No, he can’t

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Those who expected US President Barack Obama to ignore Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and who were surprised at his calling her last March 14, should have read his speeches and other statements on foreign policy during the campaign for the 2008 US Presidential elections.

Some Filipinos repelled by eight years of Bush policies had somewhat naively thought that the election of the first black US President, whose campaign had been waged from a high moral plane, would mean fundamental shifts in US foreign policy, including a departure from the “war on terrorism” paradigm. They were wrong.

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Cheap

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A hundred thousand pesos nowadays will buy you 1/20th of a two-bedroom house in a cheap suburb of Manila, and less than 1/10th of a previously-owned 2004 Series Three BMW sedan. The same amount should just about cover the insurance for both purchases.

It’s not much — about US$2,000 — given today’s prices. But that’s what US Marine Daniel Smith is supposed to have paid Suzette Nicolas, the “Nicole” of the November 1, 2005 Subic rape case, who now says, in so many words, that she wasn’t quite sure if Smith raped her. And yet she was raped was what she had been saying for three years. Branch 139 of the Makati Regional Trial Court believed her enough to convict Smith, though not to condemn him to death as Ms. Nicolas earlier told the media she wanted.

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Artificially intelligent

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If the phrase “civilized warfare” sounds like an oxymoron, it’s because it is. With their toll in lives lost, societies ravaged and resources destroyed, wars are the very anti-theses of civilized behavior. They can kill millions, as the first and second world wars did. They separate families and uproot entire communities. They set back development, and can throw entire societies back to an earlier stage of development—as in Vietnam, which the US sought to bomb “back to the Stone Age.” And yet wars are likely to remain part of the human condition as long as men and women are divided by competing economic interests and by the inequality in societies where the gulf between classes results in the most egregious injustice and the most widespread misery.

The elimination of war, whether between nations or within nations, is premised on the elimination of greed and inequality, to which all the other “causes” that trigger wars, such as racial hatred, religion, ethnic conflict, etc., are ultimately reducible. The rhetoric of the US “war on terror” concealed the real causes of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and the US’ retaliation, terrorism being a method of warfare rather than its cause.

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Bad medicine

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The Right of Reply bill is far from dead despite the withdrawal of support for it by senators who either sponsored it, voted for it, or supported it by not saying a word against it. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., its principal sponsor in the Senate, insists that the journalists and journalists’ groups opposed to it have yet to convince him that their opposition is reasonable. The chief sponsor of the House version, Monico Puentevella, although he’s declared that the House version of the bill will no longer mandate prison terms for those editors who fail to publish “replies,” is still pushing it—and I use the term “pushing it” advisedly and in the same sense that a drug dealer pushes his dangerous wares.

If shoddy and unfair reporting is the disease it’s meant to address, a right of reply bill is no cure, and is in fact worse than the disease in that it’s certain to kill the patient. The patient isn’t press freedom alone. It’s the entire media system as well, whose primary function is providing information more than entertainment.

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