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Exposed: The US’ vaccines-for-bases demand

First of 2 parts

PRESIDENT Duterte in June 2021 recalled his order made in 2020 to end the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as a quid pro quo the US demanded for it to immediately release the already-paid Moderna vaccines urgently needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic that was raging at that time.

Surprisingly, this was revealed by our ambassador to the US himself, Jose “Babe” Romualdez Jr., a cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in an interview with the Hong Kong-based news website Asia Times by a pro-US, anti-China writer, Richard Heydarian. Ironically, this atrocious demand by the US was disclosed in the author’s obvious attempt to portray Romualdez in glowing terms, with the article titled: “The man behind Marcos’ swift shift to the US.” It was even Romualdez who convinced Duterte to restore the VFA, the article claimed.

The relevant part of the Asia Times interview reads as follows:

“Heydarian: What explains Duterte’s turnabout in his final months in office, particularly his decision to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement during US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s visit to Manila in 2021? What happened there? Was he ever really serious about his threats against the alliance? Was this all about Duterte’s gratitude for large-scale US Covid-19 vaccine donations?


Continue ReadingExposed: The US’ vaccines-for-bases demand

Maharlika: The good and bad news… and the ugly

THE good news over the Senate’s passing of the Maharlika bill nearly one year into President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration is that it indicates that he still has the very strong support of that Senate, which traditionally easily turns opposition as soon as a president stumbles. After all, each of this gang of egotists thinks that because of their nationwide votes they are all “presidentiables.”

Why, even former president Rodrigo Duterte — whom Marcos has largely ignored and whose equidistant foreign policy vis-à-vis the US and China he has scrapped — seems to have supported the bill, going by the affirmative votes of his trusted lieutenants Christopher Go and Ronaldo de la Rosa (who I hope read the bill). That kind of political support, and I suspect his high satisfaction ratings if a poll is to be taken now, makes him a very powerful president to do what he likes.

The passage of the bill seeking to create a Maharlika Investment Fund (although a final version would have to be formulated by a joint committee of House of Representatives and the Senate) points to an important character of this president. Once he sets his mind on something, he won’t give up. That’s both good and bad. Woe to us if he becomes obstinate on a clearly disastrous policy — as I think his all-out embrace of the US and truculent stance towards China is.


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After half a century, Reds soon to be dead

THE British magazine The Economist’s lead paragraph in its May 3 article on the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) was as hilarious as it was so revealing of the situation of the insurgency.

“Last month the guerrilla leaders of the New People’s Army (NPA) ordered its units all over the Philippines to give a 21-gun salute to two fallen heroes. Yet this martial display was diminished by an instruction to give the salute silently, either because the army is out of bullets or for fear a fusillade would alert the police.

The few hundred fighters who duly lined up (and presumably whispered “bang”) are all that remains of a once-formidable Maoist insurgency. The NPA was launched 54 years ago to overthrow an American-backed president, Ferdinand Marcos. It is now on the brink of yielding to his son and successor, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.”

If I were a “Far Side” cartoonist, a cartoon of that “salute” would have shown the NPA rebels being ordered to fart, instead of firing their guns.


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DTI inutile in regulating Lazada and Shopee

THE Trade and Industry department appears to be inutile in regulating the two biggest e-commerce platforms in the country, the Chinese-owned Lazada and the Singapore-based Shopee.

It is a disgrace to the country since, as I only discovered recently in the case of Lazada and reported in my Friday column, scammers and sellers of fake and pirated products populate this e-mall, and the company, owned by the billionaire Jack Ma through Alibaba, just ignores such problems.

That it is a concern for many Filipinos is indicated by the fact that my piece on this issue last Friday had the biggest number of readers of my column ever, estimated at about 80,000, as it became viral on social media. I had a deluge of comments relating in detail how they had bought products through Lazada which were fake, defective, or not delivered at all. Yet Lazada isn’t booting out thieves from their e-commerce platforms.

I have been an early user of e-commerce and imagined Lazada and Shopee to be the equivalent of amazon.com, which refunds customers complaining of undelivered or defective products without any question at all. Instead, the e-malls here are the digital version of a wild market in some poor country, where you’ll lose your wallet or cry over a useless product bought.


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Be careful buying online, especially from Lazada

THE Lazada online mall has been a venue for scams, two of which I myself encountered just in a space of a month. With capital of over $1 billion, the firm, owned by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma through Alibaba, isn’t even doing anything to boot out these scammers from their website, even after being informed of these swindlers.

The author, who always thought himself to be smart, was scammed by sellers in these two popular e-malls.

One kind of scam is the sale of fake Xiaomi products and, I presume, other well-known, reliable brands at a “huge discount” prominently advertised. I bought from a seller Manila_MALL (sic) ” a “Xiaomi Robot Vacuum Cleaner 3 in 1 Intelligent Automatic Sweeping Robot” (see image).

What was delivered was not a Xiaomi but an obviously dirt-cheap product with no brand. Worse, it wasn’t even a vacuum cleaner, but “cleaned” the floor through a kind of tissue paper stuck on its bottom. The scammer certainly knew tricks to fool customers. Included in the package I received was a cheap obscure perfume. The scammer obviously calculated that a fooled buyer would not complain as at least he got something from the purchase.

I complained to Lazada, sending them images of the fake product that was delivered to me. They forwarded it to “Manila_Mall” which didn’t even acknowledge they had sold me a fake item. It had the gall to use the images I sent Lazada to claim that it cannot refund me as I already used the item. Of course I used it to see if there was some device there that functioned to suck the dirt, as a vacuum cleaner does. (It didn’t, and conked out after 20 minutes’ use.)


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Romualdez vs Duterte in 2028

SPEAKER Ferdinand Martin Romualdez’s sacking of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as senior deputy speaker has revealed what could be the likely political landscape in the coming years, to be resolved in 2028: Romualdez versus Sara Duterte in the contest to become the next Philippine president, or the first prime minister of the land.

The only logical explanation for Romualdez’s paranoia — enough to throw under the bus his political mentor Arroyo, most probably without getting the permission of his cousin President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. — is the lesson from the fate of former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez during President Duterte’s term.

Who? That’s exactly the lesson. Alvarez, one of the closest confidantes of then-President Duterte, almost totally vanished from the political firmament, when 180 of the then 292 representatives voted to remove him as speaker of the House in July 2018. Alvarez didn’t know what hit him.

The claim that only one vote is necessary to be speaker — that of the President — is hogwash, perhaps true only in a remote way if a candidate is perceived to be able to give the congressmen enough funds because of the President’s support for him. Duterte isn’t known to betray a longtime friend, but he had to respect the wishes of the independent House of Representatives. Alvarez was removed, as far as I know, not because Duterte ordered it but because 180 out of 292 congressmen were dissatisfied with his leadership and the very unequal distribution of funds under the control of Alvarez. He was also viewed as giving so much power to his friend, Ilocos congressman Rodolfo Fariñas, whom many in the House disliked, Leaders

Who were the leaders of the 180 representatives that removed Alvarez? Arroyo who replaced him as speaker, Sara, and then representative and current senator Imee Marcos. Now the three are not known to like Romualdez.


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Vietnam: The more serious threat?

Vietnamese Naval Commando Regiment 861 in military exercises to invade a Spratly island. PHOTO FROM NHJD.NET

VIETNAM could be the more serious threat to the Philippines’ Spratly territories because of geopolitical reasons. Yet the present Marcos administration which appears to be worried over China’s alleged aggressiveness hasn’t even bothered to look into this reality.

The US would definitely do all it can to stop China if ever it forcibly occupies the features in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) that the Philippines controls.

After announcing to the world in 2009 that the US’ euphemistically termed “Pivot to Asia” program is intended to stop China’s expansionism in the South China Sea (SCS), no American President can stand idly if the Chinese grabs other countries’ territories in that troubled sea.

On the other hand, Vietnam, if ever it finds the excuse to do so, can militarily force the Philippines out of the KIG, with the US likely to do nothing, on the ground that this is a fight between two equal-sized nations over a territorial and maritime-area dispute it is neutral over.


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Vietnam’s militarization of the Spratlys (Kalayaan)

Second of 3 parts

UNLIKE the Philippines which formally claimed part of the Spratlys only in 1978 through Marcos’ Presidential Decree 1596, the Vietnamese, like the Chinese, assert that their sovereignty was actually established from centuries back, in the case of Vietnam by its Nguyen emperors (1558-1775).

Thus, as in the case of the Chinese, the Vietnamese see their loss of sovereignty over the Spratlys and the Paracels to foreign powers as part of their “century of humiliation,” as the former put it, when the West invaded and grabbed their territories.

Who occupies what in the Spratlys: Vietnam, box with star; Philippines, flag; China, yellow circle. Map by author using Google Earth

Reclaiming it therefore is essential to the strengthening of their pride as a nation recovering their past glory.

This is so unlike the case of the Philippines whose citizens are mostly oblivious of the country’s Kalayaan Island Group (KIG). After Marcos, all administrations even neglected to maintain the airport and the facilities in the biggest island it controls in the area, Pag-asa (also known as Thitu).*


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The lie-low but dangerous claimant in the South China Sea

First of 3 parts

PRESIDENT Marcos Jr.’ s report on Saturday that he wants to set talks between the Philippines and Vietnam over Vietnamese vessels’ “incursions” into the country’s exclusive economic zone was vastly under-reported. This is because Vietnam as an aggressive claimant of the Spratly Islands (Kalayaan to us), which it considers as its sovereign territory, doesn’t hew to US propagandists’ and their minions’ false narrative that the disputes in the South China Sea are essentially because of China’s “expansionism.”

Most commentators on the South China Sea have written not a single thing about Vietnam’s claim over our Kalayaan Island Group, even as the Vietnamese occupy the most number of features there, 29, compared to the Philippines’ 10, and China’s eight. The Vietnamese have erected heavily armed outposts on converted oil rigs and built military garrisons in many of the features they occupy. Several of these are so armed for war that there are tanks, reportedly, mid-range missiles — and amphibious landing armored vehicles in case they decide to grab a weakly armed Philippine islet. Vietnam has also reclaimed 220 hectares of land to transform several reefs it controls into artificial islands, although on a much smaller scale than what the Chinese did, which was 1,295 hectares.

So that more Filipinos will be better informed about the South China Sea disputes, I’m posting in my column, in three parts, the chapter on Vietnam from my book “Debacle: The Aquino regime’s Scarborough fiasco and the South China Sea arbitration deception.”*


Continue ReadingThe lie-low but dangerous claimant in the South China Sea

Marcos’ embrace of US worries Asean

IT was the elephant in the room at the Asean Summit held in Indonesia last week: President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s embrace of the US as the Philippines’ big brother, not just as a purported deterrent to perceived Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea, but to be a platform for the US military to defend Taiwan when Beijing invades it.

While of course the development wasn’t discussed openly nor even privately among the Asean heads of Asean state and government, at least three of them, through their officials, expressed their worry over the Marcos administration’s move — despite the president’s denials — to totally align the country with the US, in opposition to China.

“That’s really a blow to Asean’s efforts to be non-aligned, to have the two superpowers equidistant from it,” a foreign diplomat said.


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