“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.


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.


A Bombing in Davao

It’s just one among many — there have been many bombings in the Philippines — but this one has been the root of more trouble than any one before. It could have been set off anywhere but it had to be Davao, the city that the current president of the Philippines used to be the mayor of. If the perpetrators wanted to send a message, then they can be pretty sure the president heard it but the message, whatever that may be, appears to have been lost in the chaos after the bomb went off.

The old joke goes that in every crime committed in the Philippines, there are only three possible motives: away sa pera (disagreement about money); agawan ng lupa (land disputes); or love triangle. In this case, the first suspects were the Abu Sayyaf Group because the government had recently launched an offensive to destroy the ASG in Sulu. The ASG has denied any involvement in the bombing and instead pointed to another group that is supposed to be sympathetic to them. Regardless, the police appears to have another suspect: disgruntled vendors. It appears that the local government had recently awarded stalls in the market and those who didn’t get one supposedly set off the bomb in the market in retaliation. (If you’re wondering where this would fall in the three motives above, then it would be a variation of number two.) All kidding aside, however, whether it is any one of these groups or not, this bomb set off something more in the Philippines.

It is no secret that the current president won the last elections by mere plurality and not a majority. The majority voted for someone else. Unfortunately, they voted for different candidates and, in the end, out of the five who ran for president, Rodrigo Duterte got the most votes. The former mayor of Davao prided himself with making the city, the nation’s largest, safe. How he did it is wrapped in controversy. As the story goes, death squads have allegedly been set loose killing drug pushers and other suspected criminals. He is a populist leader whose campaign promise to be tough on crime within the first six (6) months of his term he carried out with singleminded ruthlessness. In just two (2) months in office, there have been around 2,000 deaths reported. These deaths were attributed to police operations where the victim allegedly resisted arrest, hitmen allegedly paid by the police following a kill list, and vigilantes allegedly emboldened by the pronouncements of the president to go and shoot drug pushers and users. To be fair, the police have denied any involvement with hitmen and so-called extra-judicial killings. Still, his war on drugs and his declarations against the observance of human rights has caused many, both here and abroad, to criticize him and his war. He couldn’t care less. His critics despise him and his tactics, while his followers are quick to defend him and occasionally troll his critics. Then the bomb went off.

In an already divided land, this bombing has turned rifts into chasms with the anti-Duterte group gleefully pointing out the failure of the government to prevent the bombing and its terrible consequences. Some even said that the president or his government deserved it. That is just wrong. While this government may not be the ideal we want it to be, we also cannot indirectly support such criminal acts with unfair criticisms of the president and his government. Like I said, this bombing could have been done anywhere in the Philippines. Had it gone off in Cebu, Ilocos or “Imperial” Manila, what then? Would our attitudes change? The hardest critics perhaps wouldn’t because it would still be a picture of this government’s failure to protect its people. Still, the death of innocents, whether caused by terrorists, plain criminals or the government itself deserves but one reaction: condemnation and a resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Unfortunately, the government isn’t helping the situation and appears to have overreacted. The president decided to declare a state of lawlessness, which is less than a declaration of martial law. Still, the Constitution appears to require more than just one bombing to authorize the president as Commander-in-Chief to call out the armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion (Article VII, Section 18). By grouping lawless violence with invasion and rebellion, it appears that a major emergency should be on hand before the army can be called out. Think of riots where properties are burned and people injured that is quickly spreading or becomes prolonged. While the results of this single bombing was certainly terrible, it was no different from any other single bombing the Philippines have gone through before. Had it been a series of bombings over a wider area, then I could have understood the response better. What happened was a crime, and undoubtedly violent, but I don’t think it’s enough to call out the armed forces. Proclamation No. 55 of the president declaring a state of emergency in view of lawless violence appears to admit this point and instead views this incident as the latest in a long line of lawless acts committed by various groups or individuals over the years in Mindanao. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a stretch if I ever saw one.

It is that overreaction that has people criticizing the government all over again. With suspicions against it already high because of his war on drugs, the declaration is suspected of being used to condition Filipinos to the presence of the armed forces in the streets. It should be noted that the war on drugs has policemen knocking on doors and searching houses even without warrants. Such practices, while cloaked under a police operation, may be legal but it should not violate the rights of the homeowners. If they refuse entry to  the police, then that should not be taken against them. If the police has probable cause to believe the homeowner is involved in a crime, then it should get a warrant to search the house. Without it, they cannot force their way in or arrest the homeowner. The police is banking on the idea that people will accept the intrusion because, well, if they have nothing to hide, then all will be well but that is not how the law works. They should not even be there in the first place unless that have probable cause or a valid warrant to make a search or arrest. In a way, people are getting bullied into submission. Martial law by acquiescence. That’s something people should really seriously worry about.

I believe that the government can conduct police and military operations it deems necessary to keep the country safe. It should be noted that the army has been out there fighting the New People’s Army  as well as Muslim separatists who have been conducting rebellions for decades. During all that time, the Supreme Court has been able to guide the executive on the conduct of such operations in ways that would respect the rights of the citizens. If this government can restrain itself and operate within the parameters set by the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court, then everything should be fine.

But there lies the problem: can we actually trust the government to respect the law and the rights of individuals? I wonder. I really do. The collective pronouncements and actions of the president appears to show a propensity toward disregarding it. His chief of police is no better in his statements. In one speech, he actually told the audience to go out and kill the pushers and burn their houses. This is the chief of police calling on people to commit the crimes of murder, homicide and arson. One can presume that these people have the best intentions for the Philippines. However, their lack of filters when they speak publicly gives people cause to doubt their methods.

We Filipinos must criticize the president if and when necessary but we should do so in a manner that respects the office even if he himself cares little for such niceties. Critics must also reach out to his die-hard supporters and bridge the gap between them to let them see that we all mean the best for our country and the president. The critics must realize that for good or bad, he is the president and must act accordingly. The supporters must themselves correct the government when proper. The government listens to them. They should use that power to good use. We really cannot afford to continue to divide ourselves into factions; otherwise, we will cause more harm than what a single bomb can sending shockwaves through the generations. We have to learn to live us one, and with one voice proudly cry “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas” (Long live the Philippines)! When we are able to do that, we will be invincible.


The Philippines’ De Facto Martial Law

Once upon a time, there were things we valued like “due process” and the Rule of Law. It was most revered and celebrated right after the Philippines rose from the darkness that was the Marcos era. Former President Marcos had imposed martial law over the country after a sham assassination attempt against the then Defense Secretary, Juan Ponce Enrile. Under martial rule, due process and the Rule of Law were disregarded and people deemed radicals, and the population in general, suffered for it. When the so-called Marcos Regime was finally defeated, a new Constitution was introduced and the Rules of Court revised to protect and preserve the right of the people to due process of law.

Decades later, a new Philippine president who counts the Marcoses as his friends is intent in bringing back the dark days when due process and the Rule of Law were considered nuisances rather than something to be respected and observed.

This president, a former prosecutor at that, has twice publicized the names of people allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade. The first list was composed of former and current police officers. The second, longer, list, contains the names of politicians, judges and others. The president claims that the list was verified and re-verified before he made it public. Interestingly, one of the judges he named appears to have passed away eight (8) years ago. How someone dead figures in the illegal drug trade has yet to be established but it does make you wonder what kind of verification and re-verification was undertaken by those who prepared it.

What’s more interesting though is that he ordered those he named and shamed to report to him (as far as the politicians, mostly mayors, are concerend) and the Supreme Court for the judges to clear their names.

Now, people might say “See, they are being given due process because they can try to prove their innocence! Doesn’t that prove that the president is adhering to the Rule of Law?” Well, no. Hell no!

He claims that he is duty-bound to the people who elected him president to tell the people “what is happening.” It might do well to remind the president that when he took his oath as president of the Republic of the Philippines, he swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land. The Constitution he swore to uphold contains the Bill of Rights where the right to due process, among others, is enshrined. The president is also duty-bound to observe due process and the Rule of Law. When he declares that he is not bound to give anyone due process because he is not a court, he betrays a lack of understanding of one of the most fundamental principles of law. We shudder at the thought.

You see, it all begins with something called presumption of innocence. That means someone is innocent until he is proven guilty. To start an investigation, say a violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, a charge has to be made against a person that the accused will then answer. The charge will have to be specific enough for the accused to be able to refute. If the accusation progresses into a criminal complaint, then the matter is brought before a court for trial. There, both the prosecution and the defense present evidence to prove the guilt and innocence, respectively, of the accused. The judge then decides the case based on the law and the evidence presented. If found guilty, then the accused can appeal his case all the way to the Supreme Court. That is what we call due process of law and adherence to the Rule of Law.

What the president has done is do away with the presumption of innocence. Those he named are, to him, involved in the illegal drug trade. They do not have the presumption of innocence in their favor. Instead, like in China, they have to prove their innocence. The people he named and shamed does not even have anything specific to admit or deny. They are simply people involved in the illegal activity. How will they even begin to defend themselves? What exactly are they being accused of? What evidence is there that allegedly shows their participation in the crime? If the Government has something against each and every one of those named by the president, then the evidence should have been taken before a fiscal/prosecutor to determine whether or not there is probable cause to bring a criminal charge against that person. You do not subvert the Rule of Law by doing away with due process by making him answer a general accusation. In all likelihood, those accused would probably incriminate themselves or just plead guilty to get out of it.

It gets worse, whether these people are innocent or guilty, these people will forever have their names connected to the illegal drug trade but it doesn’t end with them. The same fate is now shared by their families. It will be harshest on the children. Those innocent will find it hard to shake off the stigma that will forever stain their lives. To that, the president only says he is responsible. Little comfort to the innocent. That’s where the president’s former position of prosecutor really stings: he should know better. We in the legal profession expect so much more from him because of it, and yet here we are. As the Good Book says, to whom much is given, much is expected. Two months into his administration, he is woefully found wanting. Should we even be surprised considering his record as former mayor of Davao where death squads abound giving us a foreshadowing of things to come? Yes, because, maybe foolishly, we thought he would change his ways and be more presidential when he won the post. With each passing day, he continues to prove us wrong.

Make no mistake, illegal drugs that kill and ruin the lives of thousands if not hundreds of thousands, should be addressed. No one is questioning or challenging that. What is being questioned and challenged is how it is being addressed. A War on Drugs has failed in Mexico, Colombia and the U.S. For all the firepower that has been employed to strike at those involved, the illegal drug trade is still going strong. Instead of a War, other states have opted to treat the problem as a health issue. The solution is controversial but in the countries that have taken such a step, the illegal drug trade isn’t as big a problem, if at all.

By his actions, this president has brought the Philippines back to the days of martial law when no one was presumed innocent; you had no rights; and everything was what the Government, and the president in particular, said it was. That’s exactly where we are right now. His Government sees human rights as something that can destroy the country. He is outraged at the statements of the Human Rights Commission, a body created under the Constitution to protect and uphold human rights. Most of his sorties are to police and military installations where he promises them higher salaries and full support purportedly in the War on Drugs. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to fear the worst.

At least Marcos had the decency to declare martial law. This president just rolled us in it.