ainun Najib, a prominent cultural historian. ‘It seemed that Suharto had the aura of a Javanese king.’

As tiny birds swirled around the entryway, a military honor guard delivered the coffin, which was draped in a red and white Indonesian flag and preceded by a portrait of Suharto in the full, medal-laden uniform of a five-star general.

The coffin was opened briefly and then lowered into the grave next to the polished marble tomb of his wife. Beside it was her portrait on a stand, with what appeared to be a warm, welcoming smile. There was quiet background music, a dirge called ‘Falling Flowers,’ about the death of a hero.

Standing at a microphone, their eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, offered an apology for what she called her father’s mistakes, as she had, Sunday, when his death was announced at the hospital

Then, addressing him directly, she said, ‘Only God can repay you for your goodness. Farewell, father. We send our prayers.’

She was in tears when she finished, along with the family members who stood near her. One sister, Siti Hediati, raised a tiny camera and took a picture of the grave.

An Islamic prayer was said, a bugler played taps, and the family gathered around the tomb to toss in handfuls of white and pink flower petals.

Outside, behind a cordon of military security, villagers had climbed through the woods to watch from a distance.

The farmers here are beneficiaries of Suharto’s economic policies, and as with some other repressive leaders around the world, the harshness of his rule seems to have faded in their memories.

Standing last week by the bright green rice fields below the hill, a farmer named Sukanto, 50, said he longed for a return to what he remembered as the stability of Suharto’s rule.

‘Suharto is the only president I admire, among them all,’ he said, leaning on a motorbike and smoking a clove cigarette. “He’s the one who gave us a better life. He gave us rice seed to plant, and he developed our country.”

On a street in Solo, a parking attendant named Gio, 45, said, ‘I know that people got wealthy in Suharto’s time, but we are only small people, and that is not our business.’ (end of the New York Times article)

I’m sure that the Yellow Cult, in our case, would be shocked when the Ilocano-speaking Filipinos crowd the Marcos funeral, and more so when they cry their hearts out at their idol, as is likely to happen.

And if you think that Indonesians are so backward as to have adulated a mass murderer, consider these figures: our neighbor country’s GDP per capita in 2015 amounted to $3,834 (in constant 2010 US dollars), bigger by a third than our $2,635. During all of Marcos’ time, our GDP per capita was bigger than that of Indonesia. Indonesia overtook us in 1989, after four years of the first Yellow Regime.

One more intriguing point: Does the Indonesians’ forgiving attitude find its root in intense nationalism — the need to unify the nation — or from their Islam faith?

We have neither of those.

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Filed under: Analysis and Commentary

The tragic tale of the Marcos loot ‘discoverer’

Fact-checking the London-based The Guardian’s May 2016 article, “The $10bn question: what happened to the Marcos millions?” which I mentioned in my column on Monday, led me to a facet of the post-EDSA history that isn’t exactly inspiring.

The Guardian piece referred to a “young civil servant named Chito Roque,” who purportedly, in the wee hours of Feb. 26, 1986 after Marcos fled Malacañang, unlocked a steel safe in the dictator’s quarters, and found inside what would be documents that proved or pointed to the loot Marcos amassed in his 20-year rule.

Chito Roque, or “Potenciano Roque,” wasn’t a civil servant but a small businessman, an activist in Agapito “Butz” Aquino’s “August 21 Movement (ATOM).” That Roque found the documents after unlocking the safe — the combination of which he said was pasted on the safe’s door — was based entirely on his sworn statement.

Cory Aquino’s executive secretary then, the late senator Joker Arroyo — who was with Roque and Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin, Jr. in Malacañang that night — many years later, in 2011, reported that while he did not see Roque opening the safe, he indeed gave him that early morning a black bag containing documents from the safe, according to the activist.

Arroyo didn’t consider the bag of any importance, and turned it over only several days later to Jovito Salonga, chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government. Arroyo said in 2011 that after Salonga pored over the documents, it turned out to be a breakthrough in terms of unearthing Marcos’ hidden wealth. Arroyo practically said that Roque was the discoverer of Marcos’ wealth: “It was a gold mine. That’s what it was,” Arroyo said. “Nobody knew about the ill-gotten wealth.”

The Guardian’s reference to Roque ended there. It is astonishing that for such a deed – securing documents that would lead to the discovery of millions of dollars in Marcos’ and his cronies’ hidden loot – Roque had not been hailed and honored as an EDSA hero. I myself had not heard of him until I read the Guardian article.

EDSA-I turned out to be the beginning of Roque’s nightmare.

Forgotten: A 1990 US report on a testimony that a package of diamonds was given to Cory.
Forgotten: A 1990 US report on a testimony that a package of diamonds was given to Cory.

Cory appointed him in March 1986 as head of her powerful Task Force Anti-Gambling, headquartered in Malacañang itself and assigned the gargantuan task of eradicating jueteng in the country. His appointment to head the Task Force had raised eyebrows: Roque wasn’t a lawyer, didn’t have any background in law enforcement or intelligence gathering and was a small businessman all his working life.

Star witness vs jueteng
Three years later, Roque was out of Malacañang. He came back to public view only in 1995, when Congressman Roilo Golez presented him in Congress as a star witness in an investigation on the proliferation of jueteng, the illegal numbers game in the country. Among those Roque alleged as jueteng lords were Rosario Magbuhos, who, he said, controlled gambling in southern Luzon, and Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda (husband of Pampanga governor Lilia Pineda) for Central Luzon.

However, in his testimony, Roque admitted that he had accepted bribes from the top 25 jueteng bosses, including Magbuhos and Pineda, amounting to P43 million monthly from June 1986 to October 1989.” If anyone fell (behind in their “payments”) he recalled, “I would order … the jueteng operators’ joints raided even if the payment was only delayed [by] two or three days,” he testified.

What was explosive in Roque’s testimony was his claim that much of the money was used by the Aquino administration to fund counter-moves against the seven coup attempts against it. He claimed the jueteng money was given to and distributed for such purposes by a top politician, whom he didn’t identify. However, American scholar Alfred McCoy alleged in his book “Policing America’s Empire: The United States, The Philippines, and The Rise of the Surveillance State,” that based on subsequent revelations by other politicians, the politician referred to by Roque was Cory’s brother Jose “Peping” Cojuangco. The veteran Tarlac politician had vehemently denied such allegations.

Roque became a figure despised by the Yellow Cult, which had been powerful at that time. Indeed, I never found columnist Randy David — an amiable person who very seldom writes angrily against somebody, except against Marcos and Gloria Arroyo — as fuming against anyone as he was against Roque in his piece on Dec. 10, 1995.

A peek from David’s column: “His (Roque’s) credibility is in tatters… his overall appearance is that of someone who has not cared to look after himself in a long time…. He was supposedly one of Cory’s special security aides, but the former president hardly remembers him… Roque is reportedly separated from his wife… He was addicted to pain killers like Demerol…. Chito Roque is, in fact, dying from bone cancer.”

A box of diamonds
Roque actually made stronger accusations against Cory much earlier.

The US government presented Roque as a witness in its racketeering charge against Imelda Marcos in 1990 at the New York Federal District Court.

Aside from confirming that it was he who found the incriminating documents against Marcos in 1986, Roque testified, to everyone’s shock, that he gave Cory “a box of Imelda’s diamonds,” which he said he recovered from Malacañang. He didn’t explain, though, why he gave the diamonds to Cory and the documents to Arroyo, the President’s most trusted aide at that time.

There is no report that Cory surrendered such diamonds. If she handed them over to the PCGG, indeed, that would have been big front-page news. She had not commented on Roque’s allegation.

Roque’s testimony was not reported by the local media at the time. The allegation about Imelda’s diamonds being turned over to Cory would be raised again only in October 2005. That was when PCGG Chairman Ricardo Abcede reported that he “received a transcript of a racketeering case against Imelda Marcos in a New York court in 1995, which quoted a certain Potenciano Roque as saying that he gave Corazon Aquino a box of diamonds, which was recovered from Malacañang.”

“The PCGG never received that box of diamonds,” Abcede declared. He said he plans to call Cory to the PCGG to deny or confirm the allegation. Abcede never did. (He died in 2012.)

Roque disappeared from history, or from the news pages, after that testimony. Golez says he has lost all contact with him since 20 years ago. Roque’s brother-in-law, Alex Padilla, has also never heard of him since. If he is still alive I hope he writes me to comment on this column.

I find Roque’s claim that he unlocked Marcos’ safe incredible. How stupid could the strongman, who was smart enough to have stayed in power from 1965 to 1985 be to, first, put the safe’s combination pasted on its door and second, to put inside that safe his most confidential documents? How did a low-ranking “Atom” activist get to be transported by helicopter from Malacañang to join Arroyo and Locsin — Cory’s most trusted officials at that time — in inspecting Marcos’ private quarters right after he fled? Why would a yellow activist claim under oath that he gave a box of Imelda diamonds to the Yellow Cult’s saint?

Could Roque have been an agent of a foreign (ahem) power that assigned him to provide Cory’s government with the documents that condemned Marcos, and then to tempt Cory with the diamonds, so it could blackmail her?

I have been wondering why former President BS Aquino harbored such deep anger toward President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that he had been consumed by the desire to jail her, at the expense of so much political capital and time spent in its pursuit.

Could it be that his mother thought that President Arroyo had ordered Abcede to publicize Roque’s allegation that he gave Imelda’s diamonds to Cory, and thus she and her son became furiously mad at the President that they went all out against her administration?

But alas, we may never find out the truth. Journalists can only raise questions, especially those that prick at the narratives created by the ruling elite. Our historians have been sleeping on their jobs.

Filed under: Analysis and Commentary