Maguindanao suspect is sole witness vs Arroyo

A former president of the republic is arrested, humiliated and tormented on the sole basis of the very dubious claim of one man: Norie Unas, Andal Ampatuan Sr.’s former underboss, who relatives of the 58 victims in the Maguindanao massacre claim was involved in the atrocity.  Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife’s and two sisters’ bodies were abominably mutilated, said it was Unas who even deployed the tractor backhoe to dig the victims’ mass grave.

Yet Justice Secretary Leila de Lima calls it “a triumph of justice,” and this lawyer debased the Supreme Court’s image on the basis of the testimony of this massacre suspect. (more…)

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A vindictive President’s desperate plot

Ninoy Aquino would have turned in his grave, with his vindictive son President Aquino throwing all fairness, justice and decency to the garbage bin just to put Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in jail, just as the dictator did in 1972 to incarcerate him.

Ferdinand Marcos had more decency and allowed the convicted Ninoy to travel to the United States for a heart bypass surgery, already a routine operation at that time here.  Now it is President Aquino who is even trampling on the constitutional right of a citizen to travel to seek medical care, and even defied the Supreme Court directive ordering it not to do so.

There is a devious reason to Mr. Aquino’s and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s madness in opposing even the highest court of the land. De Lima is lying when she claims that she is just doing her duty, since Arroyo has to face plunder charges against her.  She and Aquino know that these plunder charges wouldn’t stand up in court, and Arroyo would be foolish to go on exile because of these flimsy accusations.  They have therefore changed their stratagem.


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What exactly are the charges against her?

Ferdinand Marcos in 1980 allowed his archenemy Ninoy Aquino to go to Boston for a heart bypass surgery, even as the procedure had become routine since 1975 at the Philippine Heart Center. Aquino had been sentenced to death for murder and subversion after five years of trial by Military Commission No. 2, whose legality was affirmed by the Supreme Court.

The Sandiganbayan in 2004 allowed Joseph Estrada to travel to Hong Kong so that the doctor he chose could undertake a very routine procedure to correct his knee ailment.  Estrada’s plunder trial was then underway for nearly four years, with credible eye-witnesses against him such as Ilocos Gov. Chavit Singson and Clarissa Ocampo and roomfuls of documents, especially bank accounts supporting the allegations that he enriched himself in office.

In sharp contrast to these past situations, the cases against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo haven’t even reached the very first stage of trial. Yet she is barred from seeking medical attention abroad for a rare disease that couldn’t be cured after three operations.


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‘If you want peace, prepare for war’

That was the slogan prominently displayed at the main assembly hall at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s headquarters called Camp Abubakar.

An aphorism from classical Rome (“Si vis pacem, para bellum”), it means that a nation or society is likely to be left in peace by its enemies if its military capacity to wage war is a deterrent enough—an idea that proved true during the Cold War’s arms race. The slogan speaks volumes of the MILF’s real thinking even with the peace talks: The Moro homeland will finally be left alone in peace when the government is confronted with an MILF that can really wage war.

In fact, in my interview then with the late MILF chairman Hashim Salamat, he explained that his organization’s strategy is not for a Maoist guerrilla war, but to match, battalion per battalion, the government’s military force—at which point government will have no choice but agree to an Islamic state in Mindanao. Ceasefire agreements during peace talks simply allow it to build up its forces. Indeed, the MILF force, which recently decimated an Army’s Special Forces platoon, is referred to as the 113th Base Command, already mimicking our Army’s organizational nomenclature.

I stayed at Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao for several days when I was correspondent for the Hong Kong-based magazine Far Eastern Economic Review. I still think the area, on a plateau with its idyllic fields, waterfalls and virgin forests, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Such a colossal waste: even with the camp captured by government forces in 2000, the area is still deserted and will remain as such even for a century—because of the Muslim insurgency.


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‘MILF: Noy gave us hope’

That was this paper’s headline in August quoting Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim, who was ecstatic then that the President of the Republic went on a secret trip to Tokyo just to meet him and his comrades.  Two months later now, President Aquino has indeed given the MILF hope in ways beyond Murad’s wildest dreams.

He ordered the military to stand down, after the MILF massacred nineteen Army Special Forces soldiers in Basilan 18 October.  And even as he tied the military’s hands while the rebels made their get-away, Mr. Aquino called for a command conference only two days later.  The generals couldn’t believe what they were hearing in that meeting: instead of asking them to come up with a plan to retaliate against the massacre, he blamed the commanders, and ordered relieved Col. Alexander Macario as head of Special Operations Task Force Basilan and Lt. Col. Leo Peña as commander of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, the mother unit of the ambushed platoon.   Mr. Aquino fired even the Army spokesman Col. Antonio Parlade whose fault was to articulate soldiers’ anger over the murder of their comrades.

With his statements deflecting blame away from the MILF, the President sadly has assumed the role of PR man, spinmeister for the MILF.


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Two Years Hate

In George Orwell’s novel of a future dystopia, “1984,” there is what is called “Two Minutes Hate.”

This is a daily period in which members of the totalitarian party (patterned after the pre-war Soviet Communist Party) are required to watch a film depicting the “enemies of the people,” and for them to shout their invectives against these foes.   The ritual ensured the continuing brainwashing of the party members. Perhaps even more importantly, it also strengthened the bond, the camaraderie among the party members.

“Two Minutes Hate” of course is fiction. In the 1970s though, social scientists, particularly the French historian and philosopher Renè Girard, made observations, which in effect make the idea behind “Two Minutes Hate” a common phenomenon in human societies.

Girard pointed out that internecine violence should be commonplace when humans organize themselves into societies, especially because of envy when some members get to be richer, smarter or happier than others.   To prevent violence from wrecking it, a society creates the “scapegoat mechanism,” by which a person or group of persons is blamed for all the ills and inequality of that particular group. All hate and violence is channeled against the scapegoat, so that individuals in that society go through a catharsis that strengthens their bonding as a group.

Girard pointed that the scapegoat mechanism explains why human sacrifice—the killing of the scapegoat—was very common in ancient societies.  The Jesus myth has become a global religion because it is based on a brilliant twist of the scapegoat mechanism. Jesus is the willing universal scapegoat, whose execution “takes away the sins of the world.”  The power of the mechanism is such that even a nation like Germany, which put a high value on rationality, embraced Hitler when he designated the Jews as the scapegoats.

We’ve seen Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate, and the scapegoat mechanism in our country.   Even if they may not have been merely scapegoats, but perpetrators of crimes, we have had our Two Minutes Hate periods in the case of Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada.  Remember how people seemed to go into paroxysms of hatred whenever Imelda’s 2,700 pairs of shoes or Marcos gigantic bust in Ilocos were shown on television? For Erap, it was the “Boracay” mansion, the Petrus wines and the CCTV video of the former President playing high-stakes poker in a Pagcor casino.


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De Lima and Brillantes are taking us for fools

Just who is Norie Unas whose testimony against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo our justice secretary swears by, the Commission on Elections chief very distastefully boasts will put her in jail by Christmas, and the presidential spokesperson claims is “very solid evidence”?

When they presented Unas to media Oct. 3 as a “new witness” against Macapagal-Arroyo, Leila de Lima and Sixto Brillantes introduced him as if he were just some bureaucrat from the boondocks, “the Provincial Administrator of Maguindanao.”

That’s like identifying Heinrich Himmler as once a German Interior Minister, without mentioning that he was the brains and executor of the Holocaust.  A hyperbole that may be, but just as Himmler with his gas chambers mechanized the murder of six million Jews, Unas ordered the mechanization in digging the mass grave for 57 people, including at least 32 journalists, cold-bloodedly murdered in November 2009, purportedly upon orders of his boss Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son.

According to Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife was among the victims, Unas ordered the provincial government’s tractor backhoe be deployed to the killing field so that the corpses could be swiftly and deeply buried and hidden.


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Time to get to work, Mr. President

Greece will most likely default on its debts soon.  With the resulting hit its creditor banks in Europe will take, a European financial crisis will break out, triggering a global economic slowdown just a few notches lower in intensity than the 2008 global financial crisis.

A slowdown is no longer a forecast but is already a reality. As a Citi Private Bank regular economic briefing dated 29 Sept. 2011 put it:  “Global growth is slowing and systemic risk is rising… Parts of the global economy are probably already in recession; the question for us is how much will it spread and how bad will it get.”


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Aquino endorses Brazilian drinks

President Aquino last week raved over what he thought was buko juice from our country that is a fad in gyms in the United States.   He proudly brandished, the way Madonna did, in press conferences in the US and in Manila the two brands of the coconut-water beverage popular in the US:  Vita Coco and O.N.E. (for One Natural Experience).

Unfortunately for us, both are Brazilian drinks, widely known in the US as such, except to Mr. Aquino and his party.  Ira Liran, one of the two owners of Vita Coco, got interested in the drink (agua de coco), which was the favorite of a Brazilian beauty he met at a Manhattan bar, who would later on be his wife. His company has been getting for the past eight years all of its coconut water from his spouse’s country.


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Demystifying Marcos’ martial law regime

Thirty-nine years ago, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, allowing him to rule the country for 13  years.

I was then a 19-year-old Ateneo college dropout heading the Manila and Rizal organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines, then a rag-tag band of dreamy-eyed baby-boomers (founder Jose Sison was then 33 years old, the legendary Kumander Dante, 29).   The party’s analysis was that the Plaza Miranda bombing of the opposition rally a year earlier had intensified “the split within the ruling class,” so much so that Marcos would soon declare a hated martial law—and create a revolutionary situation chaotic enough for the communists to take over power.


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