Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, June 26, 2017

We mourn the destruction of Marawi City, but at least it’s young and history still to be written---unlike in ancient Iraq and Syria, with wrecked cities like Palmyra, the “Venice of the Sands,” whose precious relics of civilization are being destroyed wantonly. As a prominent cultural anthropologist put it: "Heritage, like human life, is irreplaceable."

The historic and symbolic grand al-anuri Mosque in Iraq's second largest city of Mosul, together with the Pisa-like Minaret at left.
After ISIS burned down the Mosque last Wednesday night, the 840-year old Minaret stands by its lonesome.

Colonnade ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria's second largest, which was savagely destroyed by war between ISIS and government forces. 
The Roman Theater in Palmyra where government forces celebrated re-capture of the city, destroyed by ISIS forces..After its recapture, the Russian forces brought in the Mariinsky Philharmonic Orchestra from St. Petersburg to play at this theater, even though it is very badly damaged, as photo shows.

Five weeks into the fighting in Marawi between government forces and IS-allied Maute rebels, our most beautiful Muslim city that lies on the banks of Lake Lanao is in total ruins---just like in epic war movies.  Its destruction is the kind one cannot adequately put a price tag on, nor fashion a timetable on how long it would take to restore and rehabilitate---or to heal the trauma its people have undergone in these five horrifying weeks.  

Destroyed were the Catholic Cathedral and its statuary, beautiful mosques, the Protestant-run Dansalan Colleges, parts of the city hospital and countless homes and buildings that were bombed for suspected hidden terrorists.  
But what should comfort us at least is that Marawi is a young country in terms of history and cultural artifacts, compared to the Middle and Near East---ancient countries like Iraq and Syria that have been  bombarded and ransacked heavily in recent times, their populations scattered  with terrible trauma, AND PRICELESS ANTIQUITIES, SOME DATING BACK TO THE DAWN OF RECORDED HISTORY, NOW DAMAGED BEYOND REPAIR. 


Take the recent blowing up by Islamic State rebels of the historic mosque in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which government forces are trying to wrest back from the IS. The symbolic Grand al-Nuri Mosque in that town was blown up by IS forces as government troops were advancing---ironically. on the holiest night of the year for Muslims, the Laylat al-Qadr, which commemorates the revelation of the Koran to Prophet Muhammad.. Luckily, the al-Hadba leaning minaret right next to the Mosque, which is 840 years old and often compared to the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, was spared and now standing by its lonesome.

This ancient Mosque just blown up was where, in the summer of 2014, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “ascended a pulpit and declared a caliphate after his fighters took control of Mosul and swept through other parts of northern Iraq and Syria.” This edifice and its leaning minaret have  dominated the Mosul skyline for centuries and in fact this landscape is even featured in Iraq’s currency (the 10,000 dinar).

So many other ancient cities in this part of the world were destroyed and plundered by the IS, among them Simla Havoc and Nimrud in Iraq as well as Samarra and Hatra. The  Syrian city of Tadmir was likewise plundered.   


But perhaps the most heartbreaking of all was the destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria’s second largest city---which probably has few rivals in its tragic cultural fate amid the seesawing battle between government forces and the IS over the past two years.

Palmyra, declared by UNESCO since 1980 as a World Heritage Site, was an ancient oasis city with lavish gardens, 20 varieties of date palms and monumental white limestone buildings---one of the best-maintained complexes of antiquity. Known popularly as the “Venice of the Sands,” Palmyra also came to be recognized as the “historic city,” as it was the former capital of the legendary rebel warrior queen Zenobia (240-275 A.D.).


Prior to the destruction of Palmyra starting in 2011, historic accounts sang paeans of praise for this city because of  its oasis setting and well-preserved architectural mix of ancient Semitic, Roman, Greek and Persian motifs. Experts pointed out that this ancient city was a favorite watering-hole of traveling caravans since the beginning of time. Thus, "it stood at the crossroads of several civilizations (and) married Graeco-Roman techniques with local tradition and Persian influences.” Palmyra would lure more than 150,0000 tourists a year.

Unfortunately, its reputation as one of the Middle East’s best-preserved remnants of the ancient world didn't last long, for as an account put it, "Syria’s civil war made it a battleground and the IS decided to blow it up.” 


To us Christians, Syria is particularly significant---and second only to Jerusalem in importance. Recall that the Lord had ordered the pagan Paul, whom He blinded for a while, to journey to Damascus and look for Ananias who was to restore his sight.  Moreover, the Sermon on the Mount was delivered by Jesus Christ in Mt. Hermon, said at that time to be in Syria, while the Transfiguration occurred there too.

Antioch, the ancient Roman capital in the Middle East, was where the disciples of Jesus were first termed “Christians.” It was also said to be the starting point for the ministry of Apostle Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Mark and others, who were all to suffer persecution and martyrdom. Thus, it is said that the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the Church, and much of it sprouted out of Syria.  

World pressure on the IS led to its oath that while “IS will break the idols that the infidels used for worship,” it would not touch the historic buildings erected between the first and third centuries, nor the antiquities. But destroy Palmyra the IS did, beginning with three tower tombs dating from the 1st to the 3rd centuries---in what had seemed like a systematic on-going eradication of pre-Islamic structures undertaken by IS since mid-August of last year. Early last September, the rebels blew up the Mesopotamian Tempel of Bel, described by Ross Burns, an ancient history professor of Australia’s McQuarie University as “the most significant building in Syria from the Roman period" (roughly 63B.C. to 500 A.D.).

This was followed by the destruction of the Phoenician Temple of  Baal Shanim, Palmyra’s second most important religious shrine---a terrible feat  termed by experts as analogous to the “Stone Age Communism” of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in 1975-1979.

In 2001, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda destroyed famous Buddhas of Amiyan in Afghanistan. Then significantly, what IS did not destroy, it looted and sold through a “highly methodical, highly efficient excavation operation to finance its twisted ambitions,” as US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken put it.


So what can be done about all the horrible destruction of irreplaceable antiquities? It had been pointed out that the Mali, Africa-born citizen Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi, a member of a militant Islamic group and deported from Niger, was to stand trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, for the “war crime of the intentional destruction of historic monuments and buildings in Timbuktu (Africa) in 2012". The suit against this Mali citizen was to be the first of its kind to be brought to the ICC.  The world should keenly watch how far this "war crime" of destruction of antiquities before the ICC would go.

Meantime, it's good to remember the words of Dr. Clemens Reichel, a prominent cultural anthropologist, Said he: 

Heritage, like human life, is irreplaceable. If you blow up the Temple of Bel, it’s not going to grow back in 100 years, just as if you wipe out a human being, he or she is never going to grow back. This is not like the gold from the state bank that can be replaced over a number of years. It’s gone, it’s a unique piece that disappears, and more to the point, it’s part of the very cultural heritage of the humans living there.” 


Saturday, June 17, 2017

If Northern Ireland found a solution to its decades-long bloody conflict, we should also be able to find peace for Mindanao. It just needs determined leaders, the way ex-UK PM Tony Blair shepherded the NI peace process with passion and deep conviction. Do we have such leaders in our midst today?

PRIME MINISTER Tony Blair, Architect of Peace in Northern Ireland
So many conflict areas can be found in the world---one can think of Iraq and Syria, the Kashmir borderland between India and Pakistan, between the Singhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka, in Colombia, and to a milder degree, Barcelona in the Basque region of Spain which aspires to separate from the Spanish Peninsula.

 In recent weeks Marawi City has figured prominently as forces identified with the Islamic State battled government forces in an effort to ally Mindanao with the Caliphate. While other conflict areas have quieted down, such as in South Africa over apartheid, the battle in Marawi seems far from over.

Two Sundays ago, my radio partner Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I decided to help bring about a better understanding of the crisis there. We invited to our dzRH show, “Radyo Balintataw,” Imam  Akbar Wasad, who served in the AFP in various places in Mindanao, and Fr. John Leydon, an Irish-American priest of the Columban Fathers who has been here for the past 41 years, partly spent in Mindanao.


Fr. Leydon, whose  grandmother was Irish, feels that the conflict situation in Mindanao is not hopeless because  there have been conflicts far worse, that have found solution. He cited particularly Northern Ireland (NI) which was wracked by violence FOR DECADES, until the leadership of both Irish and English side decided they've had enough of the fighting, and agreed to seek a peaceful settlement despite obstacles.  

Fr. Leydon stressed, however, that in the search for solutions to conflicts, it’s so important that leaders want true and lasting peace and settlement. In the case of the once-festering NI dispute, he cited the singular VISION of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made the peace agreement between the United Kingdom and Ireland the SHINING LEGACY of his 13-year rule. 

Of course the case of Mindanao is different as the intention of the IS-influenced Maute jihadists is to set up a caliphate there--to be used as a springboard of radical Islam to various parts of our country and the region. But our advantage is that we are all Filipinos (except for the mercenaries from other countries now fighting with the Maute group)---unlike in the NI conflict, which was between British and Irish. But ultimately, when the smoke of battle clears it still would continue to be turmoil in the big island--- if the passion for peace fails to prevail among us Filipinos.

There’s a lot to be learned from how Britain and Ireland achieved peace in NI. 


The conflict over NI was far more complex than that in Mindanao, for it was a centuries-old dispute between UK and Ireland over who controls NI (conflict accounts date as far back as 1609 when NI became English territory). As in Mindanao, there was the element of religion in the "Irish Question"---between the UK Protestants represented by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and the predominantly Catholic Sinn Fein of Ireland--- a.k.a. the loyalists vs. the nationalists. There was also the search for equitable treatment among all sections of the British realm and above all, the use of terrorist violence to achieve political ends.

The NI issue represented, as an account put it, “one of the most violent and intractable conflicts to threaten a democratic state in any part of the world.” Violence and deadly wars, carried on by the much-feared Irish Republican Army (IRA), was the rule for decades.  The NI question became one of the longest-running---and bloodiest---conflicts in Europe. 

It became a huge concern of the civilized world and pressure was applied on both the UK and Ireland to settle their bitter conflict; various world leaders helped for years to bring an end to NI’s troubles.


British PM John Major's role in the 1990s came to fore, as did efforts of Ireland’s PM  Bertie Ahern to find a solution. A power-sharing deal in NI was proposed between Ulster’s unionists (British), led by Ian Paisley, and the Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, under Gerry Adams---and both sides came under tremendous pressure to submit to DISARMAMENT--- the toughest bone in the throat of peace. When this happened, Irish PM Ahern was ecstatic, branding the move as “significant and hopefully signaling a further step toward ending all para-militarism in NI.”

Diplomacy took over and  PM Major’s successor, Tony Blair, became unrelenting in his quest for peace for NI, making it the major priority of his government.  BLAIR CAME TO NI A TOTAL OF 37 TIMES AS PRIME MINISTER---three times more often than any of his predecessors. He hosted countless meetings at the PM’s official residence at No. 10 Downing St. in Central London, as well as international summits where the peace process was discussed. 

Journalist James Button, who covered the peace talks, pointed out that “Blair played a clever hand. He saw that the hardliners had to be involved.”


The British negotiators adopted the “bicycle theory” of peace: as an account put it, “they had to keep going forward, otherwise they would fall over.”  There were lessons learned such as:  in conflict resolutions, governments need to take risks AT EVERY STEP to keep the process alive…to prevent violence from filling the vacuum left by long political engagement. It was "a worked example of politics as the art of the possible” and Tony Blair firmly believed it.

An Irish political scientist put it thus, “Blair’s diplomacy wooed the previously immovable Ian Paisley of the Ulster’s Unionists (British), so that “the alliance with Paisley was Blair’s last great Romance.”  Verdict on Blair continued:  “Once again, when we thought the old maestro was fading, his capacity to seduce, politically speaking, is phenomenal.”

A power-sharing deal was struck between Ulster unionists led by Paisley, and Sinn Fein, IRA’s political arm, led by Gerry Adams. Adams had opined that “THE CONFLICT WAS PRIMARILY A LOCAL ONE THAT NEEDED TO BE SOLVED BY LOCAL PEOPLE. THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE TO BE THE BROKERS ARE THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THE AREAS OF CONFLICT.” 

Gerry Adams' dictum is good to remember about our Mindanao conflict---the Mindanaoans have to seek the way to our problem there.


The ferocity of the NI situation pushed world leaders to pound the pavement to to bring about an agreement. PM Blair drew on the wise counsel of US President Bill Clinton, who visited NI twice, US Senator George Mitchell and other leaders. Finally, a historic agreement was launched on Good Friday of 1998---the first step in the long journey to peace. 

Sen. Mitchell, the midwife of the Good Friday peace agreement, later remarked that implementing it was going to be difficult. It proved prophetic. In subsequent years that peace would be broken still, but the peace advocates refused to give up. Finally, on May 8, 2007, in Stormont, the stately white Parliament in Belfast, NI. Ian Paisley, leader of the Ulster unionists, and Martin MacGuiness of Sinn Fein, launched a power-sharing agreement, whereby MacGuiness became First Minister and Ian Paisley Deputy First Minister, respectively. Fittingly, the background music at that launch was "You Raise Me Up," popularized by Josh Groban. 

The power-sharing agreement was one of those “never, never–ever happen” days, said MP Peter Hain, who had earlier been appointed Secretary of State for NI even as he remained in that position for Wales. Even Queen Elizabeth did her share by visiting Stormont and meeting with nationalist ministers.  MP Hain was quoted as asserting that in conflict resolution, governments need to take risks at every step to keep the peace process alive---to prevent violence from filling the vacuum left by political engagement.


On May 8, 2007, the people of NI decided to break free from history, to shape a new history. Thus, it was said, “governments need to be dogged, determined, imaginative, inclusive and flexible” to keep the peace process alive. One day, perhaps---when the foreign jihadist IS elements have been banished forever from Mindanao and we, the Filipino people, have once again taken full hold of this great island of promise--we should be able to learn from the tortured history of Northern Ireland. Then the realization should sink in among us Filipinos that lasting peace and prosperity for our people in the big island can only come from our determination to seek and enforce it. 

My 2015 visit to Stormont, scene of the historic peace agreement between the UK government and Ireland signed on May 8, 2007, to end the long bloody dispute over Northern Ireland.

That’s me in 2015, signing the Peace Wall in Belfast between the “Protestant” Ulster area and the Catholic “Sinn Fein” area in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The ultra-modernistic museum in Belfast depicting the story of Northern Ireland, with the sculpture showing a figure in flight in the foreground.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Two episodes in two countries thousand miles apart illustrate caliber of their respective officials: 187 US mayors and 10 governors defy President Trump’s rejection of Paris Agreement as they invoke their rights under federal system. Here at home ruling coalition in both chambers of Congress prove willingness to thwart Constitution in support of Duterte's martial law in Mindanao.

One episode involves President Donald Trump and his horrendous decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change signed by 195 nations across the globe, including the US, in 2015. With that pullout,Trump put the US into the miserable company of just two other countries that didn’t sign the Agreement: Iraq and Syria (the IS no less!).  In protest of Trump's unilateral move, however, a group of initially 187 mayors and 10 governors across the US---most notably of California, New York and Washington---have declared that they will not comply with the pullout; instead, they vowed to work independently of their government's move, to meet their cities’ clean-air goals and conform to the Paris Accord’s target of 1.2 degrees Celsius within our century.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez: a cop-out on the martial law issue
This rebellion by local US officials and their assertion of independence from the White House should be attributed mainly to the strength of the federal system operating in the US---whereby each state is virtually sovereign in its decisions. We in the Philippines could do well to acquire this laudable independence generated by the federal system, instead of the feudal lord-and-serf relationship between the President and the politicians. 


By contrast, the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives have proved too pliant toward the President as to thwart provisions of the Constitution governing martial law declaration. In Sec. 18 of Art. VII, titled the "Executive Department," the Constitution provides that 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 (of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus), which revocation shall not be set aside by the President.”

 In fact, the Constitution went further by providing in the next paragraph of Sec. 18 that Congress, “if not in session, shall within twenty-four hours following such proclamation or suspension, convene in accordance with its rules  without need of a call" (all emphases BOC's).

Moreover, in the last paragraph of Sec. 18. the Constitution decrees that the Supreme Court "may review the sufficiency of the factual basis for the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus” and must promulgate its decision within 30 days of the filing.


The Constitution is very clear on the steps to be taken in the event of a martial law declaration, but these steps were disregarded by Congress in that its two chambers chose to convene NOT IN JOINT SESSION BUT SEPARATELY. Former Senate President. Nene Pimentel, a victim of the Marcos martial law regime and a libertarian up to his current super-senior years, was cited in media as calling the attention of the Senate that SEPARATE VOTING BY THE TWO CHAMBERS IS WRONG AND CONTRAVENES THE CONSTITUTION.  But he was  ignored by his own son, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, as the two chambers of Congress voted separately.to uphold martial law in Mindanao.

I can see why these two chambers decided to vote separately on that issue. In the heat of debate in an entire Congress assembled, certain points could be raised by smart and intelligent legislators that could ruin support for the administration's pet baby---martial law regime in Mindanao. . 


In the light of refusal by Congress to a joint session and vote on martial law, as called for by the Constitution, three separate citizens’ groups---namely, lawyers led by former Sen. Wigberto Tañada and bishops Antonio Tobias and Deogracia Yñiguez; the opposition group of House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, called the "Magnificent Seven," and another group led by former Aquino Solicitor General Florin Hilbay---filed separate motions before the Supreme Court, asking it to order both chambers of Congress to convene in joint session  FOR THE NEEDED REVIEW OF THE MARTIAL LAW PROCLAMATION. 

In today's Inquirer, however, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, in response to these three SC petitions by citizens, was quoted as declaring bluntly that he, "would not honor any Supreme Court order that would require Congress to convene a joint session on the declaration of martial law in Mindanao."  In fact, Alvarez was quoted as vowing, "in jest, that he would tear such an order to pieces.”

Manila Times columnist Francisco “Kit” Tatad is absolutely correct: The present crisis of the Nation is not in Mindanao; it's right there in Congress which has proved so pliant toward the President, to the point of a possible thwarting of provisions of the Constitution. Members of Congress may not realize fully that the battle vs.the possible thwarting of the rule of law has to be fought step by step, and right now members of both chambers of Congress are choosing to ignore the safeguards in the Constitution designed to protect our civil rights. Voting separately---instead of jointly--on the martial law issue was an abdication of their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution.  


The SC has scheduled three days of hearing on the three pleadings on this issue, and doubtless Speaker Alvarez's bravado pronouncements have push the SC's back to the wall, weakening it. But what if the independent streak gets the better of CJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and a few other brave magistrates---so that the High Court rules Congress' joint session and vote on martial law unconstitutional?  It would be a first-rate crisis. 

The problem is that once such defiance of the Constitution takes place, it is easy enough to ignore other provisions that safeguard human rights and civil liberties. The latest developments in Congress are truly bringing the nation to a crisis worse than the IS-influenced destruction in Mindanao---because its effects would be more far-reaching. The beginning of the end for the rule of law? 


TV videos of Marawi City are so heartbreaking---buildings, including Moslem temples, as well as homes virtually reduced to rubble, the  Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians burned down and its religious images cruelly smashed with armalites by terrorists,  smoke billowing everywhere in the city. A panning shot of Marawi City made it look like it’s taken from an epic Hollywood war movie--- except that the destruction is real in this only true Islamic city in PH. How can Marawi recover its glory days?

I can't help but be a bit nostalgic for the mid-90s when my husband was commander of all of Mindanao, prior to its division into two commands. The big island was quiet, peaceful and so idyllic in those years, and we were able to travel all over with minimum security;  thus we saw the physical grandeur as well as the rich culture of Mindanao. In the two years that Lt. Gen. Cunanan commanded the big island, there were only two episodes that marred the peace. 


One was the explosion of a small bomb inside the Davao Cathedral that ripped a little portion of the floor, but nobody got hurt. The other episode involved the kidnapping of American bible translator Charles Walton by the Abu Sayyaf which the US Embassy monitored closely.  In connection with the rescue operation of the elderly missionary, the military allowed media observers to fly to Zamboanga with VP/Anti-Crime Czar Joseph Estrada and DILG Secretary Raffy Alunan. From there we were taken to Basilan to wait in the fringe of the thick forest for Walton.

Finally the American emerged, held tightly by the arms by swarthy, burly guys and then we all proceeded to downtown Basilan so he could talk to his wife in Philadelphia. Walton, however, couldn't say a word---tears just flowed down his face. Gen. Cunanan then called President Ramos on the public telephone, so that FVR could talk to Walton---interestingly, connection to Malacanang took far longer than to Philadelphia (there were no perfected cellphones then yet).Now one sees only all the horrible destruction of the once-beautiful city of Marawi in TV reports  and one ends up pining for lost days. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A horrible month---mensis horribilis

The hitherto unnamed gunman climbs the stairs to the Resorts World
 And he's waiting, waiting, waiting.

It has been a trying month of terrible events for us Filipinos---MENSIS HORRIBILIS.  My prayer is that there won’t be any more similar crises in a while, so that we Filipinos can have some peace and get on with our lives and rebuilding our nation.

Capping the series of terrible disasters in this mensis horribilis was the attack on the posh Resorts World (RW) in the wee hours of last Friday, June 02, that killed 37 people and injured some 54 others inside the casino as fire gutted parts of the resort. The version of RW is that the attack was carried out by a solitary deranged Caucasian-looking man in what police portray as a bizarre robbery attempt. 

The official version of the police is that the lone gunman  brought two bottles of fuel, a backpack and a baby Armalite in the early hours of Friday, entered past the solitary---and extremely frightened---female guard, and started shooting his way in. He shoved chips worth more than a million into his bag, and then burned gaming tables, thus igniting a huge fire that caused death by suffocation to dozens of players. Afterwards this lone gunman broke into a hotel room, covered himself with a blanket soaked in gasoline and burned himself, but not before shooting himself in the head.


It was a huge and horrendous tragedy that snuffed out 37 lives and hurt 54 others owing largely to suffocation---as well as damaged still un-estimated property. The lone gunman's assault shocked the metropolis and the entire nation, owing largely to the absence of adequate security for such a high-roller joint at this time of instability. As Fr. Rannie Aquino, Dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law put it, I'm not letting the Security Guards off the hook who claim that they were so startled by the events that they could not react appropriately. Security Guards are trained NOT to be startled. If they are stunned by emergency situations, they should be looking for jobs elsewhere.”  

The conspiracy theory, however, is catching fire among our citizens and as I cobble this blog, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and  Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella are publicly debating whether the lone gunman’s attack was an isolated act of desperation and derangement---as is the Palace’s (Abella's) position---or whether it’s part of a grand conspiracy plot, a terror attack (Alvarez’s contention).
Top of Form

Bottom of Form

But what was just as tragic is that because of the ridiculous lapse in security, the credibility of the official account has suffered---SO THAT IT'S VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE AT THIS POINT TO CONVINCE THE WORLD THAT IT WAS NOT A TERRORIST ACT, BUT PLAIN AND SIMPLE ROBBERY THAT RW PERSONNEL FAILED TO SUBDUE. .

So many questions are being raised in the aftermath of the RW tragedy, with plausible answers not forthcoming. For instance, a hotel staffer who attended to guests earlier that night would almost swear that more than one outsider was involved in the tragic drama. 


President Duterte has categorically said that the RW episode was NOT TERRORISM, but US President Donald Trump, without waiting for the official finding by Philippine law-enforcers, quickly ruled it  "a terrorist act” and a number of foreign leaders began mouthing this same line. (Was Trump briefed by US Ambassador Kim here before he made his "terrorists’ attack pronouncement?)  In fact, I daresay that most Filipinos hearing of the RW attack for the first time were also ready to believe the worst: that it was an ISIS attack!  AND AS IF ON CUE, AN ISIS MEDIA SITE was quick to claim responsibility for it.

It’s a no-brainer to conclude that the horrors arising from that allegedly single-handed attack by the deranged casino intruder JUST ACR0SS MANILA'S PREMIER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT would have a huge dampening effect on the economic and business prospects of the country. Foreign investors would worry about PH's stability, and it would take a while to calm investors’ nerves about the seeming instability of our situation. First to be hit would be the tourism industry. 


Contributing very much to the uncertain atmosphere in this mensis horribilis are certain pronouncements on the martial law imposition by President Duterte in the entire Mindanao right after the Maute gang's attack on Marawi. Indeed, few people at that time would quarrel with his decision to declare martial law there; but what added to the uncertainty later was his assertion that he won’t listen to Congress and the Supreme Court justices on the conduct and period of martial law in Mindanao---but only to what the armed forces and police have to say about it.   

That latter statement gave the impression that Mr. Duterte would DISOBEY the Constitution which calls for very specific and defined actions by the two key institutional players: Congress and the SC---on his martial law declaration in Mindanao. That added a lot to the political uncertainty.


Mensis horribilis began with the sudden attack and occupation by rebellious elements of the ISIS-influenced Maute gang on idyllic Marawi City, nestled by Lake Lanao. The Maute gang burned the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians and the Protestant-owned Dansalan Colleges, and abducted the cathedral’s parish priest, Fr. Chito Suganob and two dozen other parishioners, including a lady professor of humanities.

Recently Fr. Chito, sporting a heavy white beard, appeared in a film to appeal to government to desist from fighting their captors lest the captives be killed. It was an appeal obviously made under duress, but it was disturbing enough to us observers in the sidelines of the war.


Heavy fighting has occurred in Marawi City as government forces sought to retake it in street-to-street fighting and aerial bombings---forcing many of the city’s populace to seek refuge in nearby Iligan City, walking many kilometers on end in scenes that seem straight from a war movie. Fatalities among the rebel forces confirmed what was feared in many quarters: that the ISIS-inspired Maute group has brought fighters from various parts of the world, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Also killed were a Pakistani, Saudi Arabian, a Chechen, a Yemeni, an Indian, a Moroccan and a Turkish passport holder. 

Thus, where in eras past MNLF and MILF warriors were fighting for their homeland, and their leaders were well-educated in Muslim universities abroad such as in Cairo and Pakistan, in Marawi it became evident that around 50 of the terrorists were foreign fighters---who doubtless fight from country to country to sow the seeds of a new ideology, A NEW WORLD ORDER more ruthless and brutal than what fighters of past generations had lived and died for.

As former Speaker Joe de Venecia pointed out in a taped interview with Cecile Alvarez and myself over dzRH (tonight, Sunday, 6pm. 666 on the AM band), the Maute band here may contain remnants of long-running conflicts in Syria and Iraq that have lost ground owing to Western campaigns there. JDV agreed that this new international breed of fighters is indeed very different from the rebel forces in Mindanao of two decades ago.


One of the tragedies of mensis horribilis was the “misguided firing” on friendly forces in Marawi by government fighter planes that killed 11 state troopers and wounded seven others. To be sure, mistaken encounters, misguided firings and other similar episodes do happen in wars, and the crisis in Marawi cannot be different. But investigation of this “misguided firing” in Marawi should be undertaken, if only for the armed forces to learn from what had happened---so that a repeat could be studiously avoided.

Sadly, to date, the investigation of that particular accidental firing, to really determine what happened there, has not yielded definitive results, but eleven military families are weeping.  



Saturday, May 27, 2017

Nakuryente si President Digong at lahat tayo: the chief of police of Malabang who was later transferred to Marawi is alive and well, not decapitated, as enterprising Washington Post found out. Its query: was it a simple mix-up in war or 'a careful bit of messaging?'

Familiar scene in every war: civilians evacuating to safety.
Sign that bloomed in rallies in Metro Manila

One of the most dreadful news items that came out a few days ago---as the President cut short his official trip to Russia to rush to Manila as soon as the Marawi crisis went into full swing---was that the chief of police of that beleaguered city was beheaded by the IS-influenced Maute gang. News about this development circulated around the world, and I was among perhaps millions horrified by this news. This supposed development was within hours of the torching of the Mary Help of Christians Cathedral in Marawi and the abduction of Fr. Luisito "Chito" Subangob and several parishioners, including a professor of humanities at the Mindanao State University in the city. 

Other news soon crowded one another for prominence, such as the burning of Dansalan College run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the assault on the hospital there by the same Maute elements.

News about the decapitation of the Marawi chief of police came ahead of the abduction of Fr. Chito and the parishioners and other news, and to us civilians, nothing quite produced the same impact as this horrible tragedy of the police chief. I must confess that I had found it strange that there had been no name to the police chief in all the news over two days, but I surmised that perhaps it was to protect his family. But the horrified feeling stayed with us all. 

This Friday morning, however, the Washington Post story written by Emily Rauhala reached our part of the world, which bannered thus: "In declaring Martial Law, Duterte cited the beheading of a police chief---who is still alive." IT TURNS OUT THAT THE NEWS ABOUT THE DECAPITATION OF THE POLICE CHIEF WAS NOT ACCURATE, AND THAT THE PRESIDENT HIMSELF, LIKE MOST OF US, WAS nakuryente.


News of the decapitation of the police chief of Marawi hogged headlines around the world, and why not? President Duterte himself announced at a news conference that the said official was stopped in Malabang at a checkpoint on his way home from work, and as the Washington Post put it,  he was slaughtered by terrorists on the spot. "They decapitated him then and there," the Post quoted Mr. Duterte as asserting.

This news of the brutal slaying of the police chief helped us civilians---and libertarians everywhere who dread martial law like the plague---to soften up and grudgingly accept---in view of all the dreadful happenings in Marawi---its imposition by the President throughout the island of Mindanao. In fact if news of the beheading were true, it would also influence greatly those who dread Mr. Duterte's thinly-veiled threat to foist martial law throughout the country to combat lawlessness, into grudging acquiescence. Things have gotten that bad.


But now, with the Post report about the lack of truth in the decapitation story, queries are being raised, to quote the Post, on whether the police chief's story was "a mix-up or a careful bit of messaging?" As it dryly observed: "The police chief story served as a rhetorical link between unrest in the southern city of Marawi and the global threat of radical Islamist terrorism---spurring a social media frenzy."

De La Salle University assistant professor on international affairs and political science Richard Javad Heydarian weighed in too: "One of the most troubling aspects of the aftermath of the Marawi siege is the rapid proliferation of fake reviews and deliberate disinformation." Continued Prof. Heydarian: "It is a classic case of a crisis being blown out of proportion by self-interested parties with ulterior agenda." 


But what is the truth about the police chief story? Apparently it was the police chief of nearby Malabang town, Senior Supt. Freddie Manuel Solar, who was slain---not by decapitation but by bullet---together with his deputy chief TWO MONTHS AGO by Muslim dissidents. Senior Supt. Romeo Enriquez is the Chief of Police of Marawi City, but either Mr. Duterte was tired from his long trip to Russia and got confused about the two personalities, or he played along with his advisers' spin story of the decapitation of the Marawi Chief---in order to turn the tide of sympathy for the government. I surmise that the story was concocted by his spinmeisters to win public and international acceptance of the declared martial law in Mindanao.  

But that's not the first time that accuracy in telling the truth has been deliberately challenged or sacrificed. Truth is nearly always a casualty in any war to serve the purposes of its protagonists. In this case of the inaccurate decapitation story of the Marawi police chief, probably in the reckoning of the Palace and AFP strategists it would serve to make the declaration of ML in all of Mindanao EASIER FOR THE FILIPINO CITIZENS TO ACCEPT. And indeed it did soften resistance to ML.   

The cooperative tenor of the Mindanao Bishops's support for ML, issued earlier today, seems to be a case in point: As Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, the most ranking bishop on the island of Mindanao, put it, speaking for all the Catholic bishops, and I quote in part: :"Martial law is a means of last resort. Are moral principles fulfilled? Were other means to resolve the deep and wide serious problems of Mindanao impractical and ineffective? Will the positive effects of martial law outweigh the negative effects? Will there be probability of success? Will it bring about a culture of accountability and end a culture of impunity? Will martial law increase human rights violations? Will martial law be abused for evil purposes?"  Good questions. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

China, now esconced in the Big League, seeks to revive ancient “Silk Road” that brought it glory and prosperity in eras past. Its aim: to assume super-power status as Pax Americana trends toward isolation. With new markets China keeps myriad factories humming, thus lifting many more of its billion people out of poverty---smart strategy.

The ancient caravan route along the "Silk Road" as it began from ancient Xi'an in China all the way to Europe

President Duterte being welcomed to the Beijing Belt and Road Forum by President Xi Jinping

It’s often said that China always does everything big---in accordance with its size. The much-ballyhooed two day-forum, the “Belt and Road Forum (BRF)” in Beijing that has drawn many nations across the earth---super-powers such as Russia and the United States, middling-stature states like the Philippines, as well as needy countries in South America and Africa such as Chile and Kenya.

The glittering BRF event hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping gathered 1,500 delegates, among them government leaders from over 130 countries, including 39 heads of state, among them the ASEAN leaders such as our President Duterte. Also present was Russian President Vladimir Putin, and all of them lined up to meet the host,  President Xi.   


In making his grand debut on the world stage, President Xi has marshaled unprecedented generosity in extending loans to finance the development of various countries around the globe. As President Duterte points out, his Chinese counterpart has extended loans without conditionalities to various countries, including $20 billion to PH, as China’s contribution to the Asian region,  the ASEAN 10 and the world.  

For its super-global debut China has committed loans of about US$890B from the China Development Bank, to fund 900 BRF infrastructure projects worldwide, . Among the projects to be financed will be the construction of new railways, airports, ports, highways, etc. all across the various continents, spanning 65 countries. These countries represent 60% of the world’s global population, commanding around a third of global GDP.   


China’s grand world debut at the BRF clearly aims to steal the limelight from the United States in what was once the American century---Pax Americana---and restore China’s preeminent role in centuries past---a Pax Chinois. With this international debut China seeks to open its arms to the world, thus providing a contrast to its keenest rival, the US. Under President Donald Trump, America has turned seemingly inward and isolationist, restrictive in trade, and shutting the doors of this new world order to immigrants from the old world.  

Moreover, by expanding its trade routes to their historic pre-eminence, China also seeks to gain NEW MARKETS---or sustain existing ones---so that they could continue to absorb the outputs of China's mighty and aggressive industries. Smart move, as these industries are expected to rescue China’s teeming millions from the frightful prospect of unemployment---and the subsequent unrest which this huge Communist nation cannot afford.


China’s vast economic machinery has to continue grinding, and its exports have to continue finding new markets, so that its poverty levels all across this gigantic country could continue their welcome decline. As Manila Times writer Johnny Gatbonton pointed out recently, China’s poverty fell from almost 80% in 1981  to only 18%  by 2005.  He also noted that in China SOME  628 MILLION CHINESE MOVED INTO THE MIDDLE CLASS, thanks to its vast machines working overtime and full throttle.

But the biggest motivation for China is to wrest world leadership away from the United States and become the world's No. 1 Superpower. This it seeks to do by enticing new friends to line up for China’s huge loans that are being issued, in many cases, as with the Philippines, without any conditionalities, or so they say. This is something that the US, with its heavy fiscal imbalance, cannot afford to match.


The glittering “One Belt, One Road” Forum in Beijing is being touted as China’s effort to revive its  fabled “Silk Road” in ancient times. German geographer Von Richthofen had written about this commercial phenomenon in 1877 as running from the Korean Peninsula and Japan to the Mediterranean Sea and on to Europe and northern Africa. 

The “Silk Road” was a famous trade route across this vast continent, with its merchants riding in camel caravans that used to carry products of ancient China, notably its silks and spices, from the ancient capital city of Xi’an to clear across the Mongol Empire and Siberia---to parts of Europe and even up to Russia.


Some historians argue that the ancient Silk Road route was opened up by a legendary figure called Zhang Qian who brought enormous prosperity and rapid growth to the land during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). But the nation reached its golden age of development in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) that was established by a historical figure named Kublai Khan of the Mongolian Empire.

The limits of his Yuan kingdom were Mongolia and Siberia in the north;  South China Sea, Tibet and Yunron in the Southwest; Xinjiang and Central Asia in the Northwest, and even West Asia and Russia. The legendary Kublai Khan was said to have given the Italian explorer Marco Polo a hospitable welcome and a high post in the court.


Maritime travel was ultimately bound to have a larger influence on the ebb and flow of human and commodity commerce in the great realm of China. Many Westerners, Chinese envoys and caravans, however, also traveled along this ancient trade route by camel caravans, as did eminent diplomats and great monks through desolate deserts, the biggest of which is the Gobi.  Travel and trade were freely carried out between East and West directly in the Mongol Empire.

It is this ancient route between East and West, reaching all the way to the Roman Empire in the heart of Europe---that seeks to link eastern China, central Asia, Russia and Europe in a gigantic trade alley--- that the current Chinese leadership wants to resuscitate, through the various modes of modern travel. THE GOAL IS POLITICAL VIA ECONOMIC---TO FIND NEW MARKETS FOR THE OUTPUT OF CHINA'S MYRIAD FACTORIES. 

Continuous factory work, in turn, will keep one billion Chinese happy and enjoying POST-REVOLUTION PROSPERITY AND UNPRECEDENTED HIGH STANDARD OF LIVING. And side by side, it is this fabled route all across Asia and Europe that modern-day China now seeks to revive---as it grapples for WORLD LEADERSHIP now that Pax Americana seems to retreat to its reclusive self.

Smart geo-political strategy as China makes a giant leap on the world stage. The recent huge international hoopla in Beijing over the fabled “Silk Road” is the stuff of ancient dreams.