Category: Manila Times Columns

A classic instance of Western media spin

I SPILLED my coffee watching CNN’s 8 a.m. news, when its ticker tape flashed: “Duterte orders police to kill those resisting arrest, followed by “Duterte: Kill the idiots.”

A newsreader then simply repeated those statements, adding, as it does every time there’s news now about the Philippines, that Duterte’s war vs illegal drugs has killed “thousands”.

I googled ”Duterte kill the idiots,” and the search results showed two dozen items showing the same headline, by news organizations such as American network ABC, the internet-only The Daily Beast to small news outfits like Panay News. Credit its going “viral” to a dispatch by Reuters, whose correspondents have the knack for finding the sensational spin.

I initially thought, “Has Duterte gone mad, and has followed Trump?” As is my habit, I searched to hear exactly what he said. I managed to get quickly a video of Duterte’s speech, at the National Heroes Day celebration the other day, where he purportedly made those statements.

What follows is my word-for-word transcription of Duterte’s relevant statements. You judge if those news reports are really accurate or represent a classic instance of how Western media, or any media can spin a particular quote so as to shock people.

“In the performance of their duty, tell your men that whenever their life is in danger and they are in the actual performance of their duty, your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting. Not only just to shout to him to surrender because it is a [indistinct], and if he resists and it is a violent one placing in jeopardy the lives of my policemen and military, you are free to kill the idiots.”

That the news story has become viral is of course partly Duterte’s fault. “Kill the idiots” is such a great attention-grabbing quotable quote, on par with that classic “Kill all the lawyers.”

Of course, one can insist that still, Duterte categorically said “free to kill the idiots”. But do you think Duterte would have instead said: “If they resist arrest and are violent, shoot them in the legs?”

Impossible
Anyone who’s used guns knows how impossible this is, unless you are a professional sharpshooter: to aim for and hit the legs of someone about to shoot you. The training of police and military organizations all over the world is for their men to make it their second nature to aim for the center of the body (and thrice), as that would minimize the likelihood of missing the target – which certainly won’t be case if you aimed at his peripheral parts. Coincidentally, a human body’s center is where the heart is, so in effect you are shooting to kill. If only God had located humans’ hearts in their legs!

Australia TV reporting on Duterte’s quotable quote and Rappler’s Maria Ressa pouncing on it.

Would it have been better if Duterte instead said, “If they resist arrest violently, aim for the center of their bodies”?

Would it be more informative if the news organizations’ headline was instead: “Duterte authorizes the police to shoot-to-kill, if those resisting arrest fight back.” That would be more accurate really. But would that make shocking, “viral” headlines?

And the use of idiots? That’s Duterte’s normal uncouth language that he is used to, but expletives certainly aren’t his monopoly. I can imagine Trump similarly using “idiots” if had to refer to criminals, if he stops himself from using “motherfuckers.” Should Duterte have used cock-suckers as a Trump aide described one of his colleagues?

Let’s face it, Western media, which we think – given their reporters high salaries and its centuries of evolution –are so professional, just aren’t. Listen to CNN and Fox News, and you’ll get a total contrasting picture of Trump and the US situation now.

As Philippine print media used to be, especially during the past administration (remember the anti-Corona frenzy and their idolatry of the President?), US and European media occasionally are afflicted with that virus called herd mentality.

In the US case, such herd mentality even allowed President Bush to invade a sovereign nation, Iraq, destroy its cities and kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis—on the basis of the total lie that it had weapons of mass destruction.

Media herd
Media herd mentality is probably one of the most dangerous social phenomena now, as it brainwashes entire peoples to believe even a total lie, so that governments could start a war that that can throw the entire world into conflagration. The global scourge of terrorism now is almost entirely due to the US invasion of Iraq that its media sold to Americans.

What is worrying – and sickening – is that herd mentality afflicts not just the most mediocre of journalists but even the best.

Consider my former colleague Sheila Coronel who abandoned Philippine journalism to teach rich Americans investigative journalism at Columbia University in New York, to become the director of its Stabile Center of Investigative Journalism and then academic affairs dean of the journalism school itself, considered the best in the US. (That’s like a doctor trained at taxpayer-subsidized PGH and at public medical centers to become the best tuberculosis physician, only to teach tuberculosis treatment at a New York hospital catering to billionaires.)

Instead of doing investigative journalism on Trump’s real wealth or connection with Russian oligarchs, or such important, but hard topics relevant to Columbia University as how American wars are responsible for US technological breakthroughs, Coronel has rushed to join the anti-Duterte mob of American journalists, and wrote several pieces in prestigious New York publications that pay unbelievably high fees painting Duterte as, to use her term, a “blood-bathed” President and Manila’s streets as littered with corpses.

While Coronel writes well—in her melodramatic 1980s style using colorful heart-tugging anecdotes—I’m quite sure one of her qualifications that made editors buy her stories would be that she was a Filipino “investigative journalist.” In fact, she bolsters her demonic portrayal of Duterte by referring to her coverage of him as Davao City mayor back in the 1980s, implying that he was already a killer then and she is the expert on his soul.

But Coronel wants to have her cake and eat it too, to live and work in the US, yet still pretend to be an expert on the Philippines, as most ranting anti-Duterte Fil-Ams (the most prominent being billionaire Loida Nicolas-Lewis) are fond of doing. She bases her data on what’s happening in the Philippines on what other American journalists have written, and forgets the investigative skills she learned at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

In her recent article in a journal, “A Presidency Bathed in Blood,” Coronel wrote: “The drug war, which Duterte officially launched on his first day in office, has claimed the lives of as many as 9,000 suspected drug dealers and users.”

9,000 number
I asked her through Facebook’s Messenger where she got that 9,000 number, a topic of considerable interest to me as I wrote three columns debunking that figure, which was based on a completely wrong article in internet-only news site Rappler. (In my column, “How Rappler misled EU, Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time, BBC — the world,” Manila Times, May 19, 2017)

She replied: “Numerous news reports quote that figure.” She even gave me the link to her Google search results. I asked her why she “didn’t bother to verify if this is fake news, used mostly by Western media. “

I told her that even the Google search results she sent me had several reports specifically disproving that figure, yet she ignored those articles.

She didn’t reply after that. She “unfriended” me as a Facebook friend, obviously so she won’t read my posts that disturb her New York world-view.

If a professor and dean of Columbia University’s journalism school throws journalistic rules of verification and objectivity, and on the President of her former country, what can you expect from old, weary wire correspondents rushing to file dispatches as fast as they can to fulfill their daily quota, or from mediocre TV reporters?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

We have a National Heroes Day, but no national heroes

WE are celebrating today National Heroes Day, one of our oldest official holidays first declared way back in 1931 by the Philippine legislature.

But we don’t have national heroes—officially. Not even the great novelist Jose Rizal, or the revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio, has been officially proclaimed as a National Hero.

Why? The Yellow Cult blocked moves to proclaim national heroes for the country—since Benigno (“Ninoy”) Aquino, the object of their hero-worship, wasn’t included in the list. Here’s what happened.

President Fidel V. Ramos on March 28, 1993 issued Executive Order 75 entitled “Creating the National Heroes Committee Under the Office of the President”. The order was intended to determine who our national heroes are, in order “to inculcate patriotism and nationalism, and the appreciation of the role of national heroes in the historical development of the country.”

The principal duty of the committee was to “study, evaluate and recommend Filipino national personages/heroes in due recognition of their sterling character and remarkable achievements for the country.”

The committee consisted of the secretaries of education, culture and sports, foreign affairs and national defense. It was, however, a “technical committee” which was directed to provide the group of three department secretaries with a list of who they thought should be the National Heroes.

This consisted of the country’s most eminent historians: Onofre D. Corpuz, Samuel K. Tan, Marcelino Foronda, Alfredo Lagmay, Bernardita R. Churchill, Serafin D. Quiason, Ambeth Ocampo (then known as Dom Ignacio Maria), professor Minerva Gonzales and writer Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil. The committee agreed on a detailed criteria on who to proclaim as a national hero.

Nine national heroes
After two-and-a-half years of deliberation, the committee agreed on just nine National Heroes: Jose Rizal (designated Prime National Hero), Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo del Pilar, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, and Gabriela Silang. On November 15, 1995, it transmitted its recommendations to the three-man committee that Ramos had created.

Believe it or not, not even Rizal and Bonifacio have been proclaimed National Heroes.

After that though, nothing happened. Ramos didn’t proclaim any national heroes, nor did he recommend to Congress to instead decide who our national heroes are. The idea of having an official list of our national heroes was forgotten.

The National Commission on Culture and Arts in a post in 2015 claimed that no action has been taken, “probably because this might trigger a flood of requests for proclamations (of heroes). Another possibility is that the proclamations can trigger bitter debates involving historical controversies about the heroes.”

What, our nation can’t agree on who its national heroes are?

Historian Ambeth Ocampo, who was a member of the technical committee, told me: ”I think FVR realized that one does not really legislate or declare heroes.” A former monk, Ocampo was being kind, although he couldn’t help hinting why Ramos didn’t act on the committee’s recommendations: “When Cory died, I was at a Senate hearing where everyone wanted her to be declared a heroine. I was the only one who said no and explained that heroes are never declared nor is this a power granted to Congress.”

Yellow cult
I was told that the real reason why Ramos shirked from proclaiming a pantheon of national heroes was the fact that the Yellow Cult wanted him to include the assassinated opposition leader Ninoy Aquino in the list of national heroes. Indeed, at this time when the Yellow Cult’s power over the country was at its peak it had practically declared Ninoy as a national hero, with several statues of him already erected in the country.

Ramos couldn’t of course arm-twist the three-man committee he had set up or the technical committee to include Ninoy in their list of heroes. So, never mind, forget this idea of proclaiming national heroes.

Ocampo in his message to me pointed out: “As (historian Teodoro) Agoncillo said, we must avoid being influenced by fleeting ‘fashion and passion’ of a period.” Ocampo explained that the “declaration of heroes is too important to be left to historians or our government officials.”

Ocampo is wrong. It is the State which has the responsibility to declare who are the heroes of the nation it represents. This is important as heroes are the embodiment of a nation, and without heroes the nation is just another organization at par with a fraternity, a garden club, or a Facebook Group.

Heroes, as the renowned scholar Benedict Andersen pointed out in, his famous book Imagined Communities, probably the best exposition of the meaning of nationalism, also help citizens believe that the nation truly exists.

Heroes important
Heroes indeed are so important that only one other organization in the entire world and in the entire human history have heroes who give up their lives for the sake of their organization: the Catholic Church, which elevates its heroes into saints who number at least 5,000 now.

Ocampo claimed that heroes are there “by acclamation and not by declaration by government.” But the question is acclamation by whom? By the ruling party, as the Liberal Party acclaimed Ninoy and later Cory? Or do we call for a plebiscite to determine our national heroes. Or maybe use Facebook as a platform to run a poll to determine who our national heroes are.

There is no national acclamation of Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, but I trust the committee of historians that he did have a huge role in building the nation, enough to declare him a national hero.

Because we don’t have national heroes, those in power at one time could come up with a maneuver to have their choice declared implicitly as a national hero, as the Yellow Cult did in the case of Ninoy Aquino.

We have had for nearly a century, two implicit national heroes, not by declaration but by the designation of holidays for them. In Rizal’s case, it is the date of his execution by the Spanish, designated first by President Emilio Aguinaldo, not just, however, for Rizal but for all victims of the just-ended Spanish rule. For the revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio, it is his birthday and not his death, in order for Filipinos to forget that it was Aguinaldo who had ordered him executed. (What a country!)

So what did the Yellow Cult do? It got Congress that it controlled tightly to enact Republic Act 9256 that declared August 21, the day of his assassination, as “Ninoy Aquino Day,” a holiday.

The lawmakers though were not servile to the Yellow Cult, so that Congress refused to declare Ninoy as a national hero. The law actually is a bit strange in that it declared August 21 of every year as holiday solely “in order to commemorate the death anniversary of former Senator Benigno Aquino.” There is no explanation at all, even by way of a description of Aquino, such as “assassinated opposition leader,” why there is a holiday for him.

So without the State declaring who our national heroes are, it’s a free-for-all day today, when anybody can claim our national hero is FPJ, Commander Dante, Joma Sison, or even Dolphy. They would be, going by Ocampo’s criteria that heroes are by “acclamation”.

Rizal and Bonifacio most probably are turning in their graves today, National Heroes Day.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Clamping down on Customs corruption would be epoch-making for the country

Senator Panfilo Lacson’s detailed allegations on corruption at the Bureau of Customs (BoC), should prod President Duterte to clamp down on corruption in the agency with the same intensity as his war against illegal drugs.

If he does, and he succeeds, it would be epoch-making for the country, with the long-term beneficial consequences perhaps even larger than his war against drugs.

It is serendipity that the Senate probe into how P6 billion worth of shabu cleared Customs as well as Lacson’s exposé has put the public’s spotlight on BoC corruption, at the same time that Duterte is forced to address it, given the innuendos that his son Paulo is involved in it.

There are reasons why totally removing graft from the BoC will be a watershed for the country.

First, the BoC, based both on surveys on Filipinos’ perception and on deductions from statistics, is the most corrupt agency of government. If Duterte, as he has said several times, is as angry at corruption as he is against illegal drugs, he would have to target the BoC first.

It is the lessons in his battles to clamp down on corruption that he will see what are necessary to rid our government of corruption. A Duterte victory in making the BoC a graft-free agency would be the precedent in reforming the other agencies in government.

In the US, the breakthrough in that country’s campaign against corruption was the transformation of its Department of Agriculture, which had been notorious for graft, into an exemplary agency in the 1920s. In Hong Kong, it was the police department which was first rid of corruption.

The corruption at the BoC is the epitome of graft in this country as it is organized like a mafia organization and practically involves the whole agency. There is even a system for determining how the dirty money is to be collected and distributed. This involves the imposition of the so-called “tara”, or bribe money, for each container van the agency clears. This is then distributed to nearly all of the agency’s offices, starting at the agency head’s office. I was told that even security guards and clerks have their share in the “tara” distribution.

Revenue boost

Second, if the BoC collects the duties and taxes it is supposed to collect, the country will have such a boost in its revenues that it would be easier to fund such crucial anti-poverty measures as free quality education, socialized housing, and hospitalization.

The bribes Lacson claims are given to BoC officials per 40-foot container van total at least P100 billion per year. Since these bribes are given to evade or lower duties and the much bigger value-added taxes, a graft-free BoC’s revenues would easily triple, when it collects the right duties and taxes.

As in the case of illegal drugs, smuggling in the country went out of control during President Aquino’s term. Using direction-of-trade statistics of the International Monetary Fund, I quantified two years ago (in my column “Smuggling utterly out of control under Aquino regime: P4 trillion in last five years”) how much smuggled goods totaled from 2005 to 2009.

My conclusion: Nearly one-fourth of imports into the country from 2010 to 2015, or under Aquino’s watch, were unreported and therefore untaxed, totaling $94 billion – for an astronomical P4 trillion. That’s more than four times the estimated smuggled value of just $21 billion from 2005 to 2009, during President Arroyo’s term.

This is validated by the fact that the finance department’s statistics show that the BoC’s tax effort (or the ratio of its collections to the GDP) had gone down to 2.6 percent during Aquino’s time, from the 3-percent levels under Arroyo.

I estimated, using an average 6 percent import duties and the 12 percent VAT (which the BoC collects), that the country lost one trillion pesos in duties and taxes because of a corrupt BoC in the six years under the incompetent Aquino.

Other than Faeldon’s fellow mutineer Gerardo Gambala, the other BoC deputy commissioners were ranking officials in Aquino’s administration. Ariel Nepomuceno was already a deputy commissioner in the past administration. Teodoro Raval and Edward James Dy Buco were in other crucial posts in the BOC, while Natalio Ecarma was one of Aquino’s defense undersecretaries. Didn’t Duterte know this?

Third, If Lacson’s allegations are true, it is obvious that putting purportedly honest people—like the Magdalo mutineers and even a respected retired general—to reform an institution isn’t enough.

As Lacson himself noted in his privilege speech, the magnitude of graft money in the BoC is so great that it can buy even an honest man’s soul.

If his allegations are true, it is not such a mystery why a Marine captain who graduated from a second-class university like Faeldon would accept, as Lacson alleged, a ”welcome gift” of P100 million in cash so he would cooperate with the graft mafia in the agency. (Faeldon denies the accusation but reveals that he was offered P300,000 a week by an importer when he assumed that post. The question that arises though is why didn’t he report the bribe attempt, and file charges against the importer.)

Fidel Ramos had a magic bullet for reducing corruption at the BoC when he contracted the Swiss-based Société Générale de Surveillance to tell the agency how much the value of commodities from selected countries were, which gave the BoC little leeway to undervalue imports. That is the main reason why the BoC’s tax-effort ratio averaged 5 percent during Ramos’ term, a level never reached after, when the SGS stopped their services.

There are other approaches to reducing corruption in the BoC. Two of these have been initiated a decade ago, which however had not been completed. The government has been unable to install full computerization of the BoC’s work in determining valuations of shipments and other labor-intensive but repetitive aspects of importations. It also hasn’t provided enough X-ray machines for examining the contents of container vans.

Why has government scrimped on the funds needed for these when it can quickly recover such expenses in the form of higher revenues? Or is it because Customs officials haven’t really pushed for such needed funds and equipment as these obviously will reduce their loot?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Outrage? What outrage?

THE Yellow Cult and even a few veteran columnists are forecasting President Duterte’s isolation, and eventual fall in the wake of the brutal killing of the 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, whom the police alleged was an illegal drug courier.

That is so, so far from reality. The Kian killing won’t be a political storm for Duterte. A drizzle perhaps, no matter how much his critics cry out to high heavens in melodrama approaching the ridiculous. “Ang multo ng napatay ay humihingi ng awa,“ the wannabe-Cardinal-Sin Socrates Villegas cried in his Sunday message. How did he know that?

In the first place, Duterte has quickly stopped the small mob to move towards him. “They will go to jail, if the investigation proves (Kian’s killing) was a rub-out,” Duterte said. That response is in contrast to his backing of the police team that killed Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa right inside the Baybay City sub-provincial jail in Leyte last year.

That’s enough for most, if not all, of the 82 percent of Filipinos (according to PulseAsia’s June report) to believe that he’s got nothing to do with such a dastardly crime. After all, people see that the police organization can’t ever be 100 percent good. That is the reason the term “police brutality” is used anywhere in the world. Did anyone blame state governors or the incumbent US President for the notoriously racist shooting of blacks by the police red states?

The Yellow claim that Duterte is responsible because the killing was part of his war against illegal drugs, and his injunctions to be merciless towards the “enemy” won’t hold water, and would even backfire. What war hasn’t what the Americans euphemistically call “collateral damage”?

Robredo and Trillanes at Kian’s wake: Rather, the outrage has been against politicians like them squeezing as much political points from the murder.

We in the elite have actually never really felt how serious the country’s illegal drug problem has been. We whisper about this son of a rich friend getting hooked on cocaine, but no worries, he’s in some P5,000-a-day rehabilitation center in cool Tagaytay and will be ok in a few months.

A living hell
That’s all about what the elite know of the illegal drug problem. On the other hand, in our “inner city”, so to speak, poor families’ lives become a living hell when the father gets addicted to shabu– which most probably he turned to in order to mitigate his hunger at work. Our live-out domestic worker’s life was shattered, and went downhill when her husband got addicted to shabu. He beat her often.

The police has managed to cast doubt on Kian. Whether true or not, many of the poor, because they have seen how bad the drug problem is, would prefer to believe that he isn’t innocent, thus sapping the unexpressed outrage over his killing.

In urban poor neighborhoods, it has been a life of living dangerously, in constant fear of a drug addict having a bad trip, and threatening the lives even of his family, posing a serious threat to young ladies going home in the evening from a day of hard work. How else could you explain the phenomenon of the rape and brutal killing of young girls, the number of cases of which have gone up.

A comment in a Facebook post raged: “17 years old lang daw si Kian? E sa Bulacan noong isang linggo e isang trese-años ni-rape at pinatay isang 5-años na bata!”

Versions of that comment was in fact made by many netizens in a GMA-7 post of Vice President Robredo and Antonio Trillanes 4th visiting Kian’s wake: Bumisita ba kayong mga epal na pulitiko sa burol noong limang anyos na bata na na-rape sa Bulacan?”

That GMA-7 post is Exhibit-A for the point of this column, and you can check it out yourself. There were over 1,400 comments on it, a huge number, nearly all bad-mouthing the two politicians for exploiting Kian’s wake for “politicking”— “epal” as the popular slang puts it—and only a very few condemning the killing, and blaming it on this government.

Not the poor
I don’t think the poor are outraged at the police’s killing of Kian, since from their own miserable existence in urban-poor areas, the drug problem has been so bad that teenagers going into it, as addicts or pushers, aren’t rare. Worse, Caloocan where the killing happened has been known as becoming the worst crime-infested city (at par with Quezon City) where illegal drugs proliferate.

The rich and even middle class on the other hand just don’t care, as they really don’t for the poor in general. I bet that if a survey on which news the elites have been following closely, the Andres Bautista exposé by his wife will lead the Kian killing by a mile.

The divide between the rich and the poor in this country has become so wide, that the rich are almost like the elite in that sci-fi film “Elysium”, who live in a space habitat orbiting the earth, while the poor live down in the ravaged earth. Who cares if a life is snuffed out there, in our case, in a dirty alley in Caloocan? I can’t remember an instance when a heinous killing outraged the nation, except of course in the case of Ninoy Aquino. But then he wasn’t a faceless poor person, was he?

So, if the poor aren’t outraged over Kian’s killing, and the rich and middle class aren’t outraged, what is the outrage Robredo and the Yellow Cult are expecting to topple Duterte?

The only outrage I’ve detected is over Robredo and Trillanes’ attending Kian’s wake, obviously to squeeze as much sympathy from the people for their lost causes.

I sincerely hope though that Duterte’s government bring justice to Kian, for his horrible killing. As chief executive, that’s his duty to the nation.

* * *

I’m getting sick and tired reading articles that start with a I-have-always-supported-the-war-on-drugs, or I-support-Duterte but this Kian “murder” blah, blah blah. Many even get so melodramatic, like the one who posted “Father of life, take this child into your arms” blah, blah. Aargh.

Just let the investigators do their job. And if you find something, I mean really something specific that shows the investigators are lying, that’s when you cry to high heavens and tell us what these lies are!

This is so different in cases like the Mamasapano massacre when we knew immediately that Aquino was in nearby Cotabato City pretending the fighting wasn’t going on in which 44 of our elite troops were killed one by one; or when more than a dozen peasants were shot by police and military in front of Malacañang during Cory’s watch, or when strikers were killed right at the gates of Hacienda Luisita. Or Tish Bautista presenting us with the actual bank passbooks of her husband, the Comelec chief.

In essence, these sickening posts (and columns) reflect how much Filipinos love to join mobs.

Just criticize Duterte if you think he needs to be criticized. You don’t have to sheepishly preface your criticism with a you-love-him-but-blah-blah.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Ninoy: Hero or political opportunist and US pawn?

AFTER three decades, we can look at Benigno (“Ninoy”) Aquino, Jr., the Yellow Cult’s central figure it worships as a hero and martyr, with unjaundiced eyes.

Peruse the following facts and decide for yourself if he indeed is a hero for whom we devote a holiday, as we do for only two other historical figures, Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio.

Or whether he was the quintessence of a wily opportunistic Filipino politician, made a pawn by the US, who made the bet of his life, but lost.

In May 1980, Aquino had a life-threatening heart attack. He refused to be put under the knife at the Philippine Heart Center, built by the Marcos regime in 1975.

Even as the hospital had developed into Asia’s best specialized center for cardiac surgery, Aquino claimed that since it was a government hospital, Marcos would easily be able to kill him, under the guise of a botched operation. While that was a slap not on Marcos but on the Filipino surgeons at the Center, it was a clever move on the part of Aquino for him to escape the country. You couldn’t blame him: he had spent seven years in prison, convicted by a military tribunal of several crimes, including subversion, and sentenced to be executed by musketry.

The Marcos regime of course feared that if Aquino died of a heart attack in prison, it would be blamed. Dented would be the semblance of stability it had built after the 1978 interim Batasan Pambansa elections, in which the opposition leader ran and lost.

Marcos though extracted from Aquino, in a message relayed personally by his wife, Imelda, two conditions: 1) that he return to the country when he was fully recovered; and 2) that he refrain from speaking against Marcos during his stay in the US. Aquino himself said he told Imelda he accepted these terms.

Pact with the devil
I can just imagine Aquino in his government hospital bed smiling wryly after Imelda left. A month after his operation in the US, Aquino told a Dallas reporter: “A pact with the devil is no pact at all.”

Aquino managed to stay in the US after being given the status of “Visiting Fellow” at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University in Cambridge, and then in the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A Harvard official explained that such Fellows “pursued their own research and are expected to present their research findings to the other fellows and interested faculty”. Aquino never did these things during his stay at Harvard and MIT.

Aquino was certainly not an academic and in those times hardly had the kind of stature for Harvard to bend its strict academic rules just to be a refuge for an opposition figure from some Third World country.

I learned though that it was President Carter himself who asked then Harvard President Derek Bok to get some excuse for Aquino to stay in the US as a fellow of the university. Carter actually had been trying to get Aquino to be exiled to the US much earlier, in 1978, so that the Harvard Law School invited him as a visiting scholar.

The US’ eagerness to get Aquino exiled to the US could be partly explained by Carter’s very well-known human rights advocacy. But the more likely reason is that as has been its practice, the US routinely befriends opposition figures that have the potential of succeeding an incumbent one.

In the Philippine case, though, there was another more compelling reason: The US military bases in Clark and Subic, the terms for which were scheduled for review in 1983. Marcos had been demanding more concessions from the US for the use of the bases, asking for higher payments that he wanted to call “rent.”

Message to Marcos
Having Aquino in the US sent the message to Marcos that if he insisted on such high demands, it might just as well help overthrow his regime, in the guise of championing democratic rule, and install the opposition leader whom they were indoctrinating at Harvard. Harvard had been known at the time to be a locus of the Central Intelligence Agency’s activities, with several of its professors fired in the 1980s after being exposed to have accepted CIA money for their projects.

Aquino, in short, became a US pawn in its geopolitical strategies and, smart as he was, he knew this.

Aquino apparently was in continuous contact with US officials, most probably even intelligence officials while he was at Cambridge. Proof of this is a “Top Secret” National Intelligence Daily dated June 27, 1983 issued by the CIA head, which reported; “Moderate opposition leader Benigno Aquino told senior US officials on Thursday he plans to leave the US and return to Manila in August.” At the time, nobody else knew of Aquino’s plans to return home.

Rather than becoming a scholar, Aquino used his fellowship at Harvard and then at the MIT as a cozy refuge. While his fans claimed that he was writing two books at Harvard, no drafts for these were ever found, not even an outline. Reflecting his non-academic vein, Aquino left no written work at all, except a purported speech he was to deliver on his return to Manila. (I doubt if it is genuine: It surfaced only in 2014 on Ninoy Aquino day, released by Malacañang under his son Noynoy, without any explanation how it was discovered — after three decades.)

A renowned political scientist, the late Howard Wiarda, who shared an office with Aquino at Harvard, wrote in his book Adventures in Research (Volume III: Global Traveler): “(Aquino) wanted to talk constantly, while I was at Harvard to write a book, and in our year together I never saw him read or write anything.” Indeed in the three years he was in Harvard and MIT, he wrote nothing, not even an essay, a journal or an article for US newspapers denouncing Marcos. It is astonishing that Aquino, who was supposedly a scholar at Harvard and MIT for three years didn’t write anything, not even a journal, an essay, or an article in a newspaper denouncing Marcos.

No matter, Aquino galvanized the opposition against Marcos there, the Yellow Cult has been claiming.

I haven’t seen any evidence nor testimony to support that claim. It was the Movement for a Free Philippines headed by another former senator in exile, Raul Manglapus, that was more active and went around the US rousing the Filipino community there to denounce the dictatorship. Aquino rarely left Cambridge.

No anti-Marcos diatribe
A fawning article on him a month after his assassination published in the newsletter The Harvard Crimson quoted well-known academic Lucian Pye: “He understood the meaning of a university: “He did not use [his academic position]to denounce the [Marcos] government.” Another famous academic at Harvard said, “He was not one to offer a sharp, anti-Marcos diatribe.”

Aquino appears to have been militant only during the year after his heart surgery. The video of Aquino’s philippic against Marcos – which was widely distributed after his killing as proof that it was the dictator who wanted him silenced –was in February 15, 1981 before a Filipino community. In his June 1981 interview with evangelist Pat Roberson, Aquino talked more about his getting closer to God as a result of his incarceration, and said practically no bad word about Marcos.

Another video was sometime in 1981 in Dallas, where rather than ranting against Marcos, he explained his ideas for getting Saudi Arabia to build a gas pipeline in Mindanao. “If I will be able to sell this (idea) to Mr. Marcos, the Philippines will be able to find an end to our insurgency in the South.”

I haven’t found any video or report of Aquino making fiery speeches against Marcos after 1981. Had the anti-Marcos fire in his belly gone cold as he and his family enjoyed their stay that lasted three years in a fine house in Newton, Massachusetts, an upper-class district near Boston?

In fact, the report by the CIA mentioned above implied Aquino’s slide to irrelevancy: “Aquino’s political position has been hurt by his long exile. He probably believes (now) he has to return home if he is to play a role in the post-Marcos era.”

 

CIA’s first report on the Aquino assasination, contained in the Director’s Top Secret National Intellgence Daily issued August 26, 1983.

 

Major factors
Other than that reason, there were two major factors that prodded Aquino to leave his tranquil life in Newton in 1983.

First, the Philippines’ economic crisis unfolded that any observer would see as a very serious threat to Marcos’ survival, and Aquino knew this. The Latin American debt crisis broke when Mexico defaulted on its foreign loans in August 1982, and would hit the country to trigger its worst economic crisis ever. It would have been impossible for Aquino, with his wide network, not have been informed about this.

Second, Aquino thought, and was convinced of the certainty that Marcos was dying. He had to rush home to wrench the leadership from others who were active in trying to topple Marcos, especially Salvador Laurel.

This is disclosed in an audio tape of his conversation with Steve Psinakis a few days before his return to the country. I narrated this conversation in my column December 4, 2016 (“Ninoy Aquino: Hero or miscalculating ‘throne’ gamer?”)

In that conversation, Aquino said: “Marcos is a man now: Terminal…now that he (Marcos) is about to meet his Maker, I am almost confident that I can talk to him and sell him something.”

Aquino told Psinakis his information came from Cardinal Jaime Sin. I suspect it came from his American intelligence friends, which is why he was so confident of his information.

Risked life
But still he risked his life, as he was told by Imelda herself that there were serious threats to his life, the Yellow Cult would claim. Yes, but that’s been Aquino’s well-known trait: He takes huge risks.

He managed to fill the China Airline plane he flew on with correspondents, practically from every continent (with not a single Filipino) thinking they could be his human shields, and the intelligent Marcos wouldn’t risk his foremost critic to be killed in front of the world. In a TV interview in his hotel before the flight, he showed his bullet-proof vest that sent the message to whoever was planning to kill him that he had such protection.

Except for his brother-in-law, ABC newsman Ken Kashiwahara, the foreign correspondents were as meek as sheep, and didn’t question the unarmed military men who fetched Aquino to escort him to the tarmac, nor tried to be with him as he was brought down. His killer after all was alerted that he was wearing a bullet-proof vest, so he was shot in the head.

Aquino terribly miscalculated, reminding me of that now famous quote from the hit TV series: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

Did his death trigger Marcos’ fall? It helped, no doubt. But after his funeral parade in August 1983 that was attended by a million people, the protest crowds dwindled. Marcos became so confident he fell for the US ruse to call for snap presidential elections. Then and now, perceptions that the people were robbed of their sacred votes makes them so angry, enough to be the basis for a coup attempt. And when that failed, human shields were deployed to protect the bungling plotters, which metamorphosed into what was mythicized as “People Power”.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Brother says he owns most of Comelec chief’s deposits in Luzon Bank

But he can’t prove it yet
TEN days after the wife of the Commission on Election chairman alleged that Andres Bautista had P330 million in unexplainable wealth deposited in a small thrift bank, Luzon Development Bank, his US-based brother, Martin Bautista, has come forward to make the  claim that he owns P250 million of this stash.

The Comelec chief has been merely issuing blanket denials of his wife’s allegations, claiming that the deposits were closed or were not his. So far, though, he has neither confirmed nor denied his brother’s claim, which is a bit strange.

In a Facebook “chat” with several netizens the other day, Martin claimed that he will provide them the documents to prove his ownership of the deposits, and that “forensic accountants” he has contracted will come up with exact figures on how much of his money is in his brother’s accounts.

He hasn’t yet produced the documents that he promised. In his attempt to impress his interviewers, Martin thrice described his auditors as “forensic accountants”. That’s a bad choice of terms: Forensic accounting refers to a specialized discipline to uncover fraud, by examining in detail a company or a person’s financial records.

Martin said he had remitted to his brother’s accounts a total of $1.7 million from 1993 to 2000. He claimed that he continued to send money to his brother from 2000 to 2009, although the total amount is “to be determined” by his “forensic accountants.”

It is astonishing though that he could remember that he had $1.7 million in his brother’s accounts as of 2000, but couldn’t remember how much it was by 2009, or 2017.

I won’t at all be surprised if the amount that will “be determined” (for the money sent from 2000 to 2017) plus the $1.7 million (equivalent to P77 million), plus interest on these funds, would account for much—or P250 million—of Andres’ deposits of P330 million in Luzon Bank. Perhaps that’s what his forensic accountants specialize in doing.

Martin Bautista in a 2010 campaign ad, with Aquino asking Filipinos to make him senator.

While Andres, the Comelec head, has portrayed himself in media as an apolitical legal eagle and a corporate lawyer, the fact that his brother Martin was one of the Liberal Party’s 12 senatorial candidates in the 2010 elections indicates his strong links, kept secret all this time, with the Liberal Party.

Martin on his own couldn’t have developed the links with the Liberal Party or its presidential candidate Benigno Aquino 3rd, since he had been in the US since the early 1990s, and had become a permanent resident there. A smooth talker—google his recent TV interviews—Martin, I was told, got to be close to the former president.

Martin in his “chat” in Facebook boasted that the money in his brother’s accounts are easily his, since he even has P1 billion in cash in the US. In an interview with TV5, he showed video clips of his house, bragging that it is a mansion with a library, swimming pool, and elevator. “When you step out, you see a fine view of Oklahoma City,” he told the reporter, as he panned the scene with his smartphone. “I even have a pantry, even if we don’t cook,” he said.

I don’t understand how he got to be rich in the US though, as his and his wife’s medical practice—he a gastroenterologist, she a pulmonologist— have totally been in Guymon, the seat of Texas County in Oklahoma, with a population of 21,000, or as big as our Albuera, Leyte. Texas County’s per capita income is $16,000 (2010 figures), about half the $30,000 average for the whole country.

Memorial County Hospital where Martin practiced, and where he was also chief of staff had been in such deep financial trouble in 2016 that it nearly closed down. Its CEO was even fired amid allegations of fraud. Martin said in his Facebook chat: “I tried to buy it (the hospital) twice, rebuffed by bigots.”

To bolster his claim that his money in his brother’s deposits was just “a fraction” of his wealth, Martin in his Facebook chat said he is Texas County’s biggest taxpayer, and that he earned $3 million last year. That’s huge: average income of physicians (specialists) in the US is $300,000.

However, in the chat, Martin described a cash-for-service clinic he had set up in 1998 that serviced a factory manned mostly by Hispanics, the costs for setting up of which he recovered in 2001.

Martin, although living in the hinterland in the US, has had access to the best fund managers in the world who employ the most sophisticated mathematicians, phalanxes of intrepid researchers, and world-class corporate analysts tracking all markets on this planet. They could have generated the highest possible income from his money, very hard-earned poking into anuses and intestines.

Yet he converted his millions of dollars — the most trusted currency in the world — into Philippine pesos, and sent these to his brother’s account in a small thrift bank in Laguna, for him to manage for two decades, never mind that Andres has never been a funds manager and has been a busy corporate lawyer with full-time jobs. Martin also says he is so rich he hasn’t even been tracking how much he has in his brother’s bank.

Martin must have caught that very bad virus among a few Filipinos who migrate abroad, which makes them think their former countrymen are stupid.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Death, nationalism, China

THE death of a loved one or a friend—two friends Michael Marasigan and Roy Sinfuego passed away recently—always reminds one how fleeting life is.

Brief it is but life is a magical moment, a miracle in the universe’s14 billion years of existence in which a species called homo sapiens has evolved that it is now able to reflect on himself and on the world.

Most of us celebrate that brief span with our loved ones, making sure — usually simultaneous with satisfying our own needs — they have all the necessities to enjoy life, and not suffer it. Occasionally, we move out of that circle, with acts of kindness to those outside it: handing out coins to the ragamuffin who taps on your windshield; giving an unexpected end-year bonus to your gardener; donating money to help victims of floods or the Marawi crisis.

But with the realization that life is such a miracle, shouldn’t we devote at least a significant part of our lives, not just within our small circle, but to help our fellow homo sapiens enjoy it too, instead of living it in misery?

Many well-off people actually do, or think they do—believing that their companies give jobs to people who would otherwise be out of work or underpaid, giving scholarships to the poor, funding charitable organizations or working in NGOs, for communists, struggling to overthrow an exploitative state, and for many Catholics, praying for the poor.

In this age we live in, though, the most efficient way to help as many people in the shortest period of time is to help make the State under which one is a member of by birth or choice, as strong and efficient as possible, that it can supervise the nation it has the authority to control, so that its economic structure lifts the majority of its citizens from poverty.

Think about it. When a Filipino moves out of the country to migrate to the US, Canada, or any other developed country, he gets to live a much, much better life, and even develops his talents to the full.

US or Canada
That’s a cliché of course, but we forget that the US or Canada are that way because their citizens who have been buried long ago, had built, often at a high cost to themselves and their families, the political and economic structures that have made their nations such that anybody living there would have the necessities of life and the means to develop his talents.

After all, it is a nation’s government that is the apparatus of institutions and practices that order and regulate society, and appropriate and distribute the resources of a nation. It is in this age the most important organization that determines whether humans live in happiness or misery. That is why we revere or hate presidents so much, since they headed that organization, the state, that has had the most impact on our people’s lives.

It hasn’t always been the case. That supreme role of a nation-state over humans emerged only in the last 300 years or so of humankind’s million-year history. In the past, what determined people’s lives were the leadership of a tribe or band of tribes, later of kingdoms (and the character of their kings), of empires that conquered tribes, and even of the Catholic Church and the Islamic Caliphates.

The realization that the nation-state is the most important organization that determines whether a human being lives in happiness or misery is called nationalism.

The term or even the notion of it has been denigrated, even caricatured by the term “nativism” here and abroad, by the global capitalist elites, whose businesses have gone not just beyond their own nations, but depend on removing the boundaries of nations. They have even spread the lie that it is them – “foreign investments”—that is the biggest factor for a nation’s growth.

In our country, nationalism has been all but killed by the elites, who after all look at the Philippines not as their country—they see themselves are Spanish, Americans, or “globalists”—but only as a lucrative market or production site.

Contrast Japanese or Thai capitalists’ nationalism, and you will realize how bad our situation is. Our elites have dived into the idea of “globalization”: most of them have mansions in New York, California, and even London, which they consider as their real homes. The most famous executive in our country, much admired for his corporate successes, is Manuel V. Pangilinan. Yet he works for foreigners: the lucrative conglomerate he manages has given a billion dollars in profits to its main owners, the Indonesian Anthoni Salim and rich American investors.

All these points would be just theoretical if not for recent developments: the emergence as an economic powerhouse of China, one of the world’s most nationalist countries.

China’s 800 million
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.The most important factor for China’s growth is that it had a strong state that adopted whatever policy, absent the dogmas, that would grow the economy and lift its people out of poverty.

That 800 million lifted out of poverty is equivalent to the population of 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 newspaper 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.

Indeed, humanity has been in such misery for most of its existence that it is a dogma for major religions. A Christian after-life heaven wouldn’t have had traction if most people were happy alive. Islam views life as so miserable that one should pass through it as fast as possible, which indeed jihadists do. Buddhism says there are ways to eject from the cycle of (miserable) life.

Isn’t it mind-boggling that 800 million Chinese souls in just 25 years – less than the time span between our EDSA revolution and today – were lifted out of poverty, so that they and their descendants will be able to celebrate life? Wouldn’t it have given those responsible for that feat all the meaning in life? Shouldn’t we emulate them?

Between collecting Porsches and helping get out of poverty 10 million Filipinos, which would include their hundreds of millions of descendants in the future, won’t the latter give you the bigger thrill?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

‘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.

Astonished
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