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.

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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 also trigger-happy. For example, he was 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 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.

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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 the early favorite to succeed President Benigno S. Aquino III, Vice President Jejomar Binay.

The Vice President 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.

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Political legitimacy in North Korea.

Like all secluded totalitarian states, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is very difficult to read. Information emanating from that hermit country is very scarce; hence, whatever political analysis experts come up with are often based on nothing more than reasonable conjectures.

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. However, the prevailing opinion is 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.

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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.

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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?

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Thaksin’s other sister.

A week before the Philippines achieved its first investment grade status, credit ratings agency Fitch upgraded Thailand’s ratings three notches higher than non-investment levels. The said upgrades were in recognition of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ability to maintain political stability just a couple of years after divisions created by his brother Thaksin almost succeeded in tearing Thailand apart.

A farang expert on Thai politics once described Thaksin as a Thai Mussolini. The erstwhile mogul and former police chief built a patronage system that rivals that of the monarchy’s. His strong support base, composed mostly of the rural poor in the kingdom’s Isan region, made him a formidable alternative power pole to King Bhumibol Adulyadej‘s circle. His populist economic policy– dubbed by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Thaksinomics– gave Thailand its first economic turn-around since the Asian Financial Crisis; but his tenure was marked with alleged corruption, human rights abuses, and authoritarian tendencies. In 2006, he was ousted in a military coup that was widely believed to have been engineered by the President of His Majesty’s Privy Council, General Prem Tinsunalonda.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cautiously optimistic.

There was a festive, optimistic mood in Malacanang Palace earlier today as President Benigno S. Aquino III rolled out the red carpet for an erstwhile enemy of the state, Murad Ebrahim, Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Chairman Murad entered the Palace for the first time to sign the historic Framework Agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF, which paves the way for the establishment of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro. Najib Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, and Ekmelledin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), along with a number of other foreign and local dignitaries, witnessed the event.

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Philippine Cybercrime Law: Notes and Clarifications.

“And just like that, the proverbial refuse assaulted the unsuspecting ventilation device.” — Theodore Te

This blog opposes the Cybercrime Prevention Act in its current form, but acknowledges those reasonable voices that point out, rightly, that the online protests against it has created a wild pandemonium on Facebook and Twitter that already borders on hysteria.

Protesters, for instance, have coined the term “Cyber Martial Law” to dramatize its effects. This, of course, is a hyperbole. Facebook and Twitter users will not receive cyber arrest warrants from an online Gestapo for what they share and tweet anytime soon, and the insinuations from the rabid opposition that the Aquino administration is attempting to establish an online dictatorship is simply unfounded.

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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.

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