People’s Champions

Workers on suspended scaffold in Korolyovare appearing in the Senate race: Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada, Samira Gutoc, Gary Alejano, Florin Hilbay, Bam Aquino. Will Villanueva has interviewed nearly all (link) while Samira Gutoc is introduced here (link). Bam Aquino’s Negosyo Centers and his initiatives for improving Internet connectivity are I think known. Each one is different, but each on is about serving the people. Three have a strong focus on improving rule of law: Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada and of course Florin Hilbay. Samira Gutoc has her record in serving the people of Marawi in difficult times. Gary Alejano has his focus on national security and territory as well as avoiding debt traps. Mar Roxas and Macalintal are surely each good in their own ways, but I leave them out as I lack some information.

Community or Command?

All the six I mentioned fit into the people’s champion image Leni Robredo revived. Possibly the first time since Ramon Magsaysay. Probably it was even Mar Roxas who tried to revive it, although the image that remains of him is unfortunately quite awkward. Except for Alejano, none fit into the warrior-like image many Filipinos consider “strong”. And warrior-like would even be OK, in many cases Filipino machismo is just thuggish. From fatal fraternity hazings to UP Regents threatening Ateneo players with injury (link). Or thuggish barangay captains who make the Bagong Lipunan song play inside me. The propaganda art of the Marcos era with strong-bodied datus and their broad swords. Yes, the old barangays raided (each other), traded (with one another) and feasted (link).

From Spanish times onwards, cabezas de barangay and gobernadorcillos (“mayors”) drawn from the co-opted native elite maintained control over their own countrymen in exchange for privileges. Sugar, tobacco and abaca plantations came into play later on. Agricultural and other trade lead to (Spanish- and Chinese-) mestizos getting rich also. The late Spanish period and American colonial times allowed the rich to get educated. Institutions like UP even gave the less affluent but talented access to good education. Seems the idea of bayanihan, effectively a mix of native self-help and American ideas of community service, had its heyday in the 1950s. The barangay, as a more toxic mix of datu culture and Spanish colonial mindset, returned in force when Marcos restored it.

Absolutist or Liberal?

The difference is so very clear when one sees VP Leni sitting WITH the people while Duterte or Imee usually sit on a podium, ABOVE the people. And of course there is a command tone inherent in Marcosian or Dutertian rhetoric. And when one hears how some older-generation Filipino lawyers argue, one wonders how much Spanish absolutism is still in their mindset. For instance the way “sovereignty” is used – more in the old sense of the ruling class having sovereign (or king-like) power than in the sense of asserting national sovereignty by defending borders. One must remember that the Philippines was born in the middle of the Spanish conflict between Absolutists and Liberals. Until the 1950s, you still had Filipino politicians who spoke Spanish fluently.

Whereas (to use a typical Filipino legal word, ha!) Spanish Liberalism was also elitist in nature (link), and the original “liberalism” of Filipino plantation owners seems closer to that than to the ideas of American Democrats. If one wants an analogy of Spanish Liberalism and Absolutism, one just needs to read Rizal’s Noli and Fili. The first is about a snooty elite Filipino who naively tries to apply foreign recipes without thinking about how they can be adapted to local conditions, and without getting local buy-in first. The second is about a Filipino elite master of intrigue and power games who wants to use violence and suppression to achieve his ends. As the adviser to the Governor-General, Simoun is Marcosian/Dutertian, as the one egging on Cabesang Tales, he is a “leftist”.

Arriving in Dapitan

One cannot discount that Rizal’s novels had an element of self-reflection in them. Goethe is said to have avoided killing himself over a young lady by writing Werther. Probably the self-reflection even revealed more about the Philippine character than Rizal intended to. The well-meaning but sometimes condescending tone of reformism from 2010-2016 – and the howling reaction of the “townspeople” – parallels the Noli. Today’s violence is El Filibusterismo – 120 years later. Rizal probably won over his worst instincts by letting them out as novels. By the time he was exiled to Dapitan, he served. The Liberal Party I think has learned from its defeat – and started Project Makinig (link). Probably also the influence of VP Leni, who has continuously been in social work (link).

Quiet, hard work and perseverance instead of showy projects and warlike “heroism”. Tackling the country’s issues one step at a time (Tañada wants to finally pass a Land Use Act, Diokno has great ideas for reforming the justice system – see Will Villanueva’s interviews for more details) instead of building expensive bridges to nowhere (link). Given a clear picture of what the issues are, their causes and the solutions to them, possibly the taongbayan, the citizenry, are ready to listen and return to katinuang-isip or clearheadedness. Even the most warrior type among those I mentioned, Gary Alejano, is not out to jetski anywhere. A man who has truly seen battle is not careless with lives. Yet as a real warrior he knows how to draw lines in the sand. So that people can live.

Vicente Rafael, in his book “Motherless Tongues”, describes the sense of happiness in some villages after some initial revolutionary victories in the late 1890s, and the sense of togetherness when people were on the street in EDSA II. Those who where on EDSA in 1986 know the exhilarating feeling as well. Others will know the anger at things going wrong – the anger of the Katipunan is documented way back to 1892, the anger of left against social injustice, the anger of the masses on EDSA III that Rafael also describes. Neither joy nor anger, nor a sense of unity (which is often short-lived) can build things. “Land of constant beginnings” is what novelist Ninotchka Rosca called the Philippines. Could a new batch of leaders help change that? Are the people ready for that? Hmm..

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 3 December 2018

What real effect

Rappler Logowill #StandWithRappler and #BloggersForFreedom (link) have for the Philippines? We shall see. The Black Friday Protests today were well-attended by journalists, students and others (link) but will that even reach the general Filipino public? Will they care at all. Or will it be more like (link): Ayaw nilang makarinig ng ibang balita. Palakpak ang masarap sa tenga nila. Makuntento na sa mga balita sa patayan, naholdap, nagahasa, nasunugan at tingay ng baha, buhay ng artista at drama sa telenobela. Pagkatapos, makinig sa update nina Mocha, Andanar at Roque… This is about the so-called masa, the majority that Presidential Legal Counsel Panelo sees as “not educated” enough to vote on Charter Change (link) and who Speaker Alvarez claims to truly represent (link) – but who threatens provinces that do not cooperate with “no-funds” (link).

But even most of the “educated” Filipinos might care more about their material comfort and security than their freedom. In a country of rote learning, most lessons probably never were more than skin-deep – Christianity, rule of law, democracy. Maybe what stuck was more like this (link): “Many of the things you heard about Davao were about extrajudicial killings, but look at Davao. I invested a lot. Lives? Yes. You have to kill to make your city peaceful,” Duterte said. Rest in Peace. Recently, 2 hit men who killed 2 jail guards in Muntinlupa – turned out to be policemen (link).

Charter Change may be the point of no return for Philippine democracy, as local politicians may want to secure their rule by keeping populations misinformed and intimidated. This might after all be what Filipinos really want, who knows? A smiling population ruled by a dirtily smiling Alvarez.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 19 January 2018


Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Serenoput Germany under totalitarian control until 1937 (link) – is Dutertismo doing something similar? Hitler had Social Democrats banned first, and then all other parties disappeared. The Philippine Congress is run by a supermajority which is pro-Duterte. The Senate has a pro-Duterte majority, even if its opposition minority is more powerful and sometimes sways the less decided colleagues (link) like with the recent resolution against the killing of minors. The Philippine National Police seems to be firmly pro-Duterte, while the Army is for the most part I think perfunctorily obedient.

Rivals and Press

Hitler practically eliminated the left wing of his party in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934 (link). One must remember that National Socialism had both left-wing (socialist) and right-wing (nationalist) aspects. The Philippine Left is now outside of Duterte’s Cabinet and seems to now have turned full force against him. The Ombudsman and the Commision on Human Rights are still occupied by appointees of the previous administration – Carpio and Beltran. Even Chief Justice Sereno is seen as an annoyance – and is presently fighting against her impeachment by Congress.

The press seems to have become quieter in its criticism (link), even neglecting to put fact checks on patently absurd statements like the recent varied statements on Trillanes’ alleged offshore accounts – from “it was a trap” to “he closed them online” to “this is now the real list”. Are Filipinos gullible (link)? Germans also were at some point, and some are still or again as the recent election shows. The equivalent of the yellow conspiracy many Dutertians think is real was “Jewish Wall Street” and “Jewish Bolshevism”. Yes, both Wall Street and Communism were the fault of Jews for some Nazis.

Foreigners and Filipinos

Germany left the League of Nations at some point during Gleichschaltung. The Philippines has not yet left the UN, even if 39 countries have now expressed serious concern over its drug war (link). The relationship with the West may already have a serious dent though, including long-term repercussions for trade. I know a German who once headed a BPO outfit in Manila who put in a word for Filipinos as being highly Westernized and therefore more compatible to work with Westerners than other Asian peoples. Filipinos may yet know what they had when it is finally gone.

Back to discussions among Filipinos. Pinoy Ako Blog (link) has been under attack in social media. Probably because the tone of the blog’s articles is as understandable to the Filipino man on the street as Mocha Uson is. Let’s say PAB is street with coffee to go, while Mocha is gutter with curses. But it seems that Dutertians now fear losing the man on the street, and even worse the defining power over “who is a true Filipino”. Because a Filipino is not just an inutile hangdog thrilled by free food and gyrating Viva Hotbabes, cursing like Duterte. That would be mental Gleichschaltung.

Dealing with Today

And besides, all the propaganda, that undefined smelly stew of resentments and inferiority complexes, slogans and half-truths doesn’t solve any problems. Hitler’s brown stew did not do it for Germany. Duterte’s weird version of adobo I am happy I cannot smell – does it have durian in it – will not bring the Philippines forward in any way whatsoever. Let us just imagine that Trillanes, Hontiveros, De Lima, Aquino, Roxas, Gascon, Sereno, Bautista etc. are all exiled and out of their positions. No excuses left for Duterte and his group. Will they lead Filipinos into a golden future?

Irineo B. R. Salazar

30 September 2017, München

Congratulations, Iloilo City

Iloilo River towards the Iloilo Strait– not only have you defended your Mayor and your reputation (link), you got a real drug lord (link). You did have to kill him, which is unavoidable at times, but the entire story of month-long leads and tips from Ilonggos sounds more plausible to me than all the off-the-cuff declarations of Duterte. That includes the malicious hints that Mayor Jed Mabilog of Iloilo was a drug lord protector or more, that Iloilo was alleged “most shabulized” (not borne out by PDEA numbers) and the planned but retracted assignment to Iloilo of someone already involved in the killing of two mayors (link).

Iloilo also happens to have one of the cleanest rivers of all larger Philippine cities. This alone tells me that they know how to take care of themselves, just like a clean bathroom is a sign of a good household. A clean kitchen may be for show only, the dirty kitchen at the back, but the bathroom? How about Davao, the famous showcase of Duterte? Safe it probably was and is in a relative sense. Maybe more like the Thunderdome was the safest place in the Mad Max movie. On a violent island, Davao was/is a place where a Burgherr (Lord of the Castle) ruled and imposed his personal order.

Cities like Iloilo and Naga, on the other hand, seem to represent a nascent urban middle class model of governance from all I have gathered – as opposed to the old, warlord-dominated cities of the fringes or the upper-class dominated cities of the center the Philippines used to be known for. Classic political dynasties in the Philippines have ruled by a mixture of money and intimidation – more intimidation in less developed areas, more money in more developed areas. Middle-class political structures characteristic of more developed Asian countries therefore remained elusive.

Even the middle-class uprising of 1986 had a patron in Cory Aquino. The new middle classes whose money comes from working abroad or in call centers have President Duterte as their patron. Citizens gathering to protect their mayor like in Iloilo (and not looking down upon him for being just a human being like everybody else) is new at least to me. But cultures develop. Consensus replaces intimidation. More complex  and advanced economies flourish better under free conditions. Sweatshops can work well under repressive conditions, but don’t expect Silicon Valley.

Korean companies are already moving to Vietnam nowadays from the Philippines. Did anyone seriously think that they would have forgotten what happened to their countryman who was killed? There are nationalities that say little, yet act after a while – like Germans, Japanese and Koreans. The Filipino street/thug/warlord subculture does not think that far, mistaking bluster for strength and silence for weakness. Little strategic sense or long-term planning. Flourishing cities like Iloilo or Naga may be gone completely if that subculture comes to dominate the future Philippines. Pity.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 3. Sept. 2017

In order to build a More Perfect Society

Cacique Ron Antiguoreplaces “ a just and humane society”  of the 1987 Constitution in a draft for a Federal Philippine Constitution (link). More perfect society sounds like Thomas More’s Utopia. There is an article from 2016 by Professor Tony La Vina already makes an uncanny comparison (link):

Superficially speaking, Duterte’s Philippines, at least in its treatment of human rights and the role of law, is not very far from Thomas More’s Utopia. In More’s world, lawyers are actually prohibited and citizens are assumed to know exactly what the law is, what right and wrong is, and are expected to comply with all the rules laid down by the state. In More’s Utopia, punishment is a certainty for those who transgress the law. In More’s imaginary world, the justice system is always fair and so human rights is not an issue. Its respect is assumed. Unfortunately, both the assumptions of an educated citizenry and an excellent justice system do not hold for our country..

How do we respond to Duterte’s Philippines? Unfortunately, the book Utopia does not give us good answers to this question. Sadly, utopian literature frequently justifies human rights violations in the name of achieving a better, more perfect society. Therein lies the danger and the tragedy that is unfolding in Duterte’s Philippines. It is not a perfect world; government makes mistakes, including terrible ones. ..

The rest of the constitutional draft remains similar to 1987, with too many words at the end of the preamble (link): “a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace” – which can mean anything, as we know since Orwell’s 1984, or Imelda Marcos’ interpretations of truth and beauty.

Or Grace Poe’s swearing allegiance to the United States. Among many Filipinos, including public officials, there is a lot of fake oath-taking. In Bavarian folk tradition, you had to at least keep your fingers crossed behind your back while swearing an oath you had to take, but did not mean to keep.

What nations want

The 1935 Constitution had three main goals that are clear: independence, to preserve patrimony, and general welfare (link) with a “regime of justice, liberty and democracy” to achieve them:

The Filipino people, imploring the aid of Divine Providence, in order to establish a government that shall embody their ideals, conserve and develop the patrimony of the nation, promote the general welfare, and secure to themselves and their posterity the blessings of independence under a regime of justice, liberty, and democracy, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.

I think the Americans of before knew what they wanted in the Preamble of their Constitution (link) – clearly unity, justice, tranquility, defence, welfare and liberty for themselves and their posterity. It defines clearly how Americans wanted to live then and in the future:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Swiss Federal Charter of 1291 went straight to the point with a one-sentence intro (link) – but one can distill similar ideas out of it – common good, peace, defence:

For the common good and proper establishment of peace, the following rules are agreed :

  1. In view of the troubled circumstances of this time, the people and communities of Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden promise to assist each other by every means possible against one and all who may inflict on them violence or injustice within their valleys and without.
  2. Each community shall help the other with every counsel and favour and at its own expense in the event of any assault on persons or goods within and without the valleys and to this end have sworn a solemn oath to uphold this agreement in confirmation and renewal of a more ancient accord..

The 1987 Constitution and even the Federal draft both still say in their preambles: “promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure.. independence and democracy under the rule of law” – now do these things still matter for Filipinos today? Or their leaders?

The Philippines Today

Common good. Stickers for drug-free homes, drug tests for aspiring students. The citizen as a suspect, as a potential danger to a more perfect society? What perfection is aspired to, is it the paternalistic Heavenly Peace of Chinese thought that gives its name to Tiananmen Square?

Some of its islands, its fishing grounds – its patrimony. Seems they have been sold for trains and loans with not so low interests. Mining – is it properly regulated and taxed so the country as a whole benefits? And general welfare. Are Lumads, Moros, poor people still harassed for being in the way?

Federalism and putting barangays on a leash may in fact lead to a Philippines similar to the colony under the encomienda system of before (link) only with regional political families in a role similar to encomenderos and local families being like the principalia or datus subservient to them.

Killings of families like the Espinosas and Parojinogs, bad as they may or may not have been, even warnings by the police chief involved in both to others (link), do not bode well for those leaders who do not toe the line. Like for datus that refused to serve King Philipp II or his successors.

Attempts to ignore the will of the people are now showing themselves towards Vice-President Leni Robredo. Would the powers-that-be let her lead a Bikol state in case the people there want her to? Real Federalism is about self-determined communities working together for mutual assistance (original Swiss Confederation) or towards a “more perfect union”  (USA) – not society or possibly even “New Society”. And especially not fiefdoms assigned to the entitled by.. whom? Who are they? Do they really embody the will of the people? Do Filipinos indeed prefer to be led? We shall see.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 11 August 2017




The Absentee President

Habitual Absentee - NARA - 534650may have done Filipinos a favor – by showing that his office is not the solution to, nor the source of all problems. The war in Marawi is hopefully winding to a close thanks to a professional army, and the MRT still is running badly while Metro Manila traffic is horrible. Meanwhile, there is mostly solidarity and respect for the soldiers that fight it out in Mindanao – a far cry from decades ago. There are those who help the victims and refugees of war, and those who are colder to them. And there is mostly joy that the USA and Australia are helping with their reconnaissance capabilities.

Powers that be

The President still has enormous powers – the power to appoint thousands of positions, the power of the purse which was used for pork barrel, the control over the state monopoly of force via the PNP and AFP  – powers patterned after Spanish and American colonial governors, I have read. Quezon fired the governor of Albay once. Quirino appointed the governor of Davao, Vicente Duterte. The power to declare martial law was curtailed in 1986. The Local Government Code in the time of Aquino gave LGUs (local government units) substantial autonomy and subsidies.

Other things move on without the President. Whether it is Senator Gatchalian’s trip to Germany to learn more about energy policy (link) which was incorrectly called a junket and according to him was paid by the German counterparts. Whether it is the more doubtful trip of several Senators to France to allegedly look at the French political system which is a mix of Presidential and Parliamentary. Marcos had something similar but degraded the powers of his Prime Minister, making him a better helper to take care of details. Maybe this time – if ever – it should be different.

Powers to be?

Maybe something like the Swiss Federal Council instead of the Senate? With a rotating head of government while the President is a ceremonial Head of State only? But maybe, maybe without Federalism for now? Tito had a joint governing body to take care of Yugoslavia after his death. What happened due to semi-tribal and macho politics of provocation is now very painful history. Maybe improve regional representation, knowing that, or how many centuries it took for the Swiss to learn to manage their own quarrels? My examples of culturally diverse countries are intentional.

Maybe a Senate by regions – to give names and faces people can relate to, to weaken the personality cult of Presidency? Maybe a Congress by proportional seating based only on political parties? With campaign refunds based on seats won like in Germany to weaken major donor influence? Issues that are systemic in nature can never be solved by changing the President. Cultural weaknesses like impunity and corruption – or the lack of a technology mindset that causes trains to break down – take generations to fix even with perseverance. Maybe changing things now makes no sense yet.

What will be?

Absentee kings (the Hanover dynasty) made the British parliament stronger, yet the Philippine House is showing its very weakness now. The majority of House members is lost in traditional politics, politics in its old sense of power alone, not politics in terms of shaping the polity’s destiny. What will happen depends a lot on the people themselves – whether they will keep thinking in the concepts of patronage i.e. subservience in return for advantages, which will fully return old ways. Or whether a sense of shared destiny and responsibility finally arises, not just ‘blame then rescue’.

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 24 June 2017

Consensus and Enforcement

Marcos Declares Martial Lawkeep public order – in that order. Without fundamental agreement on the basics, no amount of force will work. Martial law and drug wars are EMERGENCY measures. Hobbes did have a pessimistic view of human nature, that without a strong central authority (linkeach person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world, leading to a “war of all against all”. Sounds like the notorious culture of impunity in the Philippines, or the road rage and counterflow in Filipino traffic.

Enforce what order?

Trouble is that Hobbes makes the assumption that you can form a state that imposes order from a disorderly people – something that many banana republics have shown to be impossible. Miyako Izabel, an anthropologist from Mindanao, rightly asks (link): May mga sundalo o pulis na magbabantay sa walang taong kalsada sa tahimik na gabi. Magrorosaryo ba ang mga ‘yan? Mag-iisip po sila ng raket. Meaning that the power of Martial Law may lead corrupt elements in authority to start rackets.

The Philippine consensus is in theory the 1987 Constitution, but many do not really know what it means – probably not even the President. Ideally the Constitution of a nation should embody the General Will as defined by Rousseau (link) as the common interest embodied in legal tradition. The Swiss have that in their legal tradition dating back to the first Federal Charter of 1291 (link) which starts with: for the common good and proper establishment of peace, the following rules are agreed..

The Philippine legal tradition is of laws imposed from above by colonial powers and then by the educated elites who failed to reach most of the people – or did talk to the people but these simply nodded without understanding or asking questions, a legacy of colonialism AND the Philippine class system. In practice human rights meant little to poor people who could often be put in jail for years on end without a trial, or now are often shot as suspects – or to indigenous people in logging or mining areas.

Insiders and Outsiders

It is with insiders that a certain consensus starts. The US Declaration of Independence at first did not mean blacks and women. Nor did the Swiss at first give equal rights to certain areas conquered by the Canton of Bern, leading to rebellions especially among French-speaking Swiss (link). And Mindanao was only turned over to Filipino administration in 1920 (link) leading to this: Moros complained of inexperienced Filipino officials who abused their powers; harsh suppressive measures of the Philippine Constabulary; mysterious deaths of Moro leaders who opposed Philippine independence.. and the continued immigration of Christian Filipinos into Moroland. (page 26) But there also were those like  Teofisto Guingona.. first Filipino to head the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes in 1930, introduced.. “New Deal Policy” for Mindanao aimed at preventing unrest and promoting the integration of Muslims into Filipino society. (page 27) This is inviting outsiders to become insiders.

A President from Mindanao should have been able to handle things better. Martial Law in Mindanao labels his own area as the Wild South once more. He was born elsewhere and moved to Mindanao in 1949, when his father moved there (link) and is part of the complex history of the island. Yet such a person should know that the atrocities of Marcos’ Martial Law in Mindanao made many Muslims feel more like outsiders and is at the root of many of today’s problems. My impression has also been that each successive Philippine administration had its own favorites among the Muslim ethnic groups, playing a mixture of postcolonial politics and Malay alliances. This does not seem to have changed with Duterte – while his predecessor seemed to favor the MILF, his friendship with Nur Misuari is very openly known. The recent cut of EU money may for all we know have been aimed at the DEPAdev project (link) among others, which is about empowering political parties and civic society in Bangsamoro.

Republic of Trapos

is what the Philippines has been since Aguinaldo. There was the Kartilya of the Katipunan (link), Mabini’s Dekalogo (link), followed by Quezon’s Code of Citizenship and Ethics (link) – but the habits of power of the political elite, formed out of a mix of (post-)colonialism and Malay social structure, proved stronger than nice words. Bonifacio was executed by Aguinaldo’s troops. Heneral Luna was murdered outright. Quezon built not only the 1935 Constitution but most of the institutions that persist until today. Yet right after World War 2, warlords began to control many provinces of the Philippines. Then came Martial Law which turned Constabulary, Police and Armed Forces into de facto private goons for a Supreme Warlord and his clan. Then came democracy, but in many parts it unravelled into de facto culture of impunity. There is the 1987 Constitution, so often ignored in practice and often a bit like the piano in many Filipino households that is never played – or the so-called clean kitchen for display only.

Duterte has called himself owner of Malacañan and of the Philippines on various occasions. He makes no more pretense of cooking anywhere else but in the dirty kitchen. Is this a wake-up call for those who pretended the Philippines was a modern nation – while armed groups thrived in so many places and only Leila de Lima investigated some killings in Davao back then? How will the General Will of the Philippines be defined and lived? Will it be with more inclusion and follow-through than in 1987?

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, May 25, 2017

Intact Neighborhoods

Kampong Phlouk 01are the foundation of successful cities, regions, countries. How are barangays in the Philippines doing? The President says that 40% of barangay captains are involved in drugs (link). Wait, weren’t the barangays also the ones who compiled the drug lists? Used to compel people to surrender and possibly even used to determine who to kill?

And now they plan to appoint barangay OICs (link). Back to the old game the Spanish started when they appointed the principalia to head Philippine barangays – and to control them on behalf of the new rulers. Same game that Marcos played. Not a way to foster true neighborhood solidarity. More of a way to foster paranoia and betrayal.

How intact are neighborhoods in the Philippines anyway? There are horrible stories about some slum areas (link) where people: “..steal from neighbors if only to get by. Children as young as 12.. prostituting their young bodies.. Gangs.. controlling the villages”. Conditions that are a testimony to society’s neglect.

And how good are the people in the “good neighborhoods”? How many barely care about the poverty so close by? How many are OK with the killings? How many have actually thought of donating to help drug war victims? How much middle-class prayerfulness just covers up for soulless consumerism and cozy egoism?

Damaged communities in a damaged culture is the condition I think – drugs, road rage etc. only symptoms. The country might need to rehab or might end up killing itself. Nationwide bossism looks like an ineffective “instant solution”. Self-help, starting locally, seems better. The other alternatives are: cynicism, resignation or migration.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, 24th of March 2017,  München


Facing the Music

William Holman Hunt - The Scapegoatis something Filipino leaders don’t do well. Think South Korean murdered (link) – or Mamasapano. In both cases, Filipino Presidents wound their way around their command responsibility. President Duterte has not made any public statement on the issue of the South Korean murdered at Camp Crame until  now. President Aquino was heavily criticized for not going to the arrival of the coffins at the airport after the Mamasapano massacre, a consequence of an anti-terrorist operation he personally had initiated – even if he did go to the wake later on.

A common denominator for both crises was Senator Grace Poe calling for the President to be accountable – one does see her Americanized attitude a little bit there, formed by her life experience. Since face and power go together in the Philippines, there is seldom true accountability – nobody dares question the one on top except political enemies. In fact, political allies go through almost Yoga-like contorsions to justify what “their man” is doing while political rivals are like piranhas that attack at the slightest sign of blood.

In a country where children quickly learn that to ask “why” can be seen as insulting in certain contexts, those who are raised in entitlement are not used to criticism as it seldom happens. In fact they are seldom confronted by the real consequences of mistakes and learning from them. Either mistakes are covered up by one’s group, or one has made a mistake that cannot be covered up anymore and it can happen that you are dropped by the group, to prevent collective loss of face. Could “Bato” be the scapegoat this time? With Mamasapano it looked like Napeñas.

Scapegoat (link) is a biblical concept in which a goat is designated to be cast into the desert with the sins of the community. The trouble with scapegoating is that nobody learns from mistakes which are systemic.  Both the falling apart of command and coordination at Mamasapano and criminal operations within the police like in the recent case of the South Korean seem to be systemic. Similar to drugs in Bilibid prison, which still seem to be an issue (link) inspite of the scapegoat Senator Leila de Lima having been symbolically burnt on the stake in Congress.

Corruption is systemic too in the Philippines, as is the drug problem, I think. Scapegoating Binay, Arroyo and Chief Justice Corona did not remove corruption. It is just as improbable that the Aztec-like human sacrifice of thousands of drug suspects has significantly changed anything in the Philippine drug trade – probably the major players are lying low as they could afford to do so.

Going beyond scapegoating, and towards finding systemic solutions as lessons learned will be a hard road ahead. How many more scapegoats and irresponsible leadership will it take to get there?

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 22 January 2017

100 days later

Typhoon Ketsana accumulated rainfall in Philippinesis too early to give a judgment, even preliminary, of the new Philippine administration. Only an impression is possible, which of course will be one’s own point of view. Three areas matter the most:

  1. Foreign policy. Aside from all the theatrics, there is a definite shift. Joint patrols with the USA have been stopped, US forces seem to be leaving Mindanao. EDCA treaty is still effective. Negotiations for TPP with the USA as well as a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the EU continue. The President will visit China, and that country is opening its market for Philippine bananas and pineapples. Seems Russia may also be a market for Philippine bananas. China seems to have contributed to a drug rehab center in Fort Magsaysay. Trips to Indonesia and Vietnam.
  2. Law/order policy. Aside from the controversial war on drugs with its high casualty rate, there is the state of lawlessness declared after the Davao bomb blast. Checkpoints everywhere it seems, and of course Oplan Tokhang (knock and plead), drug lists created by barangays, national drug matrixes. And a suspended Senate hearing plus a Congress hearing on Bilibid drugs. Senator Pangilinan made a sensible proposal to reform the justice system to speed up delivery of justice. The proposal to revive the Philippine Constabulary seems to be dead for now.
  3. Economic policy. No substantial progress on ending endo = end of contract. A possibility would be to force employers to pay social security (alone!) even on short contracts, because endo is usually done to save on that. A similar policy on part-time, 10 hour a week jobs worked in Germany, reducing the incentive to misuse them. Strange flip-flops on online gambling – seems Araneta (Imee’s husband) bought Ongpin’s shares while they were down due to the ban which may be lifted. Crony alert? I wonder about mining and land reform – are the carpetbaggers there?

There is a robust discussion emerging in the country. Not necessarily opposed to the President, but with opinions and reasons for nearly every policy shading. Filipinos by nature can be a bit lethargic and many only start to think about things when they get a kick – the kick is there now, given by reality. Better late than never. Good luck to the country – it needs all of that right now.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 9. October 2016