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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Wrongdoing rewarded

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THEN Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo replaced ousted President Joseph Estrada in 2001. But they have more in common than it seems. Both are the heads of their respective political dynasties. And both are running for public office this year–she for the second congressional district of Pampanga, to which she was elected in 2010, and he for Mayor of Manila.

Convicted of plunder in September 2007, but pardoned by Arroyo a month later, Estrada ran for President in 2010, and, among the nine candidates for the post that year, came in as second to Benigno Aquino III. Estrada amassed more than nine million votes out of the 38 million voter turnout, compared to Aquino III’s 15 million votes. There but for Aquino, the Philippines would have had another Estrada Presidency, despite his ouster through direct citizen action in 2001 and subsequent conviction.

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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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Rigodon

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Convicted of plunder in 2004, Joseph Estrada was pardoned in 2007, after a public declaration that he would no longer run for any elective office.

But that was then. Since early this year Estrada has been saying that he might seek in 2010 the presidency he lost to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001, when the second People Power uprising known as EDSA 2 removed him from office. He’s refused to say if he will indeed run next year, but Estrada recently bought not only two helicopters, but also, says his friend and political ally Juan Ponce Enrile, a private jet and 20 vans. He’s preparing for the 2010 campaign, says Enrile: Estrada will run next year.

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