Month: July 2017

‘Arbitration’ suit vs China a colossal cover-up

HE arbitration case that the Philippines filed against the People’s Republic of China was a colossal cover-up for the bungling by President Aquino and his foreign secretary, Alberto del Rosario, of our territorial dispute that resulted in our losing in 2012 Scarborough Shoal (Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc).

In the game of the South China Sea disputes, Aquino and del Rosario dropped the Scarborough Shoal ball. The last time we lost a territory in the disputed Spratly area was in 1975, when Vietnam tricked our marines in abandoning Southwest Cay (Pugad island).

Aquino’s administration cunningly shifted the nation’s attention from its monumental blunder by filing in 2013 with the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague the case against China for violating provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos). The case demonized the superpower as a bully in the region that grabbed Scarborough from us in its expansionist drive.

The cover-up wasn’t cheap: legal fees as well as travel expenses and accommodations for the mostly US legal team have amounted to nearly P2 billion, sources disclosed.

Aquino, Del Rosario, and their allies’ campaign against China over Scarborough made up one of the Yellow regime’s biggest sins against the nation—which it has even sickeningly portrayed to this day as a nationalistic project. Indeed, as Samuel Johnson pointed out three centuries ago, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

The suit and the decision of the arbitration court a year ago placed us on a collision path with China; we were on the verge of being cut off from the second biggest economy in the world, losing it as a huge market and supplier of goods, and as an investment site.

Meant nothing
Yet winning the suit has meant nothing in resolving the disputes in the South China Sea, since these involve sovereign claims over territory and not maritime entitlements as provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the PCA ruled on.

The suit’s big beneficiary is the US so that it is not unlikely that it backed up the Philippine case from the start. With China refusing to recognize the suit and the award, the US has succeeded in painting its emerging rival as the Asian equivalent of the Evil Empire in Asia.

Aquino militarized the Scarborough dispute when he sent the warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar in 2012 to confront Chinese civilian ships. Senator Trillanes, who was Aquino’s special envoy at the time, claimed that Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had falsely told Aquino that Chinese ships had left Scarborough at the same time that Philippine ships did.

The suit’s decision that no geographical feature in the Spratly islands can have a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone – which surprised most legal experts – in effect declared most the seas there as international waters, which the US’ powerful blue-water fleet can freely patrol.

“We had no other option but to file the case, as the Chinese grabbed Scarborough,” Del Rosario said when the case was filed in January 2013.

The de facto spokesman for Aquino’s project against China, Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio in his e-book entitled The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea, also pointed out that the Chinese occupation of Scarborough was “the act that finally convinced the Philippine government to file the arbitration case against China.”

Grand plan
Carpio in effect claimed that the shoal’s loss was just another Chinese step in its grand plan to control the entire South China Sea, as if its leaders one morning just decided to grab Scarborough:

“In mid-2011, I asked Gen. (Jose) Almonte which shoal or reef would China seize from the Philippines next. He immediately answered without any hesitation: Scarborough Shoal… I completely agreed with him… in 2012, China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines.”

Carpio’s statements is one of the many instances of his crass intellectual dishonesty in his e-book. The truth is by ordering a warship into Scarborough in 2012 to confront Chinese civilian govenrment ships and fishing  vessels, Aquino gave the Chinese the excuse to retaliate and occupy the shoal.  This was even reported, alhough only sketchily in  the newspapers at that time, and summarized in several books and scholarly articles on the South China Sea controversy.

Although claimed by us, China, and Taiwan even before World War 2, there had been only occasional symbolic, harmless actions by the parties to claim sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, all of which were quickly forgotten. There has never been any attempt from both Chinese and Filipino forces there to impose their sovereignty over the shoal. Vessels and fishermen from both countries routinely entered the lagoon usually for refuge from storms, as if there were no dispute over who owned it.

That changed with Aquino. On April 11, Aquino sent the naval warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, to confront two civilian China Maritime Surveillance ships (CMS, under the State Oceanic Administration) in the shoal that foiled our Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ attempt to arrest Chinese fishermen they claimed were illegally fishing in the area.

Aquino ordered the BRP Gregorio del Pilar to leave the area to get out the next day when he was told of his blunder: by sending a warship, he had militarized the dispute.

Casus belli
But it was too late. It gave the Chinese the casus belli—the justification— to mobilize to completely take over Scarborough. Some 10 CMS ships entered the lagoon, and with them a flotilla of 31 fishing boats and dinghies to portray to their citizens that it was a sea version of people power against a bullying nation that prevented Chinese fishermen from earning a living, and in an area China “owned” for more than a century.

In panic, Aquino ordered two Coast Guard and BFAR vessels to block the entrance to the lagoon. With neither party attacking the other nor leaving, the standoff lasted for more than a month.

Quite unexpectedly and suddenly, on June 5, 2012, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a two-sentence press statement: “Following our consultations, the two Chinese maritime vessels and our BFAR vessel are no longer in the lagoon. We continue the consultations to address the remaining issues in Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough).”

That statement was wrong. While all Philippine vessels left the lagoon, the Chinese vessels remained. We lost Panatag Shoal. China would occupy it to this day with several CMS ships, warning Philippine vessels approaching not to enter the lagoon.

The Philippines lost Scarborough under the unwritten rules of territorial disputes, which is as follows: A state’s forces cannot kick out another state’s forces occupying an area using violence. But if that state can do so without violence, even if it uses only the threat of violence or trickery, than their occupation would be a fait accompli.

Why in the world did Aquino order our ships out of Scarborough?

Sen. Antonio Trillanes, whom Aquino appointed in May 2012 as his “special envoy” to set up “backchannel” talks with China during the standoff, disclosed in a confidential document in 2015 exactly how Aquino had bungled the episode.

Trillanes’ report
After talking with Chinese officials in Beijing, Trillanes said he reported to Aquino that the Chinese agreed on a simultaneous withdrawal of the Chinese ships and the Philippine vessels. “PNoy directed me to work on the sequential withdrawal of government ships inside the shoal,” Trillanes wrote in his aide-memoire on the crisis, which I have a copy of.

In this document, Trillanes wrote that on June 4, “PNoy called me to inform me that our vessel already left the shoal but China reneged on the agreement of simultaneous withdrawal of their ships, so two of them [were]still inside the shoal.”

Trillanes put the blame squarely on Foreign Secretary del Rosario.

“I asked him who agreed with what, since I was just hammering out the details of the sequential withdrawal because the mouth of the shoal was too narrow for a simultaneous withdrawal. The President told me that Secretary del Rosario told him about the agreement reached in Washington,” Trillanes wrote.

“This time I asked PNoy: ‘If the agreement was simultaneous withdrawal, why did we leave first?’ PNoy responded to this effect: “Kaya nga sinabihan ko si Albert kung bakit niya pinalabas yung BFAR na hindi ko nalalaman.” (“That’s why I asked Albert [del Rosario]why he ordered the BFAR vessels to leave without my permission.”)

Should be shot
“Del Rosario should be shot, ”Trillanes told me in an interview. “He lost Scarborough.”

Del Rosario had not explained publicly who in the US officialdom he was talking to who purportedly told him the Chinese agreed to a simultaneous withdrawal from Scarborough. Neither has the US confirmed nor denied that it was involved in the episode.

With Aquino’s immense popularity at the time, he and del Rosario would cover up their bungling by exploiting Filipinos’ knee-jerk nationalism with its David-versus-Goliath narrative that an expansionist China forcibly grabbed Scarborough from such a weak country as ours.

But any  false narrative would require some kind of scaffolding if it would have some credibility.

Such elaborate, and expensive scaffolding was in the form of the Philippines’ clever filing of a case against China which was very cleverly based on the Unclos that dealt with maritime disputes, even as China’s claim on Scarborough was not on the basis of maritime entitlements but on its declarations first made  in 1935 that what it called Huangyan Island was part of Chinese territory.

Quite obviously the cover-up worked, and there has been almost no discussion on how Aquino and del Rosario lost Scarborough, with the former foreign secretary even managing to portray himself as a patriot who led the fight against a superpower. Such nonsense.

Fortunately, President Duterte won as President and pulled the country from the brink. He reversed such a disastrous path that was belligerent against the superpower in our part of the world, and in effect adopted Deng Xiaoping’s advice on his country’s many territorial disputes decades ago: “ Let the next generation which will have more wisdom settle these. “

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Our foreign-run Internet the lousiest in Asia; Duterte should take on the telco oligarchs

EVERY quarter since 2009, the Massachusetts–based Akamai Technologies releases its authoritative “State of the Internet” report, and its most recent edition, for this year’s first quarter, point to a stark reality: We have the lousiest Internet service, and despite the jumps in technology in seven years, our average Internet speed, at 5.5 Mbps has barely increased.

PLDT and Globe are run by the state firms NTT of Japan and Singtel of Singapore. Japan and Singapore have the highest average Internet speeds in the world, at 20 Mbps. But we have the slowest Internet in Asia.
China, Vietnam and Indonesia have all overtaken us in Internet speed. In the entire world, we can boast that our Internet is better than only seven countries: Namibia, Nigeria, Iran, and four small Latin American nations.

The last in percent of connections with Speeds of more than 4 mbps

What’s so different about our telcos from those in Asia? Nearly all of them are owned and run by state corporations, even if some of them, like NTT and Singtel have in the past 10 years taken minority foreign shares.
NTT and Singtel in fact have grown into global firms as they were coddled by their governments to be monopolies in their countries. And only when they had already grown into behemoths, did their governments pay lip service to a free market, and allowed foreign firms to come in—which however control only a small share of their markets.

China and Vietnam have been clever in having several telecom state firms to compete among themselves. China has China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. Vietnam has Vittel, owned by its Ministry of Communications, while the two other telcos, MobiFone and Vinaphone, are subsidiaries of the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group.
In the Philippine case, the biggest telco is PLDT, whose biggest owner is the Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim, and the next largest, which provides its technology needs, is NTT. The other member of the duopoly, Globe, has Singtel as its biggest owner, and the old-elite property conglomerate Ayala as the second largest shareholder.

Is it still debatable that the priority of foreign firms, most especially if they are listed firms like Salim’s First Pacific Co. Ltd. and Singtel, would be to remit as much profits to their headquarters, rather than provide the most efficient service? In fact, I had computed in my book Colossal Deception: How Foreigners Control our Telecom Industry that First Pacific, since 2000 has, based on its reports to the Hongkong authorities, received $1 billion in dividends from its subsidiary, PLDT.

The profit motive is paramount to our telco firms, rather than public service, which is required almost by definition of a public utility firm.

That is one reason why rather than doing the obvious – investing in better technology and telecom infrastructure – PLDT in 2014 invested $362 million, or P18 billion, in a German Internet firm, Rocket Internet. Rocket isn’t even into hard technology, but merely specializes in setting up Internet-based businesses like online food delivery and retailing. Rocket turned out to be a lemon, such that in 2016, PLD booked P5.4 billion losses. And with such huge losses, PLDT investments in building better Internet infrastructure are of course reduced.

Duterte’s announced agenda to weaken the oligarchs’ hold on the economy—and on politics—will have the most impact if he prioritizes as his targets our telcos. Economists have pointed out that a nation’s GNP growth in this modern era owes much to the level of its telecom and internet sectors.

It is not coincidental that the richest nations on earth now—US, Japan, Germany, France, and the UK—have the most developed and efficient telecommunications.
While for the entire country, China’s internet speed averages just 8 Mbps—just a bit faster than our 6 Mbps—these are really at least 20 Mbps in its major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. As a result of its vast improved internet infrastructure, China’s major cities have been fast moving into a cashless economy, by which payments are made through cellphones.

In our case, how can we do that if cell signals aren’t even reliable?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Look beyond the territorial dispute: We must learn from China

First of an occasional series on China

I AM quite sure that history will judge that one of President Duterte’s most important achievements is that he steered our country quickly away from what would have been a disastrous path charted by President Aquino and his Yellow Cult: A belligerent stance towards the People’s Republic of China, the superpower in our region, and the second largest economy in the world.

That bellicose foreign policy stance would have been the 21st century rightwing version of Cuba’s and Albania’s leftwing hostility against the US and Europe, the hegemonic power in the second half of the 20th century that completely dominated the Western hemisphere. What did that get Cuba and Albania after seven decades?

The Yellow Cult, following the lead of its US master that was worried about the rise of China in Asia, wanted to demonize it as the regional bully, and exploited our territorial dispute with it in the South China Sea.

This is obvious from the following statement of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio—who currently leads the campaign of painting China as an imperialist bully—quoted in his e-book The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea.

“This battle to defend our EEZ from China…is the 21st-century equivalent of the battles that our forebears waged against Western and Eastern colonizers from the 16th to the 20th century. The best and the brightest of our forebears fought the Western and Eastern colonizers, and even sacrificed their lives, to make the Philippines free.”

Shanghai in 1987 (above), and in 2014. Even more remarkable, 800 million Chinese were lifted out of poverty in that same 27-year period.

Those statements reflect either Carpio’s ignorance of Philippine history, his intellectual dishonesty, or his inexplicable animosity towards China. Whichever, his statements aren’t becoming of a Supreme Court justice, nor even of an ordinary attorney, whose profession requires the highest level of adherence to facts and logic.

How can Carpio put China’s claims and even recent actions in the South China Sea on par with the Spaniards’ conquest of  the Philippines, during which they killed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, and forced them under pain of death to convert to Catholicism; the US’ war to subjugate the country that resulted in 250,000 Filipinos killed; or the Japanese invasion that led to one million Filipinos killed? (Carpio’s inappropriate comparison does bring up a major point: Has China ever invaded and occupied a far-flung country, as did Spain, the US and Japan?)

A thousand territorial disputes
Look, there are a thousand disputes over territory among the world’s nations. China has over a dozen disputes, with a few, like its claim over Japan-occupied Senkaku islands, and with India near the Himalayan mountains involving swathes of land, in contrast to reefs and small islands in the South China Sea.

But most countries in the world maturely recognize that each country has its own national interests, that such disputes should not be in the forefront of their relations with others. Vietnam had 53 of its navy men killed in its 1974 battle with the Chinese navy which it tried to expel from the waters of the Paracel islands that China claimed. Has Vietnam ever compared the Chinese to its French colonizers and to the Americans that waged a war of aggression against it?

While I will be devoting a few future columns critiquing Carpio’s propaganda vehicle, his e-book, it will suffice to point out the following in this column:

Yes, we have a territorial dispute with the Chinese over the Spratly island group, which Marcos acquired for us in 1978, and over Scarborough Shoal, which we lost because of the Aquino government’s bungling in 2012. We certainly cannot give up these claims.

But, as other claimants over territory in the South China Sea have wisely done, this dispute cannot be at the forefront of our relationship with the emerging superpower, the way former President Aquino did, and for which stance Carpio has been undertaking an intense propaganda campaign.

There is a simple reason why Aquino and Carpio found it easy to get the country to adopt an antagonistic stance towards China, which only a popular President like Duterte—because of his popularity—has been able to reverse.

Because of the US colonization of the country and its brainwashing of our elites, we do not see ourselves as Asians but as America’s little brown brothers. Despite the fact that the US is halfway around the world, some 2 million Filipinos have migrated to the US, and our culture has been more American than Asian. Our eyes have always been fixated on the US and the West, and hardly on Asia. Worse, while most Filipinos understand English, few know Mandarin. We are therefore susceptible to Carpio’s demagoguery that exploits our nationalism.

I consider myself as more well-informed than the average Filipino elite, as it is my job as a journalist to be more informed not only about the country but also of the world.

Yet after a recent trip to Beijing, Xian and Shanghai—which also forced me to do much research on China’s system and economic growth—I was astonished at how much I didn’t know about this superpower, which is so near, just a few hours by plane from Manila. It was as if living in a residential subdivision with an American as my best friend and neighbor a few blocks away whom I always socialized with, I was so unaware that an Asian neighbor adjacent to my lot, who just lived in a hut a decade ago, had grown so rich, and had built a mansion.

Indeed, as reflected in editorial cartoons, the image of China among many Filipinos is still the Mao-era place of slant-eyed people in black pajamas, with their cities’ avenues filled not with cars but with bicycles.

Rather than reporting on figures on China’s economy, which are really difficult to wrap your mind around, consider skyscrapers as reflecting a nation’s wealth and modernity.

China now has 1,045 skyscrapers (buildings 150 meters in height or over) in six cities that are in the list of top 10 cities with the most such buildings in the world. The US in this list is a far second, with only 378 skyscrapers, while Japan, 151. (We’re not in this roster of course, having only 82 skyscrapers, all in Metro Manila.) And yes, China’s cities are still filled with bicycles, but now fleets of them rented out by tech companies using hi-tech GPS to track them, with payments done over cell phones. These bicycles are in neat bicycle-only lanes, with the main roads often in horrific traffic – of Porsches, Volvos and Range Rovers.

Such are the cosmopolitan cities of China now, which in 1987 was a poor country with a GDP per capita of only $635, more than half of our $1,412. China overtook us in terms of GDP per capita only in 1999, and is now classified as a middle-income country with a GDP per capita in 2015 of $6,498, two-and-a-half times bigger than our $2,640.

800 million out of poverty
One very impressive accomplishment though should be very relevant to us. According to the World Bank, China lifted out of extreme poverty (those living on $1.90 per day, roughly P96 per day) 800 million of its citizens from 1988 to 2013.

That number is roughly equivalent to eight “Philippines.” How many poor Filipinos have managed to crawl out of poverty after the EDSA Revolution to today? Just 20 million, although the net increase, according to World Bank data, is just 2.5 million because of our population growth, that has bred more poor.

“China’s progress accounted for more than three-quarters of global poverty reduction and is the reason why the world reached the UN millennium development goal of halving extreme poverty,” a recent article in the UK-based The Guardian pointed out. China’s poverty reduction was even seen by several scholars as a “modern miracle’”as never in humankind’s history have so many people been lifted out of poverty in such a short span of time as three decades.

Shouldn’t we be real nationalists concerned about the plight of poor Filipinos so we’ll study how China achieved this feat of making life better for 800 million souls?

Observers and economists steeped in Western liberal-capitalist ideology have noted that China’s move towards a capitalist system explains much of its growth.

This is hogwash. While a significant chunk of its economy is capitalist, much of China’s growth, as I have discovered, is due to a framework totally different from the free-market, capitalist templates the US, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund have been imposing on the developing countries – and us. Some of these important elements, which has been little discussed in the reports on China’s growth are as follows:

• The crucial role of the Communist Party (with its 80 million members) as the disciplined core of its bureaucracy, imbued with a serve-the-people commitment, that has enabled the state to be efficient and undertake swift effective changes in economic policy

• While the West (especially since the Thatcher and Reagan eras) have condemned state corporations, China’s growth owes much to what are called there “state-owned enterprises,” which among other crucial sectors control its telecommunications, power, and other utility firms. Imagine if PLDT, Globe, Meralco, the Aboitiz companies, and other power firms were owned and run efficiently by the state, with its billions of pesos in profits going not to oligarchs but to government, using these for social services and infrastructure. China’s 12 firms that are among the Fortune 500 list of the largest global firms are all state-owned firms. Most of the Chinese cellphone manufacturers – which are now the world’s biggest in this industry – are majority-owned by state firms (ZTE, for example), or secretly, as alleged in the case of Huawei, supported by state financial institutions.

• The crucial role of state banks in funding the country’s infrastructure – now said to be among the most developed for urban areas – and directing development towards industries determined to be important to economic growth. Imagine if instead of posh condominium projects, BDO, Metrobank, BPI were owned by the state, and focused their loans for low-interest medium and small housing projects. Banks here now give minute interests to small depositors, yet lend these funds out at 8 to 12 percent. No wonder these oligarchs just keep growing bigger and bigger.

• China’s template of first trying out on the ground, and on a limited scale, an economic policy before making it a national policy, as in the case of China’s export-processing zones which was experimented first in Guangzhou, before it was adopted in other areas.

• The crucial role of “think-tanks” in China’s government. These are mostly independent institutions staffed by academics which are commissioned by government or state corporations to undertake detailed, objective studies of an issue or a course of action, before these are actually undertaken. According to the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program database, China has 435, coming in second place to the US which has 1,835 think tanks. In our case, do we really have a single, independent think-tank?

I will discuss these elements and a few others that contributed much to China’s growth, in the succeeding installments of this series.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Leonen: What a stupid, ignorant and lying SC justice

I HOPE that headline expresses my outrage at Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen, against his arguments for his rejection—the only such dissent among the 15 justices—of President Duterte’s imposition of martial law in Mindanao

Leonen is a living reminder to the nation never ever to put in power such an incompetent as President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who appointed an incompetent to a crucial institution of our Republic. What a condemnation of our justice system, and a curse to the country: The youngest among the justices, at 54, this nincompoop will be in the Supreme Court until – hold your breath – 2032.

There is something deeply wrong with Leonen. He has a megalomaniacal streak, I think. His rambling dissenting opinion at 92 pages is by far the longest among the opinions written by the 14 justices, longer even than the 82 pages of the decision itself, written by Justice Mariano del Castillo.

The Constitution specifies that martial law can be declared only “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it” (Article VII, Section 18).

But Leonen claims: “The group committing atrocities in Marawi are terrorists. They are not rebels. They are committing acts of terrorism. They are not engaged in political acts of rebellion.” Therefore, Leonen claims “there is no rebellion (in Marawi) that justifies martial law”; it is unconstitutional.

This is plain stupid. “Rebellion” is defined as “an act of violent or open resistance to an established government.” Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as “deliberate, organized resistance, by force and arms, to the laws or operations of the government.”.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, left, and his appointing power, right.

We all know that, don’t we? Isn’t it clear as day that the armed men in Marawi—whether they are bandits, jihadists, or just crazed shabu addicts—in the past five weeks have been “resisting the laws and operations of the government,” that they have already killed 81 of our soldiers and over two dozen civilians, several of them beheaded?

Rebels and terrorists
It is shocking that Leonen—who has a master’s degree in law from Columbia University, was a former law dean of the University of the Philippines’ law school, and was Aquino’s chief negotiator with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)—doesn’t know what “rebels” and “terrorists” mean.

“Rebels” refer to those fighting a government, the sole organization with the legitimate power to use force. Terrorists refer to rebels or other violent groups that use the strategy of terrorizing –- through indiscriminate killing and maiming of unarmed civilians—for the latter to lose the will to fight, or their government to capitulate to their demands. Rebellion refers to a political aim. Terrorism refers to a tool, or a strategy.

Zionists in the late 1940s who attacked unarmed Palestinians so they left their farms that allowed Eastern European Jews to occupy their lands, and consequently lay the groundwork for the establishment of a State of Israel were terrorists. But so were the Black September Muslim killers who murdered 11 Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 – their organization’s name referring to September of 1970 when thousands of Palestinians, including civilians, were killed in Jordan. The MILF is a rebel group. It becomes a terrorist if it explodes a bomb in a public market that kill scores of people – or if they helped whoever committed such a carnage.

Leonen glosses over that part of the Constitution that says that martial law may be imposed “when the public safety requires it” by his astonishing claim: “Neither do the facts show convincingly that ‘public safety’ requires martial law.”

I suspect Leonen locked himself up in a room weeks ago—right after congressmen Edsel Lagman and Gary Alejano, and their gang of crackpots filed the case at the Supreme Court—to write his dissenting opinion, and refused to hear any news about the Marawi siege: that it had claimed the lives of over 400 people, that it had forced 100,000 civilians to evacuate the devastated city, that terrorists were using sophisticated sniper weapons as well as improvised explosive devices?

As a result, Leonen thinks there is no risk to “public safety” in Marawi.

He even claims, with no iota of evidence: “The actual acts of the criminal elements in Marawi are designed to slow down the advance of government forces and facilitate their escape. They are not designed to actually control seats of governance.” Leonen is obviously so ignorant – because of his own choosing – of what the Maute jihadists are.

Islamic Caliphate
They have declared to be the Lanao branch of the Iraq- and Syria-based Islamic State (IS), the jihadist organization whose aim that has inspired jihadists all over the world to flock to it is to wipe out all secular governments on the planet in order to set up the Islamic Caliphate, or Islamic theocracy.

No wonder that with Leonen’s ignorance of the Muslim rebellion in Mindanao, and his stupidity, the MILF very easily got him – he headed Aquino 3rd’s peace negotiating team, if you can call it that, with the Muslim rebels – to agree to a settlement that would essentially allow the MILF to build its Bangsamoro state in Mindanao.

If there’s anything worthwhile about Leonen’s display of brainlessness in his dissenting opinion opposing martial law, it is for Duterte to throw to the dustbin, and then start from scratch, the Bangsamoro Agreement, which Leonen had given the MILF and which the latter wants enacted into law.

What’s worse than an ignorant and stupid Supreme Court justice? A lying Leonen.

Leonen argued that Duterte’s General Order No. 1 implementing martial law “impliedly imposes a gag order on media” because of a statement there: “Media practitioners are therefore requested to exercise prudence in the performance of their duties.”

Leonen then claimed that a Supreme Court decision in 1984 (in Babst v. National Intelligence Board) ruled that such “’request’ can easily be taken as an authoritative command which one can defy only at his peril, particularly under a state of martial law.”

Lying Leonen
Leonen lied. In that case, the “request” wasn’t for media to exercise prudence – as contained in Duterte’s General Order No.1. That “request” was for a dozen columnists critical of the strongman Marcos to appear before the military’s National Intelligence Board to “shed light on certain matters” it was investigating. Worried that they would be jailed if they refused to accede to the request, the columnists filed a case at the Supreme Court asking the high court to issue an injunction against such “invitations”. (The suit was declared moot and academic as the NIB withdrew the invitations.)

The lying Leonen fabricates a Supreme Court decision in his effort to build up public opinion that Duterte’s martial law puts a gag on media.

At the end of his dissenting opinion though, Leonen himself points to the source of his stupidity and readiness to lie:

“The ghost of Marcos’ Martial Law lives within the words of our Constitution and rightly so. That ghost must be exorcised with passion by this Court whenever its resemblance reappears.”

Like a lunatic seeing ethereal entities in every shadow of his room, Leonen sees Marcos’ ghost in Duterte’s use of martial law to defeat one of the most serious threats to our nation, and that is the reason why he wrote a lengthy but inane dissent.

Imagine if the majority of the Supreme Court justices were as yellow as Leonen.

However, Leonen’s dissent is instructive to us. His is the madness of the Yellow Cult: it is trapped in some twilight zone of the Marcos era, quick to brand a strong leader as an autocrat and to see the war against illegal drugs as a massive Marcos-style human rights violation.

Do we really have to suffer for 15 years more a political psychotic in the Supreme Court?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Strong leader, weak state

EVEN President Duterte’s harshest critics would, I think, concede that he has emerged as the country’s strongest President ever, at par with Ferdinand Marcos in the first years of his strongman rule.

By “strong,” I borrow from political scientists’ definition of a strong state.

First, Duterte is a strong leader because he is independent from the economic elite that in most cases in our past influences Philippine Presidents for their own gain or even leads them by the nose. This is shown by the fact that Duterte’s guns have been trained on what he himself names as “oligarchs”. He has moved or has started to move against the Rufino family that owns the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Lopezes of ABS-CBN Network, and even an oligarch who supported his bid for the presidency, Antonio Floirendo, from his very home province of Davao.

Second, he has shown a determination to do the things he thinks will set the country right, no matter the opposition or obstacles. He hasn’t let up on his war against illegal drugs, despite the virulent opposition by most of the Western media, international human rights groups, and by lackeys of the Yellow crowd that saw it, falsely, as a cause célèbre to demand his ouster.

But Presidents do not operate in a vacuum. To do what he thinks he must do, Duterte can only operate through what we call the state, the ensemble of institutions, especially the bureaucracy, that manages a nation.

Unfortunately, we have a weak state, and there are already indications that the bureaucracy has been too weak or even been captured by the elite, enough to block Duterte’s moves.

Dunkin’ Donuts case
Take the case of the tax liabilities estimated at P1.5 billion of the local franchisee of Dunkin’ Donuts. Duterte brought the case to the public in July last year, which was actually an open-and-shut case as the firm had received its final tax assessment way back in 2014. That means the case can no longer be appealed.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue, of course, jumped to follow Duterte’s marching orders, and by August last year had a task force of sorts to prosecute the Dunkin’ Donuts case. It’s been nearly a year, and the case hasn’t moved a bit. I have been informed that the BIR”s legal group’s enthusiasm over the case waned after a ranking official of the agency met with the firm’s lawyer.

As former Presidential Chief of Staff of President Arroyo, I saw for myself how the bureaucracy could ignore the President’s orders or even sabotage them. The corrupt bureaucrat’s main strategy is to simply drag  his feet, and hope that in the myriad of issues a President has to deal with, he or she gets to forget his or her orders. The tool box of corrupt bureaucrats mostly contains legal tools, that this law or this legal technicality can’t be overcome.

This is the reason why one of the most powerful officials of a President is the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel (CPLC) as he can tell the President that this agency’s corrupt legal officers are just fooling him that his orders can’t be implemented without violating government rules and regulations. It is the CPLC who actually clears all legal obstacles for a major presidential initiative, even before this is announced.

I do hope Duterte’s chief legal counsel, the sartorially young Salvador Panelo, is up to the job, and doing his job.

CPLC’s huge task
The work of the CPLC is actually so huge as it requires much legal research and analysis, that the CPLCs in two past administrations had to rely on the law firm they had left for the humongous legal research work that required the best legal minds.

In a situation, though, of a state continually under siege for control by the elite, that firm became too powerful that it became the entity representing elite interests that captured a part of those administrations.It became so powerful that it emerged as the most deadly member of former President Aquino 3rd’s coalition that removed the Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona from office, in its expectation that one of its former members would replace him. (Aquino double-crossed them and instead chose his college buddy Lourdes Sereno for chief justice.)

I myself, a Presidential Chief Staff, witnessed how weak a bureaucracy is that it can even do the opposite of what a President wants. In 2002, our office launched a lifestyle check program that targeted notorious government officials. My office did manage to compile evidence against a dozen BIR, Customs, and even DPWH officials. It was a shock to me though when we discovered that one of my staff had reportedly extorted P5 million by threatening Customs officials that if they don’t pay up, they would be “lifestyle-checked”. A state’s weaknesses could indeed be that bad.

Why is it weak?
Why is the Philippine state weak? Because of its history.

Contrary to naïve notions that all it takes is to imbue the bureaucracy with professionalism through training seminars and “value-formation,” our bureaucracy is an organism that has evolved not just through decades but through centuries.

The strong bureaucracies in developed Western states such as the UK, France, and Germany evolved through centuries as efficient tax-collecting systems and war machines of feudal lords. A king who didn’t bother to improve the efficiency of his bureaucracy didn’t last long. It was easy therefore for democratic systems to use such strong bureaucracies created by centuries of feudalism.

Russia and the People’s Republic of China’s growth has been much understated: they leapt to their industrial age in decades almost straight from the most backward forms of feudalism, in contrast to the West which took centuries to do so. How did they manage to perform these feats? They had communist parties whose cadres penetrated each level of the bureaucracy to weed out the corrupt and to force it to be efficient.

To a significant extent, it was such party cadres, but not from communist parties, that were responsible for the development of our Asian neighbors: theLiberal Democratic Party that led Japan’s development in the post-war era up to the 1990s; the Kuomintang Party in Taiwan; the People’s Action Party that has ruled Singapore since 1959; and UMNO (United Malays National Organization) that has been the party in power in Malaysia since 1959.

In contrast, our Spanish colonizers didn’t care to build up a bureaucracy, as local areas were basically ruled through the friars, and they focused on the Galleon Trade to amass wealth rather than improve tax collection. The Americans apparently focused on education, rather than building up a strong bureaucracy.

Other than limiting his work to the things he thinks would change the country, Duterte must at this time move towards reforming our bureaucracy, so it would be the strong organization for a strong leader. Alas, not even the most basic initiative to reform the bureaucracy—an institutionalized, powerful anti-corruption campaign—has been started.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Iconoclastic President? Finally. Revolutionary? Our dream

I wrote the following column on June 30, 2016, the day President Duterte assumed office, and I haven’t edited anything in it, since I haven’t changed my mind a bit on my assessment of this President when he assumed office last year. Despite our weak state due to our colonial history —so vulnerable to economic-elite rule, so inefficient as a bureaucracy, and so susceptible to graft—Duterte has moved in the past 12 months to tackle the three basic problems of the country I outlined in the column.

DUTERTE as President is emerging as a historic break from our past. He is by attitude, maybe even class origin, and pronouncements, a drastic departure from his predecessors.

There had been Presidents who came from the lower middle-class (Ramon Magsaysay and Diosdado Macapagal) but who never really challenged the ruling class by their pronouncements and actions. President Estrada pretended to be for the masses, but turned out to be the best example of our lumpenproletariat politicos.

The past President BS Aquino 3rd was inarguably the last (hopefully) representative of the landlord elite, whom history will judge as one who had been obsessed with, and had done everything — including assaulting the Supreme Court itself and removing its chief justice — to preserve his clan’s Hacienda Luisita, the epitome of that vanishing class’ means of [accumulating]wealth.

Aquino’s antithesis
Duterte is nearly Aquino’s antithesis, from the middle-class, yes, but hardly living in the ensconced world of the elite, which could explain his derision of the elite and the Philippine oligarchy.

Duterte recently demonstrated his disdain for the oligarchy when he revealed that ABS-CBN chairman Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez 3rd had tried to bribe him, to help its subsidiary Sky Cable enter the Davao City market. He hasn’t denied reports that he replied to the main executive of that public-utility Indonesian conglomerate: “Simply recall that you are just a puppet of the foreign-based Salim Group, while I am the chosen President of the Republic of the Philippines!”

SHOULDER TO CRY ON: Duterte consoles the wife of a Marine slain in the Marawi fighting (June 11, 2017)

The new President is also appearing to be an iconoclast, to use that word in the broader sense of a person ruthlessly upending traditions and institutions, cherished by certain sections of society. He vociferously criticized the Catholic Church for “hypocrisy” when it censured his campaign statements that showed his apparent disregard for human life, even if these [involved]suspected criminals, in his anti-crime campaign.

Both traits of a President—an anti-oligarch stance and an iconoclasm—are what this nation needs, so damaged as it has been by the ruling-class elite and by medieval beliefs the Church has irresponsibly allowed to prosper. But these are not enough.

I hope that he evolves from his iconoclasm and his simple, folksy disdain for the oligarchy, as well as from his commonsensical priorities of combating crime and the illegal drug trade into a leader with a more comprehensive understanding of what ails the Philippines.

He indicated in his inaugural speech yesterday that corruption, crime and illegal drugs don’t make up the root of our national quagmire. He said these arise only from a more basic problem: The lack of respect for government and its institutions.

Why the lack?
This is correct, yet it raises another question: Why is there such a lack of respect for government?

I submit that there are three reasons:
First, the government has become mostly a tool of the elite, even foreign magnates, exemplified by the fact that an Indonesian-owned, Hong Kong-based company and a Singaporean firm have been allowed to gain control over such strategic public utilities as telecom and power distribution, as I have exposed in several articles on PLDT, Globe and Meralco — in violation of our basic law, the Constitution. This was possible only because of what political scientists call “regulatory capture,” or the elite’s capability to put regulatory bodies under their control. Few even know who heads the National Telecommunications Commission, with whom the telcos seem to be happy. Why are they?

A part of government that is not a tool of the elite, on the other hand, has become a moneymaking machine for a political-bureaucratic subclass, which the Left erroneously has labeled “bureaucrat-capitalism.” Most mayors, congressmen and senators spend a lot of money, perhaps partly to feed their egos, but also to tap into the bureaucracy’s money-generating machine. We know this phenomenon simply as corruption.

Second, land, capital and state-of-the-art educational facilities have been unequally distributed, with the elite having almost a monopoly of these. To understand how important they are, know that they are simply “assets” in different forms, and those who own the assets, therefore, get most of the resulting output — they get richer and richer.

We have to find ways to drastically change our grossly inequitable distribution of assets through such means as a radical change in our tax system (the path taken by Scandinavian countries for income distribution), an earthshaking change in the banking system to provide small entrepreneurs access to capital, or a massive scholarship program for a huge sector of the poor to allow them to get not just any education but the best education possible.

And third, Filipinos have lost their sense that all of us are in the same boat called the nation-state, and that our fates are intertwined because we are all in this boat.

We call this understanding, nationalism, which not a few young Filipinos even mock now as “xenophobia.” It has become even chic for many young Filipinos to see themselves as “global citizens,” which is an oxymoron really, as being a citizen presupposes a nation-state of which one is a member.

Decline in nationalism
There are many reasons for such a decline in nationalism, the most important of which is that unlike the elites of Thailand, China, or Singapore, our elites are “global” people, living in the US or Spain or even China now, and seeing the Philippines really only as a market or a production site or as a country they enjoy criticizing from their suburban homes in California. They no longer really see—as elites elsewhere do—that their fates are bound with the people of this country.

Whether we like it or not, it is really the economic elite in any nation that has the resources to mold its people’s sense of nationalism. If they don’t, it is an uphill struggle by the middle-class, or its intellectuals, to develop their people’s nationalism.

As above, as it turned out, so below. The OFW phenomenon has made a big part of our lower middle-class really nationless. Blaming Marcos, and then disappointed that a post-Marcos era changed nothing, has resulted in a massive brain and talent drain from the country, including even its best journalists.

If the Philippines isn’t’ really their nation, why should they respect its state?

Only when President Duterte starts correcting these three basic problems of our country can we then say that he has moved from being just iconoclastic to being a revolutionary.

I entered adulthood by joining a movement that professed to be revolutionary, that it would solve these root problems of our country, by overthrowing the bourgeois form of government. That movement failed miserably, with its leaders, ironically, even becoming citizens or permanent residents of the world’s most advanced capitalist nations they had been condemning.

I hope I see in my lifetime our country moving toward solving these three basic problems.

At least this nation-state’s symbol, the flag, yesterday appeared pinned on the chest of the new President, Duterte. In contrast, in the past six years, the symbol pinned on Aquino’s chest till the day he left the Palace, has been a Yellow Ribbon, the symbol not of this nation but of his clan and its fanatic followers.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns