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 His first attempt was withdrawn even before it was ever considered by Congress.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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“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

And so there it is. After dancing around the issue for the last two months, we finally see where the Philippines is heading: China and Russia. It’s not really much of a surprise considering the amount of abuse that the president has thrown the way of the US and the rest of the Western world, and the praise heaped upon China and Russia.

It should be obvious to everyone by now that the president really really really hates the US. He insulted the American ambassador to the Philippines, threatened to curse the US president, told US forces to leave Mindanao and, most recently, suspended joint patrols in the South China Sea, and shown no inclination to continue with joint military exercises with US forces because, he says, China doesn’t like it. Of course, there was also the oh so undiplomatic “FU!” to the EU. Meanwhile, he thinks Putin is actually an okay guy, and we haven’t really heard him say anything against China remotely near as harsh as what he has thrown at the West despite the fact that it has practically held the South China Sea hostage even as an international tribunal has already declared — in a case instituted by the Philippines no less — that China does not in fact have any historical claim over the contested area. China and Russia are now conducting joint military exercises in the South China Sea and Filipinos still can’t get in as they are chased out of the area by China’s coast guard. The president does not even appear to be interested in upholding the arbitral ruling as he tries to get China to agree to allow Filipino fishermen access into the disputed areas. Appeasement at any cost seems to be the chosen tact even if in at least one occassion, he noted that illegal drugs in the Philippines comes, and is being run from China, and if there is anything he supposedly hates more than the West, then it is illegal drugs.

As far as we can tell, much of the presidential anger against the West rises from the actions of US forces way back at the time when it was occupying the Philippines in the end of 1800s and early 1900s, especially in Mindanao. He views the US and the Western powers in general as old-time colonists that has no moral authority to question how he is running the country. Parenthetically, if he bothers to try to look hard enough, then he will see that China and Russia are actually no different.

Clearly, the president is free to choose to build bridges to China and Russia. If these countries are willing to give whatever aid to the Philippines in return for its friendship, then that would be most welcome. There’s nothing wrong with making more friends.

In a different time, it would even have made sense. China and Russia were part of BRICS, a group of countries that was supposed to lead the world economically. China indeed grew to become the second largest economy overtaking Japan while Russia made a killing when oil prices went stratospheric. The rest of the group, Brazil, India and South Africa, were all the envy of the world reeling from the Global Financial Crisis.

Then things went south. Oil prices plunged and Russia is losing its reserves trying to shore up its economy. Chinese manufacturing has stalled and there are plenty of questions surrounding its banks and their exposure to bad loans. Brazil managed to hold the Olympics (and the Football World Cup before that) despite the political and economic upheavals it was facing but it is no longer anywhere near where it was some ten years ago. South Africa has been overshadowed by its political problems as the party of the late great Nelson Mandela loses its footing. After showing much promise, India is now drowning in pollution.  Admittedly, the rest of the globe isn’t doing any better than BRICS. However, if the Philippines was looking to China and Russia for aid in the extent that the US and EU are now providing it, then I think it will be sorely disappointed. China might still be able to do so. Russia, not so much. Indeed, we haven’t really heard anything much from BRICS nowadays.

Still, one wonders how much these countries can actually give the Philippines when they have been hobbled by so many problems. Moreover, one Chinese analyst notes that the president appears to be just playing with China what with him flip-flopping every now and then. At present, China has pledged to build drug rehab centers and a national railway system. Russia appears to have pledged military hardware. For free. What exactly these are has yet to be revealed.

What is disturbing is that the president, in pivoting away from the US, touts the Philippine Constitution’s declaration that the country must follow an independent foreign policy as his justification. Now, it seems that as far as the president is concerned, an independent foreign policy just means independent from the US and apparently dependent on China and Russia. The president even said that he is about to cross the rubicon with the US. We can all just imagine what that would actually mean.

At this point, it may be wise to listen to former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert Del Rosario. Asked about what he thought of where we are now, he expressed the opinion that making new friends need not be at the expense of your old friends. Diplomacy he adds should not be a zero-sum affair: you don’t have to be all pro-China and anti-US, or vise versa. Unfortunately, these may fall on deaf ears as the president’s hatred for the West appears to have closed any possible balanced approach to the country’s foreign policy.

The painful thing about this is that if we call the president’s attention to this, then we just might get called a son of a whore for our trouble.

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Traffic on my Mind

The Philippine Daily Inquirer came out with a stunning headline that read something like the Secretary of the Department of Transportation said that traffic is “just a state of mind.” For the millions of Filipinos that see themselves stuck in traffic on a daily basis, it came as a bad joke.

To be fair, the Department has denied that the Secretary said anything like that. It appears that what he was actually saying was that we, Filipinos, should stop making traffic an excuse for being late for anything IF there isn’t any heavy traffic at all. That’s a very big “if”. The problem is, of course, when exactly isn’t there heavy traffic? I mean, at the times that matter, say going to and from office, heavy traffic is a given. Isn’t that why some people are asking Congress to give the president emergency powers to deal with the traffic situation? I am sure they are well aware of the situation. Unfortunately, the good secretary’s statement, however well intentioned, just fell among the other face-palm worthy government commentaries on traffic, the most painful one coming from former president Noynoy Aquino himself when he said, twice if I’m not mistaken, that heavy traffic was a sign of progress. There is a grain of truth somewhere in there but for those who suffer through hours and hours of traffic on end, it’s no comfort at all.

A friend of mine saw her daily commute that used to take forty-five minutes stretch to two hours. Try passing by Cubao in Quezon City around 4:30 in the morning and you run into traffic. Yes, that’s 4:30 AM! Wisdom dictates that if you want to beat traffic you have to leave earlier but if there’s traffic at the most ungodly hours, what time do you actually have to leave to make it to your office or school?! There was a time I could leave my house along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City before 6 AM to make it to my office in Makati around 7:30 AM. That’s still one-and-a-half hours. Try that today and you will get there at 9 AM. The culprits are Cubao, of course, and Ortigas. Commonwealth Avenue itself, even with six to eight lanes can get pretty congested early in the morning. It’s more manageable compared to later on the day but even with such a wide avenue traffic is a problem.

And the solution itself is a problem. When you try to leave the house too early, or try to leave the office too late, just to skip traffic, and do the same thing all over again every day of the workweek then you begin to question whether or not this is all worth it. Leaving too early and too late just leaves you less time for anything else in your life. Life can’t be just about living on the road going to or from the house or office. We already slog through eight hours of work, do we really have to go through four to six hours of traffic?

You see, when we say it’s traffic. It really is. We are not just making excuses for being late. It really is just traffic. It is a reality. Something we want to change. We want a better life. One that isn’t so preoccupied with, or dominated by so much traffic. Government should just get on the business of fixing traffic. There is already so much that is needed to be done and talk, as they say, is cheap. Maybe then we don’t have to suffer through traffic, be it real or imagined.

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