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.


“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.


Reality Check

Not to douse water on what is, in truth and in fact, a historic win for the Philippines but one cannot take the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration dismissing the claims of China over much of the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea through the use of their magical nine-dash line and separate it from the realities of navigating those waters. The truth is that any Philippine vessel in the area from fishing boats to navy ships gets chased off by big bad China.

Again, not taking anything away from the legal team that gave the Philippines this victory, one must understand that the ruling was practically a shoo-in when China refused to participate in the process other than to challenge the jurisdiction of the tribunal. Once the tribunal said that it had jurisdiction, that was it. It is tempting to describe the battle as David versus Goliath but, truth be told, this is really a paper victory because unlike the Philistines who turned and ran when Goliath was felled by David’s stone, China is not going anywhere anytime soon. The Philippines will be hard put to enforce the arbitral award. No one, not one nation, not even the US for all its talk, will risk war with China. In the end, the Philippines will be forced to enter into bilateral talks with China in order to be able to exploit the resources found in that part of world. Bilateral talks which China has been proposing all along, and something which China can dominate in. So, really, this is a win for the Philippines but once the dust settles, I fear the Philippines will be going to China to appease the beast and get something going. In the end, China wins.

Whatever else we may believe, we also have to face reality. We have to find creative ways to use the ruling in our favor against China. That’s no easy feat. To do so needs a credible use of force, or the threat of it. We cannot do that without a respectable navy with ships capable of exerting force.

So, what do we have? We have the ruling. We also have friends. Friends with guns. Now, some of those friends like playing by their own rules much like China. So if we are really going to be smart about this, we have to play by our own rules. What do we have? A president that doesn’t play by the rules and a ruling earned by playing by the rules. That ladies and gentlemen is a lethal cocktail. If our Government doesn’t just roll over and play dead for China, then we have the makings of a very interesting diplomatic situation. Time I think for us to make our own reality.