Year: 2015

UK newspaper: “PHL new breeding ground for ISIS jihadis”

Three weeks ago, I wrote a column entitled, “ISIS’ rise and terror should tell us to junk and bury BBL now.”

There I pointed out that the two Islamic armed organizations differ in their approach. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) strategy is the Maoist style of raising a conventional guerilla army that would demand from the central government the right for Muslims in the Philippines to form their own independent state.

The Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is also using that strategy, but on a grander and faster scale, using the billions of dollars it receives as financial support from its Saudi Arabian sympathizers and revenues from the oil wells it has seized and taken over.

The MILF’s difference from the ISIS, though, is that the Middle East jihadist organization openly espouses, finances and undertakes horrible terrorist attacks that kill mostly civilians, as in their recent carnage in Paris and California, and mass beheadings of people outside of their faith. At least the MILF claims that’s not the way it operates.

Both, though, have the same goal – the establishment of an Islamic state. That of ISIS is the medieval grand vision of a global caliphate. That of the MILF, is a Bangsamoro (which translates to Moro Nation) at the heart of Mindanao, disguised at this stage as merely an autonomous entity with an “asymmetric” relationship with the Philippine nation state.

What President Aquino and his bleeding-heart negotiators refuse to see in their obsession for the Nobel Peace Prize is that to set up an Islamic state isn’t just a fervent dream for Muslims. It is an injunction for every Muslim to contribute to the establishment of such an Islamic state.

That is the reason why there is no autonomous entity anywhere in the world under Muslim leadership. For an independent state to allow the creation of such a Muslim-dominated area would mean its political dismemberment: the Muslim rulers in such an entity would use their territory to strengthen their army for their eventual secession. We would have been the only suckers in the world to have fallen for such lies by the MILF.

What I did not expect when I wrote that article was that the ISIS was not just in touch with the MILF to recruit potential jihadists. They have also been directly going to the Muslim masses to attract jihadists for training to fight both in Mindanao and in the Middle East.

Photo from the UK newspaper, Daily Mail, showing ISIS recruits training in Mindanao. Caption reads: “Recruits are forced to crawl under a fence of barbed wire as a commander lets off occasional gunshots.”
Photo from the UK newspaper, Daily Mail, showing ISIS recruits training in Mindanao. Caption reads: “Recruits are forced to crawl under a fence of barbed wire as a commander lets off occasional gunshots.”

The London-based Daily Mail the other day had a major feature on ISIS’ operations in the Philippines, with several accompanying photos, as well as embedded videos. The article’s title: ISIS unveil the Philippines as their new breeding ground for jihadis with their latest propaganda video featuring a secret Filipino jungle training camp.

The text of the article is, however, short as it is mainly a video-based report:

The Philippines has become the latest ISIS target for expansion after the jihadi group released its first propaganda video of a terror training camp in the Filipino jungle.

“Several jihadi commanders are shown urging Filipinos to travel to Syria to join ISIS before revealing the group have already started their own terror camp in the Philippines.

The footage shows the ‘soldiers of the Caliphate in the Philippines’ working on their fitness and agility by completing a series of assault course drills.

A small group of recruits, each wearing similar black clothing and masks, are shown climbing up rope ladders, crawling under barbed wire and practicing with weapons.

The Filipino government has long said that support for ISIS in the Philippines was limited to local bandits claiming allegiance to the group.

However, the latest propaganda video suggests that the jihadi group has earmarked the Philippines as a potential site for establishing further new bases.

The new video comes after eight members of a criminal gang that pledged allegiance to ISIS were killed in a firefight with the military in the southern Philippines last month.

The hour-long battle took place in Palimbang, a remote town in the south – home to the predominantly Catholic nation’s Muslim minority and the scene of decades of conflict.

The bandits were from Ansar al-Khalifa, a small group that declared its support for ISIS in a video circulated on the Internet last year, regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan said.

The larger Abu Sayyaf group has also pledged its allegiance to ISIS and is holding at least four foreign nationals hostages.

The group is demanding millions of dollars in ransom for their safe release and have released several videos threatening them with execution.

Tan told AFP that five black flags similar to those used by Islamic State fighters were recovered from the bandits after the clash.

Criminal gangs operate kidnap for ransom and extortion activities alongside Muslim and communist separatist campaigns in the restive south.

While the relatively new Ansar al-Khalifa had extorted from businessmen and stolen cattle from farmers, it had no proven links with Islamic State – also known by the acronym ISIS – national military spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla said.

‘This group is trying to ride on the popularity of the ISIS, but they’re not really ISIS,’ he told AFP. ‘We view them as mere criminal gangs.’

Tan said the military was verifying intelligence reports that one of the eight killed was an Indonesian national.”

We really should thank Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. for heroically resisting this stupid Administration’s massive steamrollers (and ATM machines) that would have created an “ISIM” in the south – the Islamic State for Islands of Sulu and Mindanao. Most of those who voted for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the House of Representatives were, of course, Liberal Party members, including vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

COA: Another institution Aquino damaged

The Commission on Audit had been, even through martial law, one of the most prestigious agencies of our Republic, its reputation untainted by graft or partisanship.

With just a few months remaining for this inglorious Administration, the COA will be left as another institution damaged by President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who has turned it into a political weapon.

Even in this rather late stage of the electoral game, this yellow regime is using the COA for its political ends, as in a report mysteriously leaked the other day alleging unliquidated funds of the Office of the Vice President. The next day, of course, as if on cue, was another accusation against Binay by former Makati vice mayor Renato Bondal – yes, the same accuser whose allegations have been proven false, yet hogged the headlines of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s front pages for 44 nearly consecutive days. (See It’s the familiar flurry of accusations for a vilification campaign.

I had been asked in the comments section of my column why I haven’t written much about the allegations against Binay. My simple answer is: Why should I, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which claims to have the biggest circulation (Manila Times is just no. 4 among the broadsheets) seemed to have found as its newest cause this year the demonization of the Vice President? Why should I help it in its project, which could have been undertaken for not-so-noble reasons?

I am not only talking about its news sections. Columnist Solita Monsod, its most widely read columnist, must have written over 50 columns against Binay, with many of the occasional contributors trying to show off, unsuccessfully, their polemical skills to vilify the candidate. Fair play, I say, so I have presented the other side to the allegations, most of which, I think, had been indisputably debunked as pure lies. And these lies, the Ombudsman insists, should be investigated in the courts.

For example, both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR) records showed that the Batangas estate belonged to a Chinese-Filipino businessman, and not to Binay. The Makati Building II’s costs were comparable in terms of price per square feet to Senate President Franklin Drilon’s Iloilo Convention Center, or to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) branches in three provinces, which all had the same contractor. Binay’s “crime” is his inarticulateness or his campaign staff’s inefficiency in debunking and burying the corruption allegations against him.

The Office of the President’s newest attached agency? From left, COA chair Aguinaldo, former Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs; Fabia, Philippine Information Agency head, 2010- 2012; and Heidi Mendoza, Aquino’s crying, or angry, lady at Senate hearings.
The Office of the President’s newest attached agency? From left, COA chair Aguinaldo, former Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs; Fabia, Philippine Information Agency head, 2010- 2012; and Heidi Mendoza, Aquino’s crying, or angry, lady at Senate hearings.

But back to the COA. It was astonishing that former chair Grace Pulido-Tan claimed, when she stepped down, at the pork-barrel investigations what her legacy was: the pork-barrel exposés. How on earth could she claim that, given the fact the probe had been ordered undertaken by her predecessor who was appointed by President Arroyo, and when most of those investigated under her administration, and charged, were opposition figures like senators Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla?

Pulido-Tan herself said two years ago that a special audit was also being undertaken to investigate the pork-barrel funds released during Aquino’s Administration, from 2010-2012.

The report had been completed and I myself viewed a TV report in 2013 by broadcast journalist, Anthony Taberna, about that investigation. A camera even panned a copy of the actual report.

Two years after it was completed, COA hasn’t released the report. And she has the gall to claim that she did her part in Aquino’s anti-corruption crusade?

Is it because the COA itself received P143.7 million in 2012 from President Aquino’s scandalous “Disbursement Acceleration Plan” (DAP), which the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional? Or was it because Pulido-Tan has been angling for a position in the Supreme Court when it announced a vacancy in 2012? (Aquino, instead, appointed Marvic Leonen, who is as inexperienced in legal practice as the Chief Justice is. Is Tan still hoping she will be the last Aquino appointee in April 2016, when Justice Martin Villarama retires?)

In the past, those appointed by Presidents as COA chair and members were people of unquestionable integrity, without the slightest taint of partisanship, such as Teofisto Guingona (chair 1986 to 1987), Eufemio Domingo (1987-1993), Celso Gangan (1994-2001), Guillermo Carague (2001-2008) and Reynaldo Villar (2004-2008), who ordered the special pork-barrel audit. It had also been a tradition for the other two members of the commission to be appointed among the COA’s veteran auditors, especially for those who spent their entire professional career in the agency.

Contrast that to Aquino’s appointees to the COA:

• A nearly retired Heidi Mendoza – who had vowed to pin down Binay on corruption charges many years ago, jumping several pay levels – was appointed as one of the three COA commissioners. It was Mendoza who provided Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, when she testified in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial, with grossly false analysis that artificially bloated his bank accounts. For that monumental fabrication that whipped up a mob against the Chief Justice, she, together with Carpio-Morales, should have resigned their posts.

• Jose A. Fabia was appointed a COA member in 2014. Who is he? The Director-General of the Philippine Information Agency since Aquino assumed office, up until 2012, when he reached the government’s retirement age. He replaced a former Liberal Party Cadiz City mayor Rowena Guanzon, who served only a year, since she was given what Aquino thinks is a more important task, as Commission on Elections member. (I am hopeful, though, that Guanzon, at the end of the day, would live up to her lofty principles.)

• Aquino in March appointed Michael G. Aguinaldo as COA chair. Aguinaldo was the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs of the Office of the President since Aquino assumed office, and reportedly his classmate in their Ateneo days.

Isn’t that, in his hubris, Aquino’s way of practically telling the country: “The COA, one of my favorite political weapons, has been attached to the Office of the President”?

It is a wasteland of damaged institutions that Aquino will be leaving us with when he steps down in office a few months from now.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

BS Aquino’s legacy: Ad hominem politics

Many of us, I’m sure, have been shaking our heads, even pulling our hair over the childish squabble between Manuel Roxas 2nd and Davao’s Dirty Harry Duterte.

But really to blame is the kind of politics and electoral discourse President Aquino 3rd has imposed on this country.

In debates, there is what’s called the fallacy of ad hominem argument, or that directed against the person rather than his position in the debate. To borrow that phrase, Aquino’s brand of discourse is that of ad hominem politics, or variations of it.

Roxas started the childish squabble by disputing Duterte’s claim that Davao is a peaceful city, calling it not just inaccurate, but a “myth”. He even used the Pilipino word “kathang-isip,” which translates to “fictional.” While such talk, on the surface, appears to be a question of fact, it is really an attack on the person of Duterte as the mayor considers Davao’s peace-and-order situation his unquestionable achievement, especially since he even had to “kill” criminals for it.

Duterte, of course, retaliated by questioning Roxas’ “Wharton” record, which surprisingly hit a raw nerve in this man who is Aquino’s 2016 bet. I wonder why he had been so sensitive about it that he blew his top. One could lose his cool over that if getting into Wharton had been an ordeal, or cost the family tons of money. If that was the case with Roxas, that could explain why he was admitted only in September 1976, two years after he finished high school in 1974.

Roxas’ dig into Duterte’s track record in Davao, rather than debating with the mayor what he intends to do when or if he becomes President, has really been Aquino’s and his camp’s kind of discourse.

They spent hundreds of millions of pesos and the Senate’s valuable time trying to pin the corrupt label on Vice President Jejomar Binay with the help of one of the biggest broadsheets in the country. It was easy, of course, for the Aquino camp to quickly dig up documents showing that Grace Poe Llamanzares isn’t a natural-born Filipino and doesn’t meet the residency requirement to run for the presidency.

Watch how the Commission on Human Rights will swiftly uncover evidence that Duterte did kill criminals. Liberal Party stalwart Chito Gascon, a lawyer, wasn’t made chair of the CHR last July for nothing.

But this has always been the self-righteous mindset of the Yellow Cult: those who aren’t with them are corrupt, evil. Marcos was the Devil incarnate, President Gloria Arroyo was evil and they did nothing, absolutely nothing for the good of the country.  Aquino’s trademark argument, in fact, has been to blame everything that has gone wrong during his term – even the most recent international embarrassment that was the tanim-bala episode – on his predecessor.

The unfair, slow justice system? Take out Chief Justice Renato Corona, as he was picked by Arroyo. The PDAF pork barrel scam? Jail the three opposition senators only. The Mamasapano massacre? Blame it on sacked police chief Alan Purisima, only.

Don’t expect the election discourse to involve such issues as whether the P178 billion conditional-cash transfer (CCT) scheme was a huge dole-out, the most expensive vote-buying scheme ever undertaken in this country; what alternatives do we have in dealing with what is now our biggest trading partner, the People’s Republic of China; what economic program do we have other than just opening up our economy to the world, and hoping the hidden hand of the free-market works; or what do we do with the moribund coconut industry, in which most of our poor are trapped in.

The only thing this yellow regime and its cohorts know is ad hominem political discourse.

Aquino didn’t sign climate-change document?

The revelation was buried deep into the article published Dec. 16 in the opinion pages of this newspaper by Rene Golango, the business sector representative to the advisory board of the Climate Change Commission: That President Aquino had not signed our “pledge” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris assembly of which was hailed as a historic one that could save the planet.

The pledge is technically called the “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC) to the world’s effort to stop global warming. Aquino had to sign the document, and not just issue an authorization for someone to sign it, as he was the chairman of the Climate Change Commission.

“For such a critically important international document outlining official commitment/s of the Republic, the Chairman’s imprimatur should be required, “
Golango pointed out.

Golango also noted; “The Philippine INDC was submitted under the authorship of former Climate Change Commission Commissioner Lucille Sering (aided by Climate Change Office Deputy Executive Director Joy Goco). By sequence, Goco announced that Sering resigned her position in September 2015. Yet, a covering letter dated October 1st [attaching the INDC] submitted to the UNFCCC on its face was signed by Sering.”

So could Sering sign the document and submit it, when she was no longer with the Climate Change Commission?

Golango explained:  “The Commission is composed of three Commissioners, plus the President of the Philippines as its Chairman; only the Chairman can call for a meeting of the Commission…” There is no showing of a Climate Change Commission en banc meeting convened for the purpose of approving the INDC, and authorizing its release and/or submission to the UNFCCC.

It would turn out to be a big embarrassment for the country, that we submitted a document for such a crucial initiative of mankind that wasn’t signed by the head of the Philippine Republic.  I even doubt that Aquino read the document.

No wonder it was such a naïve pledge, that we promised to reduce our CO2 emission by 70 percent by 2030.  No other country was stupid enough to promise that much reduction, with our neighbors in Asia pledging at most only a 30 percent cut.

The only way we could, perhaps, achieve a 70 percent reduction is by banning all vehicles on EDSA and closing all factories in the country.

Such stupidity has been, anyway, the new normal for this Administration.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Duterte might still get to slap Roxas

It’s strange, really, that the nuances of academic degrees get involved in who deserves to be, gangland-style, slapped. President BS Aquino’s boy, Mar Roxas, again made things worse, when he should have refused to be drawn into usapang kanto – a territory Duterte has lived in almost all his working life, where he could eat the Yellow Heir alive.

This slapping episode started when Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte blurted out a risqué threat that he would slap Roxas if he saw him, for saying that Davao’s being a peaceful city was a myth.

Roxas could have taken advantage of Duterte’s use of gutter talk – which I don’t think most Filipinos appreciate – by being gentlemanly, and replying with something like: “Slapping someone for telling the truth is what gangsters do, and we don’t do that in civilized society.” Or he could have been cute with a response like, “If he slaps me I will turn the other cheek and repeat the truth that Davao hasn’t been peaceful under Duterte.”

When Duterte again taunted him that he was lying about being a graduate of the Wharton School of Business, he should have remained cool and just told him not to believe everything whispered to him, and just check the records, that he would even pay his plane fare to go to Pennsylvania to see for himself the official school records.

But no, Roxas’ ego of course, was pricked, and no one could do that to the scion of one of the wealthiest clans in the country, destined to follow his granddaddy’s footsteps as President.

He brought the conversation again to the spectacle of slapping: “Sampalan tayo. Kung hindi totoo ang Wharton degree ko, sampalin mo ako. Hindi ako iiwas o iilag. Pero kung totoo ang Wharton degree ko, sasampalin kita. O ayan. Ang bilis mong magsalita na hindi mo alam, eh. (“Let’s go on a slapping match. If my Wharton degree is fake, slap me, I won’t turn my face away. But if you see my Wharton degree to be true, then I get to slap you.)

Mr. Palengke has become Mr. Palengkera.

Like a kid whose ego was bruised, Roxas even added: “I will write Wharton today to produce official records.”

So was Duterte wrong regarding Roxas’ academic records?

kind of diploma Roxas probably has. Duterte would tell him: “Nasaan ang Wharton diyan?
The kind of diploma Roxas probably has. Duterte would tell him: “Nasaan ang Wharton diyan?

Well, he was in one way wrong, but in one way correct. Roxas doth protest too much, and he should have just let the issue pass. Instead, his threat to slap Duterte if he produces proof of his “Wharton” degree has, instead, exposed how much of an untruthful person he is, quick to put a spin on things for his benefit.

You see, people who graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania – Roxas’ course – would just call themselves U-Penn grads. It is only Roxas who has claimed, as in his official bio-data in the Senate that he is a Wharton graduate, a term used to describe those who finish a masters’ degree in business administration or finance from the Wharton School of Business, a unit of U-Penn. Former Energy Secretary Vicente Perez Jr., for instance, and Trade and Industry Secretary Gregorio Domingo, accurately claim to be Wharton graduates, because they have completed the school’s MBA course.

The US National Student Clearinghouse, a trusted source for verification of academic degrees, has confirmed that Roxas received a degree of “Bachelor of Science in Economics” from the University of Pennsylvania, but his school division was noted as “Wharton undergraduate.” So Roxas lied: He is not a Wharton graduate, but a Wharton undergraduate. (It reminds me so much of a staff I once got, introduced to me as a PMAer (a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy). It turned out he didn’t finish the course, so he couldn’t be called a PMAer, but a PMA dropout. Big difference.)

The division, I was told, was designed to prepare its graduates for MBA courses at Wharton. But Roxas didn’t even enroll in an MBA course offered at the Wharton graduate school.

Similarly, when somebody says he finished at Haas or at Kellogg or at Sloan, that means he holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration, Finance or other specializations offered by those graduate schools, and not just B.A. or B.S. degrees from the schools’ mother universities – University of California, Northwestern University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively.

I had wondered why Roxas didn’t just show his diploma “from Wharton” and posted it on the internet, with which he could have taunted Duterte: “O, ito ang diploma ko, nakasulat: Wharton. Isampal mo sa mukha mo.” I’m sure he has the diploma somewhere in his residence, most likely proudly displayed.

The likelihood is that his diploma may not even mention the name “Wharton,” but only the “University of Pennsylvania,” as shown by sample copies I saw of such diplomas for graduates of Bachelor of Science in Economics. This is because it is not the school that confers the degree but the University (see image).

If Duterte, the wise aleck, saw such a diploma, I’m sure he’d say: “O nasaan ang putanginang Wharton diyan sa diploma mo?” And indeed, until this sampalan challenge emerged recently, most people had never thought about doubting Roxas’ MBA, since he had referred to himself so many times as a “Wharton graduate.” It turns out to be a clever spin, something I had been tempted to do myself if I referred to myself as a Harvard man, because I was fellow for a year of its Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

Duterte might just have the right to slap Roxas, calling the Liberal Party candidate’s ante.

I am starting to enjoy this elections, never mind that it is so depressing, as it demonstrates how so barren of real leaders our political landscape has become.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

PH climate change pledge: 70% reduction, but give us the money

Something must be wrong with the state of the Philippine press. The three biggest broadsheets all had banner headlines on the United Nations-led climate change agreement signed by nearly 200 countries in Paris the other day. The Philippine Star, controlled through intermediary firms by the Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim, gushed: “Climate deal unveiled, a historic turning point.” The Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote: “Paris talks in last stretch.” The Manila Bulletin’s: “Landmark climate deal up for approval.”

Surprisingly, the, ahem, best newspaper in the country, this newspaper, didn’t have any news report on the “landmark, historic deal.” Its banner was on Fil-Am boxer Nonito Donaire’s victory over a Mexican challenger.

My beef with the three papers that did report the climate change deal is this: Why am I reading all these dispatches from Paris by foreign news agencies, which would be the same stories I’d be reading if I were an American or an Australian living in New York or Sydney? A newspaper in one country by definition talks of what interests the citizens of that country.

The agreement’s significance was that the participating countries – especially the big two polluters China and the US – agreed to curb the increase in global temperature to less than 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to even limit it to 1.5 degrees.

As important as that agreed-upon target is that every nation had pledged or will pledge exactly by how much they would reduce pollution in their countries. These will even be recorded, and made publicly available, in an official UN registry.

So naturally, as a Filipino, the information I wanted was: What did this government pledge for climate change? I’m worried you see, given the fact that we learned only a year later after his 2011 Tokyo meeting with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that the President, in effect, promised the Islamic insurgents their own nation-state, called Bangsamoro.

Three countries can actually solve the problem on their own. The Philippines is ranked 40th in the list, 27 countries above it are not included in the chart for brevity. Source:
Three countries can actually solve the problem on their own. The Philippines is ranked 40th in the list, 27 countries above it are not included in the chart for brevity. Source:

I read twice, thrice the articles on it by the three broadsheets, and searched their newspapers: There is no report at all what the hell did the Philippines under Aquino pledged to contribute to reducing global warming.

A Facebook friend, dean of the Ateneo School of Government Antonio La Viña had several-on-the-ground posts on the conference, including selfies with delegates from all over the world on his FB wall. It was high drama, his posts implied. He and his fellow “negotiators” were burning the midnight oil on the draft agreement, negotiating with other countries to accept it. Wow! Did the Philippines, which accounts for a miniscule 0.3 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, just save the world?

The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s columnist who seemed to be in Paris devoted an entire article on La Viña’s excitement that the term “climate justice” was in the text of the draft agreement. (Yes it was mentioned once in the 7,344-word agreement and in a by-the-way-tone: “noting the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice.” I wonder what his excitement over the term is about, as it’s an old term and there was even a Climate Justice Summit in 2000.)

But darn, there was no report from them what the Philippine pledge was. I couldn’t even find what this government pledged in behalf of all of us on the website of the Commission on Climate Change.

It took a lot of googling and several calls to my sources to find out what the Philippine pledge was. The Philippines and many other countries, including the US and China, had submitted their promises in October and November in preparation for the Paris convention. The Philippines submitted its pledge on Oct. 1.

Finally, I read the Philippine pledge: It smacks of this government’s and its NGO allies’ kind of empty braggadocio. And worse.

This government pledged to reduce its pollution levels 70 percent by 2030. (Technically, all emissions from all sectors, including the result of changes, land use, land use change and forestry, and including those from industrial, energy and agricultural emissions.)

That is really the kind of promise Aquino gave to the MILF in 2011 in his obsession to win the Nobel Prize.

In comparison, Thailand pledged to lower its emissions only by 20 percent, and Indonesia by 29 percent. The three biggest polluters that make up half of carbon emissions in the world – China, the United States and India – pledged reductions of 24 percent, 15.5 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.

Are we pretending to be a developed country? The crux of the controversy here – everyone wishes for a clean planet – is that non-industrial countries, and China and Russia include themselves in this category, allege that the industrial countries led by the US polluted the planet many decades ago, and that pollution is the price we now have to pay for those countries’ economic growth. Why should the developing countries, especially China and India, be handicapped now in their industrialization? I myself am wondering why the US pledged only a 15.5 percent reduction in its emissions, when it is the world’s richest nation that can afford to reduce its pollution drastically, as Europe in the past decades has done. Germany, for instance, accounts for only 2.2 percent of CO2 emissions, while Italy and France account for a mere 0.9 percent each.

We contribute only 0.3 percent of the global CO2 emissions, yet we pledged to reduce that by 70 percent. (Our problem of pollution is really limited to that in Metro Manila.)

The government must have a reason for that 70 percent pledge. That hollow-sounding promise has been graded “adequate” by environmental groups, such as the Climate Action Tracker. Expect Aquino to boast about that.

I don’t think there is any other country that pledged a reduction by anything more than 30 percent. What would that make us look like? High-school braggarts?

What is really embarrassing for us a nation is that the pledge is conditional “on the extent of financial resources, including technology development and transfer, and capacity building that will be made available to the Philippines.”

This government, in effect, told the world: “We’ll reduce our pollution by 70 percent. But give us the money to do that.” That’s really like the BBL Aquino promised the MILF, if you believe credible reports that some Malaysian slush fund was offered to this Administration if it passed that bill into law.

What a government!

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

PDAF probe: Aquino’s most lethal weapon that pinned down opposition

Once in a while, but very rarely, we still get a gem of journalism work in TV news, which has degenerated into tabloid crime and celebrity reportage and thus, explains the Filipinos’ shallow political discourse and culture.

ABS-CBN TV’s 6:30 p.m. news the other night had a short, but very meaty, piece entitled, “What happened to the PDAF scam 3 years later?” Another version with a more self-explanatory title in Filipino: “200 mambabatas nadawit sa PDAF scam, di pa naiimbestigahan.” (“200 legislators involved in PDAF scam, not yet investigated.”)

(See the link: v2/12/09/15/3-years-later-what-happened-to-the-pdaf-scam).

Screen shot of TV report
Screen shot of TV report

In case you’ve forgotten, PDAF refers to the so-called Priority Development Assistance Fund, a discretionary pork barrel fund available to members of Congress to support projects in their respective jurisdictions but was exposed by a Commission on Audit (COA) special investigation to have been abused for personal gain by individual legislators from 2007 to 2009.

The special audit was ordered undertaken in May 2010 by the agency’s chair, Reynaldo Villar, appointed during President Gloria Arroyo’s term but fired by President Benigno Aquino 3rd and later even charged with corruption. (After two years in jail, his case was dismissed.)

His successor, Grace Pulido-Tan, whom Aquino appointed, kept on saying that another report to cover 2010 to 2012 was being finalized. No such report has so far been released, however. Tan stepped down last February, and has since been reportedly asking Aquino to assign her to the last vacant slot in the Supreme Court this President still needs to fill.
The release of that COA report came a few weeks after the National Bureau of Investigation leaked information to the Philippine Daily Inquirer about its huge operation against the purported brains behind the pork barrel racket – Janet Lim-Napoles (remember her?) and how she made pay-offs to legislators.

The NBI also provided the newspaper with raw data in handwritten notes and computer hard drives of Napoles’ main operator who later turned whistleblower, Benhur Luy. The NBI, however, has not made those data available to other newspapers.

The ABS-CBN report asked: So what happened after three years? It’s answer: 18 legislators have been charged at the Sandiganbayan, including Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong Revilla” – giving occasion for President Aquino to boast by using the incident as ‘Exhibit A’ for his anti-corruption drive.

246 legislators not yet investigated

Very laudable, indeed. However, the TV feature also reported: Some 16 senators and 240 congressmen identified in the COA report as having been involved in the theft of P10 billion in pork barrel funding for “soft projects” (i.e. non-infrastructure projects through which it was easier to rechannel funds) remained uninvestigated. Eighty others pinpointed by whistleblower Luy haven’t been charged.

Among the more well known legislators who appear to have been given immunity from the PDAF indictments, as ABS-CBN reported, are two vice presidential candidates Francis Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano, senators Koko Pimentel and Manny Villar, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Liberal Party stalwarts Joel Villanueva, Reynaldo Umali and Bangsamoro Basic Law champion Rufus Rodriguez.

“Those who were charged and imprisoned were all opposition senators,” Estelito Mendoza said in a TV feature interview as Enrile’s lawyer. “The process has certainly not been fair. The charges were plunder, which is “non-bailable,” so they were immediately imprisoned,” Mendoza said.

This anomalous situation has even alarmed the Sandiganbayan, which has been hearing the cases of the three senators. “But according to the state witness, there are more than three senators, and of course, more than five congressmen, and yet their cases are still sleeping,” the TV report quoted Justice Alex Quiros, a member of the Sandiganbayan branch hearing the three senators’ case, as saying.

This all means one thing: The pork-barrel episode, portrayed as one of Aquino’s centerpiece tuwid na daan reform program achievements, turned in a laudable COA special report, but which Aquino hijacked and converted into a weapon for his demolition job and blackmail operation against the opposition and those who refused to lick his boots.

This regime, in fact, hindered the COA investigation in order to protect members of its camp. Aquino, represented by his Budget secretary, Abad, withheld information about his supporters and allies from the COA auditors.

This is based on a really revealing paragraph (page 5) in the COA report itself (Report NO. 2012-03 by its Special Audits Office): “The DBM could not provide the Team, despite repeated requests, with complete schedule of releases per legislator from PDAF for soft projects…”

This means that not all senators and legislators were actually audited, since the DBM did not provide data for everyone. Guess which of the legislators had all the data provided by the COA?

Their identities can be extracted from the report’s Table 4, entitled “Releases from PDAF. . . from CYs 2007 to 2009 Per Legislator as Provided by the DBM and Gathered by the Team.” Should we be surprised that the DBM did not provide COA documents on the pork-barrel uses of senators who had been Aquino’s supporters and allies?

(Table showing the pork barrel funds by legislators audited or skipped by COA)

**Nowhere mentioned in the COA report, as though they were not senators Source: COA Special Audits Office Report No. 2012-03, Table 4, pages 13 to 14, and only for “soft” PDAF releases.
**Nowhere mentioned in the COA report, as though they were not senators Source: COA Special Audits Office Report No. 2012-03, Table 4, pages 13 to 14, and only for “soft” PDAF releases.

The table accompanying this column lists the amount of pork barrel funds the COA audited per senator, and the percentages these represent for each senator’s P600 million total PDAF allocations. The percentages, in effect, represent the audited portion of each senator’s pork barrel funds.

Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla and Edgardo Angara were the most audited senators.

There was, in effect, a 100 percent audit of Enrile’s use of his pork barrel funds. If the use of the funds was audited in detail, it is no wonder at all that the COA report found so many anomalies in their use.

The pork barrel of the senators allied to Aquino, the Cayetano siblings, Ralph Recto, Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillianes – were hardly audited, with the amounts that were checked representing less than 10 percent of their allocations. This was obviously because the DBM refused to provide the COA with the documents on their pork barrel use. Because of this, the COA audited only P8.4 billion or just 29 percent of the total P29.4 billion pork barrel funds it was ordered to audit.

No wonder, the COA report didn’t have any findings on whether these senators properly or improperly used their pork barrel.

Surprisingly or not, the COA appears to have been unable to get any documents on the pork barrel use of then senator Aquino and senator Mar Roxas.

Equally surprising, the COA report had no data at all on the pork barrel use of Francis Escudero and Jamby Madrigal, with not a single reference to them, as though they were not senators from 2007 to 2009, the period covered by the audit.

The inescapable conclusion is that the COA audit started off as a legitimate investigation. It was hijacked, though, to become a demolition job against opposition senators, and the opposition in general, for the 2016 elections.

The hijacking has the hallmark of a tuwid-na-daan operation by a self-righteous cabal purportedly to rid the country of corruption, but which, however, is selective, targeting only its enemies and demolishing them by any means necessary, in order to hold on to power.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

SWS’ bogus Duterte poll

The recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll claiming that Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte garnered a 38 percent rating in the presidential race is so obviously flawed, and therefore, a bogus one.

The questionnaire, which SWS used to project the weird candidate as the front-runner:

“Q5: Ibang listahan naman po ang gamitin natin. Kasama dito si RODRIGO DUTERTE bilang isang substitute candidate sa President. Sa mga sumusunod na pangalan sa listahang ito, sino po ang malamang na inyong iboboto bilang PRESIDENTE NG PILIPINAS, kung ang eleksyon ay gaganapin ngayon? (Let’s use a different list. Included here is RODRIGO DUTERTE as substitute candidate for President. Among the following names in this list, who would you likely vote as President of the Philippines if the elections were to be held now?)”

SWS president Mahar Mangahas knows that’s simply not done in professional polling, that it’s a no-no in a poll asking respondents to pick names in a list to mention a particular name. So, why did he still do that?

The poll was “leaked” to one newspaper, obviously by Duterte supporters ecstatic about the results. Or maybe Mr. Mangahas wasn’t expecting the privately commissioned poll to be publicly released, which would show how flawed its questionnaire was.

The questionnaire grossly biases the result, as if the pollster highlighted Duterte’s name with a yellow marker in the list. In the psychological context of opinion polls, that seemingly innocuous mention of Duterte is a huge red neon arrow sign to Duterte telling respondents: “Pick him, pick him!”

It’s as if a pollster asked: Coke has reduced its price by 10 centavos. Which soft drink do you prefer in this list: Coke, Pepsi, RC Cola?

Note that the questionnaire that produced Duterte’s high ratings, or “Q5,” was preceded by a “Q4,” which seems not to have Duterte’s name. Why didn’t SWS release the results of this questionnaire?

SWS’ loaded questionnaire to push up Duterte’s ratings, with practically a neon sign asking respondents to choose him.
SWS’ loaded questionnaire to push up Duterte’s ratings, with practically a neon sign asking respondents to choose him.

SWS’ loaded questionnaire to push up Duterte’s ratings, with practically a neon sign asking respondents to choose him.

I am quite sure Grace Poe would also have a similar high rating if Mangahas had her name, instead, in the questionnaire: “Included here is GRACE POE as candidate for President, who the Senate Electoral Tribunal ruled on Nov. 17 is qualified to be senator, and therefore, likely to be qualified to be President…”

The basic flaw of such voting-preference polls is the fact that at least 30 percent of respondents haven’t really made up their minds on whom to vote many months before the election day, and merely report unconsidered, shallow choices, or the candidate they last heard of or read about in the news. The mention of Duterte’s name in such a questionnaire practically ordered a lot of uncommitted respondents to pick him.

That the latest SWS poll showing Duterte with the highest rating is a bogus one is obvious in the fact that its Sept. 2-5 survey, which was commissioned by a newspaper and not a Duterte supporter as in the case of the recent one, and which didn’t have a loaded preamble mentioning his name, had only 11 percent of the respondents rooting for the Davao City mayor, just matching that of Mar Roxas.

So, Duterte’s ratings jumped by a huge 27 percentage points in just two months of changing his mind thrice about running for the highest office, and barraging the country not with his program of government but with curses, as well as boasting that he took the life of suspected criminals with his own Armalite?

SWS’ other trick
The other trick which the SWS has been doing so often is conducting such a survey to take advantage of the media coverage of what could be manufactured as “people’s opinion.” The group did that for Duterte this time.

In September, the SWS boosted Poe’s ratings to be the frontrunner after the media reported she would definitely run for President.

The poll that raised Duterte’s standing was undertaken on Nov. 26-28, after he finally announced on Nov. 23 in Davao City his “final” decision to run for the presidency. (*The reasons he gave for his change of mind were rather weird: his disappointment with the government’s failure to act on the alleged bullet-planting (tanim-bala) extortion scheme at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the Senate Electoral Tribunal’s decision favoring Poe.) Following his announcement, he went on a road show of media interviews, projecting himself as a spontaneous, authentic candidate, an indignant one who would topple the corrupt establishment.

Prefacing a question with a statement that covertly prods respondents to pick the one that is actually pushed by the pollster is an old trick that no decent pollster in the world now uses, and I am astonished why SWS still did it. It’s a shame that the leading pollster in the country did it.

Is it a case of a “juke-box” polling, borrowing that old term for journalists on the take, that is, the pollster giving the client who commissioned the poll what he wants to hear?

The SWS itself disclosed that the poll was commissioned by a certain William J. Lima, a Davao-based businessman. We can presume he is a Duterte-supporter.

The only information I could get on Lima is that he is president of TIG Green Technology Mindanao. He represented in 2012 the German firm Herhof GmbH in its proposal to build a $1.2-billion waste-to-water project in Davao City. For some undisclosed reason, though, the project was junked just a few months after it was proposed.

That’s a kind of worrying information as it doesn’t fit with the portrayal of Duterte as a masa politician unconnected with the rich elite: A businessmen pushing for a billion-peso project in Davao City now backing up his candidacy?

Could it be that Lima has been asked to front for a Davao businessmen’s group that has thrown its support behind Duterte, and has started undertaking its candidate’s propaganda strategy, which includes the SWS advertisement posing as a poll?

The debasement of our institutions continues.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

What a country!

Jihadist terrorism has stricken the West with fear and anger, and the battle they fight is a kind of war taken straight from the medieval ages that modern society may not be equipped to confront. How can you fight a people who believe they are warriors for God, who see the innocents as infidels and the murderers as heroes deserving of precious rewards in the hereafter?

And whether we like it or not, the tide of blood poured onto the ground will soon spread to our shores. We have a significant Muslim population—a mostly poor one as in Syria and Iraq—living in their own world and territory. Let’s not kid ourselves—we’re the only country in Asia with an independent Islamic army that runs its own armed camps, thanks to the delusion of this President that he could win the Noble Prize by fooling the rebel troops into surrendering their arms.

The US invasion of Iraq had unleashed a Pandora’s box of sectarianism and religious fanaticism in the Middle East, creating a condition in which incidents such as Turkey’s shooting of Russian jets could get out of control and lead to regional, or even global, conflagration. How much could the price of oil jump if that happened, and how could our industries survive, given that 70 percent of them are dependent on that commodity for fuel?

Ok, forget the rest of the world. Just take a look at our country. Every decade, a neighbor in Asia overtakes us in terms of prosperity, measured as GDP (gross domestic product) per capita.

South Korea and Malaysia overtook as in the 1960s, Thailand in the 1980s, Indonesia in the 1990s. In the past 14 years our GDP per capita grew by only 50 percent; that of Vietnam by 100 percent. Yet, idiots like the foreign news reporters and this President keep boasting that we are Asia’s emerging tiger.

Vietnam will be overtaking us soon. To teach us a lesson for being the vanguard of the fight against its territorial claims in the South China (West Philippine Sea), China has been and will be pouring billions of renminbi in aid and investment in Vietnam, a suitable replacement for us as a market similar to ours in size.

Vietnam is also fiercely nationalistic and has been formulating and implementing the kind of national economic plans similar to what Asia’s economic tigers, China and Malaysia, have done.

Here in our own land, leaders and economists are all free-market believers, even if the UNCTAD and such former neoliberal zealots as the World Bank’s chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, about a decade ago debunked that old “privatization, deregulation, and liberalization” paradigm.

The OFW Dutch disease
Worse, our growth has really been an artificial one, and even carries a certain economic disease. Our economic growth has been due to OFW remittances for more than two decades now. Such inflows account for about 10 to 12 percent of GDP, more than Pakistan’s 7 percent, India’s 3 percent, and in Indonesia, which used to be a big labor exporter, less than a percent as of 2014.

The impact of OFW remittances on our economy is much broader as it funds the huge consumer power that explains why SM malls, Jollibee restaurants and Megaworld condos have been sprouting around like mushrooms.

Did you foolishly think it was due to increased incomes of workers employed here, or to a booming export sector? Which leads us to that “disease” I referred to, called in economics as the “Dutch disease.”

That is the negative economic impact of anything that gives rise to sharp inflows of foreign currency, in our case the OFW remittances, where other countries would, instead, mostly have the discovery of large oil reserves. The currency inflows have led to the strengthening of the peso, weakening our export sector – the undisputed engine of growth for the so-called Asian economic tigers.

What exactly do we do to fix our economy when our manufacturing, and especially the export sectors, have become anemic – the result not only of OFW remittances but of the laissez-faire policies we have adopted since 1986?

The Supreme Court decided that the law that could have helped us mitigate our runaway population was unconstitutional. So what do we do, forget about it?

No way that the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be passed now with its lies exposed. So what do we do with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to which this inane President promised the moon? The insurgents will definitely retaliate, and pretend a fury for being betrayed. Are we planning for that?

A metropolis of 12 million, and probably a further 10 million traveling through during the week on infrastructure basically vintage 1990s; a deteriorating quality of education, partly another result of the OFW phenomenon given that many of our teachers have left abroad to be the world’s most qualified domestic workers – what do we do to solve those huge problems?

And more: A crime situation so prevalent that TV news could only rely on video provided by private closed-circuit television for public broadcast. A legal system so bad that a regional trial court judge has a backlog of cases of at least 1,000, many for crimes alleged to be committed ten years ago. The Ombudsman keeps filing cases at the Sandiganbayan, whose case-backlog, however, is even worse than that of the trial court, that its statistics show it takes seven years on average for a case to be resolved.
A depressing litany
I can go on and on with a litany of the country’s problems that will ruin your day.

What’s more depressing, though, is that our economic elite don’t seem to care at all, as long as people are buying their products. If the market becomes saturated, then they move on to other countries, as Henry Sy has done building several malls in China; Carlos Chan constructing Oishi noodle factories in that country, as the Ayalas are building property projects in Vancouver. There can only be so much cheap-whiskey addicts in a poor country, so whiskey magnate Andrew Tan has bought renowned European liquor companies geared for the global market.

But there is another depressing thought, which is really the point of this column:

Are such problems as these discussed in this political season when we are soon to choose leaders who are supposed to lift the country out of its poverty, so that at least the children and grandchildren of millions of Filipinos now living a life of hell on earth can hope for a better future?

Are our candidates for the highest posts in the land discussing such areas of utmost concern to us the same way the US presidential candidates tackle key issues confronting America today as migration, health care, strategy to combat Islamic jihadism?

I don’t think so.

Damn her. Because of her own unique problem, our brightest minds and writers have been forced to debate obscure issues such as the difference between a natural-born and naturalized citizen, the nature of international laws, and even the relevance of DNA analysis on citizenship. Does she have a very special quality or magical skill to give her the right to mess up political discourse for the 2016 elections?

She offers a list of 20 things “na aayusin niya,” as if running a government was a simple matter of coming up with a list of household to-dos.

Damn them. Duterte has taken us to the really sophomoric discussion of whether it’s better for us to just kill to get rid of all suspected criminals. Hasn’t that issue been settled at least a hundred years ago? He spices up the campaign by disclosing his sexual abuse under the Jesuits, burying his advocacy for a federalist form of government, which is a really important issue, or his plan on how he would deal with his MILF and NPA friends if he wins as President.

Binay focuses on his being the only real candidate who came from the poor. But we know that. What we don’t know is what his program of government really would be.

Roxas just intones the yellow party’s sickening Tuwid na Daan mantra as if he were high on hash, and simply lies about his boss Aquino’s past five years. Will he just carry on Aquino’s huge dole-out and vote-buying scheme called the conditional cash transfer? (Local political operatives are now cleverly, or sarcastically, telling CCT areas that the program will be “conditional:” on Roxas’ victory.

Meanwhile, with hundreds of millions of pesos (where did he get that?) he buys off celebrities’ favor to endorse him: celebrity politics to the extreme. That seems to be Roxas’ real strategy to win in 2016, even as the veteran of a hundred election contests, former Comelec head Sixto Brillantes says quite seriously, really, that even a nuisance candidate can beat him.

Don’t bother to ask Roxas what, if he becomes President, he would do with the MRT-3 mess, or if, as a former trade and industry secretary, he thought we should adopt what the Asian Tigers and the emerging cubs have been doing: to direct industrial policy. He’ll just say “bahala na ang tuwid na daan diyan.”

What a country, indeed. The word that best describes our exercise in democracy next year is Duterte’s favorite expression, that which he will be known for in the annals of our history: putangina.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Duterte is like religion

Presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte is like religion, as Karl Marx described it: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”

Rather than a sigh, though, Duterte’s is a howl, a rage, hisputangina the new version of Heneral Luna’s punyeta. It is a rage against the continued failure of the legal system to protect the oppressed and deliver justice to all, the hypocrisy of organized religion, its nature as the great brainwasher of the oppressed, keeping them at bay without the force of arms.

 Duterte, in fighting form, without the magazine, of course.
Duterte, in fighting form, without the magazine, of course.

I would have thought Duterte had also screamed against the economic elite: “Putanginang mga bilyonaryong iyan, payaman na lang ng payaman at walang pakialam sa bayan.” Actually, and strangely, he hasn’t said that.  Or, maybe it’s just because it is the season of campaign fund-raising.

He’s sympathetic to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (he supports the Bangsamoro Basic Law) and the New People’s Army as he shares the anger of those two organizations against oppression through the centuries.

A surprising revelation to me is that he reads history: “We were subjugated for 400 years, repressed, at tiniis natin ‘yun mga Pilipino. Then we were given over to the Americans by the Treaty of Paris when Spain lost the American-Spanish War. And we had another set of rulers. Masakit ‘yun. masakit ‘yun. Maybe the younger generation has not really felt the dimensions of being a subjugated people.”

More than its use to denigrate somebody, Duterte’s putangina bursts out as a reflex expression of explosive anger mixed with on-the-brink exasperation over a desperate situation. (It’s a Tagalog term imported into the Cebuano Visayan by the people of Davao, and is seldom directed against a person but rather, blurted out over an extremely bad, serious or dangerous situation.)

It expresses anger that explodes after one had queued up for an hour just to get on the MRT-3, it breaks down between the stations. I said it again and again in 2012 when 20 of the 23 senators voted to remove Chief Justice Renato Corona from office on very flimsy grounds, in complete servility to President Aquino’s assault on an independent branch of government. I said it when it was disclosed that the senators were paid hundreds of millions of pesos in pork barrel and DAP funds for their vote.

I said it again and again when I saw a photo of one of the SAF 44 fallen,  already lying on the ground yet still fired upon point blank by a Muslim insurgent, and later, a photo of Aquino in Zamboanga City probably at around the same hour, pretending nothing was happening in Mamasapano.

Bursts out of your mouth

More recently, the word just came bursting out of your mouth when you realized you’ve been trapped in monstrous traffic for five hours because Aquino’s APEC team had failed to plan well ahead of time so that the multi-nation summit could have been hosted properly elsewhere than the congested metropolis. When Aquino claimed that the tanim-bala extortion racket – which even international news agencies such as CNN and BBC picked up – was just sensationalized by the press.

I say the word every time Aquino boasts of GDP growth under his term, since he has contributed nothing, nothing to that growth. And at the thought that he even impeded it by scrimping on public expenditures, while he kept in jail as his trophy of sorts President Gloria Arroyo, the person really responsible for the economic momentum built in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, before Aquino took over the reins of government.

After all, what can Aquino boast about when growth continues to be essentially due to OFW remittances, which directly account for 10 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP)? Their contribution is actually more than that, as the remittances have also financed the booming domestic trade and property markets.

The more familiar quote from Marx on religion, however, is that it is “the opium of the masses.” Our metaphor here breaks down a bit, and we have to amend it.

The difference with opium

Duterte is totally unlike the effect of opium on the psyche: drowsiness and dreamless sleep after a brief euphoria.

Duterte is more like shabu, or methamphetamine, and the Wikipedia description fits Duterte: “Elevated mood, increased alertness, energy in fatigued individuals, reduced appetite and weight loss.”

Translate that individual feeling to a political one, read his fans’ delirious Facebook postings praising him, and the picture that emerges: Duterte has stimulated an elevated political mood and alertness in the body politic, and a renewed sense of hope for people so sick of our political and social system.

But shabu is shabu and it is an artificial, even dangerous, chemical that creates illusions.
As shabu obliterates the past, Duterte totally obliterates civilization’s past with his boasts of killing kidnappers and rapists as soon as they are captured.

Duterte is a lawyer, but he is a case study that should convince the Supreme Court to require law schools to offer more classes in the history and philosophy  of “the rule of law.” These should etch in their minds that a crucial element of the the rule of law is that that  there  clearly laid-down procedures to determine who is guilty and who is innocent.

“Rule of Law” was invented a long time ago – 2,500 years ago – at least as far was we know, in ancient Greece, mainly by the statesman Solon and the philosopher Aristotle in the 6th century C.E., and then developed in Rome – although both societies merely paid lip-service to it with “might-is-right” as their dominant form of rule.

Rule of law

The notion of the rule of law was forgotten after the fall of the Roman Empire as barbarian tribes with the barest forms of civilization ruled Europe. What’s very interesting in this concept is that it is a value that had not been upheld by any religion. It, therefore, remains a difficult concept to follow as it goes against our vengeful, emotional reptilian minds even as no religious teaching requires us to follow it.

The religions of the Book (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have never advanced the concept. The Old Testament’s great King Solomon’s due process was a kind of psychological test: ordering the infant claimed by two mothers to be cut in half, to expose the liar who delighted in the faked decision. How can there be a rule of law emerging out of the Old Testament when even innocents – the first born of the Egyptians – were summarily executed by the Angel of Death just to convince the Pharaoh to free the Israelites?

There is no crucial 11th commandment that could have spared probably millions of innocent people from beheading or death by burning at the stake: “Follow due process to determine who breaks the above ten commandments.”

Christ didn’t ask the mob if the alleged adulteress had been proven guilty through due process, but instead, made them feel hypocritical when he reminded the mostly male members of the crowd that they probably also cheated on their wives. Even the due process in Christ’s “trial” was not Jewish but based on Roman legal processes.

Infamous of course was the Catholic Church’s “due process” under its Inquisitions during medieval times: torture. There could not have been a “rule of law” under Christian Europe for centuries since its monarchy was based on the notion that he represented God on earth, and therefore, could not be subject to laws made by men. The ISIS’ atrocities are really Islamic rule of law followed to its extremes.

Yet “the rule of law,” if you look at it more closely, separates us from chaos and the rule of the mighty.

The rule of law’s emergence was so contingent, even accidental: it emerged in England in the 13th century as the Magna Carta, or more precisely the Magna Carta Libertatum (Latin for “the Great Charter of the Liberties”).

It is an artefact of mankind, and when it was invented, even had a political goal: the unpopular King John of England promulgated it based on the thoughtful Archbishop of Canterbury’s draft to save his skin as it calmed down rebellious barons with the comforting thought that they would not be persecuted. While it was a crude form of the rule of law, it was the start of mankind’s development, helped by the rediscovery of Greek philosophical justifications, of the concept into the huge body of law we now know.

Duterte would have us forget this gem of mankind’s achievements that have been with us for 2,500 years, just as shabu makes one forget human values. There is no artificial quick-fix solution to our country’s depression. And Duterte’s do-dirty tack is a very slippery slope, lubricated by blood.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

US Caracas Embassy: ‘Smartmatic is a riddle’

The Commission on Elections in 2010 and 2013 trusted Smartmatic, a purportedly Venezuelan firm, that its counting of votes in those election years would be completely aboveboard. The Comelec will again give its full trust to Smartmatic in the national election next year as the Filipino people decide who will run this country in the next six years.

For such a crucial role in our democratic process, the Comelec knows exactly what it is dealing with, and who the owners of Smartmatic are. Right?

Amazingly, no. Neither the Comelec nor Smartmatic has disclosed the full details of the firm’s ownership.

What’s worrying is that a detailed investigation by the US Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela (which, one would presume, had inputs from its intelligence services), where the firm is purportedly based, concluded:

“Smartmatic is a riddle. The company came out of nowhere to snatch a multi-million dollar contract in an electoral process that ultimately reaffirmed Chavez’s mandate and all but destroyed his political opposition. The perspective we have here, after several discussions with Smartmatic, is that the company is de facto Venezuelan and operated by Venezuelans. The identity of Smartmatic’s true owners remains a mystery. “

“Our best guess is that there are probably several well-known Venezuelan businessmen backing the company and who prefer anonymity either because of their political affiliation, or perhaps, because they manage the interests of senior Venezuelan government officials.”

Reading that, what struck me was the thought: Could such businessmen in the shadows be persuaded to order its Philippine operations to support a particular candidate?

The Caracas US Embassy’s analysis on July 10, 2006 was among the 251,287 confidential and top secret cables of US embassies all over the world leaked in 2010 by the anonymously owned and operated website, the most explosive of which were published by prestigious newspapers, such as the New York Times, and the London-based Guardian.

A US Embassy cable reported that Smartmatic CEO Mugica (left) claimed he owned the firm with COO Roger Pinate. At right is the company’s chairman, Lord Malloch Brown, who was Cory Aquino’s close-in media adviser in 1986.
A US Embassy cable reported that Smartmatic CEO Mugica (left) claimed he owned the firm with COO Roger Pinate. At right is the company’s chairman, Lord Malloch Brown, who was Cory Aquino’s close-in media adviser in 1986.

You judge if we should trust Smartmatic. Following is the full text of the US embassy study of the firm, with only a few deletions for brevity and with emphasis added.

The Venezuelan-owned Smartmatic Corporation is a riddle, both in ownership and operation, complicated by the fact that its machines have overseen several landslide (and contested) victories by President Hugo Chavez and his supporters. The electronic voting company went from a small technology startup to a market player in just a few years, catapulted by its participation in the August 2004 recall referendum.

Smartmatic has claimed to be of US origin, but its true owners – probably elite Venezuelans of several political strains – remain hidden behind a web of holding companies in the Netherlands and Barbados.

The Smartmatic machines used in Venezuela are widely suspected of, though never proven conclusively to be, susceptible to fraud. The company is thought to be backing out of Venezuelan electoral events, focusing now on other parts of world, including the United States via its subsidiary, Sequoia. End Summary.

Who owns Smartmatic?
Smartmatic was founded in the late ‘90s by three Venezuelans: Antonio Mugica, Alberto Anzola and Roger Pinate. According to Mugica’s conversations with poloffs [political officers] in recent years, the three had developed a network capable of handling thousands of simultaneous inputs. An early application was ATMs in Mexico, but the US presidential election in 2000 led the group to consider electronic voting platforms. The company formed the SBC consortium with Venezuelan telecom provider CANTV (at the time 28-percent owned by Verizon) and a software company called Bizta.

Mugica said Smartmatic held 51 percent of the consortium, CANTV had 47 percent, and Bizta, 2 percent. The latter, also owned by the Smartmatic owners, was denounced in June 2004 by the press for having received a US$200,000 equity investment from a Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (BRV) joint venture fund called FONCREI; a Chavez campaign adviser was placed on the board as well. Bizta reimbursed what it called the “loan” when it was made public and shed the Chavista board member.

Mugica has told poloffs on several occasions that Anzola, Pinate, and he are the owners of Smartmatic, though they have a list of about 30 investors who remain anonymous.

Jose Antonio Herrera, Anzola’s father-in-law (and first cousin to Venezuelan Ambassador to the US Bernardo Alvarez), told poloff in 2004 the silent partners were mainly upper class Venezuelans, some of whom were staunch Chavez opponents. There were rumors, however, that Smartmatic’s early profits came from Venezuelan defense contracts supplied by then-Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel, whom Chavez later promoted to Vice President.

Perhaps coincidentally, the Vice President’s daughter, Gisela Rangel Avalos, was the head of the local corporate registry when Smartmatic was registered, which contributed to allegations of the Vice President’s involvement. These unconfirmed rumors also suggested that one-time Chavez political mentor Luis Miquilena was also a shareholder in the company.

Mugica first approached the Embassy in 2004 when the company was bidding at the National Electoral Council (CNE) to provide a completely new electronic voting system.

Mugica pitched Smartmatic as a US company registered in Delaware with offices in Boca Raton, Florida. In fact, poloffs had several discussions with Mugica in the course of facilitating his L-1 inter-company transfer visa to work in the United States. Mugica said the company’s corporate offices were in Boca Raton, but most of the research staff of some 70 employees remained in Caracas.

In May 2006, Mugica told poloff Smartmatic’s corporate structure had changed (which had come out in press reports during 2005). Mugica said that Smartmatic was now two different companies under a Dutch holding company.

The US setup was essentially the same, with Delaware registry and the Boca Raton accounting office overseeing the US operations. Smartmatic acquired the US voting machine company, Sequoia Voting Systems, on March 8, 2005, Mugica reported.

All US election machinery is assembled in New York, he said. Most of the manufacturing for their electoral and other electronic machinery was done in China, Mugica said, with some component work also done in Taiwan. Smartmatic also manufactures some items in Italy through the company, Olivetti, (which built the original Smartmatic machines for Venezuela). The research and development shop was still located in Caracas, Mugica noted.

A shadow of fraud
Of course, the Venezuelan opposition is convinced that the Smartmatic machines robbed them of victory in the August 2004 referendum. Since then, there have been at least eight statistical analyses performed on the referendum results.

Most of the studies cross-check the results with those of exit polls, the signature drives and previous election results. One study obtained the data log from the CANTV network and supposedly proved that the Smartmatic machines were bi-directional and, in fact, showed irregularities in how they reported their results to the CNE central server during the referendum.

(Note: The most suspicious data point in the Smartmatic system was that the machines contacted the server before printing their results, providing the opportunity, at least, to change the results and defeat the rudimentary checks set up by international observation missions. Since August 2004, the CNE has not repeated this practice.) These somewhat conspiratorial reports, perhaps, serve to breathe life into a defeated opposition, but have never proved conclusively the fraud.

The Smartmatic machines suffered a major blow, however, when in a test prior to the December 2005 National Assembly elections, an opposition technician was able to defeat the machine’s allegedly random storage protocols and, therefore, the secrecy of the vote. The technician took advantage of the fact that the computerized machines used a Windows operating system. A simple program downloaded from the internet accessed underlying Windows files created “in order” as the machine processed Smartmatic’s “randomizing” software.

Although Smartmatic officials argued convincingly that such controlled results could not be feasibly replicated during a real election, the opposition parties boycotted. Abstention rates soared to at least 75 percent and confidence in the CNE among opposition voters plummeted. The disastrous results left Chavez with 100-percent control of the National Assembly, an albatross around the neck of a leader trying to appear democratic.

At least corruption
If Smartmatic can escape the fraud allegation, there is still the corruption question. Well before Smartmatic, Venezuelan law had dictated that voting ought to be automated to limit fraud – the US company ES&S and Spanish firm Indra had already sold systems to the electoral body.

When the new pro-Chavez CNE was named in September 2003, however, it immediately set out to replace all existing systems. Declaring the bid process to be an emergency (though there was as yet no referendum scheduled), the CNE bypassed normal procedures and initiated a closed bid process.

Smartmatic won the contract, which totaled at least US$128 million, including the delivery of 20,000 touch-screen voting machines (re-engineered lottery machines) yet to be built. There were immediate questions about how a virtually unknown company with no electoral experience could have landed such a large contract.

Mugica asserted to poloff that everything was aboveboard, though he conceded the company might have opened itself up to criticism by hiring a former interior vice minister named Morris Loyo to lobby the government…

Prior to (one meeting with poloff), Mugica had agreed to loan a voting machine to the Embassy for examination. When emboffs arrived at the office, however, Mugica said he had changed his mind and instead, suggested that we contact Smartmatic’s Boca Raton office to secure a test machine.


One nagging, obvious question is why Smartmatic has managed to dominate our elections since 2010. In this day and age, why haven’t other global technology firms managed to compete with this small startup firm in Venezuela, which isn’t known for its high-tech industries?

Did the fact that Smartmatic is chaired by Lord Malloch Brown, who stood close to Cory Aquino in the 1986 elections as her media adviser (as I disclosed in my column on Monday) play a part in the company’s rise to a dominant role in this country?

Why are we entrusting our crucial democratic exercise to a riddle of a company?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns