Category: Manila Times Columns

UN rapporteur Callamard’s big lie about the UN resolution

IN her speech at a Philippine Commission on Human Rights event last Friday, UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard said: “In April 2016, the general assembly of the world’s government recognized explicitly that the war on drugs does not work.”

She is lying. The United Nations General Assembly never made such a declaration, explicitly or implicitly.

The UN General Assembly’s lengthy 11,000-word resolution (UN Document A/RES/S-30/1) issued April 19 entitled “Our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem” did not even use the term “war on drugs”, much less did it say it “doesn’t work”.

The resolution in fact even recognized ”tangible progress has been achieved” as result of efforts of nations to combat the global drug problem. What the resolution highlighted in its first paragraphs was its concern that “the availability of internationally controlled drugs for medical and scientific purposes, including for the relief of pain and suffering, remains low to non-existent in many countries of the world” – a veiled reference to the growing lobby to legalize marijuana.

Does this lady from New York think that Filipinos are so backward that they’ll be unable to access a UN document to fact-check her claim?

Callamard is not even qualified to talk about the success or failure of countries’ anti-drug campaigns, as she is Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial or arbitrary executions. Despite its highfalutin’ title, it is really researcher for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which has 56 such rapporteurs, which is French for reporter.

If Callamard persists in her canard that what she means by “war on drugs” is what the resolution referred to as “law enforcement operations,” the document in fact devoted a section to this requirement to combat the proliferation of illegal drugs. Just three examples, among many (italics mine) :

Was she just high when she claimed that the UN rebuked war on drugs? UN rapporteur Agnes Callamard.

• “We reiterate our commitment to protecting the safety and assuring the security of individuals, societies and communities by intensifying our efforts to prevent and counter the illicit cultivation, production and manufacture of and trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, as well as drug-related crime and violence inter alia, more effective drug-related crime prevention and through law enforcement measures, as well as by addressing links with other forms of organized crime.” (page 8 of UN resolution)

• “Develop and strengthen, as appropriate, the capacity of health, social and law enforcement and other criminal justice authorities to cooperate, within their mandates, in the implementation of comprehensive, integrated and balanced responses to drug abuse and drug use disorders, at all levels of government.” (page 6)

• “Promote and implement effective criminal justice responses to drug-related crimes to bring perpetrators to justice.” (page 14)

Law enforcement
Isn’t President Duterte precisely undertaking such law enforcement measures against illegal drugs, and in fact intensified it, something which his predecessor Benigno Aquino 3rd totally neglected, consequently making the drug problem develop into crisis proportions?

Perhaps Duterte’s fault is simply that he was so dramatic to call his campaign government’s “war against drugs”. But it was President Richard Nixon, the President of a country presumably with a highly developed rule of law than ours who coined the term in 1971 to describe his campaign, directed mostly against the cocaine industry.

A paragraph in the resolution, I would think, is even exactly what the Duterte administration has done by putting in jail former justice secretary Leila de Lima:

“Promote effective measures capable of addressing the links between drug-related crimes and corruption, as well as obstruction of justice, including through the intimidation of justice officials, as a part of national anti-corruption and drug control strategies.”

I don’t think Callamard even read the UN resolution she was referring to. If she did, she would have read the following statement in it, and shut her mouth in condemning Duterte’s war against drugs;

“We reaffirm our unwavering commitment to ensuring that all aspects of demand reduction and related measures, supply reduction and related measures… with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States. “ (Page 2 of resolution)

Whatever term is used to describe it—“interdiction operations” (page 11 of document) or law enforcement measures (page 6 and ten other pages)—, nothing in the UN resolution concluded that such law-enforcement operations using force “doesn’t work”.

After all, who in his right mind would claim that the Mexicans’ war against drugs that led to the capture or killing of 23 notorious drug lords were useless?

Were the dismantling of the drug lords’ command center in our national prison Muntinlupa, the jailing of top Chinese-Filipino drug lords, and the demolition of drug dens in our inner cities, as Callamard would have it, useless?

The UN’s research body, the Office on Drugs and Crime, in fact in its 2016 World Drug Report in effect described the kind of campaign against drugs Duterte has been undertaking, and its impact:

“Law enforcement interventions aim to restore the rule of law, the cornerstone of governance and sustainable development, and can also influence the availability of drugs in illicit markets, not only by reducing supply through interdiction but also by increasing the risk for traffickers, which raises the price of drugs in consumer markets.”

Afghanistan cocaine
If the global cocaine problem remains unresolved, a big factor for this was the Americans’ stupid and crime-against-humanity invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, just to prove they could avenge the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing. The collapse of these two countries’ states made cocaine production uncontrollable, replacing much of those produced in Central America. Myanmar and Laos producers had also entered the market.

Callamard force-fits her perception of reality with her set assumptions and with flimsy information. She’s concluded—perhaps by spending too many dinners with a billionaire Filipina in Manhattan with her New York Times friends—that since certain newspapers had dramatic photos of Manila’s streets littered with corpses allegedly because of extra-judicial killings, and since she read the news site Rappler’s fake news that such EJKs numbered 7,000 as early as September, then Duterte’s campaign against drugs has been horrific.

Similarly she mistook as reality speculative reports by left-leaning Europeans that the General Assembly would declare the “war on drugs” as having failed, and would adopt a new policy.

The General Assembly didn’t at all declare that. What it did was simply to devote major sections on such aspects of the campaign against drugs as prevention and rehabilitation, on the need for countries to develop “inclusive economies”, and states’ responsibility to protect human rights in anti-drug law enforcement operations.

Before that General Assembly in April 2016, there was a demand by a lobby that thought like the liar Callamard, that demanded that the UN ask its members to legalize what are at present illegal drugs, starting with marijuana which was the most consumed drug in the world, and with most of those arrested due to their use of this weed. The UN resolution, however, rejected that demand.

Callamard and Robredo
That reminds me though of Vice President Leni Robredo’s proposal to decriminalize illegal drugs. Have Callamard and Robredo been exchanging notes?

The Philippine government should not just complain to the UN that it was not notified by Callamard about her visit, violating UN protocols.

It should demand that Callamard be fired because she lied to the world that the UN General Assembly of 193 nations in its April 2016 resolution claimed that the “war on drugs doesn’t’ work” . The Assembly never said such a thing.

The UN’s unique post of “Special Rapporteur” under its High Commission on Human Rights was created only in 2005 to skirt the body’s earlier resolutions that it cannot investigate allegations of a member state’s violations of human rights, much less demand that it stop doing such.

The “Special Rapporteur” is therefore not a UN official and consequently does not receive any form of financial remuneration from the body. This rapporteur does not represent the UN, nor do her views. Her task is to report to the UN CHR cases of human rights abuses, which the body simply accepts but cannot really act on. The Special Rapporteur’s function is in essence simply that of media, to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, and report on this, hopefully for nations to stop doing such.

But how can Callamard be such a rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, when she very inaccurately reported a written resolution of the UN General Assembly in order to discredit Duterte’s successful war against illegal drugs?

And if the UN didn’t finance her trip to Manila for the CHR event, as she isn’t considered UN staff, who did?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

COA: Floirendo’s hold on state lands unconstitutional

Second of 2 parts
WHAT demonstrates the awesome power of Philippine oligarchs is how they could violate our Constitution, the very basis of our existence as a Republic and of our rule of law. How can we ever build a nation, if its foundation—the Constitution—is facilely violated by oligarchs?

How they are able to do this is a testament to the weakness of our justice system which is ruled by what we call here abogados de campanillas—who would make the “Firm” in the movie of that title look like amateurs—in connivance with underpaid, corrupt judges, what former President Estrada called “hoodlums in robes”.

The Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim’s public utility and infrastructure conglomerate as well as Globe Telecoms obviously violate the 40 percent limit on foreign holdings specified by the Constitution, with foreigners owning at least 60 percent of these enterprises’ common shares. They are able to skirt the Constitution though with the fiction of cheap “voting preferred shares allegedly held by Filipinos and through the trick of layered corporations.*

It is not just laws that is being violated by the Floirendo oligarch family of Davao del Norte but the Constitution itself.

This is not my interpretation nor that of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who is leading President Dutete’s battle with this particular oligarchic clan, led now by Antonio Floirendo, Jr., one of the few congressman who proclaimed that he voted against the confirmation of Gina Lopez as environment and natural resources secretary.

It is the open-and-shut conclusion of the Commission on Audit, a constitutional body known for its objectivity and non partisanship, except when President Aquino used the body to investigate only the opposition in its audit of pork-barrel corruption.

In its April 25, 2017, Audit Observation Memorandum, the COA concluded that Floirendo’s firm had violated two Constitutions.

The first agreement with the Bureau of Corrections by Floirendo’s Tagum Agricultural Development Corp. (Tadeco, the biggest banana producer in Mindanao) made in 1969 initially involved 3,000 hectares, which was gradually increased to 5,500 hectares, with the agreement to last for 25 years.

This was very clearly in violation of the 1935 Constitution (which was in force then until 1987) whose Section 2, Article XII categorically specified that “no private corporation or association may acquire, lease, or hold public agricultural lands in excess of 1,024 has.”

The contract was renewed in 2003 for another 25 years—to expire in 2028, a generation later. The 1987 Constitution’s Section 3 Article XII retained the 1935 Charter’s maximum limit of allowable government lands to be leased to private corporations, lowering it a bit to just 1,000 has. This limit is less than a fifth of the5,500 hectares that Tadeco has been holding.

It will be a rather uncomplicated litmus test for our justice system as well as for the power of the Duterte administration if such a blatant and very clear violation of our Constitution should be corrected or not. The oligarchic contract has been left untouched since 1969, for nearly half a century and through six Presidents.

One of Philippine oligarchs’ strength though is their ability to use our courts to skirt the Constitution and our laws.

The COA recommendation seems quite simple to implement: for BuCor to cancel the contract immediately. The BuCor has no choice here, otherwise its officials and even the justice secretary, its supervising authority, would be liable for violating our anti-graft laws.

Tadeco’s option would be of course to get a court—maybe even a court in its territory Davao del Norte—to issue one of our justices system’s notorious “restraining orders.”

But that would be a scorched-earth policy for Floirendo: A drawn-out legal battle would push his firm’s suppliers and buyers to suspend their business with it, since its very existence is at risk. This would eventually result in Tadeco’s bankruptcy and closure.

The better alternative for Tadeco would be to strike an agreement with government for an orderly transition, that would reduce the area it holds to less than the 1,000-hectare limit specified by the Constitution, and agreeing to have other firms take over separately the remaining 4,500 has., which would have cooperation agreements for the production and marketing of bananas.

For the sake of Tadeco’s 3,000 workers and our export sector, I hope Floirendo finds a patriotic ember in his heart to seek a compromise arrangement with government. After all he’s already many times a billionaire with Tadeco’s contract that violates our Constitution.

*Details on this is in my book Colossal Deception: How Foreigners Control Our Telecoms Sector.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Why Duterte’s offensive vs oligarch Floirendo is crucial

IF you hadn’t noticed, President Duterte’s war against the rule of the Philippine oligarchy has started, and gone into high gear.

A part of this offensive is the move to collect billions in taxes allegedly evaded by the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s controlling owner, the Rufino family, and to recover prime government land that they’ve held for nearly four decades, as well as his threat not to renew the franchise of the Lopez clan’s ABS-CBN television network.

This campaign’s long-term consequences are as important  as those of his war against illegal drugs, what with the consensus in serious studies of the Philippines that it has been this cacique kind of oligarchy in our country that is the major root of its underdevelopment.

BANANA REPUBLIC? Bananas farther than the eye can see, with land “leased” from the Bureau of Corrections for 48 years now: Tadeco plantation and warehouses in Davao del Norte

A crucial battle now raging is against one of the country’s most powerful oligarchs, the banana tycoon Antonio Floirendo, Jr., who is not only based in Duterte’s Davao territory, but is also his erstwhile buddy and even campaign contributor. Duterte’s top political lieutenant, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, is leading this fight, among other reasons, because Floirendo has been a congressman for three terms with loyal allies in Congress.

Duterte and Alvarez’s move against Floirendo is an earth-shaking one in our political and economic landscape.
Floirendo has been practically a crony of the past six Presidents starting with Marcos. This is because all past Presidents allowed his huge banana enterprise, the Tagum Agricultural Development Corp. (Tadeco) in Davao del Norte to control for 48 years – nearly half a century – and at atrociously cheap rates some 5,500 hectares of property, which is under, but not owned, by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), that is just one of the many bureaus of the justice department. It was crony access to such vast cheap lands and labor that made the company one of the world’s largest banana exporters.

Political lord

Past presidents’ amity with—or subservience—to Floirendo is perhaps understandable. His clout is not only because of his conglomerate, which includes several other plantations planted to other crops and employing more than 7,000 workers. Floirendo is a political lord in Northern Mindanao because of the vast network his father, the late Antonio Sr., built over 60 years, in alliance with other politicians. His uncle, Davao del Norte governor Rodolfo del Rosario, has been a political kingpin in that part of Mindanao since Marcos’ time, and held various high posts in past administration.

Floirendo’s father who started and built up the banana empire in the 1970s, inadvertently revealed the secret of his success when he told the New York Times in 1981: I am the only businessman here “who has been in the good graces of all the Presidents.”

It was President Marcos though who started Floirendo on his path towards building his banana empire by providing him with cheap land. Tadeco got hold in 1969 of the Bureau of Corrections’ 3,000 hectares that was part of its Davao Penal Colony, its control disguised as a “production contract”. Floirendo even got cheap labor as his plantation employed the inmates at the Davao Penal Colony who were paid a pittance, much less than minimum wages. It was a capitalist’s dream system: Convicted prisoners would be happy at the lowest wages possible, and they’d never get unionized, much less go on strike.

The area was subsequently expanded over the years to its present 5,500-ha size. Cory in 1989 extended the lease for another 25 years, which was renewed for another 25 years in 2003.

Why would the fiercely anti-Marcos Cory government extend the Marcos crony’s lease?

Most probably because Floirendo ratted on Marcos. In 1987, he turned over to the Cory government prime properties in the US which he said was just under his name, but were really the strongman’s: Lindenmere Estate and Olympic Towers in New York and a residence on Makiki Heights Drive, Honolulu, Hawaii. Perhaps more importantly, Floirendo also turned over P70 million in cash to the Presidential Commission on Good Government in what was euphemistically called “compromise agreement.” What was the compromise? Would you believe that for a billionaire many times over, P70 million was all that was involved?

Kept secret

As in the case of, but worse than, the Rufinos’ hold on prime Makati property since 1980, Floirendo’s cronyism with past administrations had astonishingly been kept secret for decades.

It had to be hidden: Floirendo’s hold on 5,500 ha of state-owned lands has been a blatant mockery of our laws and even our Constitution, as three different agencies of government—the Commission on Audit, the Office of the Solicitor General, and the justice department—concluded in just a few weeks of separate research independent of each other.

For starters, both the 1935 and the 1987 Constitutions categorically prohibit any corporation from holding by lease or by any other mode government land exceeding 1,000 ha. Tadeco got 5,500-ha.

There were other gross violations of our laws. The BuCor’s lands involved was so-called “inalienable lands of the public domain”, as nature reservations and national parks are, which, as the justice department study put it, is “outside the commerce of men’’. The President is authorized to declare some lands as alienable, but only the President. In the Tadeco case, neither Marcos nor succeeding Presidents did. Only a department bureau, the BuCor, in effect alienated what is inalienable. Even assuming that the land could be leased, various laws require that this should be bid out, which the BuCor land was not.

Worse for Floirendo on a personal level, and probably due to his hubris as crony, is that when the lease between BuCor and Tadeco was renewed in 2003 for another 25 years, he was a sitting congressman at the same time the biggest registered stockholder of Tadeco. This is a gross violation of Section 14, Article 4 of the Constitution which categorically bans an incumbent Congress member from having any interest in a firm with contracts with government.

The provision was implemented in the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and punishable from one to 10 years in prison. “Floirendo will go to jail,” said a source close to Duterte. “And with him in jail, other oligarchs would start ending their oligarchic rule of the country.”

Crucial battle

Duterte and Alvarez’s siege of the oligarch Floirendo is a very crucial one for the future of our nation for two major reasons.

First, while he is not well known as among the country’s super-rich, with his fame due only to his marriage to the 1973 Miss Universe in 1974, Floirendo is the quintessence of the country’s present oligarchic elite. This select group’s wealth expanded exponentially as cronies of the strongman Marcos, and who continued to grow in wealth and power under Corazon Aquino and her successors. The term “oligarch” means a magnate whose power and wealth owe to his clout with a state’s high officials who have allowed him to use government’s resources, to the exclusion of others. That definition, fits Floirendo to a T.

Second, Floirendo has been based in Duterte’s Davao territory, and was even his biggest financial contributor in the last elections in which he was elected President. Giving such huge amounts of money for their campaign war-chests in fact had been the most common modus operandi of our oligarchs to put presidents under their thumb. With the quagmire that Floirendo is in now, oligarchs are learning that things have so changed—they can no more buy a president as they have done so for decades.

If Duterte does nothing, and merely allows Floirendo to continue with his very anomalous hold on BuCor lands, he would be countenancing his oligarch. The Philippine oligarchy would rightly be laughing at him for his hypocrisy. If he fails in his campaign against Floirendo, Duterte will appear weak and/or incompetent, whom they therefore can also defy.

Every war relies heavily on propaganda. The media oligarchs’ stooges’ propaganda is that Duterte is becoming tyrant, and controlling media is the first step. This argument of course falls on its face by the fact that the
President has left alone other media outfits whose owners have no hidden debts with government.

Floirendo on the other hand had managed to trivialize Duterte’s siege of him as the outcome of a squabble between his mistress and that of Alvarez. The truth is that Floirendo had moved against Alvarez to unseat him from the speakership post when he learned of Duterte’s plans against him. Floirendo immediately undertook that clever propaganda move. Floirendo’s no-holds barred move in dragging his and Alvarez’ private matters into the public sphere could be an indication of his desperation.

Foirendo’s success in that clever propaganda move is quite understandable if it is true that some P50 million had been allocated for his PR and propaganda machine, a mere drop though in the billionaire’s wealth.

An indication of this oligarch’s power is the fact that he got to employ as his black propaganda chief and bribe-distributor the long-time PR of a magnate in the Duterte Cabinet itself. That’s sad. It’s like lending your gun, or even seconding your hitman, to your colleague’s enemy or even worse, to that of your boss himself.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

At last, with Duterte, we’re no longer the US lackey in Asia

THE big message that the Philippines has sent to the world during its hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit last week was as historic as can be in terms of our foreign policy: We are no longer the Americans’ lackey in this part of the world, not its proxy in Asean, which the US secretly founded as the Asian equivalent of NATO to counter communist China.

Perhaps this owes much to the fact that President Duterte’s background is unlike most of his predecessors. Unlike Cory Aquino, he does not owe his rise to power and his hold on it (so far) to American political and military might (remember the Phantom jets over Manila to frighten the RAM rebels?). Unlike Fidel Ramos, who was after all Cory’s male clone, he had not a chance to be brainwashed in an American military school.
In the case of Benigno Aquino 3rd, he was happy to relinquish all thinking on foreign policy to the most Americanized, and most pro-American foreign secretary this country ever had, the Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim’s long-time board director Albert del Rosario.

Russia Today’s front-page coverage of President’s view on the North Korean crisis.

How could Del Rosario not have been pro-American, when other than Salim himself, the biggest stockholders of First Pacific Co., Ltd. – the mother firm of his huge public utility conglomerate in the country—are US fund managers? He was so pro-American that in my conspiracy-theory moments, I suspect he could have been brainwashed using new technology in his six years as Philippine ambassador to the US, that he pushed for the very unwise filing of a case against China in the arbitral court.

In sharp contrast, and surprisingly for somebody who’s spent most of his political life in the frontier city that is Davao, Duterte himself is molding our foreign policy to his more realistic worldview in which the US is not our master, to the consternation even of his first foreign secretary who was a US citizen, and that of our diplomatic corps. Sadly, most of our top foreign affairs officials are so pro-American. Who would blame them when except for the fiercely nationalistic Blas Ople, our foreign policy since our independence simply followed what the US told us to follow?

Only a Duterte could snub the US, and declare to the world that his big foreign policy pivot is towards the People’s Republic of China, that North American empire’s rival in Asia.

Duterte has even drawn the country closer to Russia under Putin. The last time any Philippine President even thought of Russia was in the mid-1970s when Marcos experimented with getting the country out of the claws of the US imperial eagle by pretending to get close to the Americans’ enemies.

Arbitral ruling

It’s just been a year since Aquino and his pro-American Yellow Cult were in paroxysms of joy in getting the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands to rule that China’s historic claims to areas in the South China Sea cannot be in excess of claimant countries’, like the Philippines’, exclusive economic zones set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

But reality has quickly set in. The arbitral ruling means nothing. No state, no UN force would enforce it, not the US. After all, China and the US don’t even entirely recognize UNCLOS, and how logical is an arbitration in which one of the parties, China, had refused to be arbitrated?

The ruling actually even sets for us a dangerous precedent: What if Vietnam filed a case in the same arbitral court to claim Pag-asa island, our biggest property in the South China Sea which Marcos only claimed in 1974 and asked his troops to occupy—and we lost?

The biggest beneficiary of the arbitral ruling has been the US. It had little justification in having its mighty naval power patrol the South China Sea. Now it does, or claims it does, invoking its self-appointed role as the global policeman to enforce international law. China is now portrayed as an arrogant superpower disregarding international law and militarizing the South China Sea.

Prodded by the US, the past administration’s tack was to invoke the arbitral ruling, and to get Asean to condemn China for not complying with it. To do so didn’t even cross Duterte’s mind in this Asean summit. Rightly so.

Del Rosario had embarrassed the nation when he tried to force the Asean Foreign Ministers’ meeting, in August 2016, just a month after the arbitral ruling came out, to issue a statement against China. When it didn’t, Del Rosario came very close to claiming that the Cambodian host was China’s puppet.

Why should Asean ask China to comply with the ruling when only four out of its 10 members—the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei—have claims to it, and the rest of its six members, especially its poorest members like Laos and Myanmar, are wooing China for investments and aid? There’s a vivid Filipino term for that: Nandadamay.

Malaysia and Brunei don’t even seem to be interested anymore in the dispute in the South China Sea. Malaysia after all is happy that it has transformed its Layang-layang island into a tourism site, and calculates that the rest of the dozen shoals and islets there aren’t worth antagonizing China, its biggest trading partner and foreign investor. Why would tiny Brunei with a population less than a fourth of the city of Manila antagonize a country of one billion people?

Russia Today report

What is an example of the fact that Duterte has forged an independent foreign policy, and that the non-US-lackeys of the world respect us more for this is that the Russian news outfit rt.com* reported yesterday that its interview with Duterte was its most popular post. Now why do you think did rt.com gave such prominence to the views of a President of a weak country in the region?

RT’s interview with Duterte on the North Korean issue shows him as not one to mimic like a parrot what the Americans say, which del Rosario had done when he was in charge of foreign policy. The RT article:

“Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has urged the White House to be ‘prudent and patient’ in dealing with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, warning that ‘the guy simply wants to end the world.’

“’There seems to be two countries playing with their toys and those toys are not really to entertain,’ Duterte said during a media briefing in Manila on Saturday.

‘You know that they are playing with somebody who relishes letting go of missiles and everything. I would not want to go into his (Kim’s) mind because I really do not know what’s inside but he’s putting mother earth, the planet to an edge,’ he added.

‘The guy (Kim) simply wants to end the world, that is why he is very happy. He is always smiling. But he really wants to finish everything and he wants to drag us all down,’ Duterte said.

[The] Philippines President, famous for his rhetoric and controversial anti-drugs campaign, said that he would try to persuade his US counterpart, Donald Trump, to back down from the conflict.

‘I would say ‘Mr. President, please see to it that there is no war because my region will suffer immensely,’ proposed Duterte, who previously appeared to pivot away from his country’s long-standing alliance with the US in favor of closer ties with China.

‘I will just communicate to him – ‘Just let him play… do not play into his hands,’” he added.

‘I am sure President Trump is cautioning his military to just maybe… not to start something which they cannot control,’ said Duterte.

‘We have to caution everybody, including those who’d give the advice to the two players, because you have nuclear warheads, to just show restraint. One miscalculation of a missile, whether or not a nuclear warhead or an ordinary bomb, one explosion there that would hit somebody would cause a catastrophe’.”

*Note: I had been an avid follower of the Russia Today TV news channel when our former cable news provider, a small one in our Cavite area, carried it, with its coverage having different views and new information from those of the US’ CNN, Fox News, et. al. The cable TV monopoly service I had to shift to does not carry Russia Today. It would be a boon in new information available to Filipinos if government’s TV4 carried Russia Today and China’s Central Television.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Let Filipinos condemn and boycott the New York Times

I’M sick and tired of the New York Times articles and editorials that are vicious hatchet jobs not just on President Duterte, but on the Philippines itself.

NYT has portrayed our country as one where thousands of corpses of the innocent litter our streets, and that we Filipinos—and therefore even columnists like me— either just keep quiet in fear of Duterte, or that we are savages living in and embracing a failed state.

I am shocked at its latest editorial entitled “Let the world condemn Duterte,” the second on the same topic by its editorial board in just a month, the first titled “Accountability for Duterte.”

What right does the NYT have to call on the world to condemn Duterte, based on their flawed and biased reporting? Didn’t this American paper find ridiculous its editorial that cheered the International Criminal Court to convict Duterte for “mass murder”, since the US voted against the ICC’s establishment in 2002?

The New York Times recent hatchet job on the Philippines, complete with gory picture.

NYT’s extreme bias is so obvious in that its editorial was accompanied by a gory but tear-jerker of a photo captioned “a 17-year-old a few hours after she was killed by masked gunmen in Quezon City, Philippines, in 2016.” But was it a murder committed by Duterte’s purported death squads, or just another case of murder out of the thousands that occur every day in metropolises not just in the Philippines but even in New York?

Its most recent April 25 editorial reveals the plot of the Yellow Cult’s campaign against Duterte: Have somebody file a case in an international body even if it is merely based on allegations by the opposition and hearsay, and then get US media to sensationalize it. Here’s some news for the Yellow Cult whose rise to power in 1986 was to a great extent due to US media: Those days are over.

My head explodes at the NYT, to borrow a vivid sentence recently used just the other day by former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, to condemn the United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ February warning to President Trump that repealing Obamacare would violate international laws.

Smoking gun

The smoking gun, or what incontrovertibly shows the NYT’s bias against the Philippines, is the following sentence in that editorial: “Mr. Sabio said in the 77-page filing, that more than 9,400 people have been killed, most of them poor young men, but also bystanders, children and political opponents.” (It was this Sabio who filed a case against Duterte and 10 other Philippine government officials before the ICC accusing them of “mass murder”.)

However, even the mercenary Sabio couldn’t convince himself to make such a brazen lie, with no basis at all. There is no such 9.400 figure of people summarily executed in Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, claimed in Sabio’s complaint. When it comes to the Philippines, has the NYT’s editors ordered out of the newsroom its much-vaunted fact checkers?

The highest number Sabio could fabricate is 8,000, a figure he wouldn’t even explain how he got: “In his first seven months in the office, or from June 2016 to January 2017, 7,000 drug-related killings have been recorded as having been committed by police and unknown armed persons. The body count has continued to mount and increase into his ninth month in office, reaching up to more than 8,000 to date. “

Note the word-play propaganda trick the NYT uses to accompany its 9,400 figure, which leaves the impression that thousands of children and Duterte’s political opponents have been killed allegedly by police. C’mon now, dear Reader and even dear Yellow Cultist, is this what’s happening in your neighborhood?

I dare the NYT to name a single political opponent of this regime and a single child killed by Duterte’s alleged death squads.

Thank Rappler

Thank the internet-only news outfit Rappler for the 7,000 figure. It invented that figure way back in September and its editors — and its owner — have refused to repudiate that figure the Philippine National Police and I have totally debunked. It’s been the figure quoted by nearly all Western media outfits, the European Union Parliament, and Amnesty International, and of course the NYT.

Sabio made the effort in his complaint to hide Rappler’s complicity though. He claimed that the 7,000 figure was “based on official statistics from the Philippine National Police for the period from 1 July 2016 up to and until 21 January 2017.” The PNP has loudly denied this figure, explaining point-by-point how Rappler invented the figure. Sabio merely claims: “This figure is widely reported in local and foreign media, and also in social media.”
That’s wrong: local media mostly don’t use that figure anymore after PNP explained why it is such a colossal error; in social media, only Rappler uses it.

Rappler intentionally manufactured that figure it to exaggerate the casualties in Duterte’s war against illegal drugs. It added all the 4,525 murder cases that the PNP was investigating to the 2,555 the people who were killed when they allegedly fought the police who were trying to arrest them.

A detailed list based on police blotters compiled by the Philippine Daily Inquirer shows 2,107 killed in the anti-illegal drug war, and by no stretch of the imagination would even half of this be due to summary executions. Yet, even while failing miserably to justify its 7,000 figure, Rappler has continued to “update” it to this day.

As I had predicted in my column last month (“How Rappler misled EU, Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time, BBC — the world”), that 7,000 figure, if Rappler doesn’t retract it, will be used by anti-Duterte groups to extrapolate that the number of extra-judicial killings now total 9,000. If Duterte doesn’t stop his anti-illegal drug war, will it be 10,000 next month?

Ridiculous claim

Indeed it was extrapolated by Sabio to make this ridiculous and atrocious claim in his complaint: “In the event Duterte will be able to end his six-year term, the body count would reach an estimate of 72,000 for six years, based on the 1,000 killings per month, or could reach even a much higher number resulting in a national bloodbath of disastrous proportions.”

What’s appalling in the NYT’s recent editorial is that it totally presumes that Duterte is guilty of “mass murder”. It claims that if the House of Representatives “quashes an impeachment motion filed by an opposition lawyer,” then the ICC can prosecute the case since it may exercise its jurisdiction to prosecute criminals “when their national courts are unwilling or unable to do so.”

What? If the Congress doesn’t impeach Duterte, he is still guilty of mass murder anyway, so the ICC can intervene?

What is appalling is that the NYT believed totally the integrity of what it merely describes as a “Filipino lawyer”. It didn’t even bother to check how such a mediocre lawyer with so little financial resources (even to make the trip to the ICC’s headquarters in The Hague and stay for week in a 300 euro per night hotel there) could have filed the suit.

It didn’t even bother to report that many in this country are convinced that this joker appears to be a minion of the nutty opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, probably using Liberal Party funds, who has been undertaking a plot to oust Duterte, so Vice President Leni Robredo of the Liberal Party would assume power.

Trillanes a hero?

Indeed, read that lawyer’s suit, and see Trillanes is the most often-quoted personality, depicted as a hero and as the only Filipino other than Senator Leila de Lima bold enough to challenge Duterte.

What’s appalling about the NYT’s editorials is that there was no attempt at all to get the government’s side, or even those of non-partisans on the extra-judicial killing allegations. After a query, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar reported that his office had sent letters to the NYT’s editors to debunk its editorials and articles.

None has been published. Compare the NYT’s one-sided articles to those of the Washington Post, which in a recent article quoted ordinary Filipinos explaining why they support Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs.
I worked for a decade in an international publication as a journalist, and I closely monitored US and European press coverage during President Macapagal-Arroyo’s term as it was my job, both as Press Secretary and later Presidential Chief of Staff, to do so.

I have never encountered such one-sided, biased coverage of the Philippines as the NYT has done. Major US newspapers in the past routinely published my letters to them that cited errors and biases in their coverage. I strongly suspect that a Filipino female tycoon who lives in New York has managed to get the NYT to adopt her stridently anti-Duterte worldview.

With these maliciously cruel and destructive that the NYT has been unleashing against our country, we should all condemn this publication, and patriotic Filipino New Yorkers should boycott it.

I urge my readers to do a patriotic act and write the NYT letters of complaints against their coverage and editorials. Or you can just send the link to this column and ask them to comment. Let’s show these AHs we’re not pushovers, and we’ll not allow biased reportage to slur our country.

NYTs email addresses are: executive-editor@nytimes.com; public@nytimes.com; and letters@nytimes.com. Or post a message at its Facebook page and Twitter account (@nytimes).

Filed under: Manila Times Columns, Uncategorized

Inquirer owners were Marcos cronies

Profits from crony deal: P4B

SHOCKING? It certainly is, especially for a paper that had been the loudest megaphone of the anti-Marcos uprising in 1986, and which to this day has reeked with vitriol against the dictator and anybody identified with him.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) in fact continues to abhor the Marcoses so much that the paper’s “Person of the Year” for 2016 was what it called the “Antirevisionists,” or those who continued to demand Marcos’ total demonization. The two honorable mentions were the Supreme Court justices who voted against Marcos burial at the military cemetery and “martial-law victims.”

Imelda Marcos in 1980 when she leased for 21 years prime Makati land to the owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which to this day continues to demonize her and her husband.

Ironic, but the facts are incontrovertible: The dictator’s wife Imelda through the Technology Resource Center Foundation** (TRCF) she had founded and was the chair of, gave the Rufinos’ Sunvar Realty and Development Corp. the 22,900-sq.m. Makati prime commercial property known as Creekside/Mile Long in 1980, at the apex of the dictator’s power, to use as they pleased until 2002. The Rufinos own 67 percent of PDI, and its chair, Marixi Prieto, is one of the pillars of the Rufino clan, the other being Carlos.

Imelda’s largesse would certainly put the Rufinos in the crony club, using the PDI’s own definition (“In the Know: Oligarchs and cronies,” August 5, 2016): “Crony became the term used to refer to the new rich during martial law.

They were the ones awarded timber, mining and oil concessions and vast tracts of rich government agricultural and urban lands, by Marcos.”

How much did Imelda charge the Rufinos as lease?

A ridiculous P3 per square meter per month, according to government documents that showed that the payment for the whole life of the lease, from 1980 to 2002, was P15.7 million. There are no reports nor documents to show that the property was auctioned in order for TRCF to get the highest revenues for its projects. (If it did, the bigger property players then, the Ayalas and Sys among them, would have undoubtedly won over the then movie-house based Rufinos.)

‘Sweetheart deal’

To this day, Imelda lists the TRC as one of her achievements (from her official website, accessed yesterday).

It was this contract that President Duterte referred to, inaccurately though, as the “Inquirer’s sweetheart deal”. How sweet was the deal, in terms of how much the Rufinos earned from this contract?

• If the Rufinos through Sunvar sub-leased the property at a realistic average price of P200 per sq.m per month (which means a believable P4,000 rent for a 20-sq.m. store) in the 252 months from 1980 to 2002, when their lease officially ended, the Rufinos would have profited P1 billion (less the P15.7 million rent to government).

• If we assume that the average rent in Mile Long from 2002 to 2016 was P1,000 per sq. m. per month (P20,000 for a store), the Rufinos would have earned P3.6 billion, with their Sunvar not paying any rent to government during this period.

Our estimate of revenues from this crony deal therefore: a mammoth P4.6 billion in the 36 years they have controlled, and got rents from, the government’s Makati property.

Imelda was certainly right when she was asked while they were in power about cronies: “Some are just smarter than others.” Imelda’s nephew Philip Romualdez (son of her late brother Benjamin “Kokoy”) is married to PDI’s president, Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez.* (The wedding strangely though was so under the press radar, that I couldn’t find out even when it was held.)

The Mile Long property had been actually owned by the National Power Corp. Imelda reportedly had even threatened to sack its head Geronimo Velasco, when he initially resisted her demand made in 1978 for the firm to lease it to TRCF, so she could sub-lease it to the Rufinos.

Read who else were the beneficiaries of Imelda’s largesse through TRCF, and tell me the Rufinos weren’t cronies at all: Ricardo Silverio who leased a much smaller property from the foundation to become the Ecology Village in Makati and who also bought from TRCF a 10-hectare land in Carmona, Cavite; the Remullas of Cavite; and a firm connected to the Enriquez-Panlilio clan that got a P6 million loan from the outfit.

Yet even with her many other cronies, the jewel in TRCF’s collection of properties subleased from other government entities, the Mile Long prime real estate, was given to the Rufinos.

Mile-Long boon

The Mile Long property was a boon to the Rufinos since much of their wealth had been in downtown Manila, especially in movie houses. These had declined in value though ever the since the 1980s, after the metropolis’ business center migrated to Makati and huge malls like SM and Robinsons with their dozens of cinemas standing side by side practically emptied the stand-alone movie houses in Manila.

The Sunvar revenues energized the Rufinos so much that it bought the local Shakey’s chain from San Miguel in 1987 (and sold it only this year to the tuna Po clan) and set up the Dunkin’ Donuts stores in 1991, with government alleging that the latter evaded taxes of P1.5 billion. Forbes listed in 2007 the Rufino family as the Philippines’ 39th richest, although it subsequently disappeared in the magazine’s lists.

Isn’t it such a demonstration of the awesome power of the press, that, after generating a billion pesos from the property, the Rufinos had the audacity to refuse to vacate the property when the lease expired in 2002, and instead filed delaying suits in the courts so that even the Supreme Court admonished them to rule already?

If Sunvar wasn’t owned by the PDI’s owners, would it have the spunk to continue to defy government, 13 years after their lease ended?

It is also astonishing how the Rufinos had kept their crony deal under wraps for more than three decades since they got it. Did the Rufinos’ control of the PDI, one of the two largest newspapers in the country which made them a force to be feared, help in keeping their crony deal secret? Such is the awesome power of the Press.
And to think that PDI chair Marixi Rufino-Prieto at the newspaper’s 30th anniversary celebration said in her speech: “For 30 years, we mustered the courage to expose the ills of society, courage to be the voice of the powerless, courage to stand our ground, no matter how unpopular it is.”

It is unclear, and never reported by the PDI, how the Rufinos got to be the paper’s biggest owner, although this occurred during the fight for the paper’s shares between founder Eugenia Apostol and former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile in the early 1990s.

In an interview posted in the worldwide web, Apostol said she sold it to the Rufinos to prevent Enrile, who had secretly invested in PDI even before Marcos fell, from getting control of the newspaper. Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim—through layers of firms that end with the pension of fund of PLDT which he controls—is the newspaper’s second biggest stockholder with 25 percent. Salim’s initial stake was through a P10 million loan his Filipino agent, Manuel Pangilinan, gave PDI, which saved the newspaper in its early years from financial collapse.

What a country! One of its two biggest newspapers is controlled by two cronies, a crony during strongman Marcos’ regime and the other—probably worse—a crony of the Indonesian dictator Suharto dictatorship. And the other biggest paper, the Philippine Star, is 70 percent owned by Salim’s firm.

And the Press is supposed to be the embodiment of the nation, as well its savior when the three other branches of government fail?

*NOTE: I emailed Mrs. Romualdez as well as another Rufino scion, JV Rufino three days ago to ask their family to reply to this claim that it was a Marcos crony. As of my deadline for this column, I had not received any reply, and I’m sure I got their email addresses right. It was JV Rufino, the clan’s techie, who replied to questions on his clan’s tax case in PDI’s Facebook page. At least he was bold enough to respond to the allegations, even if he gave false information.

**TRCF raised funds for the Technology Resource Center whose task was to to disseminate existing and new technology to small producers. After Marcos fell, it was renamed Philippine Development Alternatives Foundation.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

What religion robs us of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed under: Manila Times Columns