Living in Fear

In the past week, the Philippines saw a number of anti-drug operations carried out by the police in various locations. Around 80 people were killed during those operations. One stood out: a young boy of 17. The police say he shot at them with a .45 and was killed when they returned fire. However, CCTV footage allegedly shows that the boy was accosted by two police officers and followed by a third who took him to a secluded spot. Witnesses allege that the boy was intimidated, given a gun, told to run, and shot. The death has caused an uproar on social media. A rally has been scheduled on the 21st of August, the day when the country recalls the death of Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr. The event that spelled the beginning of the end of the Marcos regime.

However, there are two sides to every story and the truth, they say, is somewhere in the middle. One side has the boy as an innocent victim of police abuse in the War on Drugs; while another view says that the boy is far from innocent and was in fact involved with illegal drugs. Some versions of the latter story has his father as the dealer and the boy, a runner for his illegal drugs business. Some say he is, himself, a dealer, while others have him as a mere user. Even if this story is true, whatever version it may be, does that fact prove the alleged CCTV and eyewitness accounts wrong? Hardly. At most, it only shows that he was not the innocent people think he was but how does that change the whole thing?

Even if someone, anyone, is known to be a pusher, runner, dealer or user of illegal drugs, does it make it right to bring him to an isolated spot, give him a gun, order him to run and shoot him? Even assuming he is guilty, is it necessary to kill him? What’s the point?

In the first place, if he is actually known to be involved in illegal drugs, then wouldn’t it be easier to find witnesses and other evidence against him, prosecute him, and send him to jail?

Further, if they want us to believe that he was armed with a .45 and took a shot at them, then they first have to convince us where in the world he hid it considering the way he was dressed at the time. If they will also insist on such an out of this world idea, then we will have to question their ability to comply with police procedures because we have to ask: didn’t they search the boy before they walked away with him? There were two with him followed by another. Three cops who failed to observe simple police procedures? It is easier to believe that they were in fact intentionally disregarding police procedures taking the boy away as they did that night. That’s the suspicion anyway.

Finally, did they think that killing one person will put the fear of God in other pushers, dealers, runners or users? I think not. They live with that fear every single day of their lives and in all probability have accepted it. So, who actually fears such unnecessary killing? It is the innocents. Now they fear the police who they see as out of control, picking people off the streets and shooting them to add another statistic to the War on Drugs. Reuters, the BBC and Al Jazeera all posted articles showing how police officers (and gun for hires) are getting paid for every kill in the War on Drugs. Scratch one more to the tally.

Was that the whole point of the killing then? When the president says that if they kill 32 a day, they solve the drug problem in the country, was this their contribution to the 32 required? Was the boy killed for a scorecard? Was he killed just for a few pesos?

Here’s the thing: somehow, somewhere, someone is going to say enough is enough and take action. That action can be as simple as a non-violent protest march to, God forbid, violent revolution. What it will be depends largely on how much more the country can take. An article on the Internet says that to eradicate inequality, you need large scale famine or pestilence to kill off large swaths of the population. That, or violent revolution of the Russia or China kind. We don’t have pestilence anywhere. Violent revolution though may just be around the corner.

Something else to be fearful of…

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The Vow

One distinction that the Philippines holds is that it's the last country where divorce is not allowed. A lot of people think that it should not be so but I for one believe that it should be so and, yes, my being a Catholic has everything to do with it.

The long and short of it is how much importance do we give our marriage vows? I would like to think that before we go through such a life-changing decision, we have given it more than a just passing thought. When we speak of marriage vows, it is something from which a whole lot of other commitments spring. We think of the family that we are about to start, the children you will raise, and all the responsibilities of being a spouse and/or parent of another human being. Before we promise to love and hold someone for the rest of our lives, we should think about who we are marrying, our readiness to begin a life with that person, and our available and possible future resources. That's a lot of thinking required. Unfortunately, some people simply marry out of hope that one or the other is their perfect match, or they will change along the way to be the right person for you. That is a recipe for disaster of the highest magnitude. Just picking a boyfriend can be as easy as a date and we fail to consider everything else out there. For example, you do not have to immediately commit your self to just one person to try him or her out as if they were some car you're trying to buy. Dating is not promiscuity. Dating, when carried out in a mature manner, opens your eyes to possibilities and empowers you with the ability to choose responsibly.

As a Catholic, the moment I choose to make a marriage vow is the moment I decide that there will be no other partner-for-life for me other than my spouse. That's big. That means I renounce all my rights to be with any other person other than my spouse. 'Till death do us part. It is a life-long commitment. You are intended to die with it. I do not think many people realize just how heavy a burden that vow really is. They treat it lightly, fail to appreciate all of its consequences, and seek a quick fix if it doesn't meet their expectations. It is, if you'll forgive me, an irresponsible and cowardly way to live one's life. When we marry on a whim — just for fun as it were — or are "forced into it" or just desperate to be in a relationship, the responsibility for entering into marriage is ours, especially, when we should understand that we don't even have to get married under such circumstances no matter what. It is truly our life and we live it. If we choose to marry, then man up and live with it.

Granted, people can make mistakes. They may cause their spouses harm. The current state of Philippine law does not leave them without recourse. Under the Family Code, a spouse can file for legal separation or annulment. The main difference between the two is that in legal separation, the marriage bond is not dissolved such that the spouses remain to be man and wife of each other, while in annulment, one of the parties is deemed psychologically incapacitated to enter into marriage, or his or her consent is vitiated that there is no marriage at all to begin with. To be sure, it is a lengthy and expensive process but that is the price we have to pay in order to dissolve something that shouldn't be dissolved in the first place.

In the Philippines where a majority of the population still consider themselves Catholic, it means a lot considering that if you want to remarry in a church, then you need an annulment of your previous marriage from the State and the Church but, for the most part, getting one from the State will do. Still, the Vatican, the only other state not to have divorce for obvious reasons, has endeavored to make Church annulments more accessible to Catholics. Those steps, however, will never amount to a quickie divorce some sectors would want to see in the Philippines. The Vatican will never give you that.

People, however, want a quick fix to their apparent problems. Divorce, they say, solves a lot of problems but fails to see all the other problems it may give rise to. The latter don't matter for as long as they have their means of escape.

That's the thing, isn't it? It's an escape. Instead of people working to resolve an issue, they want an exit mechanism to jettison all manner of responsibility for their failed relationships. It takes too much to try to work it out so it's better that we just abandon the whole thing and try to start over; hopefully, we do better the next time around. No responsibility whatsoever.

The Catholic Church does not see it that way. Not to my knowledge anyway considering that I am no priest but if you ever wonder why the Church cannot go against it's teaching against abortion, then you are really missing the point. We are free agents. We can do as we please but our choices have consequences. Therefore, before making a choice, think of all the possible consequences. Abortion, like divorce, is a quick way out. A chance to escape responsibility. An out for a messy situation we find our selves in. Yes, there are other factors involved and one in particular stands out: life! Whether it be abortion or divorce, there will always be an impact on life and how we live. In the end, that's where the interest of the Church lies: in our life. A life worth saving. How we live it tells if we get saved or not. Jesus already did the hardest part about human salvation: He lived, died and rose from the dead. Everything else is now up to us.

Nobody said life, or making a life, was easy. We always have to act responsibly just like in making our marriage vows. Quick fixes are often messy affairs. You can't fix life like that. Never like that. When you make a marriage vow it is meant to be forever and any problems you experience along the way, take the time to fix it. It will be worth it. Life's like that.

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A Nation of Laws not of Men

If the recent spectacle in the US is anything to go by, then it should confirm everything we have known about Donald Trump from the beginning: he believes that his word is law, and everyone should obey him.

When he was just running for the presidency, we heard how he boasted that he would just grab a woman he fancies by the pussy because he believes he can, and for the most part, he was right. His victims were too shocked or scared to do anything about it. It is a totally predatory thing and indicative of his attitude in general, to women in particular. There was even that creepy clip where he greeted a child and said that he would date her when she’s eighteen. 

He fancies himself to be the ultimate businessman (let’s just forget all those bankruptcies he went through in the meantime). A great negotiator. THE man to be reckoned with.

Of course, not everything worked out as planned. He thought he can just ban Muslims from entering the US. The courts thought otherwise.

He wanted to change Obamacare with a single stroke. It didn’t quite work out that way. His first attempt was withdrawn even before it was ever considered by Congress.

Worse, his choice as Supreme Court justice could not get through and so he had to get his Republican lackies to change the rules for it to happen.

He bullied his way in the meeting with world leaders in Brussels and was ridiculed for it.

Now we see him trying to convince the head of the FBI to end the Flynn investigation. I compared that to a mafia don trying to tell a cop to look the other way. When he didn’t, the mafia don made him disappear. He must have thought he was still at the set of The Apprentice. “You’re fired!”

Unfortunately for him, like some of the mafia attempts to off someone that fails, Comey comes back from the dead to haunt him, and his testimony might take the don down.

The New York Times has an article that likened the attempt to have Comey drop the Flynn investigation to sexual harassment. Scary.

His seeming disregard for climate change and human rights are even more alarming. While pulling out of the Paris accord on combating climate change may arguably be a good thing because how can a man who thinks that climate change is a hoax convince the world to take it seriously, it also sends the wrong signal that a developed industrialized country will not help, or might even work against, fixing climate change.

Trump’s economic policy appears clear: make the most money with the least restrictions. Take away all the climate change concerns so big oil can do as they please, and coal can be big again — never mind that renewable energy is actually becoming cheaper and more efficient to operate. Now, they are taking down Dodd-Frank that was enacted to protect investors after the Sub-Prime Mortgage meltdown and the depression that followed in its wake. Chipping away here and there in the hope that money comes in. That’s his vision of a great America. 

Look at all that and you realize he is just about one thing and one thing only: The Donald; and he wants the Donald to have absolute power.

It is not surprising that he would be envious of people like Russia’s Putin and Xi of China because, in their respective countries, their word is law. Laws conform to the leader’s wishes rather than have the duly elected representatives of the people make laws that the president will then execute, which is how a democratic government should work. Trump believes his word should be law because, in his mind, he alone can save the US.

Unfortunately, the US Congress, filled with a Republican majority, is slowly giving him what he wants. There will be hell to pay. Maybe they think that Trump is still manageable and they can make him do what they want then dump him after one term — if not sooner removed by impeachment — or once they can come up with a suitable replacement. 

Here’s the thing, once you give power to a demagogue, and the people are drunk with illusions, it will be hard to reign him in and get the balance of power back among the three co-equal arms of a truly democratic government.

I could say the same of the Philippines with a president some quarters hail as a savior of the nation. His insistence on the supremacy of the executive arm over the others is troubling. His minions in Congress, particularly the speaker of the lower house, shares the view — at least, when the judiciary is taking a contrary view; otherwise, he would be pleading that the people respect the decision of the courts. It’s maddening.

Putin, Trump and their ilk want to have a nation of men, not of laws. There will be a point of reckoning when the people can no longer tolerate the abuses by such men. Even countries such as China know that there is a constant danger from those opposed to such a concept. It is their fear of such an uprising that makes them an oppressive state that belittles human rights allegedly for the sake of the common good.

This is no way to live out our lives living under the dictates of would-be Caesars. We cannot willingly forsake the freedoms that others have paid for with their lives for the covenience of short-sighted solutions to everyday problems. We need to live in a nation of laws where no man can ever be above it even if he is a duly elected president. Allowing ourselves to be lulled to sleep on our rights is not patriotism. It is nothing more than a surrender to absolutism. That is a price too high to pay for an illusion of peace.

We lived through such a hell once. Never again.

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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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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.

 

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Quo Vadis?

Those who are not yet ready to give up on their president say that all this anti-US declarations are just his way of playing the China card against the US in an attempt to gain more concessions from the US.

If so, then he appears to have decided to go all-in with what little he has to play with. If the US calls his bluff, then the Philippines stands to lose more than what he may have bargained for. True, China has a sizable war chest to fiddle with but its recent forays into Africa have been less than stellar. Oil in South Sudan that can’t be delivered when the country became a war zone. Uncollected or uncollectible soft loans and a growing anti-Chinese sentiment as locals start to worry about the new neo-colonialist in the block. 

Back home, questions are raised about the true state of their banks, loans, a possible housing bubble and sluggish growth. With such concerns, one really wonders how much it can freely give to the Philippines.

And while he plays his hand, one should never lose sight of the fact that the US and China are playing their own hands: one yearning for respect; the other seeking to keep itself relevant. Russia, for all intents and purposes, is out. The world now watches China and the US dance their global dance. One in desperate need of the other. Yin and Yang.

To that the Philippines thinks it is becoming a world player with its bluster and pompous rants that is then explained away as a joke, hyperbole or an unofficial stand made by the highest official in the land. Lost in its own self-importance, bobbing along between powers it cannot control…

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Growing Up

No longer a boy but not yet a man.

The youngster had endured much growing up. He had been abused, used and ridiculed. Sometimes, his woes were self-inflicted: he wasted his wealth. He did not know what to do. Typical of little children, he was content to follow those he considered his friends. His neighbors, meanwhile, grew rich. He was the poor sickly boy in the corner.

But now he was no longer a boy, he is discovering what he can do. He is learning how to be independent. He grew his wealth and was even able to lend. He was finding his place in the community. Yes, some friends would still help him but he was no longer that sickly boy in the corner. He has confidence and strength. The community nodded in praise of his achievements.

As he grew older, he remembers what happened before. He rebels against those whom he believes wronged him while he was weak and dependent, so much so that he would throw himself at others in the hopes that they would prove to be better friends. 

He stumbles on his way. He cusses and curses. He threatens, lashes out. Sometimes he apologises for his actions. Mostly, he couldn’t care less. He tries to be cool by saying inappropriate jokes. He sees the men who get their way in this world by using force and intimidation, sometimes wealth, and he is fascinated. He wants to be like them. The bad boy. Typical of adolescents. 

The community is amused. Sometimes frustrated. Frequently irritated. It’s just a phase everyone hopes. The boy has great potential. Everyone just has to be patient with him. He’ll soon grow out of it. The sooner the better they pray…

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