Two countries called “Philippines”

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There are two countries that go by the name “Philippines.” The real, historical one is home to the Filipino millions, nearly half of whom are poor and powerless because they’re ruled by one of the most corrupt and most incompetent political classes on the planet. The other is an imaginary one — a creation of those very same rulers to convince the ruled that everything is fine, indeed nearly perfect, in this earthly paradise.

A March 31 statement by the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES), for example, kept referring to “the Philippines.” But it sounded as if it were describing an entirely different country outside of history.

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Closure

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THE NEED for closure was among the reasons Justice Secretary Laila de Lima cited to put in context her denial of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s petition for travel abroad. Closure is what has eluded Filipinos most when it comes to the most critical events and issues that have confronted this country since its independence was restored.

De Lima acknowledged that the decision was political, but based as well on legal considerations and an evaluation of Mrs. Arroyo’s medical condition: “It may be political. One thing’s for sure, it’s more than medical or legal. It may be a combination of all, but what’s important is that it will serve the ends of justice.”

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Blaming Arroyo

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BENIGNO Aquino III blames not only his immediate predecessor, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for the country’s ills; he’s also mentioned the late Ferdinand Marcos as equally responsible for them.

For doing that in some of his speeches and interviews with the media — and implying that Marcos and his female clone have made changing anything extremely difficult if not impossible — not only the partisans of Arroyo have accused Mr. Aquino of trying to deflect criticism from his own administration’s inadequacies. So have others impatient with the administration’s seeming inability to solve the country’s most urgent problems.

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Commission omission

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AS THE CONCEPT has evolved, a truth commission is tasked with investigating and revealing wrongdoing by a past government, or a succession of governments. Its formation, as in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Peru and El Salvador — the countries where truth commissions have been most successful — is driven by the scale of the misdeeds. Because of these offenses’ impact on society they have to be documented, their perpetrators identified, and if necessary prosecuted.

In Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Peru and El Salvador, the mission of the truth commissions was to determine the extent, causes and cases of state-sponsored crimes committed against the citizenry so that they may never again be repeated. They were also meant to identify and recommend prosecution of the guilty, and compensation for the victims and survivors, or their kin.

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Pressed

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IT’S NOT rocket science, and neither is it brain surgery: the country has a new President, and the press must re-examine its assumptions when it covers government. The ex-President it loved to hate is busy reinventing herself. She’s no longer in Malacanang, and with her have gone some of the most offensive public officials this country has had to pay out of public funds. The relationship based on suspicion, mistrust, and outright hostility between the press and the government ceased to exist last July 1. A new one will be, and should be, taking its place.

Will the task of getting information be hard for the press, or will it be easy? Will government officials be so transparent as to develop through the press the public awareness of what government’s doing every democracy needs? How its relationship with the press will develop and what that relationship will be like will largely depend on the Aquino III government and its officials.

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Messages

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THE speed with which the Philippine National Police has identified, and filed murder charges against, the suspects in the killing of an Ilocos Norte journalist was unprecedented.

Police investigations into extrajudicial killings and the killing of journalists, if they take place at all, usually move with the speed of flowing molasses. This time the investigation, identification of the suspects, and the filing of charges took place in one week in what must be the police equivalent of lightning speed. It is also unusual for local officials to be so quickly charged , the alleged principal being the vice mayor-elect of Bacarra, Ilocos Norte. But that he has not yet taken office and established the usual networks with the police and the military could have helped hasten the process.

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But he has nothing on

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THE ADVICE, totally unsolicited, for Benigno Aquino III to be “consultative” and to be the President of “everyone including his enemies” sounded odd indeed from a Malacanang bureaucrat who was no doubt speaking on the instructions of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Being everyone’s President, after all, is the last thing Mrs. Arroyo, has been.

But Elena Bautista Horn, the current chief of Arroyo’s Presidential Management Staff, presumed to lecture Aquino on what being President of the country should be like, in belated reaction to Aquino’s saying that he would not retain Gen. Delfin Bangit as AFP Chief of Staff.

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Mother problem

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The current (and seemingly worsening) power crisis and what it could mean to the May elections, among the possibilities being that of a nation wide shut-down of the machines being put in place for the first ever automated polls.

The possible granting of emergency powers to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to address the power shortage in Mindanao. Questions over Arroyo’s last-minute appointments in the military and the executive branch. Her literally hundreds of “midnight” appointments to various positions, from ambassadors to bureau underlings.

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Let them eat dirt

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It’s no hot dog stand, but it’s no Max’s Restaurant either. Its owner Sirio Maccioni describes it in its website (www.lecirque.com) as “a place where the worlds of food, fashion, art and culture converge,” although he doesn’t say how it enables patrons to live, or even to just think about, art and culture between the soup and the entrée.

New York’s Le Cirque seats about 150 in separate dining, private event and bar areas. Its décor of yellow and orange evokes “ a circus big top that actually looks more like the inside of a humungous lamp shade.”

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Let them eat cake

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A statesman she’s never been. And statesmanlike she wasn’t during her ninth, and hopefully last, State of the Nation Address. As many expected she was her usual self: petulant, combative, self-righteous, arrogant.

This year’s SONA would have been another ho-hum event were it not for the context in which it was being delivered.

Instead of rising above the gutter politics she swears she’s immune to but is actually the master of, she reached another low by using what was supposed to be a report to the nation to attack her critics, justify her actions or lack of them (she didn’t declare martial law), and to praise herself (for not declaring martial law, among other reasons).

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