Who will believe..

Fatou Bensouda (cropped)that Loida Nicolas-Lewis personally spoke with the ICC (link)? Some Pinoys maybe, who think the whole world works like their government, where pork barrel queen Janet Lim-Napoles’ lawyer even was at a cabinet meeting (link)! Well, there is Harry Roque who says “she is rich” (link) and Duterte – the man who invented bank account numbers of Senator Trillanes (link) – even claims he was able to tap the phone of ICC prosecutor Bensouda. The second-rate prosecutor, whose political career was jump-started by being appointed by Cory on request of his mother, even puts the qualification of Bensouda in doubt. Some Philippine articles do not mention her work at the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda), a pioneering tribunal dealing with war crimes (link) that happened in 1994 when the Tutsi and Hutu (not Yellowtard and Dutertard) tribes started killing each other.

Very superstitious..

Of course many Filipinos have a certain picture of Africa and a superiority complex towards blacks. What also was spread a lot on the usual troll networks was the fact that Loida Nicolas-Lewis’ deceased husband Reginald Lewis (link) was a black American billionaire. So a certain crowd is probably ready to believe anything Duterte and his group say without proof and pooh-pooh those who ask for any proof. And yes, many are probably even ready to believe that the Philippines leaving the ICC is the “beginning of the end” for the latter (link). Where does this sense of having the world revolve around the Philippines come from? It is really just one of many Asian countries. Could it be that its early role in the UN, as a founding member and a darling of the United States, made Filipinos think their country was special? Its being independent earlier than most neighbors?

“No reaction” from Fatou Bensouda might even be construed by some Filipinos as an admission of guilt – the Filipino street mentality often goes by assumptions suitable to a barangay where all gossip is immediately heard and those who do not immediately react to gossip are probably guilty. There was no strong reaction, for example, by Mar Roxas when troll networks during the election spread the malicious rumor that he had stolen Yolanda funds. His being a bit too aloof and above the fray could have made some people assume, yes, he did it. Recent articles prove otherwise (link).

Well, Fatou Bensouda will probably not be shocked, as there are similar things on her continent. Even people assumed to be witches and then hurt by neighbors. But I had a Filipina ex-girlfriend  (college-educated!) who told me that certain neighbors in her hometown were known as aswang. There are also things I have read about VACC and others who have no objection with evidence being planted on people who are “known to be guilty”. Known in what way? Because it is assumed? The history of urban legends in Manila (link) calls for caution. Cats in siopao, worms in burgers.

Lost respect..

The Philippines did have international respect in the beginning. For one thing, Dr. Jose Rizal is known and respected in most of Asia and inspired other nations in their quest for independence. Second, the country was richer than even South Korea just after the war. Third, the likes of Magsaysay and Garcia interacted a lot with their Asian colleagues, within SEATO for example. Probably the rudeness of some Filipinos who looked down on fellow Asians for speaking little English was later. Not to mention the junketeers who looked down on Europeans for the same.

There was of course back then the glorious feeling of being on the right side – the American side – and lots of Filipinos working for US Forces, US Embassies worldwide. But from that crowd, there were people who told me that the willingness to employ Filipinos went down the moment US bases were told to leave the Philippines. One wonders what all the tirades of the present administration against the UN will mean for the willingness to employ Filipinos there, up to now still quite high. And often working for Western bosses – Americans, British, French. They also read the papers.

And the BPO industry in the Philippines which mainly serves Western countries. A German who managed a major BPO outfit in Manila once said (I heard this in my circles over here) that the main good thing about Filipinos is that they are highly Westernized. There is an aspect of TRUST in this. BPO firms also manage sensitive data. Lose that trust, especially by being perceived as being way too close to a country with a reputation for stealing both intellectual property and confidential information (China) and you lose business. This can happen very gradually.  But with finality.

Trust forfeited..

Because the world usually doesn’t work like among many Filipino politicians who play a low-down game with one another, smile as if nothing happened and on to the next round. As if fooling others was just as much a harmless game as trying to grab a basketball from the other team. Their fault if they didn’t protect the ball well or dribble right. There are things you don’t do, things not forgotten. Fraport and NAIA-3 (link) may be ancient history to Filipinos, but not to Germans or Europeans. This is why I was surprised that Aquino did manage to get EU firms to invest in the Philippines!

Probably more of a let’s see, let’s put a few calculated bets there, might get better than before. Possibly a bit like the trust given to someone who is let out on parole. Has the parolee relapsed? There are still a lot of EU firms in the Philippines. Well, they will not withdraw their engagement. Not at once. The European mentality is long-term and strategic. But they may place more bets on places like Vietnam and Indonesia now. The risk of shakedowns in favor of Chinese partners might figure into the equation – see what is happening in Boracay, or with the possible 3rd telco player!

Past reputation

Foreign Secretary Cayetano speaks with an Ateneo accent, which is vaguely remiscent of the New York state accent the first American Jesuits who came to the Philippines had. High prestige in the Philippines, indicative of upper class. At the UN, he may still think he people remember Romulo, the Philippine Foreign Secretary who said “I want that dot!” – on the UN logo when it was created. But a country that sets aside a UNCLOS ruling in its favor to deal with those who grab its islands, slaps its former allies in the face, and disrespects agreements (ICC) it once wanted to belong to?

Coming back

Talking down to everybody because one thinks one is the bird on top of the new carabao – China? China speaks as if its future global hegemony is already a done deal. That is far from sure. And if it turns out otherwise, I doubt that other nations will be like Filipino politicians, smile and it’s OK. The Philippines might have to fall in line behind other partners who have proven greater reliability. Maybe even behind African countries it still looks down on now. But looking down on now more advanced Asian neighbors was not too long ago either. Pride comes before the fall, Proverbs 16:18.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 24 March 2018



A Nation adrift

Masinloc,Zambalesjf1340 14is what I see when I look at the Philippines today. For sure the Filipino capacity to play it by ear is a strength in many situations, and might have been one of the things President Duterte was a master of when he ran his City of Davao, if one is to believe the stories from there. But at national level, things look very different. Especially in three key areas: foreign policy, trade policy and internal security. Lots of shifts just in three months, no real consistency to be seen YET. What makes it worse is that nobody else seems to really have any idea of where things should be going from now on.

It is good to question assumptions – many of the assumptions made by intellectual and political elites in the past decades were simplistic. But to just go in the opposite direction of what was blindly done before is not a real solution. It might be that the reasons for all of this are simple, and I shall venture some possible explanations from my point of view:

  • The Philippines was not a nation when it was formed by colonialism (link). Mindanao was only truly added in American times. Geography and linguistics play a major role in fragmentation.
  • The national elites took over a political and economic apparatus formed by colonialism. Both money and power were centralized (link). The provinces a source of votes and resources (link)
  • Most Filipino elites were like the usual turncoats one sees in Congress today, even when it came to foreign powers. They went for the best bet at the time: Spain, America, Japan.. (link)
  • Concepts of what the nation means have widely varied. One only needs to look at how political and thought leaders have explicitly and implicitly defined it (link). A thin foundation?
  • The people themselves have little continuity of being (link). Fads and fashions are often blindly followed. Ideas parroted without understanding, traditions forgotten, next opportunity..

Some of the manifestations of this syndrome can be seen in what has happened in recent history:

  • In 1991, American bases were made to leave. But there was little continuous effort to really build up external defence capability from then, or national policy.
  • The Philippines benefits from business process outsourcing, and from overseas foreign workers. Little own economic, technological and entepreneurial capability.
  • Growth came but was insufficiently managed – neither in terms of public transportation, roads or spreading the wealth. Growing inequality fostered drugs and crime.

There is an old adage which fits many situations: “do first what is necessary, then what is possible, and all of a sudden the impossible happens”. But to do that takes patience and perseverance.

The previous administration may have done too little of what was immediately necessary for the people in some aspects like traffic jams and public transportation. The present administration may be doing more than necessary in fighting crime, and less than necessary in other important aspects – we shall see. But the risk remains that Philippines will still yet remain – a nation adrift.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 24. September 2016



Der Sache wegen

Friedrich Zweite Alt

Friedrich der Große

means because of the matter at hand in German. Now I have been in Germany since 1982, when I left the Philippines where I grew up because of my opposition to the Marcos dictatorship. Now when I, then still a total Pinoy was shocked at how much stricter democratic Germany was than the Marcos dictatorship, and much more orderly. Hardly any jaywalking except for me and other Pinoys who were my first barkada in Germany. Along EDSA near Aurora boulevard in the early 1980s, people not only jaywalked, they used the street when the sidewalks were full, inspite of barriers erected to prevent this. And of course brownouts and water shortages were common, officials took bribes so very often, and people who had connections had it easier. So much for Marcos-era discipline. The Marcos dictatorship was terrifying in its impunity towards its detractors – yet ridiculous in its outward show combined with real inefficiency and incompetence.

The root cause of much Filipino failure is lack of objectivity and dispassionate analysis – Sachlichkeit in German. Sachlichkeit means concentrating on the matter at hand. Not on showing off like Marcos. Not on who is at fault like President Benigno Aquino III sometimes does, with all due respect. Not on whether someone is a former Marcos man or a proper Liberal Party member.  Because Binay was anti-Marcos and pro-Cory, now what has he become? Erap, for all his mistakes, seems to have mellowed into someone who does care for his own country more than ever.

Sure, Germany has had its witch-hunts. Real witch burnings in the Middle Ages. An old German friend of mine says – he hates the Church – that priests burned mostly redheads because they probably refused to sleep with them. Summary courts – the Femegerichte – were feared even after the Middle Ages. The trial and execution of Milady in The Three Musketeers is an example of how these kind of courts used to work. The Nazis persecuted nearly everyone. So did the Stasi in East Germany. Seeing only your own side as right, without objectivity, is a trap that can lead to this.

Law and Order

There is from old Prussia – which became the core of the German Reich in 1871, but was abolished by the Allies in 1947 – the legend of the Miller Arnold, and the real story behind it.

The legend goes that Frederick the Great was being disturbed by the clatter of the mill sails and offered to buy the mill from its miller, Johann William Grävenitz. When he refused, the king is supposed to have threatened: “Does he not know that I can take the mill away from him by virtue of my royal power without paying one groschen for it?” Whereupon the miller is supposed to have replied: “Of course, your majesty, your majesty could easily do that, if – begging your pardon – it were not for the Supreme Court in Berlin.”

The real story was that in 1768 there was a legal dispute at another location over water rights and the remaining lease between Christian Arnold, the tenant of a mill in Pommerzig in the Neumark, and his landlord, the Count of Schmettau. After the miller was found guilty on two accounts, he appealed to Frederick the Great, who intervened in the ongoing proceedings in favour of the miller. Wrongly, as it turned out later. The king referred the case to the Berlin Court of Appeal, who once again ruled against the miller. Frederick the Great, then demanded a condemnation of the judges and their imprisonment in Spandau Citadel for their unjust judgments and thus precipitated an abuse of his name. This legal battle and the story of the Sanssouci miller were woven together in the legend and were intended to emphasize the king’s justice towards all his subjects. After the death of Frederick the Great, the case was reopened.

The legend therefore was that even then, royal power was superseded by the objectivity of the law. The reality was that royal power then was not always objective (sachlich) with regards to the law. Now how this applies to President Benigno Aquino III and his objectivity may depend on the observer. Joe America will say one thing, GRP another. I tend to agree 2/3 with JoeAm on this matter, 1/3 with GRP, and fully with myself of course. I think he has been a bit partial in some cases (Purisima), objective on others (Corona) and wishy-washy in some like holding on to Secretary Abaya.

A distanced look at the evidence regarding Frederick the Great of Prussia points to his having very possibly been gay. Now that did not impact on his leadership, which was excellent in its results. Now I don’t care about Aquino’s sex life. Nor do I care about that of Senate President Franklin Drilon, or that of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Or that of former German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is admittedly gay and even took his partner with him on trips. Aquino’s performance counts. Here I might agree 80% with JoeAm, 20% with GRP. My evaluation is still ongoing.

Mehr Sein als Schein

Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew

means be more than you seem to be, and is attributed to King Frederick. It is very Protestant and very Prussian. The more Catholic it gets and the more south you go in German-speaking countries, the more they place importance on appearances. The Austrians especially the Viennese can be downright charming, Austrian and Bavarian villages have beautiful Baroque churches. Now in contrast to that, Northern Germany is austere. Berlin soil is mainly sand, Prussia was poor. It had to conquer other lands like agricultural Silesia – partly because it could not feed itself.

Now contrast that with Marcos, whom Lee Kuan Yew looked down upon for lacking true substance: “In Bali in 1976.. I was to discover that for him, the communiqué was the accomplishment itself; its implementation was secondary”. Marcos’ projects were often “built on sand” and rushed, his heavy borrowing and printing money finally impoverished the country: “He [Marcos] sent his minister for trade and industry, Bobby Ongpin, to ask me for a loan of $300-500 million to meet the interest payments. I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘We will never see that money back.’  The MRT3 seems to have been a typical Marcos-style project started in Ramos’ time – rushed and done too cheaply, and the price is being paid now. The Philippines lived beyond its means under Marcos, not just Marcos and Imelda. I have mentioned that living beyond one’s means never leads to true modernity. Just white elephants, like the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

In a country that still can’t run a 17 kilometer elevated tram system properly, a nuclear power plant in an earthquake zone. Imagine Pinatubo in 1991 and Marcos still in power, BNPP running…

Predictability and Reliability

Recent Joe America articles criticize Peter Wallace. I criticize Peter Wallace too, for putting all the blame for the perceived unreliability of the Philippine government on President Aquino, while singing the praises of some other politicians. But what I do share with Peter Wallace is his criticism of the Philippines as having been (still being?) an unpredictable and unreliable partner.

Possibly Aquino is trying to fix things. Not always in the right way. Not always successfully I can see. But for example the debacle on NAIA3 really escalated during President Arroyo’s times. Secretary Abaya letting Vitangcol recommend a company that turned out to be owned by the latter’s uncle was definitely a blunder. In most countries, he would have to “fall on his sword” – resign. What I would not do is what some are doing and insinuating Abaya was in on the deal, or even Aquino. One cannot accuse people without a shred of proof, or even indications like with Binay.

Peter Wallace on his head (source: Joe America)

Where I agree with Peter Wallace is that foreign direct investment is lacking. The true reasons may be better outlined than by him in this article by the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a paper read by many bankers for its extreme objectivity. It says that most Philippine stocks are political papers, vulnerable to who is in power and connections. It also states that foreign direct investments are hampered, according to ADB, by three reasons: insufficient infrastructure compared to other countries in the region, lack of trust in the government and a relatively narrow industrial base. Now I hardly think that it was better in the Marcos era. There are rumors that Marcos often raised the bribes for potential contractors. The NZZ does see the progress made by Aquino. Now I prefer an honest government with a learning curve in terms of competence to a corrupt government. The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines has been publishing a weekly report on the Philippines since 2011. I still have to evaluate this source. European sources, especially Swiss ones except maybe FIFA’s Sepp Binay, ahem Blatter, are usually more objective than Filipino ones.

Legal certainty is a principle in national and international law which holds that the law must provide those subject to it with the ability to regulate their conduct. Legal certainty is internationally recognised as a central requirement for the rule of law. Now is legal certainty something that exists in the Philippines? Recent debates with regard to the Condonation Doctrine, as to be applied or not applied to the Binays, as well as whether Grace Poe is to be disqualified or not, make the Philippines look more like a country of legal uncertainty – sometimes it may even be a country where legal impunity is applied, meaning that those on the wrong side of power, less educated or poorer can lose a case. No need for impunity in the form of guns and goons if the law can be used. Now I do not subscribe to the point of view that Binays and Poe are victims of legal impunity. But it is easy for them to play that role in a country where the law was often a farce to conceal raw power. President Arroyo allegedly threatened Fraport boss Wilhelm Bender with arrest if he landed in Manila. Who does she think she is, and who he is?

Aquino is mainly seen as trustworthy, so other countries are giving him a chance I think. The Philippines is out on parole I would say, but not yet exonerated. The next years shall be crucial.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 21 January 2016

P.S. 23 January 2016 – thank you Secretary Abaya for clarifying this, just saw it, so it should be given credit.

According to MRT General Manager Roman Buenafe, the signaling system is currently under contract with the joint venture of German company Schunk Bahn-und Industrietechnik GmbH and Filipino firm Comm Builders & Technology Phils. Corp. (SBI-CB&T JV).

After Friday’s glitches, Buenafe did not rule out the possibility of a sabotage of the train system’s operations. There is an an ongoing investigation on the MRT glitches, but Abaya said sabotage is not the main focus of the probe and that they are looking at all the possibilities.

“Just like any other credible and responsible investigation you look at all angles. There is no primary focus on sabotage — let’s make it clear, it is not the primary focus of the investigation. The primary focus of the investigation is to find out the real causes, if sabotage is ruled out then that is well and good.”

The Transport secretary said they will continue to deal with the German maintenance provider despite allegations of a sabotage.

“We should pay what is due to them, we should pay for the services rendered, we should pay for the parts delivered. We deal with them fairly and I think we should continue to engage them.”

It was not really helpful that Mr. Buenafe insinuated sabotage without a shred of proof or even indications, just a suspicion. If the Philippines is to deal with German companies on a long-term basis this is not really the right way. Germany has very little natural resources and no military power, therefore like Japan its main asset is the high quality worksmanship and good reputation of its companies. If there were proof or indications like in the Volkswagen emissions case in the United States, it would be a totally different matter.  In this case Secretary Abaya was professional.

Philippine Foreign Relations

Philippines on the globe (Philippines centered) The Philippines always has been at the conjunction of major sea lanes.The upcoming articles on Philippine history will show how this strategic position always made the Philippines the focus of foreign interests. Presently, the conflict in the West Philippine Sea regarding the islands claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and China among others is becoming more important. Long-standing rivalries between Malaysia and the Philippines may have more to do with who controls the sea lanes that were in the distant past controlled by the Sultanate of Brunei.

It is time to look at the foreign relations of the Philippines.

  • ASEAN: relations to ASEAN neighbors are a mixed bag. Let us have a closer look:
    • Vietnam: both longer-standing scientific and more recent political cooperation in the islands both partly claim lying between them.
    • Indonesia: good political relations recently evidenced in the handling of the Mary Jane Veloso case, but not only.
    • Malaysia: long-standing tensions regarding Sabah and the Muslim regions in the Philippines.
    • Thailand: relations have apparently always been distant and difficult due to mentalities.
    • Singapore: the situation of Philippine OFWs there seems to have soured up relations.
  • Northeast Asia (Japan, South Korea and Taiwan)
    • Japan: good relations, a lot of financial help and investment has come from Japan
    • South Korea: good relations, some tensions with Korean migrants in the Philippines
    • Taiwan: business relations seem to be OK, some political tensions recently.
  • China: tense relations to say the least.
    • The present crisis over the islands which China wishes to control.
    • Increasing numbers of Philippine drug mules caught in China.
    • The Manila hostage crisis involving Hong Kong tourists has not been forgotten.
  • United States: mostly good relations with some issues typical for a post-colonial relationship.
    • Strong cooperation in defense matters and in the war against terror, most recently in getting Marwan.
    • Strong economic ties due to colonial and postcolonial history, also due to English language in the Philippines.
    • The present challenge is to find a way to a politically mature alliance free of both postcolonial servility and defensiveness.
  • Europe: strong trade relations, stronger political relations, foreign aid initiatives. Some issues, relations could be deepened.
    • The EU party funds the Citizen Action Network for Accountability, a grassroots initiative for citizen participation in local politics.
    • The unsolved NAIA3 issue still clouds relations with Germany, even if it seems that both sides made many serious mistakes.
    • The challenge here is to overcome prejudices and see the advantages of working more with a major political and economic area.

The government of President Aquino has made big advances in  developing a foreign policy that works with multiple partners on different levels, and has been very diplomatic in dealing with China which is a wise course, while starting to strengthen cooperation with certain ASEAN partners like Vietnam and Indonesia. From what I have heard, the Department of Foreign Affairs has strongly professionalized in the past years, raising the requirements to become a career diplomat. This is a good thing because the Philippines is in the middle of major global changes.

To fully realize its potential, it might do the Philippines well to remember how the ancient Kingdom of Tondo leveraged its position in the middle of trading routes to become a respected maritime trading power. All such powers, whether old Phoenicia, ancient Greek Delian league, Venice, Portugal, Holland or England, had a powerful navy to protect their trading interests. Recent reports show that this is being realized by some in the Philippines. Possibly, the Philippines is on the way to becoming a player in its own right and managing its own interests with appropriate measures and selected allies.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, May 8, 2015. DISCLAIMER: opinions expressed in linked articles or sources are not necessarily mine.