Power of the Word

There was a time when every single word that comes from a world leader bore meaning. He or she wouldn’t say something unless he or she understood its implications. There was always a target audience and sound bites were designed or calculated to reach them whether they were the enemy, their countrymen, or simply the world at large.

In the days of Twitter and Facebook, and populism in general, all that has gone out the window. Populist leaders would say what they want, when they want, without regard for how it will impact their country, or just the office in which he sits. You have an American President tweeting to his heart’s delight much to the chagrin of the White House’s communication staff. When they try to do damage control, he comes out and reinforces his original tweet. In fact, he is so tweeter-happy that he even tweets about state secrets. A case of too much truth.

Not only that, he is a believer and/or propagator of conspiracy theories and alternate facts. He will hammer on something as the truth when facts show otherwise. Credibility be damned.

Over at the other side of the Pacific, you have a Philippine President who speaks in public and later tells everyone it was just a joke or a lie. Parenthetically, when people think he was joking, he comes out to assure us that he wasn’t. That makes it difficult for Filipinos, and other nations as well, to read what he is really trying to say and act accordingly.

In both countries, there is now a need for government officials to “explain” what the head of state meant, and where the latter insists on his own interpretation of what he said, then some officials would simply contradict him. That’s a problem for cabinet secretaries who are supposed to be alter egos of the president. They are extensions of the president, and while this is not a problem for some, others soon find themselves out of the government.

To this we can add a tendency towards historical revisionism. No administration is perfect but when the wrongs say of the Marcos regime during the martial law years appear to be glorified, then it tends to belittle the sacrifices and lives lost by a generation who fought those same ills. Of course, this could be expected even as political affiliations swing one way or the other; eventually, a friend of the old regime will surface as president and attempt to rehabilitate them.

We ask: how much of the drug war is real? What about the anti-corruption drive? Can we rely on what they are saying, or is it a lie or just a joke? How is our economy doing? Whose data or what sources can we rely on? What is really going on?

All this reflects badly on their leadership. With people now uncertain of what they mean, or what is real, how are they expected to plan and move forward if they cannot read what their government is trying to do or accomplish? That’s a problem not just for individuals but more so for businesses, investors and other countries. It certainly creates a lot of uncertainty and with it, loss of confidence. While some die-hard believers will carry on regardless, the rest will certainly be a lot more cautious. That caution could hurt the economy and our relationships with our allies, trading partners and neighboring states.

People and nations also tend to dismiss them and their governments. It is strange to see an American president ignored in a meeting of nations but there it was. World leaders have now turned to others for leadership even as the US focuses in on its self. Too much it seems. No one is so naive to think that any of the past US administrations have acted without considering its consequences first on the US yet they have not failed to lead the rest of the world. The current administration is not inclined to do so. It chooses to build a wall both literally and figuratively around it and live in its bubble safe from what it believes to be a climate change hoax. Coaxing it out of its shell and rehabilitating its confidence to lead will take time. Lots of it.

In the end, the victim to all of this is the truth. It’s bad enough that we have to contend with fake news and alternate facts but when leaders consciously actively engage in them, their citizens suffer and the world bears the consequences of their actions. There have been past administrations that have lied but none have done so openly and flagrantly.

Borrowing from the X Files, the truth is now just out there. We cannot trust our own governments. That’s a terrible thing to have to say.


Waging War on Illegal Drugs

Let’s set aside for awhile the fact that all wars against drugs have failed or are failing. I think that’s a given. What amazes me, however, is the way the Philippines is going about guaranteeing it.

During the campaign period, the then mayor of Davao warned all policemen involved in the illegal drug trade to resign because he will give them no quarter once he becomes president. He won, and, as promised, there followed one of the bloodiest campaigns against drugs anyone has ever seen averaging 1,000 deaths per month and they’re not done yet. What was promised to be a six-month campaign is now being extended to a year. Lord only knows when it will end and what it will actually take to end it.

It was not long after that the seeds guaranteeing the failure of the campaign were sown. It started with the disregard for due process. People were accused on live TV of involvement in the illegal drug trade without an iota of actual proof of any wrongdoing that was then followed by the wave of extrajudicial and vigilante killings that prompted people to start questioning the methods employed by the government in the campaign. 

Then they go after the “big fish”. Some died and some were caught. Unfortunately, their coup isn’t the slamdunk they were hoping for.

The guys they caught started talking but their talk, while congruent in some respects, were mostly inconsistent with each other. If it was their intention to use the testimonies of two of these witnesses against Senator De Lima whom the president himself accused of being involved in the illegal drug trade, or, at the very least, accepting money from the drug pushers, then they really have to do a better job because from what they’ve confessed to, it appears that, at most, the senator is only guilty of unknowingly having her picture taken with a drug lord. Last time I checked, that was not a crime. In fact, one of the witnesses who was the former driver-bodyguard of the senator appears to be the one actually involved in the illegal drug trade or profiting from it, and was only using his sometimes romantic relationship with the said senator to his advantage.

If that wasn’t bad enough, you now have the police disproving what this supposed big fish was saying in his sworn affidavit. I mean if they keep this up, his value as a witnesses will disappear completely.

Worse, the president of the Republic is micromanaging the war on drugs instead of just leaving the work to the police. He himself has been disproving the statements of the supposed big fish deciding for himself who is and is not involved in drugs. Mind you, his own intel is questionable as some of those he accused as being involved in the drug war were dead or were later excused with little more than an apology. His list was supposed to have been verified and re-verified but you still have faulty intel. That doesn’t really build one’s confidence in the war, and it even puts into question the legitimacy of their operations especially those were people have been killed.

And what of the president’s “no quarter!” battle cry? If he is to be believed, then the president declared that he asked his chief of police to reinstate someone who he says is positively involved in drugs. If you don’t understand why he would do such a thing when he promised a total war on drugs, well, join the club.

With the value of their own witnesses diminished if not destroyed, do we even have to mention their practice of pressuring people to open their houses to warrantless searches? There’s no point.

Let us be clear, this is not to say that the government should not run after those involved in illegal drugs. Please do; however, the government has to abide by the law. We already know that a drug war will not solve the problem. Nevertheless, if we must pursue it, then we should ensure that we do so in accordance with law, and the evidence gathered is relevant and admissible. If you have to do it, then please do it right.



The Shepherd

Once in a while, we try to understand how we get the leaders we get. Unfortunately, it happens more often in the Philippines. Some have been okay, some better, but, lately, it’s more “what the heck?” than anything else.

Take the current president, for example. We all know how he got elected. What we want to know is why? He says it’s all God’s fault. Of course, it can’t be that simple but in a country that is 70-ish percent Catholic or 80-ish percent Christian, such a statement has a logic of its own. We think we get the leader we deserve as God in His infinite wisdom decrees. To my mind, however, the two do not necessarily go together. We get what we deserve because we chose our leaders. God in His infinite wisdom will not interfere with the exercise of our freedom of choice. The Bible though might say otherwise.

Take King Saul, for example. Called to be king of all Israel and anointed by God’s prophet at the request of the people, he brought great ruin to the nation. “Saul” may not even be his name because that means “called for” or “asked for” since Israel was crying out to God for a king. According to the archeologist David Rohl, it is likely Labayu, which means Great Lion that is perhaps fitting for a king known to have fought bravely against the Philistines. Saul was said to be unskilled in diplomacy using inappropriate language although in his case it was more about using Hebrew rather than Akkadian. In the end, this man, hailed to be the first king of Israel, eventually led his army in a disastrous battle where three of his sons were killed and he committed suicide so that we wouldn’t fall into his enemy’s hands.

The point is that even if you are hailed to be the head of a state as king or president, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will do well at it or that you even finish it, or at least it may not end the way you thought it would. Saul/Labayu was king but he took his own life after the death of his sons in battle. Joseph Ejercito/Erap Estrada was elected president of the Philippines but was ousted from it about halfway through his term in office. I don’t think God is so cruel as to have imposed such leaders upon their respective nations. We made them our leaders and things went bad for them. God can only do so much for the leader or the nation.

Instead, it is up to the leader to actually do everything in his power to help his people. When David became king of Israel, he wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. Yet, he found his way back to God and is remembered as a great king. Our president has a long way to go. He has decided to quit cursing. That’s a start. I do hope that sometime soon he will realize that drug users are human beings entitled to their full human rights. The fact that their reasoning and actions may have been affected by the drugs does not mean they are any less human. To get them away from drugs, we need to treat them as humans. When they start feeling more human, they don’t need drugs anymore. Killing them is just another way of giving up on them and that’s more a statement about us than about them.

The president is unconventional to say the least. He has his way and, sometimes, it works. More often, it doesn’t. Running a country needs more than just bravado. Machismo can only take you so far. It is easy to bluff your way through one meeting after another but, after a while, it all piles up and puts you in a corner. There are just some things you have to put in order, and you just have to learn how to lead your people. Filipinos who hold dual citizenship are still Filipinos and he is still their president whether he likes it or not, or vice versa. We need a shepherd.

Take Jesus, for example. The good shepherd. He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. Like the current president, His ways causes disagreements and fights. However, the one thing that differentiates the two, I mean the most glaring one as there are legion, is the fact that Jesus is motivated by love, for all. He sees everyone equally…as human beings that can be saved. Our president prefers to kill three million drug users rather than save them. His drug war has caused the death of over 3,000 Filipinos in around four months. We need him to be a good shepherd: to help us all and not just those he likes. We may be asking too much of this man but this is what it takes to be the president of this Republic.

We don’t need the president to be a philosopher-king. We don’t need him to be perfect. We just need him to be to be the president of all Filipinos.