My Fellow Filipinos

Marawi, in the island of Mindanao, was attacked by the Maute group, which is an ISIS-wannabe in the Southern Philippines. In response, the Philippine Government poured in troops to try to root out the group. Hostages have been reportedly taken and used as human shields by the Maute. Where they proved too well entrenched, attack helicopters came in to pound them into submission, or death. Marawi suffered from the attack that appears to have been compounded by the army’s seemingly scorched earth policy against the attackers. Back in the day, there was a shirt for sale that had the message: “Kill them all. Let God sort them out.” Yesterday is here again.

As if that was not enough, the Government declared martial law on the whole of Mindanao even if the fighting appears to be limited to Marawi. Then worse becomes worst. The president, in exhorting the troops to do all that is necessary to win over the Maute group, quips that if the troops rape anyone in the process, then that will be on him. The president, himself a lawyer and a former prosecutor at that, essentially publicly declared that if the troops commit any crime — like rape — during the campaign to defeat the Maute group in Marawi, then they will not be prosecuted for it.

Flashback to the beginnings of his drug war, and his declaration that any act by the police in pursuit of the drug war will be his responsibility. In essence, he is saying that any crime they may commit during the war on drugs will also not be prosecuted. To date, there are a reported 7,000 deaths related to the drug war. Around 3,000 of these is said to be the result of “legitimate police operations.” The rest are dismissed as random killings. When you read news articles from Al Jazeera and the BBC about how the operations are being conducted with kill quotas and payoffs for every pusher or user killed, then one thinks that while these may actually be police operations, whether or not they are legitimate is far from certain.

Let us be clear, between the criminal and the State, or a terrorist group and the State, we should support the State. Illegal drugs should be prevented from harming citizens, and terror groups should be suppressed. However, how we conduct our wars should also follow the rules laid down in law. When the government begins to wage state terror, the legitimacy of its wars quickly dissipates. We are a nation of laws, and the State should be the first to comply with its demands.

The Philippine experience on martial law was not pleasant. In the end, the abuses of those in power caused a nation to oust a sitting president. The current president declares that his martial law will be as brutal as the old one. If one is knowledgeable enough about how the old martial law was used to abuse the populace, then one cannot readily say that this new martial law will be promising indeed. Far from it.

The newest Philippine constitution — we’ve had three (3) so far — sought to prevent a repetition of this abuse by putting in place the mechanics for the declaration of martial law. It invokes the independence of the legislature to check on the executive. Unfortunately, both houses of congress, peopled as they are mostly by the president’s partymates, supporters, or wannabe-supporters, refuse to convene to study the president’s justification for the declaration of martial law. It is in the refusal of these so-called people’s representatives to do as they are legally obliged that dictators are born.

Article VII of the Philippine Constitution provides that:

“SECTION 18. The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress. The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”

Clearly, the Constitution allows the president to call on the army in case of lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. The attack by the Maute group constitutes lawless violence; hence, the president can direct the armed forces to destroy the Maute group as the commander-in-chief. However, in order to declare martial law, the constitution names only two causes: invasion or rebellion. Moreover, public safety must require it. In other words, it is not enough that there is an invasion or rebellion. The safety of the public must also be in danger before martial law can be declared. If a large Chinese force occupies a few islands in the West Philippine Sea within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone but no Filipinos are endangered, then martial law still cannot be declared. Since the Maute attack cannot be an invasion, it might be seen as a rebellion, which would then justify the declaration. Under the constitution, the president should have reported to Congress within twenty-four hours from the declaration to prove, first, that it is a rebellion, and, second, public safety requires it, that would justify his decision, and Congress may confirm, revoke or extend martial law…but it must convene to receive the report and pass upon said declaration.

As it is, the president gave no report, and Congress refuses to convene. That, my fellow Filipinos, is dangerous. Filipinos should be free to question its government. When the government is closed to scrutiny even from its own citizens, that is authoritarianism. When Congress, a key component for the system of check and balances, fails to act in accordance with law, it allows absolutism by the president, which the Constitution itself is against. The Constitution, therefore, is slowly eroding. That is something we cannot allow.

Patriotism is never blind allegiance. Patriotism puts the country first before personalities, even the president. To challenge the president is not unpatriotic. Adherence to the rule of law, especially the Constitution, the primary law of the land, must be every citizen’s concern. Holding the government to it, must be the primary duty of every Filipino. We do so not because we hate the president but because that is what the law requires. We are all Filipinos. Whether you are from Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao, all of us are Filipinos. We question the declaration not because he is a Mindanawon but because he did so as president, and in doing so is required by law to abide by certain conditions. To test his compliance with law is a very Filipino thing to do.

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The Mystery of the Three Envelopes

I saw my dad this morning and he asked me what happened to the three envelopes he had last night. According to him, I, together with two of my brothers, Jo and Jim, had just pulled down the roof and, before having dinner, which I had brought with me, dad gave one envelope each to Jo and Jim. After dinner, dad gave me the last envelope to reimburse me for the cost of the dinner, and Jo left immediately after that. Surprised to see me this morning, he called me over and asked me what happened to the third envelope.

This, in turn, surprised me because, last night, I did bring home some dinner but none of the other things happened. Not last night. Not ever. Jo has been living in Davao for some years now and haven’t been around to visit for about a year. Jim has been living in Makati for about the same time. I haven’t seen Jim for about a couple of years. Maybe more. It’s been that long. Dad is living with me in Quezon City. The three of us never worked together on a roof. Ever.

My father, you see, has dementia. He sees things and people, and recalls events, that or who were never there, or happened. My first experience was rather hurtful. He accused my siblings and I of leaving him when he fell asleep after having Christmas lunch at a restaurant in a nearby mall two years ago. I denied it naturally. It troubled me but that was just the beginning.

At another time, I took him out for lunch, just the two of us, and while conversing, he asked me “kamusta tatang mo” (how is your father)? After my initial shock, I replied, “you are my father; how are you?”, he looked at me as if I was mad.

The hardest part is to see him get frustrated trying to work out what is real and what is not. Sometimes, he knows his mind makes things up. He realizes certain images are not real, which I get to reinforce. People beside him that disappear. Even guests or workers. When it’s me he is talking to, he gets to question what he sees. Unfortunately, there are times when he really believes that something or someone was there when there wasn’t. It is those times that he gets really frustrated because I don’t believe him, or having told him otherwise, he couldn’t understand how he could have been mistaken. He frequently asks about the children, which can only refer to my nephews from my third brother, Dan, with whom he was living before he transferred to my house. I have to repeatedly say they were with my brother in their house. At times, I have had to do so three times in a span of ten minutes.

It is difficult to see my father in this condition. He is a lawyer by profession and, as a lawyer myself, I know how much his mind means to him. Again, that may add to his frustration. To realize that your mind may be playing tricks on you must be truly hard. 

So, going back to the three envelopes, I pointed out to him that he gave each of us, Jo, Jim and I, one envelope each. Mystery solved! No, he says, why would he give Jim an envelope when he did not borrow money from Jim. However, I insisted that: first, he cannot change his story and introduce new facts that were not there before; and, second, he clearly repeatedly said that he gave each of us an envelope and, therefore, there was no missing third envelope. After much thought, he finally conceded that I was right. The three of us got one envelope each. What a relief!

As I turned to go, he asks “how much was in each envelope?” 

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The World is due for a correction.

I was talking to my dad this morning and our conversation drifted here and there. Out of nowhere, he suddenly said “I have a theory: democracy will kill itself. Why? The objective of democracy is to make everyone equal. People will never be equal in one aspect or another. So, it will fall on itself.”

If we look at the world around us, then we can easily see what he means. The rise of the populists is a worldwide phenomenon that appears poised to engulf the whole world. 

The root of all of this might be traced to the recent troubles with globalization. The near collapse of the global economy brought about by the greed of the largest banks in the US. One can say that the principles of democracy that made the big banks free to do as they did caused the global financial crisis. That caused people to fear what democracy has wrought despite the fact that the global financial crisis was brought about more by the lack of effective regulation to curb that greed that caused all the mess rather than a failure of democracy itself. 

Then there were those who were not able to benefit from an inproved economy. If you look at the last six to eight years in the Philippines and the US, then you would note how their economies have improved over time. The problem is that not everyone have felt the effects of that economic upturn. 

From there grew the strangest, strongest opposition to our democratic institutions that led to the take over by populists. Powered by social media (including hacks and bots), and driven more by anger and hate rather than any clear program of action, populists have managed to take control over the Philippines and the US. 

Similar movements have tried to get ahead in other parts of the world. So far UKIP in the UK has failed to make any headway although it was, surprisingly, able to get the UK to vote for BREXIT, and it may now be paying the price for it.

Le Pen in France is already having a hard time at it and a European nation had rejected a populist party.

I suppose that the world have seen what populists can do to a country and decided to go against it. In the Philippines, a misguided war on drugs is blamed for the deaths of 6,000 men, women and children, while the US is grappling with a rising  nationalist agenda. The planned replacement of Obamacare was embarassingly pulled out and its anti-Muslim immigration executive orders have been slapped down by US courts. If this is how populists run their country, then it is a terrible future ahead for them and all those thinking of electing populists into office.

However, this is all part of what it means to be a democracy. The citizens were free to elect populists into office (let us put the issue of hacks and bots aside for now). One might say this is just a phase where nations try to press the reset button to get a reboot.

The hope is of course that after this terrible experiment, there is still something left to reboot. We get over that, then democracy will rise again. Perhaps, democracy will in fact kill itself as my dad says but it is quite capable of bouncing back into existence like a phoenix from its ashes. It is a dream I have…

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Iron Fist the Wimp

After much hype, Netflix released a dull…I mean full…season of their newest Marvel series Iron Fist. After all that hype, you would have thought the series was at least as good as Daredevil but, no, it was in fact the worst of the four. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage being the other two. The absolute worst of the four.

Let’s start with the story. It was really nothing more than CW’s Arrow except that where Oliver Queen came out as a he-man, alpha male badass, Danny Rand was the boy who never grew up. Peter Pan minus the lovable character. The story is so warped and overstretched here and there that you can actually edit out a big chunk of the series and finish everything at half the number of episodes it took them to bore us. Why they decided to move away from the original story in the comicbiook i don’t know. It was workable and a hell of a lot better than being an Arrow reboot. A bad one at that. 

I mean this guy was supposed to have been raised by warrior monks. It’s just bad characterization that he would turn out so whiny and wimpy. Not only was he raised and trained by warrior monks from childhood but he actually reached the the peak of their training by becoming the Iron Fist. To do that, he actually had to defeat a dragon, and, despite all that, he turns out to be an overgrown kid? C’mon!!!

Then there’s the fight choreography. It was nothing we have not seen before. Well, fine, the iron fist itself is sorta new…no, wait, take away the light show and Jessica and Luke beat him to it already. Even the battle with the drunken master was so 1980s that it was absolutely laughable. They could have just watched old Jackie Chan movies and improved on it but, no, they just made a mess of it.

And the worst thing about the whole series is the cast. Aside from Rosario Dawson and Carrie Ann Moss whom we’ve seen in the other shows, there is no one that really stands out. I like the idea that Danny Rand wasn’t a muscle-bound military-type hero but Finn Jones was just a terrible choice. He can’t act-fight and he does look wimpy and certainly acts like it.

I did finish the whole season because i was forever hoping it improves but then it just ended, and i knew i had just wasted my money and time.

Next?

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Logan

To be honest, I actually hate Wolverine. Not always. When he first appeared with Chris Claremont’s X-Men, he was actually interesting like that cool uncle you just met. Over time, however, he just appeared everywhere: X-Men, Avengers, X-Factor; not to mention a whole bunch of his own titles. Soon it was all Wolverine this and Wolverine that. I hated it. So much so that I found it funny that Magneto berated him in the very first X-Men movie that not everything was about him. The worst, was when they made X-Men: Future Past and replaced Kitty Pride with Logan as the main character. The movie was terrible with Quicksilver as the only saving grace. So, out of all the X-Men movies, I only liked X-Men: First Class and, surprisingly, Logan. Let me tell you why.

First, both are character-driven. Yes, there’s plenty of action, especially in Logan, but they all serve a purpose. It furthers the main storyline and isn’t there just because it was an action film. Both should be characterized as dramas rather than action films. 

Second, the action scenes were worthy of the characters. The fight scene in the first movie was boring. The opening sequence of the second movie with Nightcrawler is the best I think but the rest was, again, ho-hum. Again, Quicksilver’s sequence in Future Past comes in as second best. Most fight scenes are just bits and pieces but never cohesive like in First Class and, now, Logan.

Logan stands out because all the scenes were worthy of Logan and Laura. They slice and dice like they just don’t care. The fact that Laura is a kid was also refreshing. Deadpool-level sequences without the humor. Very very Logan.

Finally, both movies go to the core of not just being a hero but a decent human being. Xavier trying to stop Magneto from pushing a coin through the villain’s head, and Laura ending the villain wasn’t just a good versus evil thing but had a deeper, much more human, motivation. The conflict was that more effective because of it. I’m glad both movies ended the way it did. You walk away with more than just a couple of hours of entertainment.
Fox finally made a true Wolverine movie. 5/5 Stars. Yes, it was that good.

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History in the making

History, as they say, is written by the victors.

Thirty-one years ago, Filipinos gathered on a street called EDSA to protect a couple of coup plotters and their men from the then president of the Republic of the Philippines and his army. They came in response to a call from the then Archbishop of Manila called Cardinal Sin if you can believe it. The rest as they say is history.

Of course, things could have been very different. The order to attack could have been given. An itchy finger could have sparked a firefight. The armored personnel carriers could have breached the thin hollowblock walls of Camp Aguinaldo, and helicopters could have fired upon the people gathered in the streets. Instead, a thin line of rosaries and flowers held back an unstoppable force. Believe what you will but that street is called Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (epifany of the saints) and it was a moment you can describe as a modern day miracle. You can say it was a moment touched by God.

That moment was not about a dead former senator, or his widow. It was not about their family against another. It was about a dictator and his ouster from power. The revolution itself was unintended. It all started with a coup d’etat that never got off, for intentions we will never know. Then the power of the people took over, and the dictator left or was taken out of the country. Make no mistake, the revolution succeeded. The dictator was gone.

After the victory, when the euphoria has been spent, we realize that we have changed little from where we were 31 years ago and ask, has God abandoned us? The truth is that while God can help us along the way, much of getting where we want to go depends on the decisions we make in every single moment of every single day.

Fast forward to 2017 and, horror of horrors, we find that the wheel has turned 360-degrees. Sitting as president is one who identifies closely with the former president ousted from power 31 years ago. The dictator has been buried in a place for men of honor and honored men. Blood runs in the streets. Policemen are abusing their power, and the government’s critics are being hunted. If history is written by the victors, then the victor in the last presidential election has decided to turn things on its head and rewrite history. There’s anger in the streets, and celebrating the victory that was the EDSA Revolution has taken on a new importance. It has become an inspiration.

True, there is a new victor in the seat of power but history is continuously being written, and if the people persists in the struggle, then perhaps victory can once again be achieved. However the struggle ends, history itself will roll on. What will be written, however, is largely up to us…

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Above all, Love.

You do not marry for companionship, support, wealth or comfort, and definitely not to change someone. As corny as it may sound, you marry only for love.

One might ask if love is enough to sustain a marriage and I have no doubt that it can. The reason for this would, I believe, be obvious: God is love. It is His presence that binds a man and a woman in marriage. Countless priests remind us at every wedding that to have a successful marriage, you have to have God at the center of your relationship; and that it takes three to have a successful marriage.

In my college days in the Ateneo, we were taught that love is not a feeling; that it is the affirmation, not the possession of another. That finds its ultimate expression in marriage. It is a conscious act, a decision made everyday, to love your spouse as God loves His Church, which simply means that you intend to let God in your marriage every single day, every hour, every minute, every second  and every fleeting moment you have on earth.

To affirm the other is to make your wife the best version of her that she can ever be. You give everything you can even at the cost of your own life because that is the highest form of love: that you give your life for another in the same way that Jesus gave His life for us, even death on a cross. You do not have to worry about your self because your spouse has the same objective, and with the two of you consciously bringing God into your marriage, your marriage will endure any test and surpass every hardship.

To marry for any reason other than love is selfishness because it is only in loving that we are able to give freely of our selves and expect nothing in return.

The Bible tells us that in the end, we have faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love. It also tells us that the greatest commandment is to love: God first with all our heart, soul, mind and strentgh, then our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love then should rule our lives from how we treat our enemies to building lasting relationships in marriage. From how we treat sinners to serving our heavenly Father. In all these, there should always be love in our hearts. We exist because of love, and we live to love. Above all, love.

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