Bongbong’s revolution.

Twenty-nine years ago, nobody would have thought that anyone named Ferdinand Marcos could ever be considered for high office in the Philippines. Yet today, the dictator’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., is a viable candidate for vice president, hinging his campaign on a call for a “revolution.” He is polling second based on latest surveys.

The return of the Marcos family to the national stage is a very interesting development, to say the least. There is no doubt that many observers, especially those that experienced the People Power euphoria that swept the world in the early years of the first Aquino presidency, find it bewildering. For me, I think Bongbong’s candidacy calls for some reflection on how things have gone since the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown in 1986.

In December 2009, while reading a blog by Malacanang mandarin Manuel L. Quezon III, I came across a very interesting essay by Timothy Garton Ash on velvet revolutions, a label he applies to all modern, generally bloodless uprisings that democratized autocracies in the late 1980s, including, presumably, the Edsa Revolution of 1986. I find his central thesis instructive.

According to Ash, one fundamental difference between traditional revolutions– those class-oriented mass actions led by the republicans in France, the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Maoists in China– and the modern velvet revolutions is that the latter did not produce a winner-takes-all situation where the losers lost not just their influence and properties but also their lives. Instead, the members of the ruling elite got not the guillotine but a seat at the round table. Unlike in old-style revolutions where “the angry masses on the street are stirred up by extremist revolutionary leaders – Jacobins, Bolsheviks, Mao – to support radicalization, including violence and terror, in the name of utopia; in new-style revolution, the masses on the street are there to bring the powerholders to the negotiating table. The moment of maximum mass mobilization is the moment of turn to negotiation; that is, to compromise.”

The reason for this is that proponents of velvet movements generally adhere to two important values: non-violence, in the Gandhian style, and democracy. Hence, they adopt a non-confrontational, sometimes even embracing, attitude towards the old elite and their constituents in the name of stability and of respect for basic human rights. The result is that erstwhile members and supporters of the old regime are absorbed in the new political set-up.

In theory, this is good because it makes the national psyche forward-looking. Unity of the people is valued with the view of building new institutions that will make the nation stable, if not stronger. “Heal the wounds of Edsa,” as Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo liked to say. But in reality, according to Ash, this produces a “post-revolution pathology.” “As the years go by, there is a sense of a missing revolutionary catharsis; suspicious talk of tawdry deals concluded between old and new elites behind closed doors; and, among many, a feeling of profound historical injustice,” he wrote.

But in my view, the fact that apologists of the old regime are allowed by the post-revolutionary dispensation to participate in the national discourse in itself constitutes that “post-revolutionary pathology.”

Antonio Gramsci once postulated that the reason worldwide socialist revolutions that orthodox Marxists had once called inevitable did not occur is because capitalism has become a hegemonic culture; the values of the bourgeoisie have been adopted by the masses as common-sense values. Therefore, the challenge for Marxists is to come up with an alternative culture with alternative sets of values that would topple the prevailing cultural hegemony. Robert Cox applied this theoretical framework in international relations, arguing that the battle for hegemony is not between states but between ideologies and political perspectives. In a way, this paradigm can be stretched further to frame an analysis of the context of post-velvet political conditions. The relaxed attitude of the post-revolutionary dispensations towards the old elites enables the latter to present an alternative political narrative that challenges the ideologies, sometimes even the legitimacy, of the revolution and its post-revolutionary set-up.

And so we see two political narratives competing for hegemony in the post-Edsa arena: one that upholds the ideals of the Edsa Revolution and, corollary to that, the legacy of the Aquino family; and another that states that the Marcosian way of governance is good for the Philippines and that the Marcos era was in fact a golden age for the country.

While both local and foreign press have painted Marcos as the epitome of evil and Cory Aquino as the saint of democracy— and this narrative has been adopted officially by the state—the alternative political perspective offered by the loyalists of the Marcos regime continues to present a major ideological challenge. In 1992, Marcos votes would have handed the presidency to a Marcos loyalist had they not been split between Danding Coujangco and Imelda. In 1998, a Marcos loyalist was elected president. Joseph Estrada’s machine was, to some extent, manned by many old guards of the New Society and while he failed in his quest to give Marcos a state burial, the fact that the issue was not even taboo already indicated that the narrative of Marcos the villain and Aquino the hero has never been a hegemonic political narrative in the neo-Gramscian way.

Ironically, any attempt to hegemonize the anti-Marcos, Edsa narrative is constrained by the democratic framework which that narrative itself upholds. This framework allows, even encourages, all alternative narratives to compete, legally, in the political arena. Ash hinted that putting up a South Africa-style Truth Commission that would identify and assign blames might be the antidote to this. Perhaps he’s right. As things stand, however, the rule of law allows legalistic forces of the Marcos machine to prevent a satisfactory closure to the abuses of the dictatorship while simultaneously re-fashioning the Marcos family as victims of vindictive regimes. Little wonder then that Miriam Defensor-Santiago could get away with her assertion that the Marcos family does not owe the nation any apology.

Those who lament Bongbong’s emergence as a national figure, and now a viable candidate for vice president, should realize, therefore, that this has been a long time coming. There is more to it than being just a case of political amnesia or neglect by the educational system in teaching about the abuses of Martial Law. It’s the direct result of Edsa’s embracing attitude toward the old elite in the name of democracy and the rule of law. By giving Marcos apologists the opportunity to join the national discourse, the post-Edsa regime has given them the license to mount a counter-revolutionary come-back. The effort to rehabilitate Marcos, therefore, started even before the post-Edsa regime could consolidate its institutions. In a way, it’s the price we have to pay for having gained democracy with little bloodshed.

There are two things that are fueling this rising tide of pro-Marcos revisionism. First, the post-Edsa regime is not perfect. The initial chaos of the post-Marcos democracy that stagnated the economy, for instance, made many of those belonging to the generation that experienced Marcos look back in nostalgia to the stability that characterized much of the early years of the New Society. Meanwhile, many of those belonging to the generation that has not experienced Marcos are captivated by the Marcos narrative partly because of their cynicism of the post-Marcos conditions. In the process, they all tend to de-emphasize the dark aspects of the Marcos regime. Secondly, there is a natural constituency for any political narrative that emphasizes strongman rule. This constituency propelled the unsuccessful but nonetheless impressive presidential campaigns of Alfredo Lim in 1998, Panfilo Lacson in 2004, and now the mounting calls for the presidential candidacy of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao. It is clear that Bongbong has succeeded in harnessing these two factors.

Of course, there is no doubt that Bongbong has a solid record as Governor of Ilocos Norte. He also knows how to tap the pool of policy advisers and technical aides that his resources can afford, thereby enabling him to become one of most prolific of the country’s senators. A superb public speaker, he is able to package himself as an effective politician, which, really, is all that matters for many middle class voters. Obviously, however, his work is driven, more than anything, by his strong revisionist agenda. I think the total rehabilitation of Ferdinand Marcos and the de-legitimization of Edsa is what Bongbong’s revolution is all about. So far, he is succeeding.

How should defenders of Edsa counter Bongbong’s revolution? It should not be through condescendingly taking the moral high horse, but rather through a sophisticated messaging that would convincingly persuade voters that, at the end of the day, the Marcos way had been proven to be a failed experiment and that the post-Edsa regime, while not perfect, works.

Views expressed on this blog are strictly the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect official positions of organizations that the author is a part of.

Luna’s death was also the Republic’s.

I had been anticipating Heneral Luna‘s showing since I first learned about its production last year. After having finally seen it last week, I can say that it was worth the wait. Not only did the film do justice to the complex character that was General Antonio Luna, it also offered a very incisive commentary on the nascent First Republic– one that, sadly, remains relevant to this day.

One of the things I liked about Heneral Luna was that it did not present a mythologized version of the General. For all his genius and patriotism, Luna was also arrogant and arguably short-sighted. He talked a lot about instilling discipline, yet he was trigger-happy. He was, for instance, not above sending a young foot soldier out to risk his life just to spite, not even to kill, an American officer. The beauty in this kind of portrayal is that it drives home an important point: That you can be a hero without being perfect. That the inner patriot in you can sometimes come out of your hubris and megalomania.

Now, it has to be pointed out– and this is something that the film-makers themselves admit– that Heneral Luna is a work of art more than a historical piece. The movie was based on historical facts, but these were simplified and sometimes embellished. It’s easy to think of Luna as a brilliant tactician and selfless patriot who wanted nothing but to unify the Filipinos against the American invaders. Alas, history is much more complex.

That General Luna was an innocent victim of deadly intrigue concocted by President Aguinaldo’s envious allies, for example, is a compelling case to make, but it is not an unassailable one. John Nery, for instance, shares interesting letters written by Apolinario Mabini that attempted to contextualize the General’s assassination. Said Mabini: “What there was to it was that Luna, as Undersecretary of War and ad interim Secretary in the absence of Don Mariano Trias, using as a pretext the tendency shown earlier by the present Cabinet to look for a settlement with the Americans on the basis of autonomy like that of Canada, moved the Department to Bayambang and there he ran matters all by himself completely disregarding ‘Puno’ [Aguinaldo] and his colleagues in the Government.”

Mabini would later on write a scathing indictment of Aguinaldo (read his memoirs, The Philippine Revolution, here) but in these letters his views of Luna were less favorable. “Impartial persons see in Luna dangerous tendencies, because, while he wanted to impose obedience on everyone by force, he did not like to obey anyone; and he did whatever he fancied without consulting anybody,” Mabini wrote.

This does not mean that General Luna’s assassination was justified. It only means that it is possible that the General could have really been, indeed, a threat to the Aguinaldo government. In the face of such a threat, what should a fledgling government facing a very critical struggle do? We have the benefit of hindsight; President Aguinaldo, a very insecure politician, did not.

Still, Heneral Luna‘s embellishment of historical facts highlighted a bigger historical truth: That, unfortunately, Aguinaldo was ultimately unfit to lead the fledgling nation. While the First Republic demanded a confident statesman, Aguinaldo was, at most, a parochial kingpin. The President was unable to resist the temptation of choosing his personal political fortunes over the nation’s interest. He also failed to see the bigger picture. Mabini was right; by allowing Luna to be killed, Aguinaldo doomed the Revolution.

Luna was a world-class genius who knew what it takes to win a war, but he was more than that. He established a military academy, formed an elite band of soldiers, mobilized rural folk to build the Luna Defense Line, conceptualized a brilliant strategy designed to outlast the United States in a prolonged war, and tried to centralize the Republican Army command. These modernizing reforms should not be seen as merely martial; they were also socio-polticial.

The First Republic was established in a society where sense of nationhood was weak and the family was the highest social institution. This explains deserters who did not fully understand what they were fighting for, personal armies that were loyal to their generals and not to the flag, and governments that were being established on other islands. Under this atmosphere, the new Philippine state had to not only assert itself as a viable political association, but also to dislodge the family as the foremost social institution. This required cultivating a brand of nationalism that transcends regional boundaries.

By insisting on military discipline that cuts across lines of personal, familial, and regional loyalties, Luna was unwittingly helping the state assert itself. His methods were harsh but they were, to a huge extent, a litmus test for the viability of the First Republic. If the Filipinos were ready for Luna, then they were ready to be a unified nation. In a way, Luna’s reforms complemented Mabini’s attempts to give political meaning to the Declaration of Independence. Both patriots tried to fend off the likes of Pedro Paterno and Felipe Buencamino, who represented a gentry that was more interested in advancing the interest of their families than that of the young Republic.

Thus we understand the extent of Aguinaldo’s folly. By allowing those who had been castigated by Luna for infractions to be the General’s own assassins, Aguinaldo destroyed discipline in the army. By reinstating Cavinteno officers who had been dismissed by Luna for insubordination, Aguinaldo prevented nationalism’s triumph over regionalism. By sidelining Mabini and having Luna killed, Aguinaldo undermined the First Republic’s promise. Indeed, my guess is that even if Aguinaldo’s regime had won against American imperialism, it would still have been rocked by serious challenges to its legitimacy, making the unification of the entire archipelago unlikely.

Many years later, the nation and the state are still unable to fully assert themselves over the family and the province. The elite remains largely disinterested in nation-building, and personal and familial ties remain the primary basis of social mobility. To be sure, we as a nation are slowly changing for the better. But, if at the end of the day the Philippines is still described by the likes of Alfred McCoy as nothing more than an “anarchy of families,” we have those who killed Luna to blame.

President Poe in 2016?

Perhaps the most notable result of this year’s midterm election is the emergence of former censors chief Grace Poe as the top-notcher in the Senate race. That’s not because it was surprising, but because it makes her the strongest contender against Vice President Jejomar Binay, the early favorite to succeed President Benigno S. Aquino III.

Binay got his break when he was appointed by President Corazon Aquino as officer-in-charge of Makati City during her post-Edsa revolutionary government, and he has hinged his political career partly on his ties with the Aquino support base since then. In 2010, he ran under the banner of deposed President Joseph Estrada, whose populist support base remains strong, while still harping on his Aquino association. His surprise victory in that race was in large part a result of the underground Noy-Bi campaign.

But this election marks Binay’s coming-of-age, so to speak. When he fielded his daughter Nancy, who, as most observers point out, have almost zero experience in public service, as a senatorial candidate, the Vice President was testing the national viability of his own name. He was no longer banking on his association with the Aquinos and the Estradas; he was building his own house, so to speak. The fact that Nancy has garnered more votes than Bam and JV seems to show that he has succeeded.

In a previous blog post, I drew on Professor Randy David’s discussion of the three different types of post-Edsa presidents: the moralists (the Aquinos), the populist (Estrada), and the technocratic (Ramos and Macapagal-Arroyo).

These three leadership templates have their respective constituencies. The masa base, for instance, has remained intact through the years and, despite Senator Manuel Villar’s vigorous attempt to court it in 2010, under the command of former President Estrada.

The Aquino constituency, meanwhile, cuts across social classes, united in adhering to good governance and moral leadership as exemplified by personal incorruptibility, but is not as compact as the Edsa Tres crowd.

The constituency of the technocratic leadership template, on the other hand, is composed mostly of the middle class. Unfortunately, this constituency has never enjoyed coherence: It was split between Ramos and Defensor-Santiago in 1992, Roco and De Villa in 1998, Roco and Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004, and Gordon and Teodoro in 2010.

Just as the Vice President is building his own name in the national political consciousness, so is he consolidating his hold on the masa bloc as the undisputed successor to President Estrada. The elite and the middle class, which the masa perceive to be smug, publicly dread the specter of a Binay presidency, just as they had dreaded the inevitable rise of Estrada before 1998. The Binays, for instance, are being demonized in the social media just as Estrada was bashed through short messaging system (SMS) prior to and during the 1998 campaign. But while this consolidates an anti-Binay middle class constituency, it also enhances Binay’s image among the masa, due in part to the elitist tone of most anti-Binay propaganda. The way the social media derides Nancy Binay’s complexion, for instance, helps the Binays in the way Erap jokes helped Estrada in 1998– and Reli German reportedly works for the Binays too.

But as the Vice President gains the masa crowd, so is he losing in the yellow constituency. His decision to challenge the President by fielding his United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) slate has diminished his credibility among the President’s supporters. He maintains personal connections with the apparently marginalized Peping Coujangco branch of the President’s clan, as well as with the Aquino sisters, but his pragmatism has led many to question his adherence to Daang Matuwid. In other words, Binay has shed his yellow feature and, like Estrada, is now emerging as a purely masa candidate in 2016. The key to his undoing, therefore, would be the dilution of his hold on the masa bloc.

It might be too premature to say, but the ruling Liberal Party’s favored heir apparent, Secretary of the Interior Manuel Roxas II, appears to have no chance of at least gaining a fraction of the masa constituency. He’s not even trying. The President’s endorsement will only get him so far; the Aquino magic is difficult to bestow on a non-Aquino, as proven by Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim’s failed bid for the presidency in 1998. Ultimately, he will split the middle class vote with someone like Richard Gordon. Unless he repackages himself, and only if the Aquino administration’s gains begins to trickle down in the next three years, he would be no match for Vice President Binay.

Poe, on the other hand, could be a game-changer. The national consensus is that his father, the late Fernando Poe Jr., won the 2004 elections but was cheated by the unlamentable Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. As Professor Nicole Curato pointed out, she was a consensus candidate: Her being her father’s daughter gave her a formidable masa support base, and her subtle repudiation of the UNA has strengthened her Daang Matuwid credentials among the yellow crowd. For personal reasons, it would be difficult for President Estrada to disown her in favor of Binay; and the FPJ for President Movement  (FPJPM), which supports her, can be said to be capable of causing a split within the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).

This early, Poe is revealing a populist streak that could endear him to the masa: She wants to thoroughly study the possibility of including free lunch meals for the poorest elementary school students in the K-12 education policy. She has also expressed support for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

If the President and the Liberal Party want to continue Daang Matuwid, they should build Poe up as the alternative to Binay. On her part, the Senator-Elect should solidify her masa appeal and challenge the Vice President within his new turf. At the same time, she should appeal to the middle class by utilizing her credentials and talents to be a truly progressive senator in the mold of, say, Pia Cayetano. That would consolidate the anti-Binay coalition under her leadership, shake the foundations of the pro-Binay coalition, and make her, like President Aquino in 2010, a truly consensus presidential candidate in 2016.

Kim’s legitimacy.

In the past few days, the United States and the Asian neighborhood have once again been abuzz with the recent bellicose rhetoric coming from Pyongyang. Some, like the editors of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, think that North Korea’s saber-rattling is a result of paranoia common to many authoritarian regimes. Most, on the other hand, thinks that all-out war remains unlikely, and that the escalation of tensions is merely an exercise of tactical brinkmanship on Pyongyang’s part. The general analysis is that this is just a way for the North Korean regime to test the mettle of the newly-installed administration of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and to consolidate its bargaining position in order to leverage for foreign aid. I generally agree with this prevailing view, but my opinion has a slightly different nuance.

Continue reading

Who would push for marriage equality in Philippine courts?


NOTE: This is a guest post. It may or may not reflect my own views.

A week ago, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a California initiative amending the state constitution in 2008, and the Defense of the Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law passed in 1996. Both laws restrict marriage to a man and a woman.

In the Philippines, the Family Code, issued by President Corazon Aquino in 1987 when she still had legislative powers, defines marriage as a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman. However, the Constitution defines marriage merely as an inviolable social institution and as the foundation of the family.

Continue reading

Sabah: Rewarding violence.


NOTE: This is a guest post. It may or may not reflect my own views.

President Benigno S. Aquino III has spoken out against conspirators as the ones at fault in the violence in Sabah. He has threatened to charge Jamalul Kiram, pretender to the throne of the defunct Sultanate of Sulu, for his actions that caused his followers to invade Sabah to assert the ancient claim of his family to the vast territory.

But is it really about the Kirams? Is it about the claim to Sabah? Is it about Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Or is this incident merely a product of the traditional myopia of successive Philippine administrations, sacrificing long-term perspective for political expediency in developing policy?

Continue reading

The post-Edsa presidents.

In November, right after the President of the United States was re-elected, I wrote the essay “What Kind of President Would Obama Be?” In that piece, I drew on the works of professors Jack Balkin and Stephen Kowronek, the renowned scholar of American presidential history who classified his country’s presidents into four kinds: reconstructive, affiliated, pre-emptive, and disjunctive. The said essay elicited some reactions from both friends and readers, and at least a couple have asked if a similar classification of Philippine presidents can also be made.

Professor Kowronek’s classification describes a political cycle of creating and overturning dominant political regimes, which occur through a long period of time. Thus, it might not be applicable to the Philippine presidency, which has a relatively shorter history. At any rate, I don’t know all Philippine presidents well enough to come up with a similarly structured analysis of the entire Philippine presidential history. However– and I think this is obvious to all observers of Philippine politics– all five post-Edsa presidents seem to fit into only three different leadership templates, of which all students of Philippine politics should take note.

Continue reading

Umwelten and the Sabah crisis.

The mind, neuroscientists say, operates in a very small subset of the world that its eyes are able to see. This subset forms a restrictive cognitive environment that makes it extremely difficult for the mind to understand the wider world; in other words, a set of biases that makes the mind myopic. This subset is called the Umwelt.

Professor Randy David once wrote that those who live in an Umwelt are, in a way, color-blind– and usually unaware of it.

Continue reading

Tagle, papal politics, and the coming conclave.

Predicting the outcome of a conclave is like predicting who would sit in China’s Politburo during Beijing’s leadership transition. It’s purely speculative, since it’s almost impossible to determine what’s on the cardinal-electors’ mind. As in all political events, however, an educated speculation is possible if all variables are carefully examined.

For instance, while the election of Karol Cardinal Wojtyla in the second conclave of 1978 had been very surprising to most; it was, in retrospect, not that improbable. At that time, there had been a bitter battle between the reactionary clerics, led by Guiseppe Cardinal Siri, and the liberals, led by Giovanni Cardinal Benelli. This bitter rift ensured that there would have been a gridlock, since neither of the blocs could have attained the required two-thirds majority, and that a compromise candidate would have had to be found.

Continue reading

Tubbataha and the Philippine-American alliance.

The grounding of the American minesweeper USS Guardian in the world-renowned Tubbataha Reefs in the Sulu Sea is stoking emotions in the Philippines. It has put both the American and the Philippine governments on the spot, and has given anti-American activists plenty of ammunition.

The incident is just the latest in what the New York Times has described as a “string of embarrassments” for the American military in the Philippines. A couple of weeks ago, both Manila and Washington drew flak for the discovery of a US drone off Masbate. In the Filipino activist’s mind, that incident evoked images of America’s drone warfare in Pakistan, despite assurances from both governments that the drone had in fact been unarmed. Much earlier, a Malaysia-based American government contractor was alleged to have dumped thousands of liters of untreated domestic waste from a US Navy ship near Subic Bay, alarming environmentalists.

Continue reading

Abenomics: More politics than economics.

In Tokyo, newly-installed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has unveiled a massive, multi-billion dollar stimulus package, ostensibly to get the static Japanese economy moving. The announcement came after the Prime Minister, in an obvious PR blitz, formed an “economic revitalization council” composed not only of Cabinet members but experts from the academe and the private sector, and called for greater monetary intervention to devalue the Yen.

If these are all designed to shed the Prime Minister’s image as a security hawk out of touch with important domestic concerns– an image that helped ruin his first administration from 2006 to 2007– to a premier who prioritizes the economy, then they’re probably working. Many in Tokyo are now saying that the new administration is a lot better than the one it replaced, simply because it is seen to be doing something. The media has even come up with a nickname for the Prime Minister’s economic policy: Abenomics.

Continue reading

On Manila’s support for the “rearming” of Japan.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario made news last week for expressing support for the “rearming” of Japan, saying Manila is “looking for balancing factors in the region,” and that Tokyo “could be a significant balancing factor,” presumably against an increasingly-assertive China.

It seems to me that the subliminal message of the way the international press has reported the Secretary’s comments is that, because of China’s intransigence, Japan’s standing among Asian countries is changing. Here are my two cents:

Continue reading

North Korea’s fireworks display.

Many students of international politics have gotten so used to North Korean missile testings they merely reacted to this week’s missile launch with what amounts to an academic shrug-off: They took note, but only a few tried to make sense of the development. After all, there already is a default narrative for every North Korean rocket launch: It’s a way for the regime to seek attention and gain leverage to extort aid.

But I think this week’s missile testing deviates a bit from this default narrative. This time around, the regime in Pyongyang has a different motivation, and the rocket launch’s implications could prove to be much more significant.

Continue reading

On Morsi’s second coup.

Regular readers of this blog would know that among my favorite approaches in analyzing politics is to identify the power poles that drive different political actors, and to frame major developments based on the struggle among these poles.

In the run-up to the 2011 Tahrir Revolution in Cairo, for instance, I described four power poles trying to outmaneuver each other in Egypt: the military-intelligence clique, personified by generals Omar Suleiman and Mohammad Hussein Tantawi, that had dominated the country since the fall of the monarchy; the forces of then-dictator Hosni Mubarak’s family, who wanted to anoint Gamal Mubarak and eventually supplant the military’s grip on the nation’s politics and economy; the loose coalition of liberal pro-democracy groups that include major figures like Mohammed ElBaradei; and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose vast grassroots organization is unparalleled in the country.

Continue reading

The emerging Philippine tiger: Asian or Celtic?

NOTE: This is a guest post. One of this blog’s readers, who requested to remain anonymous, pitched this article. It may or may not reflect my own views.

During his recent visit to Manila, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoed many economists in hailing the Philippines as the next Asian tiger. This is something Filipinos had also heard some fifteen years ago, when the world hailed the Philippines as the next Asian tiger in the mid-1990s. The problem, however, is that the anticipated rise of this new Asian tiger never took place, and it’s highly likely that it will also not take place this time around.

An Asian economic tiger is characterized by massive influx of foreign direct investment (FDI), an export-driven economy, and a phenomenal expansion of its manufacturing base. Export-driven economic policies and a solid manufacturing base were the hallmarks of prominent Asian tigers like South Korea and Taiwan; while next-wave tigers Thailand and Malaysia were boosted by massive FDI, followed by the expansion of their manufacturing bases and the re-orientation of their policies towards an export-driven economy.

Continue reading

Things are getting uglier in Syria.

After four days of marathon negotiations, the different Syrian opposition groups have finally agreed to form a united front against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. A moderate Islamic cleric, Maath al-Khatib, has been elected president of the coalition. This is a minor achievement for Qatar and the United States, which, along with many others, have been pushing the fragmented Syrian opposition to get its acts together. One wonders, however, if this is a tad too late.

When the Arab Spring began in Tunisia last year, the international community anticipated an awesome Arab version of the velvet revolutions of the late 1980s. The turn of events, however, proved to be a disappointing regression from good to ugly: The protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, while relatively peaceful, took longer than usual, with the military and, eventually, the Islamist hi-jacking the gains of the revolution. The protests in Libya, on the other hand, resulted in a bloody civil war that almost left the country in tatters. Syria, so far, has been the ugliest episode: Almost two years after the initial pro-democracy protests, the country is still in a protracted civil war, at times threatening to explode into a wider, regional conflict.

Continue reading

What kind of president would Obama be?

As expected, the result of this year’s presidential election in the United States has not been as close as most pre-poll surveys had projected. President Barack Obama has won a decisive number of the electoral votes and, contrary to pre-poll projections, managed to win the popular vote. He is only the third president in the post-war era, after Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, to be re-elected with more than 51% of the popular vote.

Except for North Carolina, President Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney in all of the swing states, including Massachusetts, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the home states of Governor Romney’s, his father’s, and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan’s, respectively. Prof. W. Scott Thompson, who had been the first to predict in 2007 that the then relatively obscure junior senator from Illinois would defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, actually predicted an Obama landslide a couple of months ago. Perhaps that could have been the case had the President not misperformed in the first presidential debate.

Continue reading

How to revive Japan’s electronics industry.

NOTE: This is a guest post. One of this blog’s readers, who requested to remain anonymous, pitched this article. It may or may not reflect my own views.

In the 1980s and the 1990s, whenever a customer walks into an electronics store to buy a TV, his choices would almost always be either a Sony, a Sharp or a Panasonic. All were Japanese brands. But during the last decade, the story has become different. Korean brands like Samsung or LG, and even Chinese brands like TCL or Changhong, became the likely choices.

This change in consumer attitude is a result of aggressive efforts of Korean and Chinese manufacturers to challenge Japanese supremacy in the electronics market. For instance, when Samsung began massively selling LCD TVs in the mid 2000s, they offered them in much lower price than what Japanese brands would offer. But instead of matching the prices offered by Samsung, Japanese brands joined hands in camaraderie to keep their prices, perhaps thinking that, as the traditional dominant TV manufacturers, they have a solid market base. The result was devastating: Samsung took over that market base in just a couple of years.

Continue reading

Mainali case shows Japan’s justice system is flawed.

After fifteen long years, Govinda Prasad Mainali, the Nepalese man who had been wrongly incarcerated for murdering a Japanese prostitute in 1997, will finally be exonerated. But the glaring defects of the Japanese criminal justice system, perhaps the worst in the First World, will likely remain unfixed.

Mainali’s fatal mistakes were that he had been seen with the victim ten days before the murder, and that a used condom bearing his semen was found at the scene of the crime. These were circumstantial evidence that could have hardly established guilt beyond reasonable doubt, which is why the Nepalese had been initially acquitted by the Tokyo District Court. But he was not immediately released; the Bureau of Immigration, instead of deporting him to Kathmandu as per standard procedure, prolonged his detention for visa violation. This enabled the prosecutors to appeal his acquittal.

Continue reading

Why Trillanes is the wrong man.

In Manila, President Benigno S. Aquino III’s appointment of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV as his back-channel negotiator with Beijing during the Scarborough stand-off earlier this year has back-fired spectacularly, and the administration is now drawing flak. A doyen of Philippine journalism, who should probably retire, has called the President’s back-channeling a reckless adventure, while one deranged blogger is saying that the Philippines has ceased to be a sovereign state due to the episode.

This blog disagrees with these rabid critics, of course. There is nothing wrong with back-channeling when dealing with a foreign power on something as serious as the Scarborough stand-off. In fact, it’s a fairly common practice of statecraft: It allows nations, in times of crisis, to test waters, send feelers, and thereby explore every possible way to resolve conflicts, even as they parrot an official line. There was, however, something seriously wrong about choosing Senator Trillanes to be the President’s back-door point man.

Continue reading

China has unleashed a mad genie.

Following the unprecedented inclusion of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the official Chinese baselines map, Beijing sent a flotilla of six maritime vessels in the disputed waters to challenge Japan’s possession of the disputed territory last Friday. The flotilla left on the same day, but its deployment was reminiscent of the stand-off between China and the Philippines earlier this year. Osamu Fujimura, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, called it an “invasion.”

Meanwhile, massive and violent anti-Japan protests continue to sweep major Chinese cities, threatening Japanese nationals and business establishments. The protests, endorsed by the semi-official Chinese media, have an unmistakable imprimatur from among the higher-ups in Beijing. The Chinese government itself has been scrapping official contacts with Japan, and linking such cancellations to the simmering territorial dispute. All these, according to China, are consequences of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s “reckless” decision to “nationalize” the Senkaku Islands. In short, Japan provoked China.

Continue reading

I was wrong on Egypt.

Around three months ago, I predicted that whatever the outcome of the presidential election that time, Egypt would remain under military rule. The logic was simple: The military, represented by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, had successfully consolidated power prior to the polls. The Council had the Supreme Court dissolve the Parliament– dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood– on technical grounds, granting the ruling generals the power to legislate. The president’s powers, on the other hand, were loosely-defined, giving the junta the ability to diminish the presidency. I thought Mohammad Morsi would be a lameduck president.

It had seemed that the only viable option for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood was to negotiate a power-sharing deal with the ruling generals, which I thought would not have yielded much result since the Muslim Brothers would have to negotiate from a position of weakness. I was wrong.

Continue reading

Who took the ASEAN communiqué hostage?

In the aftermath of that spectacular failure of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to issue a joint communiqué on its ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian Foreign Minister had the gall to accuse the Philippines and Vietnam of “taking the communiqué as a hostage and insisting on turning the 10-nation group to a tribunal.” Pretty strong words. But as one newspaper said in its editorial, this was a “dishonest account.” In other words, a lie.

Taking the ASEAN communiqué hostage of their bilateral issues with China must mean that Manila and Hanoi had insisted on including words representing a consensus of sorts that was not in fact reached in the meetings. But this was not the case. Manila merely insisted that the discussions on the Scarborough Shoal stand-off and the EEZ dispute between Vietnam and China be reflected for the simple reason that they were in fact discussed. No more, no less. Isn’t the joint communiqué supposed to document what transpired in the meetings?

Continue reading