Clear and present danger

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WE CAN all sleep soundly each night in the certainty that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is on guard and watching over us. Regardless of such technicalities as due process and human rights, it is at this very moment protecting us not only from explosives experts pretending to be health workers, pregnant mothers and nine-year old girls able to carry and even fire M-16 assault rifles taller than themselves, but also from trade union leaders, community activists, lawyers, church people and even a botanist or two.

Like that other model of selfless, honest and efficient public service, the Philippine National Police, the AFP’s job is also to serve and protect. Neither always says who they’re protecting and serving, but they do occasionally mention something called “the people,” by whom we can reasonably surmise from their near-common histories and current actions they mean the hacenderos, the warlords, the foreign mining companies and the other worthies who have made this country such a heaven for themselves by making it hell for the 90 million others who have to live in this archipelago of fear. After all, there’s a rumor that even your friendly local warlord and hacendero are human, too. Think Ampatuan. Think local officials who mastermind the assassination of journalists. Think certain Philippine presidents.

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Afraid of WikiLeaks

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JULIAN ASSANGE could be Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2010. If he is so named, he will be in the same company as Charles Lindbergh (1927), Mahatma Gandhi (1930), Queen Elizabeth II (1952), Pope John Paul II (1994) Barack Obama (2008) and Corazon Aquino (1986).

It’s not exactly an award for those on this side of Western respectability, however. Joseph Stalin was twice Time Man of the Year, in 1939 and 1942. (Time changed the tag to Person of the Year in 1999.) And by any civilized standard, Henry Kissinger, the chief villain in the 1973 coup in Chile among other crimes, who was Time’s Man of the Year in 1972 together with Richard Nixon, is not someone you’d like being in the same planet with. Ditto for Adolf Hitler, Man of the Year for 1938.

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Unkindest cut

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THEY’RE called state universities and colleges (SUCs) — part of a public educational system that’s supposed to enable those who either can’t afford to pay the huge fees most private schools charge, or who simply prefer schools where winning basketball games isn’t a matter of life or death, to send their children to college.

SUCs are supposed to prevent the injustice of someone capable’s being prevented from entering college because his or her parents can’t afford it. They deepen the country’s pool of teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, accountants, journalists, etc., and are at the same time keys to social mobility. Without them the country would produce lawyers and doctors whose parents are lawyers and doctors, and would make it almost impossible for the son or daughter of a farmer or worker to be a teacher or an accountant. They are as much institutions for democratization as they are for learning, which is why the state founded and should support them. That’s why they’re called state universities and colleges, in the first place.

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