New normal: Living and working, with Covid-19 still out there

I KNOW the term has become a cliché, but I just can’t think of another one to describe what the Duterte government and most of us now view as the realistic approach to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We live and work, and even start to play, with the virus still out there. It’s the new normal.

While a less-than-strict-lockdown — which we call general community quarantine — is obviously still necessary for several cities in Metropolitan Manila, and especially for limited-area hot spots, we can no longer, after five months of doing it, stop or severely restrict economic activity as a means of stopping the spread of the virus. The lives-or-work dichotomy is false.

We have to live with the coronavirus, and for the government to see to it that most Filipinos do what science says will reduce the risk of their being infected by 95 percent: wear face masks, observe social distancing, and wash hands frequently.

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We’re not performing spectacularly vs Covid-19, but not badly either

HOW is our country objectively performing in this global war against the deadliest pandemic in the past 100 years?

In gist, not as fantastic as Switzerland, Germany and Japan, but better than the United States, the United Kingdom, and yes, a colleague of mine’s model, Sweden. We’re not doing badly: in a spectrum consisting of the safest country to be in during this pandemic to the riskiest nation to be in, we’re to the right of the middle.

Out of 200 countries the group studied, deploying sophisticated mathematical tools and accessing “big data,” the Philippines is ranked 55th in terms of residents’ safety in this pandemic. That means we’re better off than 145 countries of the world, but worse than 54 nations. The study used points for over 60 metrics. We got 532 points, with the safest country, Switzerland, getting 752 points.

We’re a safer country to be in during this pandemic than (other than those already mentioned) France, Russia and Iran, which in the listing were ranked 60, 61 and 72, respectively. (The caveat here is that the study was undertaken in June, and two months is a long time for this pandemic.)

Source: Deep Knowledge Group (Note: Not shown here are the countries ranked 101 to 200.)
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Pandemic signals the end of the American era

THAT’s actually the subtitle of an extraordinary essay by noted Canadian-Colombian anthropologist Wade Davis in the Aug. 5, 2020 issue of Rolling Stone, with its main title “The Unraveling of America.”

I had also used that term in my column last June that was titled “The unraveling of the colossal deception that is America.” My piece used as a jumping board two of the most shocking things that have been happening in the United States this year.

First, what was supposed to be the richest nation with the most advanced medical institutions in the world, the best bureaucracy and the smartest citizens was being brought to its knees by the pandemic. Since June, America’s quagmire has deepened and is now the most infected nation on earth with 5.5 million cases and with the most deaths — 172,606.

Second, torn apart was the deception that the US is a the land of “all-men-are-born-equal,” when African Americans — and include there all non-Caucasians — are suffering a ferocious yet hidden racism that led to the public execution last May by the police of a black man suspected of some minor felony.

Photo from Rolling Stone.
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Scrap P9-B new Senate building construction, build Covid-19 hospitals instead, Wuhan-style

WITH our country — and the world — now in the midst of one of the worst pandemics this century, and with the looming threat of a steep recession, do you know what our Senate has been quietly doing?

It is continuing to build what is a monument to 24 super-egos, the Senate’s new headquarters in the Bonifacio Global City, planned in 2018. The project broke ground March last year and had its first concrete pouring February this year, scheduled to be finished next year. Full speed ahead, I was told, was the Senate’s orders to its contractors. “Anong covid-covid? Tuloy tayo,” a senator reportedly told the contractor.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, when he first proposed the project in 2018, claimed it would cost P5 billion and even issued a press statement claiming that I was wrong in my column that estimated it would eventually cost P15 billion.

News reports on February 6 on the first concrete pouring for the building attended by Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd all reported that it would cost P9 billion, a figure obviously from a Senate press release. (See my column March 20, 1019 “P15B monument to 24 political super-egos”). And this is just the contractor’s price, which doesn’t include fixtures and other hi-tech features of the building.

This is crazy. We are the only country in the world to be undertaking such a huge $200 million project, which is inarguably a luxury office for 24 government officials, at a time when we are in a recession, with our economy expected to contract 8 percent this year as compared to last year. And of course, there is still the real threat of being overwhelmed by a disease that has brought to its knees the richest nation on earth, the United States, which has had 5.3 million cases.

WHAT PANDEMIC? Senators at the site of their new building in February (top). Below, illustration of the ‘Bagong Senado.’ Senate photos

Use the P10 billion instead to build Covid-19 hospitals.

And Lacson even boasted in a speech at the Senate in February that the building would sit on 2 hectares of land with four towers and 11 floors. Each senator would have a floor?

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AN INSIDER’S ACCOUNT II
‘Del Rosario, Bensurto, Inquirer worsened row with China’

THIS is the second of two parts of Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th’s secret aide memoire which he wrote in 2012 on his activities as President Aquino’s special envoy to China to negotiate for an end to the stand-off between our vessels and that country’s in Scarborough Shoal, which we call Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal.

It is important for us as a nation to know the truth on how we lost Panatag Shoal, as this has been the reason for the diplomatic conflict between us and, whether we like or not, the nation that is emerging as the biggest military and economic superpower in the region. I am convinced that those allied with another superpower that is bent on preventing the rise of China as the superpower in Asia have and will exploit the Panatag Shoal issue to portray it — as even Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has been doing — as exemplifying China’s expansionist policy in Asia.

As Trillanes’ account describes the Panatag Shoal crisis, it is not as simplistic as that.

The following is the second part of Trillanes’ narrative, which he titled “Summary of Backchannel Talks (12 May to 16 August 2012)”:

“On 19 June, just a few days after the media reposted the pull-out of our ships, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a banner photo of Chinese uniformed personnel holding a Chinese flag on top of the shoal. PNoy called me about this and said that we were betrayed by China.

DFA undersecretary Bensurto awarded by Aquino for his role in the filing of the case vs China. Trillanes alleged that Bensurto had claimed in a Cabinet meeting that the annexation of Scarborough Shoal by China would be used as its springboard to claim all of Western Luzon.

I advised him to refrain from issuing statements while we are validating the info. For the meantime, I told him that the photo couldn’t possibly have been current since, in the background, the skies are clear and the seas are calm. At that time, a typhoon was passing through the area and we, in fact used this pretext to withdraw our ships.

True enough, when I confronted the Beijing negotiators, they denied this and gave me a link to a website showing this to be an old photo back in the early 1980s. I reported this to PNoy and advised him to direct the Navy to conduct an aerial reconnaissance flight to further validate the information. I then asked around in the Inquirer as to who fed the photo. My sources then revealed that the story came from Sec. Del Rosario.  (more…)

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‘Del Rosario, Bensurto, Inquirer worsened row with China’

AN INSIDER’S ACCOUNT
Trillanes: Aquino and Del Rosario lost Panatag Shoal to China

I AM publishing in full, for the sake of truth and as material for historians, the secret aide memoire that Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th wrote in August 2012 on his activities as President Aquino’s special envoy to China to negotiate for an end to the stand-off between our vessels and that nation’s in Scarborough Shoal, which we call Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal.

The crisis broke out when Aquino sent the Philippine Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar to assist our Coast Guard in arresting Chinese fishermen who allegedly were illegally fishing in the area. The Chinese responded by sending several vessels of its Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS), a civilian agency and a number of private fishing vessels to the area to prevent the PCG vessels from arresting the fishermen. China raised a howl, claiming that the Philippine warship had militarized the competing claims on the shoal.

A stand-off ensued as both China and the Philippines refused to order their vessels out of the area, realizing that whoever left the area in effect abandoned its control — and effective ownership of the shoal. Both countries have not made a move before this episode to claim the shoal, with fishermen from the Philippines and China using the area around it for fishing, and for the lagoon inside the shoal as a refuge from storm.

Because of Aquino’s bungling — or according to this account, del Rosario’s order for our vessels to leave the shoal, without the President’s authorization — we lost Panatag. Forever, as it were as no way would the Chinese leave it now, for its leadership to be accused of giving up a territory it already controls.  (more…)

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Trillanes: Aquino and Del Rosario lost Panatag Shoal to China

UP official: ‘Maoist insurgency not our problem, leave us alone on our ivory tower’

That, in so many words, was the response of University of the Philippines Vice President for Public Affairs Dr. Jose Dalisay to security officials’ claims that the state institution has become a rich recruiting ground for Maoists and the New People’s Army.

Dalisay’s hear-no-evil-see-no-evil viewpoint was expounded in his speech pompously titled “The Freedom of Intelligence” that was posted prominently on UP’s official website. Read it, and you will understand why indeed UP, and universities like it, continues, after 50 years of the Maoist insurgency, to fool our youth to join and die in a discredited revolutionary movement.

One obvious proof that Dalisay lives in a lofty ivory tower is that in his 3, 000-word speech he doesn’t even mention the name “New People’s Army,” which has killed probably at least 100,000 soldiers, policemen and innocent civilians since its founding in 1969.  (more…)

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SC already okayed military involvement in Customs way back in 2000

“A LITTLE knowledge is a dangerous thing,” says that adage attributed to the 18th century poet Alexander Pope. The brouhaha over President Duterte’s plan to mobilize the military to clean up the Bureau of Customs (BoC) is such a perfect demonstration of the truth of that aphorism.

Right after Duterte announced his plan when he got fed up with the drug traffickers’ success in smuggling P7 billion or more worth of shabu right under the noses of Customs officials, there was a flurry of instant constitutional experts — mostly stragglers of the Yellow Cult — hysterically shouting that this is unconstitutional, pointing to Section 5 Article 16 of the Constitution.

“Malinaw na ilegal, malinaw na unconstitutional, isang impeachable offense ang ginagawa ni Pangulo dito kasi talagang culpable violation of the Constitution,” law professor Antonio La Viña pompously declared. For chrissake, La Viña is a former dean of the Ateneo School of Government. Does that explain why that school which has been the base of the Yellow Cult has been churning out so much garbage? One writer in an astonishing flight of imagination even saw Duterte’s move as his scheme to lure military men into corruption, and thus make them subservient to him!

The constitutional provision they claim that Duterte is violating “so clearly” reads: “No member of the armed forces in the active service shall, at any time, be appointed or designated in any capacity to a civilian position in the Government including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries.”  (more…)

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Duterte would be the first President to really go after the Maoist insurgency

PRESIDENT Duterte last week ordered the National Security Council to set up a National Task Force to deal with the country’s nearly half a century old communist-led armed insurgency.

Although the details of this task force have not been publicly released, it could mean that Duterte has decided to wage an all-out campaign to finally rid the country of this scourge that the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has suffered on the country.

If indeed he does so, Duterte would be the first Philippine president ever to take the communist insurgency bull by the horns, and finally take it down.  (more…)

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Undas comes from pagan Aztec practice

I’M quite sure media started to call the Filipino feast of trooping to the cemeteries to honor their departed on November 1 as Undas only in the past several years.

I never heard the term used in our family. Instead, that must-observe ritual was called Todos los Santos or even Araw ng mga Patay. I had been puzzled though why the cemetery-going day was on Todos los Santos, or All Saints Day. Logically, we should be honoring our dead on November 2, All Souls Day, officially called by the Catholic Church as “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.”

I thought it was merely that I didn’t know much of the Filipino language so that “Undas” was unfamiliar to me. However, even the legal scholar Fr. Joaquin Bernas wrote in his column several years ago that he was also baffled by the term, but that even his colleagues who were either steeped in Tagalog or Spanish couldn’t explain its origins. Filipino dictionaries both printed and online just translate “Undas” as “All Saints’ Day.”

I found no scholarly explanation of the term, but only blogs merely speculating on its etymology. One blogger pointed out that undas sounds close to the Spanish “onda,” which means “wave.” But what does “wave” have to do with honoring the dead?  (more…)

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