Category: Manila Times Columns

An impotent yet arrogant President


The front page of The Borneo Post: Note the description, "Sulu terrorists."


The Manila Times, March 11 2013

THE horrific reports have started to trickle in: Muslim Filipinos being rounded up in Sabah, locked up with some without food, “treated like animals” according to eyewitness accounts, sadistically ordered to run and then shot like wild game.

Photos in Kuala Lumpur newspapers depict Muslim Filipinos—clearly unarmed— pinned down brutally by uniformed armed men. Malaysia has brought its entire military force to bear down on the Sulu sultan’s men.

The Philippine ambassador to Malaysia and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Jose Brilliantes— three weeks late in action though— were ignored in Sabah, their pleas to visit Filipinos detained there and for Malaysian authorities to allow our humanitarian ship dock at the port were not even given the courtesy of a reply.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario stages a dramatic trip to Malaysia to ask its government to exercise “maximum tolerance” toward the Filipino Muslims who had holed out in Lahad Datu. Even while he waited for his plane, the Malaysians were deploying instead maximum force against the Filipinos there.

His trip turned out only justify the Malaysian onslaught against the Sulu sultan’s men, as his counterpart reported that he agreed that the Filipino Muslims were terrorists. Del Rosario didn’t say the Malaysian foreign minister lied, only that he was quoted: “Outof-context”—the worn-out excuse for officials trying to wiggle away from something they regretted saying.

We have a President impotent in handling the Sabah crisis. Worse, he and his spokesmen have even been issuing statements denigrating Muslim Filipinos who had dug in in Sabah in what they believe is their homeland.

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ABS-CBN’s ‘Anak ng Dwende,’ GMA7’s ‘Aswang’

 The Manila Times, March 10, 2013

WITH their 6:30 p.m. slots, and with the metropolis’ horrendous traffic, I’m sure very few broadsheet readers, who are mostly from the middle to upper-class, get to watch two of the foremost television news programs that have been running ever since I can remember, ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol and GMA Network’s 24 (“Bente Kwatro”) Oras.

( Video grab from TV Patrol’s website)Korina Sanchez reporting on woman claiming her child was fathered by a dwarf.)

For the first time in many years, I watched last Friday the one-and-a- half hours of these two primetime programs, flipping from one station to the other, every time there’s a commercial, and you wouldn’t believe how many of them are. I strongly suggest you do so one of these days, and you will be either shocked, saddened, or angered.

In last Friday’s TV Patrol, a most distinguished multi-awareded TV journalist, Korina Sanchez, had a feature, maybe even an “investigative” piece, entitled Anak ng Dwende (A dwarf’s child). (I’m sure though Sanchez, a hard-nosed journalist, would not on her own touch with a 10-foot pole this story, and that some inane TV news producer just shoved this on her.)

She travelled all the way to “Sitio Tinago, Talavera town in Toledo City” (that’s on the farther, poorer side of Cebu island) to interview a poor young woman, Jenalyn Gimenez, who claimed a dwarf fathered her child, as she didn’t have any boyfriend or husband.

Sanchez reports ( translated from Pilipino): “Villagers were surprised one day when she gave birth to a child, since she didn’t even have a boyfriend. It is said that the father is a dwarf because the baby was so small, only as big as a soft drink bottle, and his ears were pointed.”

Sanchez interviewed her as she has interviewed probably thousands of newsmakers in her distinguished media career. She asks the woman: How did you get pregnant? The woman answers: “I fell asleep at the punso [a mound of earth, which superstitious Filipinos believe is a dwarf’s home], and that’s where the dwarf impregnated me.” The camera pans the yard of the woman’s home, as Sanchez voices over: “It is puzzling that there are many punsos here and it is said that a dwarf residing in one of these fathered Jenalyn’s child.”

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Lacierda lying on Sabah issue, ignorant, or plain dimwitted

The Manila Times, March 8, 2013

Pardon the harsh words, but more than two  dozen Muslim Filipinos have been killed in Sabah – some, their bodies burned by incendiary bombs. More most probably will be killed in the next few days because of lies, ignorance, or dimwittedness.

President Aquino’s policy stance, which is to let the Malaysians do what they want to do with the Sultan of Sulu’s followers who have dug in in Sabah,  is  due to his view that the Philippine claim on Sabah, at best, to use his words, put it “hopeless cause,” and at worst,  “a weak claim.”

But Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda has demonstrated how grossly misinformed he and President Aquino are on the Philippine claim to Sabah.

Confused spokesman Lacierda

In his March 5 briefing (transcript below) Lacierda was asked by Patricia Chiu, a reporter for GMA News Online,  for his reaction  to Senator Richard Gordon’s statement that Mr. Aquino may be courting impeachment for violating Republic Act 5446 (enacted in 1968)  which affirms Sabah as Philippine territory.  Gordon was referring to the law’s section 2 which reads:

“The definition of the baselines of the territorial sea of the Philippine Archipelago as provided in this Act is without prejudice to the delineation of the baselines of the territorial sea around the territory of Sabah, situated in North Borneo, over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty. (emphasis mine).”

With a mocking smirk on his face, Lacierda replied:  “My goodness Senator Gordon, that has been repealed by Republic Act 9522, the new baselines law.  It repealed section 2,  where the demarcations [sic] of Sabah were removed.”

“So I don’t know where Senator Gordon is getting his legal knowledge but the law he is invoking has already been repealed by the new baselines law.”Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns, PH in the World, Politics

Almendras: Sabah crisis doesn’t need Cabinet meeting

The Manila Times, March 6, 2013

Here, in the US and elsewhere, the President (or the Prime Minister’s) Cabinet is not just collection of department heads or underlings,  but the “official family”, the collective, as it were, whose combined wisdom and experience the nation’s leader taps for him to arrive at the most appropriate decision on problems and crises confronting the nation.

Convening regular Cabinet meetings is a recognition by the Chief Executive that he does not have the monopoly of leadership wisdom that he needs to consult with those he appointed not only for their expertise in a particular field but because of their appreciation of national issues.  Since Cabinet members have,  or should have , their constituencies, captive audiences, or at least social networks, Cabinet meetings are also make up a mechanism for developing national consensus on  an important issue.

Except for Corazon Aquino and his son Benigno, it has been a practice for Philippine presidents – including the strongman Ferdinand Marcos – to regularly convene their Cabinets, especially to formulate a strategy to deal with a national crisis.

While the Sabah crisis has become a national crisis, one that has taken and will take the lives of many Muslim Filipinos who believe they are fighting for what is theirs and that of the country, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said February 20:

“I don’t think you need to call a full Cabinet meeting. I can assure you that the President is on top of the situation. It is just that there are some things that are best handled in smaller groups so it’s not a full Cabinet issue.”Continue reading

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Malaysian spokesman Dato Aquino?

The Manila Times, March 4, 2013

 “Is (Interior Secretary) Mar Roxas now the spokesperson for Malaysia (by claiming) that Malaysia will not talk to us? ”  angrily asked Sultan Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd,  whose men led by the crown prince Raja Muda defied Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd’s ultimatum for them to leave Sabah, or else.

Kiram though should be also asking that question rather to Roxas’ boss: Mr. Aquino, and I’m afraid the answer would be in the affirmative, so much so that Malaysia should confer on him one of its honorific titles that can be given to foreigners, like Dato.

“There will be no compromise; either they surrender or face the consequences,” the Malaysian prime minister was quoted in The Borneo Post the other day.  “Surrender now, without conditions,  Aquino for his part announced.

Check out everything Aquino said since the crisis broke out in February 13 — and you can easily do this in this day and age through the Internet– and you will realize that  he never made even the vaguest reference that the Philippines claims Sabah as its territory, and that is the root of the crisis.Continue reading

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Bring Sabah issue to the International Court of Justice now

The Manila Times, March 3, 2013

AS this column last Friday expressed apprehension over it, President Aquino and his officials were throwing to the Malaysian wolves Filipino Muslims digging in what they claimed was their legitimate homeland in Sabah.

Government’s do-what-you-want-to-do-with-them message to Malaysian authorities was made through such irresponsible statements from Mr. Aquino and his officials that the Sultan of Sulu’s claim was dormant, and that they would be even charged for violating our Constitution for the crime of inciting to rebellion.

And indeed, after the Malaysians’ assault that resulted in 12 of the Sulu Sultan’s men and two Malaysian soldiers killed, that country’s Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein in effect said that our government implicitly cleared their move. “The Philippine Government had already said that it wanted those involved to return to the Philippines,” the Malaysian new website quoted the home minister as saying.

Especially with blood now on his hands, Mr. Aquino must comply with his oath of office—that he will defend the Constitution and implement the laws of the land—by pursuing our territorial claim over Sabah. The Philippine claim on Sabah is only dormant— as a presidential spokesperson claims it is—if one believes that certain laws, Republic Acts, can be treated as “dormant.”Continue reading

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Aquino throwing Sulu sultan’s people to the wolves

As published in The Manila Times, March 1, 2013

Malaysian Home Minister inspecting his troops surrounding Filipino Muslims in Sabah

IF violence erupts in Lahad Datu town in Sabah, and the Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd’s men are massacred, the blood will be on President Aquino’s hands. His statements and those of his spokespersons have thrown the Muslim Filipinos standing their ground in Sabah to the wolves.Mr. Aquino should have emphasized publicly that they have a legitimate aim although their means to achieve these are inappropriate, at the very least, and would only weaken their cause.

Instead, the president and his spokespersons have been questioning their motives (that they are being used by saboteurs of the peace talks), that they are being financed by hidden powers, that their claim to Sabah is moribund, and they are violating the Constitution— not of Malaysia— but of the Philippines.Continue reading

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Why EDSA changed little of the country (Second of Two parts)

As published in the Manila Times, February 27, 2013

As I explained in this column Monday, the EDSA Revolution was hardly a rocket booster for our economic growth. Using one important economic indicator, gross domestic product per capita, which roughly represents a nation’s prosperity, ours in 1972 was larger than China, Thailand or Indonesia. By 2011, these countries had overtaken us by this economic indicator.


One obvious answer is that the 1987 Constitution, which People Power President Corazon Aquino ordered rushed to replace that Marcos created in 1973, had two provisions which have been dead-weights to our country’’ growth. The first continued a crucial economic policy since our independence, purportedly to protect our national bourgeoisie, who however were actually monopolists: Restrictions on foreign ownership on certain industries and on land. Certain revisions such as a 25-year lease, renewable for another 25, full foreign ownership of condominium units, and liberal interpretation of common and preferred shares just have not made our country attractive to foreign investments. The spectacular growth of Malaysia and Thailand in the 1980s, and Indonesia’s surge in the 1990s have proven without any doubt the crucial role of foreign capital in a developing country’s growth.

Even nearly xenophobic China with its decades of “anti-imperialist” slogans has been the one of the biggest recipients of foreign capital in recent years, which partly explains its spectacular growth rates. The chart above clearly shows how our foreign investments into our neighbors have surged since 1987, while our level of foreign capital inflow have hardly changed. In 2012, Cambodia and Myanmar in fact have had more foreign capital inflows than ours.

The second provision in the Cory constitution restored the pre-martial law political system, which has been and will be the biggest baggage for our country: the presidential system, which Aquino and her allies most probably opted for as a reaction to Marcos’ move towards a parliamentary system (remember the Batasang Pambansa?).

We are one of the few countries, which maintain a system in which the people directly choose the President, who is both head of state and government. Our system hasn’t been “debugged” in the way that of the US has been, with such refinements and checks as the system of electoral colleges, primaries a strong party system, and one-on-debates among presidential contenders.Continue reading

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The future of newspapers is here

The Manila Times, February 24, 2013



As early as 5 AM, I can read this newspaper, and where I live,  even the most well circulated broadsheets would arrive at the earliest only after lunch.  And by “reading this newspaper”, I don’t mean its Internet version, which for most newspapers, except for its masthead, doesn’t look anything like the original print edition.

Rather, I read Manila Times, exactly  it is printed, using my Mac, my wife’s IPad, my Iphone, or even, if I wanted to,  in the Kindle devices.  You see, I’ve been a subscriber since 2008 of, and totally sold on, this internet service at Check it out: It is the future of newspapers.

The Manila Times as it appears in


Bad news though: It’s not a free site, and costs $29.95 a month. But that’s just P1,220,  about double the cost of subscribing to two broadsheets (priced at  P18 to P20 a day).   And for P1,220, I can read two other Philippine broadsheets, three Cebu newspapers, four tabloids and a dozen magazines.But.. I don’t…ehem.. really care much about the other Philippine broadsheets. I’m sold at Pressdisplay as it contains, believe it or not, about 2,300 newspapers and magazines from 97 countries. (Not much use for me, but the newspapers the service offers are in 55 languages.)

Hence, in its “My Newspapers” button (the equivalent of “Favorites” in your browser), I have the International Herald Tribune, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph.   Just to emphasize, these aren’t the Internet editions of these papers but their facsimiles, in full color. So shown are even the advertisements, for example the full-paged ad Paul’s TV in West Covina  or Macy’s  one-day sale ad in The Chicago Tribune.

The newspapers available for viewing are listed alphabetically, per language, and by country. The lengthiest and most interesting listing is that for UK, which has over a hundred papers.  It even includes raunchy UK tabloids, like tje Daily  (and Sunday) Sport, whose name is as much a misnomer if Penthouse were instead called Men’s Fashion.  Using Pressdisplay, I can even check out how bad it is in Greece now (where I spent nearly five years as ambassador) by reading Kathimerini (English Edition).

I’ve been monitoring the Malaysian view of the armed excursion by followers of the Sultan of Sulu into Sabah, by bringing up The Borneo Post.  Nothing on that issue in the past three days, after its headline Feb. 20, “Room for talks with intruders,” which had the subhead, “Home Ministry all out to avoid bloodshed in crisis but warns no compromise on sovereignty”. The newspaper though is certainly being patriotic, as the article was accompanied by a huge photo of the Home Minister examining the assault rifles of his General Operations Force police.  The obvious message to our brothers there: “Either surrender or we will use shoot you with these rifles. Notice how ruthless our police look.”

From that newspaper, I learn that President B.S. Aquino’s kind of boasting isn’t unique.  The headline of an article in that Malaysian newspaper: “Economic growth driven by confidence in govt, says (Prime Minister) Najib”.  I wouldn’t browse be able to browse The Borneo Post this way if  were reading its Internet version.

For fun, and to remind me again and again to do my best to avoid being parochial (which I think is big weakness of the Filipino mind), I check out newspapers in countries totally out of most Filipinos’ radar.  Would you believe Pressdisplay has 80 publications from Russia, including strangely two magazines for pregnant women (Nine Months and Mama), and just 62 Australian publications.

The big reason though that I am such a fan of Pressdisplay is that it maintains the actual look of a newspaper, which has evolved to an art form for over a hundred years and is as important as much as the information it contains.  As one information theorist termed it, a newspaper has is own “shape of information”.

Its lay-out represents the editors’  hierarchical valuation of news: the banner story, the number two banner story, those in the inside pages.  The real “editorial” of a newspaper – or its political and ideological bias – is contained its layout.  Editors’ and their bosses mold the masses’ interpretation of a society through its layout.  Monitor the yellow press.  Everything nice about Mr. Aquino, every good news is in the front page, even in their banner story.  Everything not nice and bad, in the inside pages.

“This is important for you to know,” a newspaper tells a reader when it makes that news item its headline. “This is not important,” if it buries it in its inside pages.

Corrupt editors even put a higher price for paid “news stories” placed “above-the-fold” (upper half of the front page) compared to those “below–the-fold”, as even a cursory glance at a newspaper kiosk would put that “news story” put above the fold in the masses’ mind.

This is common knowledge for newspaper editors, with main purpose of the daily meetings of editors is determining what would be the banner story, and what are the stories to be put in the front page.

I had been for instance very critical of certain newspapers’ penchant for putting reports of opinion surveys not only above-the-fold but even using them as banner stories. This is something not done in mature societies which have realized that these surveys simply reveal the impact of media, so that reporting such survey prominently  is in effect a closed-loop kind of phenomenon, or a vicious circle.

On the positive side, it is through its layout that a newspaper’s editors and publishers can draw people’s attention to developments that are really important, yet which hasn’t been given such a value by other bigger, biased newspapers.  Thus, this newspaper has had several banner stories reporting on doubts regarding the automation for the May elections –which the yellow papers have been ignoring or downplaying.

I don’t see how the internet version of this newspaper can emulate for example our publisher’s vision (as British The Economist has been doing for decades) of providing readers not only with raw data, but crucial in an information-overloaded society, carefully analyzed information by its columnists,  put on its front page.

I haven’t seen a newspaper’s Internet edition accurately representing its print version’s layout, if that is at all possible.  A listing of news under Nation or Business sections as is done in Internet editions just doesn’t capture the “spirit” or valuations of its original print edition.

Pressdisplay could be the future of newspapers, a growing number of which in the US and Europe have been closing down, or having Internet editions only, as the Christian Science Monitor did starting last year. This is not only the result of rising costs for print but due to the migration of advertising revenues to  TV and the Internet.

The Pressdisplay kind of platform (I haven’t seen a competitor) maintains the print edition exactly as it is, yet transmitted through cyberspace, and no longer bound by the high cost of paper (which accounts for 70-80 percent of a publication’s expenses) nor by the physical constraints of distribution, quite steep in a country with weak infrastructure.

Just as many US newspapers have adopted, the business model might be having  limited copies of the paper (mostly for the senior citizens who naturally haven’t outgrown their reading habits), with the focus being on the distribution of facsimile of the newspaper, together with all its ads, in a Pressdisplay platform.

The facsimile version will be parallel to the Internet version, which would have its own advertisements, providing inter-active and real-time systems, and exploiting its advantage over the print version, which is unlimited space, so that even voluminous documents can be posted. Columnists, editors, and even reporters could have blogs in the Internet edition, to expound, correct, or add information to their articles limited by space constraints in its print edition.

Real competition emerges in such Pressdisplay environment, which will focus on that emphasized by an old dotcom industry aphorism: “Content is King.”


Archive of the author’s columns at

This is the first of an occasional series on a critique of Philippine media, a crucial factor for  democracy by the author, who is also Dean of the Manila Times College of Journalism. 



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Did EDSA matter? (First of Two Parts)

Manila Times,  24 February 2013

Like many of my generation and social stratum, I hailed the EDSA Revolution, and as late as 2009, I wrote a front-page article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s 2009 special edition that had the lead: “Corazon Aquino may well be

the first Filipino to have a global impact: She inspired the nonviolent democracy movements that swept the globe in the past two decades.”

I stand by that assertion. Although, there are really mundane factors for that, among them, the role of the PR-political consultancy group Sawyer Miller (Cory’s speech writers and image maker) and its cashing in on its Manila experience and template to advice, for hefty fees of course, Latin American and Eastern European anti-dictator movements. (Cf. James Harding, Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008).

The unique features and dynamics of Western journalism at that time also explain much of the EDSA Revolution’s worldwide impact.

Together with the anti-Soviet Solidarity movement in Poland, EDSA was the beginning of the new media that would transform the world, pioneered by CNN: real-time televised coverage—revolutions at the other side of the world brought to Westerner’s living rooms as they happen.

EDSA was an episode, in which the Western press first demonstrated its powerful role in changing the world: What some would see as assisting democratization movements but which others would condemn as interference in sovereign countries. That template would be used in successful and unsuccessful anti- authoritarian revolts in this century, even as recently in the so-called Arab Spring revolts.

After the Vietnam War and Nixon’s fall, droves of US journalists lusting for the Pulitzer prizes were desperately looking for romantic stories of good and evil, and the story of a widowed housewife challenging a dictator was a story editors loved, front-page material for many, many newspapers. Time, Newsweek and Far Eastern Economic Review, and many more would make Cory and the People Power revolution their cover stories. Thus, the morality tale of good-conquering evil was a storyline disseminated around the world, inspiring democratization movements, some successful some not.

However, nearly three decades after EDSA now, we have to stop patting ourselves in the back for our role in world democratization.

We have to demythologize it, as its legacies—or curses—haunt us to this day. EDSA for many reasons is responsible for why we still are where we are, why the county’s still poor, left behind in Asia.

The most important question is this: Has EDSA really helped our country at all, has it mattered in uplifting the lives of millions of impoverished Filipinos?

The unequivocal answer is no. Use a simple indicator as the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita (at current US dollars), which roughly measures the wealth it produces per person

Our GDP per capita hasn’t grown as fast as our Asian neighbors after 1986, as shown in the chart, which is simplified to include figures for just three other countries.

Our GDP per capita was at $214 in 1972, when the country fell into authoritarian rule. That was higher than China’s $130, Thailand’s $209, and Indonesia’s $93.

By 2011, ours was the lowest at $2,370. China’s $5,445 was more that twice that of ours, so was Thailand’s $4,972. Indonesia’s $3,494 GDP per capita was 32 percent bigger than the Philippines. EDSA was powerless, or useless in enriching our country and pulling millions of Filipinos out of poverty.

The countries which overtook is in terms of GDP per capita didn’t have such a glorious episode as the EDSA Revolution.

Indonesia’s Suharto in fact ruled as a strongman for 30 years—10 years more than Marcos—to be toppled only in the wake of the 1997 to 1998 Asian financial crisis that hit it severely. China had the exact opposite of our EDSA Revolution: its Tiananmen Square Democracy Movement, which was ruthlessly crushed by the state. Thailand’s history would be marked by one “people power” (the urban “Yellows”) versus another “people power” (the rural “Reds”). Yet it would fast bounce back from the disastrous 1997 to 1998 Asian financial crisis.

Well, Cory’s successor just bungled it, yellow commentators would claim. Not really.

Average annual growth rate of the GDP per capita (in current US dollars) during Cory’s watch was 7.4 percent, which was lower than the 13.6 percent in the heyday of martial law from 1973 to 1982. (The period 1983-1986 was extraordinary, since the country went through its political crisis at the same time that the global debt crisis broke out.)

That of her anointed successor Fidel Ramos was at a low at 3.5 percent but that was because the economy was severely hit by the 1997 to 1998 Asian financial crisis. That during Joseph Estrada was 4 percent. The highest in the post-EDSA period was during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, at 8.1 percent, despite the global financial crisis that severely hit the country in 2008 to 2009.

However, peruse the lines in the chart at the beginning of this column: What’s obvious is that our country, as it were, seems to be simply gliding, with hardly any of the upward bursts characteristic in the lines representing our neighbors GDP per capita.

This reflects the reality that nothing much, nothing structural, had occurred as a result of the EDSA Revolution. It didn’t remove the baggages weighing heavily on our economic and political structures. EDSA was essentially a restoration of pre-martial law Philippine society.


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