2018.02.18 Appointing the INC head as special envoy
2018.02.11 Of love and citizenship
2018.02.04 Obstruction of justice
2018.01.28 Protecting the civil service from politics
2018.01.21 Rappler and press freedom
2018.01.14 A nation's responsibility to humanity
2018.01.07 The war on reason
2017.12.31 Cultural shifts
2017.12.24 Our grandchildren and their gifts
2017.12.17 Where is 'Dutertismo' headed?
2017.12.03 Risk and the dengue vaccine
2017.11.26 Whose responsibility are the Rohingya?
2017.11.19 And the winner is .... China
2017.11.05 Are social media good for democracy?
2017.10.29 The terror of death
2017.10.15 The nation's last card?
2017.10.08 A reflection on Facebook
2017.10.01 Defending institutions
2017.09.24 The president as purveyor of fake news
2017.09.17 A document against authoritarianism
2017.09.10 Remembering 9/11
2017.09.03 The 'Makapili' in the war on drugs
2017.08.27 Between a strongman and a strong state
2017.08.20 Questions for an 'eyewitness generation'
2017.08.13 The threat from North Korea
2017.07.30 Duterte and the presidency
2017.07.23 A president for an angry nation
2017.07.16 Turkish 'terrorists' in our midst
2017.07.09 Judicial review of martial law
2017.07.02 Teaching in the age of Google
2017.06.25 The Maute Group and the Islamic State
2017.06.18 When the exception becomes the rule
2017.06.11 Nationalism revisited
2017.06.04 The ISIS in our minds
2017.05.28 How we lose our freedoms
2017.05.21 Aid with no strings attached?
2017.05.14 Beware of the dragon bearing gifts
2017.05.07 An era of political reaction
2017.04.30 Strongmen and the mass media
2017.04.02 The price of national independence
2017.03.26 The reality of global public opinion
2017.03.19 Thoughts on free higher education for all
2017.03.12 'Tokhang 2', vigilantes, and the Church
2017.03.05 Duterte, Trump, and populism
2017.02.26 Edsa: The battle for the near past
2017.02.19 Using criminals as witnesses
2017.02.12 Toward a sociology of peace
2017.02.05 Governance in a time of complexity
2017.01.29 Outsourcing murder
2017.01.22 Corrupt policemen and the war on drugs
2017.01.15 The economy of killing
2017.01.08 The 'conspiracy' to oust Duterte
2017.01.01 Lessons from my grandchildren
2016.12.25 A meditation on mercy
2016.12.18 Insulating higher education from politics
2016.12.11 The production of impunity
2016.12.04 Handbook for dictators
2016.11.27 Do lawmakers have a sexual life?
2016.11.20 The struggle against forgetting
2016.11.13 The populist backlash against globalization
2016.11.06 The chilling rationality of the war on drugs
2016.10.30 The magnetism of cemeteries
2016.10.23 Method in the madness?
2016.10.16 When cops turn into masked killers
2016.10.09 Why we curse
2016.10.08 Dutertismo: The first 100 days
2016.10.02 Foreign policy under Duterte
2016.09.18 When two punishers meet
2016.09.11 Speech and the written word
2016.09.04 Duterte and China
2016.08.28 Thinking about democracy in Mongolia
2016.08.21 The expendable poor and the oligarchy
2016.08.14 Two awakenings and a funeral
2016.08.07 Human rights and the poor
2016.07.30 Understanding Duterte
2016.07.23 Sona in a world out of kilter
2016.07.16 Paradoxes in the South China Sea issue
2016.07.03 President Duterte's inaugural speech
2016.06.26 'Brexit' and globalization
2016.06.19 Would Rizal have chosen federalism?
2016.06.12 Is patriotism passé?
2016.06.05 Duterte and the media
2016.05.29 A mandate to do what?
2016.05.22 Politics and cultural change
2016.05.15 A mayor for a nation of 100 million
2016.05.12 Blindsided by Rody Duterte: a postmortem
2016.05.08 'Dutertismo' or clearheaded patriotism?
2016.04.26 The last presidential debate
2016.04.24 The political outsider
2016.04.17 Misunderstanding the 4Ps
2016.04.10 The antipolitical in politics
2016.04.03 Grieving for the UP Faculty Center
2016.03.20 A day at the Marcelo H. dl Pilar Museum
2016.03.13 Jovito Salonga, the scholar-politician
2016.03.06 Through the prism of American politics
2016.02.28 The battlefield of memory
2016.02.21 The moral factor in political transitions
2016.02.14 A sociologist's take on love
2016.02.07 Empathy in modern society
2016.01.31 Citizenship and Grace Poe
2016.01.24 The Japanese Emperor's visit
2016.01.17 Understanding the 4Ps
2016.01.10 Can faith be harnessed for the common good?
2016.01.03 Time, lastingness and gratitude
2015.12.03 Four models of political leadership
2015.11.29 In the nation's pantheon
2015.11.26 Vox populi and the Constitution
2015.11.22 General Education in the modern age
2015.11.19 Globalization and its discontents
2015.11.15 The Paris attacks
2015.11.12 Reflections on Apec
2015.11.08 Auditing the Commission on Audit
2015.11.05 Panic and outrage over 'tanim-bala'
2015.11.01 Candidate sharing
2015.10.29 President Aquino and the mass media
2015.10.25 A day in KidZania
2015.10.22 Disasters and the local community
2015.10.18 A non-negotiable narrative
2015.10.15 Nuisance candidates
2015.10.11 Simplifying voter judgment
2015.10.08 Mabini: philosopher of citizenship
2015.10.04 'Twerking' and the Liberal Party
2015.10.01 Politicians and their parties
2015.09.27 Truth in political advertising
2015.09.24 Martial law Philippine style
2015.09.20 Grace Poe's 20 points
2015.09.17 Who killed Marwan?
2015.09.13 The lost art of walking
2015.09.10 Europe's two faces
2015.09.06 Migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers
2015.09.03 Understanding the INC
2015.08.30 Law, politics, and the INC
2015.08.27 OFWs as heroes
2015.08.23 Dubsmash and its uses
2015.08.20 The vice president in our system
2015.08.16 In defense of politics
2015.08.13 'Natural born citizen'
2015.08.09 The brain: the new frontier
2015.08.06 Glimpses of Grace Poe's political star
2015.08.02 The weight of a presidential endorsement
2015.07.30 Revisiting 'daang matuwid'
2015.07.26 'A religion, not a family corporation'
2015.07.23 Where to, Grace?
2015.07.19 The audit function
2015.07.16 Binay's cross
2015.07.12 20 years of opinion
2015.07.09 The Greek way: From Solon to Varoufakis
2015.07.02 Glimpses of a Binay presidency
2015.06.28 The 'satisfied' in surveys
2015.06.25 The 'undecided' in opinion surveys
2015.06.21 Ethics for a threatened world
2015.06.18 If Rizal had been a Moro
2015.06.14 Bangsamoro identity and modernity
2015.06.11 Meditation on independence
2015.06.07 Keeping up with Bruce Jenner
2015.06.04 History repeating itself
2015.05.31 History by the roadside
2015.05.28 Thoughts on the peace process
2015.05.24 Hillary Clinton's emails
2015.05.21 How do we solve a problem like the Rohingya
2015.05.14 Wandering nations
2015.05.10 The work of mothers
2015.05.07 Contingencies of solidarity
2015.05.03 Lack of gratitude
2015.04.30 Mary Jane's dream
2015.04.23 Asean pragmatism
2015.04.19 Crimes in the context of war
Of far greater relevance to the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law than the use of an alias by Mohagher Iqbal, the chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, are the charges about to be filed by the government against the MILF rebels who participated in the firefight at Mamasapano.
2015.04.16 A dangerous doctrine
An interesting issue is presently being debated before the Supreme Court. It has to do with what acting Solicitor General Florin Hilbay calls the "doctrine of condonation."
2015.04.12 Bigger than Iqbal
For being the signatory of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), and for obliging Congress' invitation to appear before its hearings, Mohagher Iqbal has become the face of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
2015.04.09 Letty's Day
When Bataan fell to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, a national holiday was born.
2015.04.05 The epic pointlessness of a motorcycle ride
In January this year, my brother Goli and our cousin George came home specifically to go on a long motorcycle ride with the Hombres, our biking group of middle-aged professionals who like riding to breakfast on any Sunday.
2015.04.02 Recollections in a time of intolerance
They used to call them "spiritual retreats" – communal gatherings governed by silence and led by retreat masters who offer personal reflections aimed at stimulating a review of one's inner life.
2015.03.29 The MILF Report
I have just finished reading the Moro Islamic Liberation Front report on the Mamasapano incident.
2015.03.26 The mirror that is Singapore
When we Filipinos talk about Singapore, it is nearly always in the context of a broader discussion of what is wrong with the Philippines.
2015.03.22 The American role in Mamasapano
Hearing it from the U.S. State Department, one would think American security personnel played no more than a peripheral role in the Mamasapano encounter.
2015.03.19 Mamasapano: misencounter or massacre?
The reportage on the Senate Report on the Mamasapano Incident has predictably zeroed in on the finding that the President "bears responsibility" for what happened on January 25.
2015.03.15 The Mamasapano Report
The Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry (PNP-BOI) the other day released the result of its six-week investigation of the Mamasapano incident.
2015.03.12 Eight shade of truth
Eight separate investigations have been launched to determine the truth behind the Mamasapano incident.
Nearly every Filipino must know the name "Marwan" by now.
2015.03.05 The next president
Every time the country faces a crisis, we tend to go back to the question that has obsessed us since independence - what kind of president can best lead us?
2015.03.01 The improbable task of negotiating peace
What does it mean to talk peace with someone you've been fighting?
2015.02.26 Lawyering for the MILF?
I cringed when, at one point in the final Senate hearing on the Mamasapano incident, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano glowered at the government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles, and threw them the sarcastic question: "Whose interests are you representing in the negotiations with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front)?".
2015.02.22 Edsa I in JoAl's eyes
"JoAl" is Jose T. Almonte, the soft-spoken high-minded military man who likes grand ideas and once navigated the corridors of powers as an adviser/guru to the powerful and the ambitious.
2015.02.19 Questions for P-Noy
Those who criticize President Benigno S. Aquino III for his handling of the Mamasapano incident accuse him of insensitivity and incompetence.
2015.02.15 The myth of control
One of the questions our politicians kept asking the representatives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front at the legislative hearings on the Mamasapano incident was: Why were you harboring international terrorists in the communities under your control?
2015.02.12 The MILF as a peace partner
In the wake of the unfortunate January 25 encounter between government forces and elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation front, questions are now being asked about the MILF's trustworthiness as a peace partner.
2015.02.08 Pursuing terrorists and pursuing peace
Two state functions were at play in the January 25 Mamasapano incident: the pursuit of terrorists and the pursuit of peace.
Out of the at least eight separate inquiries aimed at finding the truth behind the January 25 Mamasapano incident, one or two should be able to tell us what "really" happened.
02.01.15 Lighting our way to justice
"Justice!" was the collective call of the families and comrades of the 44 PNP-Special Action Force troops who were slain in that lopsided encounter in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao last Sunday.
2015.01.29 Test of will in Mindanao
Sunday's bloody incident in Maguindanao will probably become one of the most serious stumbling blocks to the attainment of enduring peace in Mindanao, and it definitely won't be the last.
2015.01.25 Relics and gestures of faith
The religiosity of the Filipino is legendary, and this was repeatedly affirmed during the recent visit to the country of Pope Francis.
2015.01.22 'Ideological colonization'
It is a phrase straight out of the center-periphery idiom of Latin American "dependencia" thinking.
2015.01.15 The pope of the peripheries
The word means "outskirts" or "margins," and it appears quite often in Pope Francis' distinctively Latin American vocabulary.
Tolerance for forms of belief and behavior different from our own is an evolutionary achievement of society.
2015.01.08 The Black Nazarene, the Pope, and the crowd
The Catholic Church has had such a long history of dealing with spontaneous crowds that one cannot think of any other institution on earth that has had more experience and success in taming the explosive discharge associated with crowds.
2015.01.01 Complex times
The story is told in our family that when my grandmother, Epifania, first boarded a bus for Manila to consult a doctor for her throat ailment, she took off her slippers and left them on the ground as she stepped onto the bus.
2014.12.28 Modernity and the Filipino child
In traditional society, the status of the child is determined by the social position of the family from which she is sprung.
2014.12.25 'Curial ailments'
The Church may draw its authority from God, but it is a human institution no less.
2014.12.21 Defrosting US-Cuba relations
If you're a big powerful country, you can actually bury your relations with a small one you don't particularly like in the back compartment of a freezer, and forget about them.
2014.12.18 The Grand New Bilibid Hotel
Following the Department of Justice's raid of the detention quarters of the New Bilibid Prison's very important prisoners last Monday, President Aquino expressed great alarm over the discovery of firearms in the possession of these dangerous detainees.
2014.12.14 Deconstructing distrust
Apart from their "approval/disapproval" of the job performance of top public officials and government institutions, Pulse Asia asks it informants to estimate the amount of "trust and distrust" they have for these officials and institutions.
2014.12.11 Disaster management as political risk
Largely because of the scale of the human tragedy caused last year by Supertyphoon Yolanda, disaster management has become an increasingly politicized activity.
2014.12.07 Religion and the rest of society
Perhaps not many people are ware that the Pope is not just the head of the Catholic Church but also the leader of a sovereign state, the Holy See.
2014.12.04 Politics: why it's the only game in town
Having written a few columns on politics, I am often asked to comment on the probable course of political developments in our country in view of the 2016 presidential election.
2014.11.30 The world according to Facebook
Recently, I discovered to my dismay that my students in an undergraduate class in the University of the Philippines did not read the newspapers, or listen to the news on radio, or watch the evening report on TV.
2014.11.27 Pork in the 2015 budget
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago objects to the passage of the 2015 national budget because, among other things, it harbors pork barrel allocations, and thus violates the Supreme Court decision striking down the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
We know only too well what it means to have an undocumented relative living abroad.
2014.11.20 A child's rights
The mass media the other day performed their most outstanding function in society by showing the disturbing picture of a severley emaciated child lying naked on the cement floor of what was supposed to be the reception facility for Manila's street children.
2014.11.16 In defense of politics
The word "politics" or "pulitika" has been so abused and so misunderstood in our society that there is probably a need to clarify what it means.
If Vice President Jejomar Binay wishes to put a stop to the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee hearings on the corruption hearings on the corruption allegations against him, the person to talk to is not President Aquino.
2014.11.09 Resilience versus resonance
Before me, as I write this, is a copy of yesterday's Inquirer.
2014.11.06 Stopping the 'Abu Sayyaf'
When the two German being held by an armed group in Sulu were released on October 17 after six months in captivity, a Philippine military spokesman announced tht the foreigners were freed because of the pressure exerted by the military, and that, in keeping with government policy, no ransom was paid to the kidnappers.
2014.11.02 The power of the dead
After my parents died, I made it a point to visit their graves whenever I had the chance.
2014.10.30 What will they debate?
We don't know exactly what prompted embattled Vice President Jejomar Binay to dare Senator Antonio Trillanes IV to face him in a debate.
2014.10.26 Pope Francis and social movements
Rome, under Francis' watch, never ceases to amaze the world.
2014.10.23 Binay's politics
In his interview with ANC's Lynda Jumilla the other night, Vice President Jejomar C. Binay said that he made clear his intention to seek the presidency in 2016 as early as when he took office as vice president - unlike Mar Roxas, the presumptive candidate of the ruling Liberal Party, who, he sneered has been "hypocritical" about his plans.
2014.10.19 Ebola : diary of a global outbreak
One day in early December 2013, a two-year-old child from Gueckedou town in Guinea, West Africa developed high fever, black stools, and vomiting.
2014.10.16 Families in politics
Now on its second reading in the House of Representatives is a bill that seeks to prohibit "the establishment of political dynasties."
2014.10.12 Off-road to Casiguran
Taking advantage of the 3-day weekend last week, I and my group of midle-aged motorcyclists headed for Baler in Aurora province.
2014.10.09 Makati's contradictions
From whatever angle one views it, Makati City is a bundle of contradictions.
2014.10.05 Faith and family in the modern world
Starting today, October 5, Catholic bishops from all over the world are congregating in Rome to discuss for the next two weeks the situation of the family in the contemporary world and the pastoral challenges this poses for the Church "in the context of evangelization."
2014.10.01 Political ferment in Hong Kong
When the British government returned Hong Kong to China in July 1997 - the "handover", as it was then called - what was transferred was not just a piece of land, but the political administration of the people living there.
2014.09.28 The Kurds and the Isis
As graduate students in England in the late Sixties, my wife and I struck a close friendship with a classmate from Iraq and his Lebanese girlfriend.
2014.09.25 Debating the DAP
Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad's acceptance of an invitation to lecture on the budget at the University of the Philippines School of Economics the other week would have been the perfect occasion to grill him about his brainchild, the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program.
2014.09.21 The two faces of authoritarianism
As we look back to that fateful day in September 1972 forty-two years ago, when Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed Martial Law, we need to understand how and why many Filipinos accepted one-man rule in the first instance.
2014.09.17 The quagmire in Iraq and Syria
It must feel terrible for the United States President Barack Obama to enter the final years of his presidency ordering air attacks against Islamist rebel forces in Iraq and Syria.
2014.09.14 Encountering "Noli" at the opera
Rizal's two novels, Noli me tangere and El filibusterismo, shook me to the core of my being when I first read them as a young student for reasons that I could not explain.
2014.09.11 Considerations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law
Once the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law comes before Congress, we can expect its key provisions to be challenged on constitutional grounds.
2014.09.07 The Frankenstein of Metro Manila traffic
We have all experienced being stuck in "monstrous" traffic jams.
2014.09.04 Peacekeepers in a changing world
For many Filipinos, peacekeeping work for the United Nations may be just another form of overseas employment.
2014.08.31 Humanizing the bureaucracy
Mention the word "bureaucracy," and people are likely to take it as a detested term for long delays, inefficiency, clerical ineptness, petty arrogance, and lack of empathy.
2014.08.28 'Judge-made law'
A good friend of mine, Manoling de Leon, who reads my columns with the analytical mind of a well-read autodidact, sent me a question the other day for which I thought I had an adequate answer.
2014.08.24 From motorbikes to bikes
Lured by the steep drop in the prices of motorbikes, people who ride bicycles seldom hesitate to trade their bikes for motorcycles as soon as they have saved enough for a small down payment.
2014.08.21 Ninoy Aquino's assassination
If Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. had not been murdered, he would have become, sooner or later, the president of the Philippines.
2014.08.17 Risky political moves
We may never know what impelled P-Noy to say in a television interview that he is open amending the Constitution to check judicial overreach and restore the equilibrium among the three branches of government.
2014.08.14 Political patronage revisited
In a previous column, "The Supreme Court as political reformer" (7/3/14), I noted that the recent rulings of the high court striking down the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program may give the impression that the judicial branch has taken on the role of political reformer.
Trust the Filipino to give a foreign word a culturally-specific meaning.
2014.08.07 Wombs for hire
When the world was simpler, a man and a woman got together to start a family.
2014.08.03 Libya after Gadhafi
Almost three have quickly passed since Colonel Muammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator who ruled his country for 42 years, was toppled from power by a revolution.
2014.07.31 The battle for trust
When we find ourselves having to make decisions in the face of so much confusion, we rely on trust to find our way and keep going.
2014.07.27 The INC at 100
The most fascinating thing about the "Philippine Arena," billed as "the world's largest indoor multipurpose venue," is probably not that it stands on Philippine soil but that it has been built by the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC).
2014.07.23 Mad about the DAP
I am trying to understand the strong surge of emotion that has been unleashed by the Supreme Court's recent decision on the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP.
2014.07.20 Antifragile, not just resilient
The good news is that Albay province, which had chronically stood on the path of countless devastating typhoons, registered a zero casualty after Typhoon Glenda.
2014.07.17 Are we facing a constitutional crisis?
Anxious talk over a looming constitutional crisis instantly filled the air the other night after President Benigno S. Aquino II announced on national television that he did not agree with the Supreme Court's decision nullifying key elements of his administration's Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
2014.07.13 Achieving the Constitution
There are at least two types of laws found in the Constitution.
2014.07.10 Politics and the Constitution
If we can step back for a moment from the legal issues that are presently the object of heated debate, we might be able to view the controversy surrounding the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) with a different frame.
On Feb. 24, 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued Proclamation 1017, placing the country under a state of emergency.
2014.07.03 The Supreme Court as political reformer
There has always been a gap between our laws and our political reality.
2014.06.29 Just compensation for civil servants
On a visit to Singapore in 2012, my wife and I listened in amazement as our taxi driver ranted about excessive salaries that, he said, government officials in his country were paying themselves.
2014.06.26 A reversal of roles
The observant will not miss the irony: The senators who, not too long ago, stood in judgment of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, now find themselves, as defendants in the pork barrel cases, having to address their appeals for fairness and leniency to the same court.
2014.06.22 Equality before the law
The highly anticipated arrest and detention the other day of Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. on charges of plunder proceeded quite smoothly, despite the brief jostling among the media, security people, and the horde of bystander in the premises of the Sandiganbayan building.
2014.06.19 The "normal" school
In the transition to the new K-12 curriculum, according to a recent news item, college teachers who may at one find themselves without jobs will be allowed to teach high school subjects.
2014.06.15 Father's values
I guess it is perfectly understandable that Father's Day was established almost as an afterthought to Mother's Day.
2014.06.12 The unbearable privilege of pettiness
In the not-too-distant past, when a Filipino senator invoked personal privilege in order to speak, the Senate set aside the business of the day in anticipation of hearing someone of the caliber of Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tañada, Jose W. Diokno or Jovito R. Salonga fill the chamber with stirring words of wisdom, patriotism, and high-mindedness.
2014.06.08 A challenge to the Ombudsman
In most legal complaints filed in the courts, we may encounter the phrase "contrary to law" at the end of a summation of the facts.
2014.06.05 Time now to hear the Ombudsman
The belief that events are being willfully manipulated by clever individuals to shape the way the public experiences them tends to flourish during times of confusion.
2014.06.01 Education and work
A conversation I had the other day with Toto, a 21-year-old high school graduate who could not find a job, got me to think about the nature of today's basic education and our young people's attitude towards work, as compared to that of my generation.
2014.05.29 Corruption of the highest order
Janet Lim Napoles' defense is that while she may be guilty of facilitating the diversion of public funds, she was not the mastermind.
2014.05.25 The Church, the media and Napoles
Imagine an individual who starts a small business supplying helmets and other necessities to the military, using the contacts made possible by her being a military spouse.
2014.05.22 The Inquirer's list
I cringe whenever I hear people say that lists of names, documents, receipts, photographs, etc. speak for themselves.
2014.05.18 Seeing through the confusion
We live in one world, but we see the world in many different ways.
2014.05.15 The PDAF scam and the 2016 election
Will the ongoing investigation of the large-scale diversion of lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to private pockets have any significant effect on the 2016 elections and on Philippine politics in general?
2014.05.11 The normalization of corruption
Even without seeing the names in the so-called "Napoles list", we may assume that the number of implicated lawmakers is so incredibly large as to support the conclusions that, in this country, corruption has become the normal behavior and honest public service the exception.
2014.05.08 The Napoles list
Much ado is being made over Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's refusal to release the list of legislators that suspected pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles allegedly had dealings with.
2014.05.04 Accommodating America
Soon after the end of World War II, the Philippines resumed preparations for independence, a track that was disrupted by the Japanese Occupation.
2014.05.01 Labor today
About 80 countries in the world set aside May 1 every year to honor the working class.
2014.04.27 Moto California
Los Angeles. After 9/11 and the unraveling of the US financial system that began in late 2008, images of collapse, decay, unemployment, class strife, and paranoia dominated my view of America. But on this visit, the economic crisis I expected was not immediately visible.
2014.04.24 Bucket list
Los Angeles. A “bucket list” is an enumeration of things one resolves to do before “hitting the bucket,” or before reaching a defining age, like forty or sixty. More than a wish list, it is typically created against the backdrop of a profound awareness of one’s mortality. The point it conveys is that one must make time for those things one considers worth doing. Yet, in an important sense, a bucket list signifies not so much a plea for time, as a plea for life.
2014.04.13 The language of Pope Francis
Much has been written about the broad differences that separates Pope Francis from Pope Benedict XVI, and the comparison tends to be at the latter's expense.
2014.04.10 Patriotic martyrdom as religion
"Araw Ng Kagitingan," which we celebrate every year as a public holiday on April 9, used to be known as the "Fall of Bataan" or simply "Bataan Day."
2014.04.06 Boundaries in a globalized world
One would have to have to see the world with bellicose eyes not to feel uneasy over the absurd talk about China doing to us what Russia supposedly did to Ukraine recently – annex territory by force.
2014.04.03 Moral progress and the pork barrel
We welcome the Ombudsman's decision to file plunder and graft charges against Senators Enrile and Revilla and several others who have been implicated in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
2014.03.30 Modernity and the Bangsamoro
Modernity is a term that confuses many.
2014.03.27 The peace agreement with the MILF
A realistic way to understand the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that is due to be signed today amid tremendous rejoicing is to view it as a concrete plan for establishing a stable political order in Muslim Mindanao.
2014.03.23 Simple joys
For almost a decade after the hanging of the Filipino domestic helper Flor Contemplacion in Singapore, I stopped going there.
2014.03.20 The Crimean crisis
Most Filipinos probably do not know where Crimea is
2014.03.16 The world in a garden
A garden has been described as a place where human purpose meets Nature, "a gesture against the wild," the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas eloquently put it.
2014.03.12 Delfin Lee's business model
The provision of affordable social housing to low-income families has been a persistent concern of the country's successive administrations.
2014.03.09 The global pressure on education
Invited to participate in the external review of a Japanese university’s program to systematize its globalization thrust, I found myself in Tokyo this past week meditating on what the term “globalization” means for education.
2014.03.06 Reflections on the new media
About two weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the Second Inquirer Conversation held at the University of Santo Tomas.
2014.03.02 The future of democracy
It has become fashionable to pronounce the return of Philippine democracy through the 1986 people power uprising a failure – on two counts.
2014.02.27 The anatomy of corruption
Some years from now, when students of politics and governance begin to publish scholarly papers on the structure of official corruption in our country, the Janet Lim-Napoles scam could emerge as the most crucial episode in the nation's struggle to modernize its political system.
2014.02.23 Behind the 'miracle' of Edsa
In the months following the overthrow of the Marcos regime in February 1986, Filipinos greeted the air of freedom with a euphoric sigh of relief.
2014.02.20 Law and politics in Senate hearings
As guilty as they may be in the public eye, legislators who are accused of receiving kickbacks from their pork barrel allocations have every right to defend themselves against attempts to prejudge their guilt.
2014.02.15 Michael's 'triple axel'
Watching the Filipino figure skater Michael Christian Martinez compete the other night in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, brought me back to those times when my wife and I used to spend Saturday afternoons at the mall watching our granddaughter Julia learn how to skate on ice.
2014.02.13 Love and society
In the small neighborhood on the UP campus where I live, I often see a young boy in wheelchair breeze past my house.
2014.02.08 Ruby Tuason's affidavit
It has been almost six months since the first cases of plunder and graft involving lawmakers' pork barrel were filed at the Office of the Ombudsman.
2014.02.05 Through the prism of Thai politics
In previous columns I have argues that Thailand's attempts to grapple with the complex problem of legitimacy since 2001 illuminate for us the roots of the crisis that rocked our society during the presidencies of Joseph Ejercito "Erap" Estrada and of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA).
2014.02.01 Elections in Thailand
Neighboring Thailand goes to the polls today (Sunday) with the hope of resolving the festering political conflict that has taken an increasingly violent turn in the last three months.
2014.01.30 Seeing something others don't
The big topic of coffee shop talk these days is not the signing of the annexes to the peace accord with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
2014.01.25 Professionalism and the ERC
So complex and demanding are the functions and responsibilities of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) that the law that created it pegged its members' compensation at the same level as that of justices of the Supreme Court.
2014.01.23 Kap's amazing stories
It is a fascinating facet of our soceity, and indeed of our times, that one can make a name portraying fictional characters with superhuman powers and use this to launch a political career.
2014.01.18 Political transitions and legitimacy
On a cold day like this in January 2001, exactly 13 years ago, the Philippines found itself in the throes of another political transition.
2014.01.15 Going solar
For the last two months now, I have welcomed sunlight into our home in a way that has made me conscious of the sun's life-giving presence.
Almost as soon as Cardinal Luis Tagle ended his homily at the Luneta Park Mass preceding the procession of the Black Nazarene, a big commotion broke out, shattering the solemnity of the occasion.
2014.01.09 Culture, faith, and the Black Nazarene
If there is a cultural phenomenon that perhaps perfectly encapsulates the complexity of the Filipino religious psyche, it must be the devotion to the Black Nazarene.
2014.01.04 Church assets and the laity
December 30 is marked as Rizal Day everywhere in the country.
2014.01.01 PDAF scholars
In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund illegal, lawmakers from both houses of Congress have asked what will happen to their scholars whose education is being financed by pork barrel funds.
There was a time, as a young man traveling to different countries for the first time, I took photos of every building, statue, or landscape that caught my eye, hoping to share these with family and friends when I got home.
2013.12.25 Names and their times
The other day, ABS-CBN carried an amusing report about unusual names that were spotted among the list of successful examinees in the recent UP College Admissions Test.
2013.12.21 Who will regulate the regulators
Asked to explain and reverse the steep increases in electricity rates, Malacañang was quick to say this is an issue beyond the control of the President.
2013.12.19 The Bangsamoro future
As one who has avidly followed the twists and turns of past efforts at forging peace with the Bangsamoro, I can only marvel at the diligence, care, and patience that the present negotiators from the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have shown in crafting a document that can be accepted by their respective principals.
2013.12.14 Trapped between the old and the new
One can only ask, in horrific disbelief, what kind of person would fire a gun at a vehicle after a fleeting altercation with its driver over the former's blinding headlights?
2013.12.12 Rebuilding communities
When one looks at pictures of the devastation wrought by Supertyphoon "Yolanda", it is easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the rehabilitation work that is required to make the affected cities and towns livable again.
2013.12.07 Nelson Mandela: master of his fate
Nelson Mandela lived so long that he outlasted all of his contemporaries.
2013.12.04 Nonbinding endorsements
Endorsements and recommendations are such a commonplace in a sharply hierarchical society like ours that is is difficult to say what legal significance they may have.
2013.11.30 Bonifacio's significance
It was he who founded the underground movement that ended centuries of Spanish colonial rule over our people.
2013.11.27 Being a hero
A day after returning to a grateful and adoring nation from his redemptive win over Brandon Rios in Macau, boxing legend and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao faced the press to complain about the way Philippine tax officials have been treating him.
2013.11.23 The looting crowd
In the early hours following the exit of Supertyphoon "Yolanda" from Leyte, residents staggered out of their flattened homes like zombies.
2013.11.21 After excising the PDAF tumor
By striking down the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for lawmakers' projects for being unconstitutional, the Supreme Court signaled the urgency of reforming the way we conduct the affairs of government.
2013.11.16 Danger as a social construct
Dr. Vicente B. Malano, Pagasa's OIC administrator since June, must be one of the unhappiest public officials in the country today.
2013.11.13 Looting and civic culture
Struck by calamity, a nation may be able to withstand the most horrific loss of lives and the most extensive destruction ofhomes, factories and farms, public facilities and private property.
2013.11.09 Immunity to calamities
Of the first images of the devastating power that Supertyphoon "Yolanda" bore as it barreled through the Visayan islands, what struck me most was the grinyfootage of the frenzied swaying of chandeliers in an old cathedral in Leyte whose roof was torn pieve by piece by the howling wind.
2013.11.07 Janet at the Senate
For the sheer drama it packs, the scheduled appearance of Janet Lim-Napoles at the Senate could rival in TV viewership the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona and of former President Joseph Estrada.
2013.11.03 The President's speech
President Benigno S. Aquino III came out swinging at his political opponents and critics the other night in a special televised address to the nation.
2013.10.31 Rethinking the functions of Congress
Seeing how closely our congressmen and senators guard their power to recommend projects for their districts and constituencies, I wonder if the pork barrel issue is not mainly a problem of expectations about the functions of Congress.
2013.10.27 Barangay autonomy
As the nation goes to the polls on Monday to elect officials of the barangay, the smallest administrative unit in our system of government, it is well to reflect on what it means for barangay elections to be non-partisan.
2013.10.24 The politics and ethics of giving
In an ideal world, the truly benevolent give for no other reason than because their cup overflows.
2013.10.20 When those who rule us are thieves
Something dangerous can happen to a society when people no longer trust their leaders because they perceive them to be no different from ordinary thieves except that they steal more and can buy respectability.
2013.10.17 Meditation on earthquakes
Active geological faults, or fractures in the Earth's crust that show movement over time, have been known to cause most earthquakes.
2013.10.13 The Supreme Court's crucial role
A lot of vagueness attends current discussions of the pork barrel.
2013.10.10 Worse than the pork barrel
The original pork barrel system we borrowed from the United States pertains to projects introduced into the appropriations bill by members of Congress.
2013.10.06 Where do we go from here?
Toward the end of his privilege speech on the pork barrel scam last Sept. 25, 2013, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, one of the lawmakers who have been charged with plunder, claimed that he and his colleagues in the opposition have been unjustly singled out and persecuted for something that is widely known and/or practiced by perhaps every member of Congress.
2013.10.03 Between gridlock and greed
It is difficult to say which is preferable: a party-based politics that sometimes results in government gridlock, or a money-based politics that runs smoothly on pork barrel privileges.
2013.09.29 What the pork barrel scam reveals about us
For more than 10 years, a good number of lawmakers, with the aid of fixers who assisted them, were able to pocket the entire cash value of their Priority Development Assistance Fund, without anyone in government publicly protesting that there was anything wrong in what they were doing.
2013.09.26 'Calidad Humana'
Fate could not have written it better if this was a movie script
Forty-one years after Ferdinand Marcos imposed authoritarian rule on the Filipino nation, we tell ourselves with all conviction that never again should we permit this to happen.
2013.09.19 Protest in the time of social media
One does not need to have a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or e-mail account to realize how vastly different today's demonstrations are from those that led to the downfall of the Marcos regime forty years ago.
2013.09.15 Regaining the people's trust
As a rule, people almost everywhere ted to be distrustful of their politicians.
2013.09.12 Nur Misuari's last scream
It's an outrageous way of calling attention to one's lingering presence.
2013.09.08 How do we solve a problem like Syria?
When the world was much less interconnected, it was already difficult to keep the internal conflicts of nations from spilling beyond their borders.
2013.09.05 Targeting presidential pork
In the light of the P10 billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim Napoles with the implied consent of members of Congress, some groups now seek to focus public attention on the President's own pork barrel.
2013.09.01 Napoles as state's witness
The correct term is "state's witness," says Dr. Sylvia Ventura, my professor in English at the University of the Philippines.
2013.08.29 De-personalizing governance
It's been almost two months now since the pork barrel scam was first reported by the Inquirer. The newsworthiness of this event has been unusually protracted.
2013.08.25 A double take on pork
A "double take," Webster's Dictionary tells us, is "a delayed reaction to some remark, situation, etc., in which there is a first unthinking acceptance and then a startled surprise or a second glance as the real meaning or actual situation suddenly becomes clear..."
2013.08.22 Can pork be good?
Rather than heed the growing public clamor to scrap the pork barrel in the current national budget, President Aquino has justified retaining it while calling for tighter control over its use.
2013.08.18 The scourge of discrepant governance
The pork barrel scam -- whose intricate web of ghost projects, fictitious beneficiaries, and fake non-government organizations (NGOs) is unraveling before the nation's eyes -- is a good example of a "discrepant event."
2013.08.15 Watching Janet
The Inquirer periodically hosts no-holds-barred sessions with people in the news who seek to air their views on current issues.
2013.08.11 Law and its uncertainties
During certain periods, crime acquires a high visibility, the result usually of diligent reporting by the mass media.
2013.08.08 Inclusiveness begins with language
In the three years he has been president, P-Noy has been able to maintain exceptionally high trust and approval ratings.
2013.08.04 Allocating responsibility
It has been roughly two weeks now since the Inquirer first broke the news about the pork barrel racket that allegedly permitted businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles to siphon as much as P10 billion in public funds into her private accounts
2013.08.01 A thesis on corruption
Even if only half of the allegations against her turn out to be true, Janet Lim-Napoles, the supposed brain behind the mind-boggling pork barrel scam that is the subject of ongoing Inquirer reports, would easily qualify as the country's foremost expert on corruption.
2013.07.28 A hard look at the pork barrel
The pork barrel system of allocating public funds to benefit a local constituency is a feature of politics we borrowed from the United States.
2013.07.24 More than a moral crusade
The advantage to society of having a president like P-Noy who, unlike most of his predecessors, has kept his popularity and credibility intact halfway through his term, is that people are able once more to look at their government with hope and less cynicism.
2013.07.21 Faith in modernity
A new papal encyclical has just been released and, as its title Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith) suggests, its subject is faith.
2013.07.18 Milking the government
It was bound to happen. Given an existing system that makes it possible for legislators to get a kickback of 10 to 20 percent from their pork barrel allocations, someone, sooner or later, would come up with a scheme that allows greedy lawmakers to pocket not just a portion but the bulk of the funds.
2013.07.14 Surviving the government gauntlet
Dealing with the government's front line offices often feels like running the gauntlet. Meaning: it's not a pleasant experience but a kind of hazing.
2013.07.11 Water woes
One of the first things we had to face after my wife and I decided in 1973 to live with her grandaunt, music professor Jovita Fuentes, inside the University of the Philippine Campus, was the water problem.
2013.07.07 The coup in Egypt
Here in the Philippines, we like to call such events "people power revolutions," a self-description that oozes with political romanticism but carries little analytic value.
2013.07.04 The American panopticon
The term "panopticon," coined from the prefix "pan" - meaning all - and the word "optic" - pertaining to the eye, refere to an observational tower in the center of a circular compound that is supposed to see everything around it.
2013.06.30 The bases redux
In September 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to reject a new bases treaty that would have allowed the United States to keep its military facilities in the Philippines.
2013.06.27 Why the poor come to the city
The P-Noy government's plan to clear Metro Manila's esteros and waterways of informal settlers by offering the latter money and resettlement is commendable.
2013.06.23 Haze over Singapore
Singapore prides itself in having the greenest and cleanest city in all of Asia. Its environmental laws are exacting. A government agency religiously monitors the quality of the country's air.
2013.06.20 What's in a name?
Whatever it was that motivated our colleagues and students at the University of the Philippines College of Business Administration to name their college - the academic program itself, and not just the building - after their esteemed alumnus and former dean, Cesar E.A. Virata, I am quite sure it had nothing to do with the pledge of an endowment.
2013.06.16 The vocation of fatherhood
What is it exactly that we praise in fathers? The answer, of course, very much depends on the culture. While there are traits (like being a good provider) that are universally admired, our notions of what constitutes ideal fatherhood will tend to vary not just across cultures but across generations.
When General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine Independence from Spain on June 12, 898, he had only the vaguest idea of how to proceed to establish a self-governing nation.
A parent whose biggest goal in life is to see all her children graduate from UP wrote me the other day to ask what advice to give to her son who had taken a leave of absence from his studies in UP in order to work in their town's local government.
2013.06.06 Trouble in Turkey
Something unusual is happening in Turkey today that is not eliciting much local interest, mostly because there are not many Filipinos working there about whose safety we usually worry.
Invited to give the keynote speech at the 7th National Social Science Congress the other day, I welcomed the occasion not as a celebration of the work we have done but as a cue to allow the next generation to shine.
2013.05.30 POPS in the city
POPS is an acronym for "privately-owned public space," a concept that is fast replacing our traditional notion of public space.
From the moment we first beheld the unique magic of people power in 1986, we have scanned the political horizon for signs of its recurrence. The possibility that it will appear again gives us eternal hope.
2013.05.23 When neighbors fight
To my last column on the current conflict between the Philippines and Taiwan, a country whom, until recently, we have had only friendly relations, a reader from Canada has written a most thoughtful rejoinder.
2013.05.19 Nations and their governments
In an ideal world, how would the recent shooting by the Philippine Coast Guard of a Taiwanese fishing boat, which resulted in the killing of one of the fisherman, have been handled?
2013.05.16 Vote-buying and its deniability
"What do you make of this, Kuya?" my younger brother Ambo, auxiliary bishop of San Fernando, Pampanga, asked me last Monday, as he showed me an envelope addressed to him containing the campaign leaflet of a party-list nominee and a crisp 200-peso bill.
2013.05.12 Build with every vote
Electing public officials is the most important act of any citizen in any democracy. Here we choose people who will have the power to make decisions that bind all of us.
2013.05.09 Politics and its consequences
It is a testimony to the undifferentiated nature of our political system that many other social institutions are mobilized during elections
2013.05.05 Prosperity without growth
The rise in the number of unemployed Filipinos in the midst of economic growth has made our government take a serious look at the current economic strategy.
2013.05.02 The 'kasambahay'
Some moral progress is noticeable in the way we now refer to our house help, though not always in the way we treat them.
2013.04.28 Voting independently of surveys
Pre-election surveys do often take the form of self-fulfilling oracles. This happens when voters find the published results so compelling as to make them vote accordingly to the predictions.
2013.04.25 Permit to campaign
Bizarre as it is, politicians running for local positions have come to accept it as part of the political reality: That in some remote Philippine communities, candidates must secure a clearance from armed illegal groups before they can enter an area and campaign.
2013.04.21 Riding and dining in Panay
I had strong reservations about going on a long motorcycle ride in this sweltering summer heat. When you are on a bike and you are going fast, you don't notice you are sweating.
It's one of those moments in a democracy when we're reminded that the rights of citizenship come with corresponding duties.
2013.04.14 Is the Catholic Church in crisis?
A survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in February this year highlights three interesting findings on the state of Catholicism in the Philippines.
2013.04.11 Why political families are more brazen today
2013.04.07 Surveys and public opinion
2013.04.04 The continuing tragedy of a divided country
To the generation of Filipinos who went through the horrors of World War II, the Korean War (1950-1953) signaled the advent of another global war that had to be stopped before it could spread any further. On this understanding, the Philippines sent 7,500 of its oldiers t fight in the Korean civil war on the side of South Korea.
2013.03.31 The teacher and the pastor: 2
As a sociologist, my interest in religion does not proceed from the axioms of faith, but from an understanding of human society as a system that serves a multiplicity of functions. Whether one is a believer or not, one cannot deny the place that religion occupies and continues to occupy in the human community. It is not a static role. Its boundaries are continuously contested and negotiated, and, indeed, what it means to live a life of faith in the world is constantly being redefined.
2013.03.28 The teacher and the pastor: 1
The media have made much of the contrast between the shy aristocratic aloofness of Pope Benedict XVI and the folksy approachability of his successor, Pope Francis. They point to the latter’s disregard for the trappings of authority as a refreshing departure from the stiff Vatican conventions of pontifical projection. But a more meaningful analysis of the divergences between two popes, if any, must focus not so much on their outward style but on their understanding of the Church’s mission in the contemporary world.
2013.03.24 Meditation on lament
Someone’s death is always a cause for sorrow and grieving – especially when it is unexpected and unjust. Such is the instant impact of University of the Philippines student Kristel Tejada’s death on all of us who have links with the university. Lament is our first response. We shake our heads in utter disbelief, and, even as we try to pin the blame for this tragedy on particular individuals, we silently seek expiation for our own guilt. We cannot be blameless when one of our promising students is forced to drop out because she cannot pay her student loan. That is how I see the flurry of efforts to repair and compensate for a system whose built-in wickedness has victimized this young student.
2013.03.21 UP and Kristel
Because UP Manila freshman student Kristel Tejada took her own life shortly after she went on a “forced leave of absence” for being unable to pay tuition, it is easy to conclude that this was the cause of her suicide. This is perhaps the only way we can rationalize a tragedy that, on its face, is simply senseless. Often we need to do this because, whether we are aware of it or not, the death of any promising young person by her own hands assails our collective conscience. Searching for someone to blame diminishes our own share of the guilt.
2013.03.17 Pope Francis and Argentina's dirty war
When you are the head of an institution that is as old and as influential as the Catholic Church, your life is bound to be minutely scrutinized to determine how well it measures up to the vision and ideals of the institution. Benedict’s record as a young man was dug up to see if he was ever an ardent Hitler supporter. He was not.
2013.03.14 Loss and healing in post-tsunami Japan
When I was in Japan early this year, I expressed a wish to visit the community on the eastern coast of Japan that my daughter Kara had featured in one of her “I-Witness” documentaries. This was the town of Ofunato in the Iwate Prefecture, which was washed away by the tsunami that followed The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. My wish came true last Sunday.
2013.03.10 The Sultan who became Christian
One of the most interesting figures ever to rule the Sultanate of Sulu was Muhammad Alimuddin I, who, in 1735, took over as sultan from his older brother Nasaruddin. He was a complex man with an advanced instinct for statecraft and diplomacy, which was not common among Sulu’s lesser nobility.
2013.03.07 The real sovereign
We should be wary of talking about North Borneo or Sabah as if it was just a piece of real estate without inhabitants. There are people there who regard themselves as natives to the place, and identify themselves as Sabahans. They are descended from the various ethnic groups and races that over the centuries had settled and developed the place.
2013.03.03 When religion becomes political
As a student of society, I see religion primarily as a form of communication. In simple societies, it may often permeate all of everyday life, making it difficult to say what belongs to religion and what does not.
2013.02.28 'Habemus Papam'
“Habemus Papam” (We have a Pope) – these are the words the cardinal deacon uses to announce the election of a new pope to the expectant crowd at St. Peter’s Square. It is also the title of an Italian movie shown in 2011, which tells the story of a fictional conclave of cardinals convened to elect a new pope. In the film, the assembled cardinals repeatedly fail to produce a clear choice. As the ballots are read, some of them are heard mumbling: “Please, Lord, not me.”
2013.02.24 Who owns Sulu?
In what appears to be an impromptu interview, President Aquino last Thursday spoke of his apprehensions over the tense situation that has developed in the wake of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s decision to send his “royal army” to reclaim Sabah as part of the Sulu “homeland.” Asked about his position on the country’s dormant claim to sovereignty over Sabah, he deftly avoided making any explicit statement on the issue, saying that his Cabinet was still compiling the data and studying the documents.
2013.02.21 The Sabah standoff
There is more to the ongoing standoff between Malaysian forces and the 200 or so armed men holed up in a coastal village in Sabah than meets the eye. The latter are Filipino nationals, though they identify themselves as members of the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.” They have announced that they have sailed to Sabah to reclaim their rightful homeland. Heaven forbid that any harm should befall them. For, that will play right into the hands of those who, for some reason or other, wish to derail the current peace effort in Mindanao and foment a rift between Malaysia and the Philippines.
2013.02.17 Migration as a way of life
In a previous column, I wrote of the ease with which my 3-year-old granddaughter Jacinta can point out the exact location on a globe of the world’s most obscure nations. The other night, the little girl surprised us again by her uncanny ability to name the other countries that share a boundary with a particular country. No doubt she has a strong photographic memory. But I wonder if this familiarity with nations as constituting one cognitively accessible world is not the same mindset that has induced many Filipinos to pursue a life of migration.
2013.02.14 Modernity and Benedict
Joseph Ratzinger’s rise to the papacy in 2005 was preceded by a reputation for die-hard conservatism. This was no doubt in part due to his having headed for more than two decades the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful Vatican body that draws the orthodox line on doctrinal matters. Yet, when he became pope, Benedict surprised many for the nuanced encyclicals he wrote, and for his public effort to comfort the victims of sexual abuse by clerics and to reach out to other religions. As one observer put it, he has turned out to be not as conservative as liberals had feared, or as conservatives had hoped. It is perhaps more accurate to call him the first truly modern pope. Any doubt about that has been erased by his shocking resignation.
2013.02.10 Understanding senatorial preferences
Not a few have asked how we can make sense of the senatorial preferences expressed in recent surveys leading up to the 2013 elections. What seems to be the basis of these preferences? Is it all about “name recall”? How much value is attached to political programs and visions?
2013.02.07 Dynasties and democracy
For the second time the other day, the Supreme Court denied a petition asking the high court to compel the Commission on Elections to enforce a constitutional provision that prohibits political dynasties. There is a third petition waiting in the wings. But it is highly unlikely that the Court will change its view on the matter – namely, that the cited provision is a statement of a general principle; it is “not self-executing,” and thus requires a law to clarify its scope and meaning.
2013.02.03 A Japanese public intellectual
Tokyo. I finally accomplished last Friday one of the things I had planned to do during my two-week stay in Japan: to visit the grave of a dear friend, Yoshiyuki Tsurumi, who died of cancer in 1994. Accompanied by his former student, Professor Yasushi Fujibayashi of Saitama University, and Ms Izumi Hirano, an archivist from Rikkyo University whereTsurumi’s papers, notes, and personal library are deposited, I went on a personal pilgrimage to Sagami memorial park in Kanagawa Prefecture, two hours by train from Tokyo. Tsurumi was such a non-conformist all his life that I could not imagine him being buried in a row of black and gray tombs of unrelenting uniformity.
2013.01.31 Birdwatching with Hashimoto-san
Osaka. The day started promisingly. Last Sunday, while having breakfast at my hotel, I scanned the clear sky outside and noticed about a dozen tree sparrows perched on the power supply line above the street. Just then, a black Toyota Crown taxi pulled over into a narrow alley beside the hotel. The driver got off and, as if on cue, the little birds on the wire descended to where he stood. He started feeding them pieces of the bread he held in his hands while partaking some of it himself. About five minutes later, he went back into his car and drove off. This fleeting tryst must be a daily ritual for this taxi driver and his winged friends.
2013.01.27 Revisiting Japan
Osaka. At the baggage carousel of the relatively new and solidly-built Kansai International Airport, everyone around me was busy on their mobile phones even as they kept an eye on the fast-moving bags. I was surprised to see a preponderance of iPhones: I’d say, four out of five. It is easy to understand why the austere lines of Apple’s bestselling product would appeal to the Japanese. The iPhone is perhaps to technology what the haiku is to poetry. And so, it puzzles me why the Japanese did not invent anything close to it.
2013.01.24 Suing China
The Department of Foreign Affairs announced the other day that the Philippines has submitted its territorial dispute with China for resolution by an international arbitration tribunal as provided for under the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
2013.01.20 Where in the world is Mali?
There’s probably not a single country left in the world today where one would not find Filipinos. In any war that breaks out anywhere, any major disaster that happens on land or at sea, in every hijacking of a cargo boat, or any terrorist attack in a crowded public place in any big city – chances are one of the victims could be a Filipino worker. This has made the everyday outlook of the average Filipino global. In the short span of forty years, we have, by necessity, become interested in what is happening in the rest of the world because of the broad dispersal of our overseas workers.
2013.01.17 Doping and Lance Armstrong
Even if I am not a cyclist, I am eagerly awaiting the airing this Thursday of Lance Armstrong’s interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey. I’m keen to know how the 7-time Tour de France champion will finally confess to using performance-enhancing drugs and other doping methods to help him win the yellow jerseys that he still proudly displays in his living room. Tour officials decided a few months ago to strip him of all the titles he had won at the cycling world’s most famous tournament. He has also been banned for life from professional cycling. We are told that he wants the ban lifted so he could compete in triathlons.
Next time our political leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives find themselves awash in so-called “savings” at the end of the year, they might want to drop by at any of our public hospitals. At the charity wards they would see for themselves how the poor desperately try to cope with the unexpected burden that an illness or an accident imposes on their already fragile existence. One hopes they would then be moved to share a tiny fraction of their fat bonuses with the ordinary people they are supposed to serve. Doing so could recover for our political system the perception of usefulness it has considerably lost.
One can imagine the bewilderment of the Filipino fishermen when they saw a “drone” floating off the coast of Masbate recently. Four meters in length, it had the shape of a plane, but it was too small to carry a pilot. Also, it looked menacing, and too big to be merely a toy. They eyed it warily. One of the men might have gently poked it with his paddle, and, when it didn’t stir or make a noise, they towed it to shore.
When 41-year-old Ronald “Bossing” Bae went on a shooting rampage in his neighborhood in Kawit Cavite the other day, indiscriminately killing 7 and wounding about 11 others, the local media promptly labeled his heinous act as that of an “amok.” “Bigla na lang siyang nag-amok,” reporters said, echoing the words of Bae’s stunned neighbors.
2013.01.03 Living bravely
Over the holidays, as the old year was coming to a close, I found myself pondering, like everyone else I suppose, what it means to put order and meaning in one’s life. Most New Year resolutions take the form of lists of what to do to achieve greater efficiency in everyday life – how to keep work from piling up, how not to be late for appointments, how to stay healthy, how to free one’s self from vice, etc. But some resolutions go deeper: they involve a fundamental reorientation of one’s life. Instead of asking how, they ask why.
2012.12.30 A question of heroes
Of the varied fare produced by this year's Metro Manila Film Festival, it was "El Presidente", the film depicting the life of Gen. Emilio Aquinaldo, that I was most eager to watch. Films about a nation's heroes are always tricky affairs. If they show nothing new about the persons or the circumstances in which they lived, they risk becoming utterly boring. If, on the other hand, they set out to project heroes in a new light, they are likely to face the question: What is fiction and what is fact?
2012.12.27 The care of our children
The Feast of the Holy Innocents brings up in a most vivid way the mass killing almost two weeks ago of 20 school children at a public elementary school in Connecticut. It is a good time to reflect on the varied meanings that this unspeakable deed has summoned in every culture regardless of religion.
2012.12.23 When prophecy fails
I glance at the sky for signs of anything unusual. Just a while ago, the noontime sky was slightly overcast. Now, a steady breeze is whooshing in from the northeast and is all but dispelling the low hanging clouds. The sun is out, and I am starting to regret that I woke up too late this morning to go motorcycling or bird watching.
2012.12.20 Which way for the Church?
The idea of a humble Church – a Church that respects the authority of politics and of science while insisting on the autonomy of faith and morals – is one that fits the complexities of modern society. It carves out a continuing role for religion in a world that is becoming increasingly differentiated into separate functional spheres, where the meaning of life is supplied not by a single dominant center but by a plurality of angles. Understandably, it is an idea that does not sit well in societies that believe religion’s social purpose is best achieved when it is able to impose its will on every institution in society.
2012.12.16 Julia at 12
Last December 9, my granddaughter Julia turned 12. We held off celebrating her birthday in deference to the hundreds of children in Mindanao who had perished in the wake of typhoon “Pablo.” But hearing about the young girl, Imee Sayson, who was fished out of the mud alive after being buried for 24 hours by the mudslide that entombed her village in New Bataan town, filled me with enough hope to revisit Julia’s birthday and view it in another light.
2012.12.13 Disasters and the poor
The devastation caused in Mindanao by typhoon Pablo is, for now, largely measured by the number of dead, injured, and missing people. The number of recovered bodies has reached 714, says the NDRRMC. About 900 more are reported missing. Thousands of others suffer from wounds and various forms of injury, not to mention deep trauma, but only a few can be attended to in clinics and hospitals. The scale of the destruction is becoming clearer as the attention shifts to the staggering number of families who have lost their homes and their livelihood. The prospect of starvation and disease looms before them.
2012.12.09 Mindanao's resonance to ecological risk
The benign climate -- that was the first thing that was pointed to me about Mindanao in the early 80’s when I used to go there as part of a research team studying the banana export industry. Throughout the year, its winds were steady, gentle rain irrigated its fertile soil, its mountains were lush and its rivers deep, and above all, it was never visited by typhoons. That was the reason bananas thrived there.
2012.12.06 Crime and the mass media
The word “ubiquity” refers to the quality of being everywhere. It captures succinctly the perception of a whole society being engulfed by crime – that is, if one goes by the early evening news on television. Crime reports bookend the rest of the news so routinely that crime is no longer “newsworthy” in the sense of being surprising or interesting. Is this the reality we live in, or is it something that is magnified by inordinate media attention?
2012.12.02 Political wisdom
In a speech at the Far Eastern University last November 22, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago mocked the nation’s political system, in which she has played a prominent role, as one dominated by the ignorant. “Let me summarize the problem with Philippine elections,” she told her young audience. “Of the 50 million voters who will troop to the polls in May next year, the greater majority are not intelligent, they are not educated for voting, and the candidates they choose are not educated for serving.”
2012.11.29 A sociology of scams
Scams tell us a lot about the nature of our society – more than about the gullibility, greed, or ignorance of our people. Sociologists try to understand how these criminal schemes work not by figuring out the motives and interests of the individuals they victimize but by determining the types of social relationships they are able to tap. Moral terms like gullibility and greed contain no analytic value. But, the degree to which communications in a society like ours remain undifferentiated may explain why scam victims are quick to entrust their money to swindlers with no economic credentials or record.
2012.11.25 The good, the bad, and their lawyers
In the wake of the shocking November 23, 2009 massacre in Maguindanao, the Ampatuan patriarch and his sons, the principal suspects in this heinous crime, began a frantic search for sharp lawyers who would take up their case and defend them. One of those sounded out was my brother Dante, a litigation lawyer with many years of experience in criminal law. He did not know any of the Ampatuans, but he knew many of those who had been initially hired for this difficult case. A huge acceptance fee was hinted. My brother turned it down without hesitation, politely saying he already had a crowded schedule.
2012.11.22 Educating the Filipino family
Last Monday morning, I found myself in the basketball court of a remote village in Bataan province, quietly observing a “family development session.” The young energetic woman who was conducting the proceedings is a “Municipal Link,” one of 2250 social workers expressly trained for the government’s greatly expanded conditional cash transfer program, known locally as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). About 30 household heads, all women except one, were in attendance at this particular session. They meet once a month for about an hour depending on the topic to be discussed.
2012.11.18 Inflation of trust
The victimization of thousands of small investors by a dubious company styling itself as the “Aman Futures Group Philippines, Inc.” is of great interest not only to law enforcement authorities but to students of society as well. How a business firm with no credentials or track record was able to entice thousands of people in a small city to part with their savings should tell us a lot not only about the Filipino mind and culture, but about the nature of modern society itself.
2012.11.15 Scams and the freedom to err
Reading recent reports of thousands of people being victimized by another pyramiding scam -- this time operating out of the cities of Cebu, Pagadian, and Pasay -- I found myself entertaining two different reactions. “Serves them right,” I thought, “for not using their commonsense and being blinded by greed.” But, then I wondered, “Shouldn’t the government have known about this and stepped in before more small investors were robbed by this pack of swindlers?”
2012.11.11 America's 'fiscal cliff'
Moments after it became clear that United States President Barack Obama had won a second term, the media began to talk about the “fiscal cliff” facing government. This is a striking metaphor. CNN’s talking heads assume that everybody knows what it means. But, like many who do not regularly follow the economic news, I’m hearing it for the first time, certain that it is not a standard trope in economics.
2012.11.08 Two systems
In the closing hours of this year’s US presidential election, both the Democratic and Republican parties were reported to be mobilizing their battery of lawyers to quickly respond to issues that could affect the outcome of the vote. This is quite unusual. So stable has the American political system been that legal challenges and electoral protests are seldom seen in US political exercises.
2012.11.04 Political transitions
By an interesting coincidence, the two most powerful nations in the world – the United States and China – will choose in the same week the leaders who will govern their respective peoples, and, by extension, shape the conditions for peace and development in the rest of the world. Filipinos cannot but take a keen interest in these transitions, not just because many of us identify with America’s fate and reserve the deepest suspicions for China. It is also because these two countries show us two contrasting systems of governing a society that invite us to reflect on our own.
The social practices surrounding death are probably among the most definitive of a people’s way of life. What we do in the face of our loved ones’ passing, how we prepare them for burial or cremation, etc. – speak eloquently about our understanding of the meaning of human existence. Perhaps it is safe to say that we tend to know more today about how to live than how to die.
2012.10.28 The 'new evangelization'
When the Vatican proclaimed 2013 as the “Year of the Faith,” I wondered if this meant a rethinking of the ecumenism that has long characterized the Catholic Church’s respectful relationship with other faith communities. My interest as an observer of social institutions was heightened even more by the topic chosen for the Synod of Bishops recently convened in Rome: “The new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith.”
2012.10.25 The 'indispensible nation'
In their final debate, which focused on foreign policy, US President Barack Obama called America “the indispensable nation,” echoing a phrase coined during the Clinton years. The less eloquent Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, came up with an equally glowing portrayal of his country as “the hope of the earth.” Wow. We know that America is a great nation. But hearing such songs of praise from its own politicians is disturbing. One can’t imagine the leaders of China or Russia getting away with extravagant self-depictions like these without world media commenting on their arrogance and implications.
2012.10.21 Print is dead, long live the mass media
The announcement that Newsweek, the magazine, will cease publication at the end of the year, and will henceforth be available only in digital form, is seen by media observers as marking the end of an era. It has revived talk about the impending death of the print media. But I suspect the issue goes much deeper. I think we are looking at the end of the mass media, as we know them, and their reinvention as communication forms of the Internet.
2012.10.18 Crumbs from the master's table
The Commission on Elections has embarked on the unenviable task of cleansing the party-list system by weeding out groups that do not measure up to its understanding of what it means to represent a “marginalized” and “underrepresented” sector. This is a job that has long been waiting to be done; tackling it is far from easy. Every decision the Comelec promulgates canceling the accreditation of an existing party-list group is sure to be challenged at the Supreme Court, if not in the streets.
2012.10.14 Marilou Diaz-Abaya: A tribute
When film and TV director Marilou Diaz-Abaya succumbed to breast cancer at 57 last Monday, Oct. 8, I remembered the strange conversation we had a couple of years back. She had just learned that her cancer had returned after a wonderful absence of more than a year. From out of the blue, she asked if I would speak at her funeral. “Of course,” I blithely said, thinking it was a joke. Sensing her seriousness, I quickly added, “You need not ask, Marilou; it is what the dearest of friends do for one another.” Last Friday, at the Ateneo College chapel, where the wake was held, I finally got to deliver the eulogy that had been forming in my mind since her cancer advanced to stage 4. This is a shortened version of that tribute.
2012.10.11 The long journey to peace
The “framework agreement” jointly drawn by the negotiating panels of the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is a significant advance in the protracted quest for peace in Muslim Mindanao. But, even as we bank on the inherent infectiousness of peace agreements, we should be wary about expecting too much too soon.
2012.10.07 Political influence
The approval and trust ratings of the country’s top public officials, as reported in Pulse Asia’s latest survey, probably tell us more about the nature of Philippine politics than they might suggest at first glance. President Aquino’s ratings are at 78 percent, up by 11 percent from the previous quarter, which is unusually high for a president after being in office for two years. Vice President Binay’s are quite astounding – an approval rating of 85 percent, and a trust rating of 84 percent. Senate President Enrile’s ratings are not far behind: 72 percent approval and 68 percent trust. If these are indicators of political legitimacy, then we may say that no previous government has been perceived to be more entitled to exercise power than the present one.
2012.10.04 What's wrong with political dynasties?
What’s wrong with having a father and son (Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and candidate Jack Ponce Enrile), or a brother and sister (Senators Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano), or two brothers (Sen. Jinggoy and candidate JV Ejercito-Estrada) sit together as senators in a 24-member chamber? What’s wrong with having the wife succeed her husband for the same position (candidate Cynthia and outgoing senator Manny Villar)? Or a son his father (candidate Juan Edgardo and outgoing senator Edgardo Angara)? A lot.
2012.09.30 Postures of power
On the front page of the Inquirer the other day, there is a fascinating photograph of the main personalities who came to the book launch of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s memoirs. This picture is worth a thousand words. It shows four seated figures: Imelda Marcos, Cristina Ponce Enrile, Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE), and Benigno S. Aquino III (P-Noy), and is captioned “No permanent friends, only permanent interests.” I think one would have to be of a certain age or to know a little about Philippine politics to draw that message from the picture itself.
2012.09.27 The price of autonomy
Universities in the modern world have been able to host some of the most path-breaking advances in knowledge by providing an environment in which independent thinkers may pursue intellectual work without fear. But developing this capacity is not the easiest thing in the world. Universities need enormous amounts of resources that cannot be met by student fees alone.
2012.09.23 Forty years ago
Martial law aimed to wipe out the communist insurgency, but ironically it turned into the single most important recruitment tool of the communist movement. How did this happen?
2012.09.20 Communities of memory
A few days ago, I participated in a forum to explore the purpose and methodology of establishing a “museum of memory” that would contain and preserve memories from the dark period of martial law. The concept behind this is prompted by the strong feeling that today’s young people hardly have any idea of what happened during the 14 years of the Marcos dictatorship. The premise, of course, is that the memory of this period must not be allowed to fade because, if Santayana is correct, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
2012.09.16 The genes of our nature
As we get older, we realize we begin to look more and more like our parents. This recognition comes to us in a flash, and usually we pay no heed to it. In ironic resignation, we accept the annoying mannerisms, the volatile temper, and even the illnesses as part of the genetic package that our ancestors bequeathed to us. Sometimes, though, it makes us wonder how we would have turned out if we did not have our parents’ genes.
2012.09.13 Marcos and martial law
Before it became wholly associated with the suicide terrorist attacks against the United States, Sept. 11 used to be remembered as the day Salvador Allende, Chile’s first elected Marxist president, was killed in the course of the military coup that installed the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. That tragic event started the reversal of democracy throughout Latin America.
2012.09.09 Taxation without protection
Like many government employees with fixed incomes and meager savings, my wife Karina and I have worried about not being able to help our children when they start searching for a permanent home of their own. Our situation is not very different from that of lower-middle class employees in the private sector who hope to own a house at some point. Unless they work for a company with a housing plan, they usually end up renting apartments all their lives. Responding to this need, Hasik, the NGO that Karina headed in the 1990s, conceived of a housing collective for its staff that could serve as a model for young people who are just starting to save for a house.
2012.09.06 God, law, psychology, and CJ Sereno
In a democracy, the religion, or lack of it, of Supreme Court justices (or any judge, for that matter) is expected to carry no weight in the discharge of their official functions. What the public cares about is that their decisions are founded on a sound appreciation of the facts and of the applicable laws. In this regard, newly-appointed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s religiosity should have been as uncontroversial as her age or her gender.
2012.09.02 Stem cells of youth
Recently, I listened to a friend recount his “stem cell treatment” at a medical spa in Europe. The treatment costs about a million pesos. The clinic where it is done has lately been attracting hundreds of Filipinos in search of the modern version of the proverbial fountain of youth.
2012.08.30 Academic freedom in Catholic universities
Responding to the question I raised in this column the other day – Whether the Ateneo de Manila University can call itself Catholic and, at the same time, invoke academic freedom -- a reader sent me an Internet link to the web page of Neumann University (http://www.neumann.edu/
2012.08.26 The Ateneo and the Church
Can the Ateneo de Manila University call itself a Catholic school and function as a university at the same time? A question like this may strike Filipinos as somewhat strange, considering that many of our venerable universities in this country are Catholic institutions. Yet, it is bound to arise when the ideas of professors in such institutions clash with the teachings of those in the Church. Indeed, the question is almost inevitable. Every university worth its name, regardless of who established it, will assert its autonomy in the pursuit of knowledge. One expects no less from the Ateneo as a university.
2012.08.23 Naga City's Mayor Jesse
In 2000 the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation chose Naga City Mayor Jesse M. Robredo as its awardee for government service. The award citation summed up the reason for giving him the award thus: “In electing Jesse Robredo to receive the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the board of trustees recognizes his giving credence to the promise of democracy by demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people.”
2012.08.19 The day my laptop died
As soon as I pressed the power button, the Windows logo appeared on the laptop’s screen with the familiar assurance: “Starting Windows.” But nothing else happened after that. For the first time in its brief mechanical life, my barely one-year-old computer failed to say hello. It was as if it found itself in a daze, desperately grappling with the sudden loss of its own memory. Finally, a blue sky with a little white bird and a twig approaching a faint light appeared on the screen. “Oh no,” I muttered in horror, almost certain that my poor machine had been attacked by a virus. The hard disk drive itself had crashed.
2012.08.16 Home along the estero
Human beings are not rats. And one need not be a pauper to know that it is not fun to live under bridges, inside drainage pipes, or along esteros. According to government estimates, at least 125,000 Filipino families in Metro Manila live under such conditions. These families make up about 90% of the city population that is most severely affected by calamities during bad weather. This is a scandal. Their collective vulnerability testifies not so much to their poverty as to the systemic failure of our society.
2012.08.12 Learning from Calabantian
Lahar, a Javanese word for mudflow, entered the vocabulary and consciousness of Filipinos only in 1991, soon after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. Geologists appropriated the term and had been using it since the early 1900s to refer not to mudflows but, in the words of Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, to “rapidly flowing mixtures of rock debris and water from a volcano.” We have long associated volcanic eruptions with boiling lava flows that glisten at night but pose no immediate threat. Pinatubo radically changed all that.
2012.08.09 Monsoons and an American soldier
From the many that are mass distributed and forwarded via the Internet, one e-mail landed in my inbox which referred to the torrential rains that fell on much of western Luzon and the Visayas in the past few days as God’s way of telling us that we are making a horrible mistake in pushing for the passage of the Reproductive Health bill. This is bound to happen: people making preposterous connections between unrelated events in order to bolster their convictions. They will read moral judgments in Nature’s ways, even if this means perpetuating a religion based on ignorance and fear, rather than on love, discernment, and hope.
2012.08.05 The will to give
A lot of people may have all the money in the world, and still feel they don’t have enough. Every asset they acquire serves as a prod to gain more. They become slaves to their possessions. Others have very much less in comparison, and yet they think it’s more than what they need. Their wants do not grow with their wealth. Their cup quickly overflows; they can’t stop giving. They remain in control of what they have and what they want to be. All this makes one ponder what it means to be wealthy.
2012.08.02 The Church, GMA and the RH bill
As Congress prepares to vote on the controversial Reproductive Health bill, all eyes are focused on the bishops of the Catholic Church. They have done everything to thwart the passage of the bill, including intense person-to-person lobbying for every legislator’s vote. There is no surprise there: the Church has taken a strong position against artificial contraception. And Church leaders are within their constitutional right to campaign against the bill which, among other things, intends to allocate public funds to make contraceptives available to those who may want them but can’t afford them.
2012.07.29 The helmet law
Over the past week, thousands of motorcycle riders throughout the country descended on the offices of the Department of Trade and Industry seeking a small sticker for their helmets. Like recruits for a ragtag army waiting to have their weapons inspected before marching to war, they waited for harried DTI personnel to paste an ICC sticker on their helmets attesting to their worthiness.
2012.07.26 Garden country
While visiting Singapore last week to attend the 80th birthday celebration of a dear friend, the architect and urbanist William Lim, I wondered what it was that a traveller would find most beguiling in a small city-state like this. I started to count Singapore’s ways: its orderliness, its predictability, its cleanliness, the all-round safety it offers, and the visible effort it exerts to create diversity under regulated circumstances. When I was younger, these were the same contrived qualities I associated with dead places.
2012.07.22 State of the nation's governance
Two years after he became president, it is perhaps easier to define the core values to which President Benigno S. Aquino III subscribes than to formulate the vision that orients the direction of his government. The commitment to ethical governance is felt everywhere, permeating the exercise of executive power, but the general program that the government wishes to pursue remains elusive.
2012.07.19 The call to boycott Chinese products
A group of Filipinos based in the United States, convened by prominent business leader Loida Nicolas-Lewis and lawyer Ted Laguatan, has called for a boycott of China-made products as a way of protesting China’s bullying behavior in the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). They are not talking of a government-supported initiative, but of a purely consumer-led boycott driven by patriotic sentiments. What are the chances of such a call gaining any traction in the Philippines?
2012.07.15 The silence of Asean
For the first time in its 45-year history, the Association of South East Asian Nations failed to issue a joint communique at the end of its annual conference. This self-imposed muteness merely confirms what the Philippines has long suspected: that Asean members will do nothing to disturb the beneficial economic relationship they each enjoy with the giant next door. The meeting may have been the wrong time and the wrong place for any of the 10 member-countries to discuss their common problems with China. But, the organization’s silence in the face of repeated Chinese bullying signals a subservience that is appropriate only to tributary states.
2012.07.12 The portrait of the Filipino as Dolphy
Here’s a question for those who, in the wake of Dolphy’s death the other day, may be discussing the late comedian’s impact on the Filipino consciousness: In his portrayal of the two TV-movie roles in which he made the greatest impression, namely, the impoverished but easy-going padre de familia in “John en Marsha” and “Home Along da Riles,” and the Pinoy bakla in “Facifika Falayfay” and “Fefita Fofongay,” did Dolphy perhaps romanticize poverty and encourage the treatment of gays as abnormal?
2012.07.08 The 'God particle'
A few days ago, my 11-year-old granddaughter, Julia, who is in Grade 6 at Miriam, a Catholic school, came up to me asking: “Lolo, why did God create the world?” It was a question her teacher in Christian Living Education had given to the class to think about over the weekend. “Hmm, let me see,” I said, quite flustered, but trying not to show it.
2012.07.04 The 'uncovering' of Anderson Cooper
I’m writing this on July 4th, the Independence Day of the United States of America. We used to celebrate our own independence as a nation on this same date, until we decided that we owed it to ourselves to mark our full emancipation as a people by going back to June 12, 1898, when our ancestors declared their independence from Spain. This did not prevent us, however, from following the American path, particularly in matters of law and culture.
2012.07.01 Edru: the Lebanese connection
Pedro Reyes Abraham Jr, the all-round performing artist everybody fondly calls “Edru,” officially retired as a member of the University of the Philippines faculty last June 4, capping his teaching career with a month-long tour of the Visayas where, together with his students, he tirelessly performed and lectured for the common folk. Like many of us who entered UP as freshmen in the early ‘60s and stayed on to teach after graduation, Edru completes a cycle of academic life spanning exactly half a century.
2012.06.28 The Egyptian transition
Following the ouster of its long-time president, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has taken the first step towards building a modern democracy. Last Sunday, it proclaimed the first-ever democratically elected civilian president in the nation’s history. It is not easy to read from the outcome of this closely contested election what urgent hopes and needs the people were expressing through their votes.
2012.06.24 Baptism and faith
Though I’m not a regular church-goer, this does not mean I am faithless. Most of the things I believe in I learned growing up in a Catholic family. Later in life, I realized these are found in equal measure in other religions. They are the beliefs that help us find meaning in life, set lifelong goals, keep going, live for others. Reason or science has little to do with them. They are what the writer Simon Critchley sums up as loyalty to “the infinite demand of love” – a fidelity that requires much of what we are and what we have, even though it is not founded on any guarantee or certainty. Faith, he says, is the “enactment of the self in relation to this infinite demand.”
2012.06.21 The fate of our mother languages
This school year, when public school teachers begin using twelve of the country’s mother tongues as languages of instruction in the first three years of grade school, they may find that employing the local language for writing and reading won’t be as easy as speaking it. They have to persist and not give up easily.
2012.06.17 The ethic of responsible restraint
Twice during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, petitions were filed before the Supreme Court praying for its intervention in the unfolding process at the Senate. The first sought to abort the trial on the ground that the complaint endorsed by the majority in the House of Representatives was not properly verified. The high court responded by calling for the submission of written memoranda, but it did not stop the trial. The second petition was for the purpose of preventing the Senate from opening the bank accounts of Corona on the ground that their absolute confidentiality was protected by law. The court issued a temporary restraining order to that effect, and the Senate voted to comply with the TRO.
2012.06.14 Koko's dilemma
One can sympathize with Sen. Koko Pimentel’s dilemma as he ponders the wisdom of joining the senatorial slate of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) for 2013. How can he run in the same party, campaign on the same stage, and endorse the candidacy of a person he has accused of electoral fraud? Koko was the principal victim of the “dagdag-bawas” fraud perpetrated in Central Mindanao in the 2007 elections. He had to file an expensive, time-consuming, and heart-breaking protest to recover the Senate seat that rightfully belonged to him. He had to wait for four years before Juan Miguel Zubiri, who took his seat, would resign in recognition of the validity of his protest. Today, it is sweet irony that Koko occupies the chair of the Senate committee on electoral reforms, which aims to eliminate cheating in the nation’s elections.
2012.06.10 Corona's crusade
Right after being removed from his position as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Renato Corona announced that he would go on a lecture tour to launch a crusade for transparency and judicial independence. No doubt, this is an important and timely crusade. But, one can’t help asking if the former Chief Justice is the right person to spearhead it. The record shows that he didn’t care much for transparency or judicial independence.
2012.06.07 The case for 'deschooling' society
Forty years ago, a radical philosopher by the name of Ivan Illich rocked the world of education by suggesting that children’s learning needs would be better served if they were not made to go through the institutional “funnels” of regimented formal education. He advocated, as an alternative, the formation of “educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.” The book that made him famous was aptly titled “Deschooling Society” (1971).
2012.06.03 The uses of education
If I were a young parent today with the choice of where to send my child for basic education, which school would I choose? There is no simple answer. One’s choice of school would depend, first of all, on the kind of education one thinks his child needs. In turn, this would depend on the kind of prospects in life a parent wishes the child to have in the future.
2012.05.31 A god in ruins
Most of us do not get to know the names of the members of the Supreme Court because, unlike politicians, they are seldom in the public eye. Neither do we remember how they look, apart from the thick robes they wear. It is as it should be. We stand in awe of the members of the court not for who they are, but for what they represent. They are the best examples of figures of pure authority. Indeed, one may be forgiven for thinking they are the gods who control our destinies. But, in truth, what they represent is no more than the condensed power of society.
2012.05.27 Accommodating the Chief Justice
Justice wears a blindfold because it is supposed to only hear the voices of the individuals that come before it, and not see and be affected by the statuses they carry with them. The tenacity of justice is especially put to a test in an impeachment process, an institution that has been devised precisely to try highly-placed public officials who may not be charged before the ordinary courts. This is not at all easy in a hierarchical society like ours, where class, politics, kinship, and religion insinuate themselves at every point in the administration of law.
2012.05.24 The star witness
On the 40th day of his trial, the Chief Justice himself took the witness stand. The head of the impeachment court, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, graciously welcomed him, assuring him that he would be treated with utmost respect befitting his position and the institution he represents. Barely acknowledging these gestures of courtesy, the star witness took the oath and proceeded to deliver not what was supposed to be a brief opening statement, but a well-rehearsed soliloquy.
2012.05.20 Corona's word
In many ways, tomorrow’s caucus of the senator-judges is probably as crucial to the impeachment case as the much-awaited testimony of the accused chief justice. We may recall that some of the senators, after hearing the explosive testimony of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, expressed a need to verify the findings of the Ombudsman by summoning the head of the anti-money laundering council or the bank managers themselves.
2012.05.17 The Ombudsman's lantern
It is catchy and has rhythm. It is the phrase that beleaguered Chief Justice Renato Corona used to describe the diagram of his alleged multiple bank transactions: a “lantern of lies.” The curious reader will be forgiven for turning to Google to find the meaning and provenance of this fascinating idiom. Lanterns and lies seem to contradict one another. Lanterns are supposed to brighten, not darken, to give out light, not lies.
2012.05.13 A shoal by another name
China refers to Scarborough Shoal as Huangyan Island. The crucial word is not Huangyan, but the nature of the disputed territory. Is it a shoal or an island? What’s in a name?
After watching the impeachment proceedings at the Senate for several weeks now, Filipinos will have become familiar with court room rituals and conventions. Many such conventions have to do with the oaths we take. “Swear him in,” the presiding officer barks before a witness may begin to testify; whereupon, that person is prompted to repeat the statement: “I swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” When a witness appears to be giving conflicting statements, a senator-judge may warn him thus: “May I remind you that you are under oath.” All these may suggest that oaths do make a difference -- that is, a person is less likely to tell a lie under oath than if he had not been explicitly sworn. Is this so? Why?
2012.05.06 Asia for the poor
Chennai. These days, all eyes are on Asia. While the economies of Europe and North America are tumbling down one by one under the pressure of a continuing financial crisis, those of emerging Asia are flourishing. Nowhere is this burst of economic dynamism more palpable than in China and India, the two largest nations in the world that were once regarded as the emblems of underdevelopment. Yet not everyone is happy over Asia’s rise.
2012.05.03 Debt-driven inclusiveness
Waiting in line for my turn at a Landbank ATM in the UP campus the other day, I started to fret seeing the queue wasn’t moving. Two women were hogging the machine and serially withdrawing money. They shuffled what looked like a deck of plastic cards while routinely consulting a small notebook.
2012.04.29 Engaging China
It’s been three weeks now since the start of the standoff with China at Scarborough Shoal, a group of mostly submerged rocks in the West Philippine Sea that the Philippines and China are claiming as part of their respective territories. While a diplomatic way out of the impasse is being sought, a complex signaling exercise involving the deployment and withdrawal of maritime vessels is also going on. What further complicates matters is that the standoff began just a few days before the start of the US-Philippine joint military exercises. The Philippines insists the two events are unrelated, but that is not how the situation looks from a geo-political perspective.
2012.04.25 Personal security
The other night, just before 9, a gunman aboard a heavily-tinted vehicle fired four shots in the direction of my house inside the University of the Philippines campus. Because the bullets hit something very close to where I was at the time, I instinctively ducked but didn’t feel alarmed. I was quite sure the shots were not meant for me or my wife, or anyone living in the house. I do not know why anyone would have any motive to frighten or hurt me. I called the campus police and reported the matter. Then I decided to go out and check.
2012.04.22 The realpolitik of size
You don’t pick a fight with someone bigger than you. But if you must defend yourself, you need to find an ally as big as he is, or get the backing of other small entities that may feel similarly threatened. Such support has its own costs. It may mean giving up certain things in return, or going against some cherished ideals. That is what realpolitik is about. It may seek cover behind principles, but, in essence, it is political conduct based on a clear calculation of long-term interests and a sober recognition of the pragmatics of power. Realpolitik applies to persons as well as to states.
2012.04.19 The unsinkable Erap
As he marks his 75th birthday today, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the one the masses adoringly call “Erap,” has all the reason to look back at his sturdy political career of 45 years, and say he’s not done yet. No other president, apart from Ramon Magsaysay and Cory Aquino, has been able to retain the loyalty and adulation of the ordinary Filipino as much as Erap has.
2012.04.15 The right to the city
On a day like this, at the beginning of what threatens to be a long hot summer, Metro Manila’s residents search desperately for outdoor places where they can spread a mat, read a book, take a nap, or laze around with the children in the cool shade of big trees. Alas, outside of the UP Diliman campus which becomes a public park when it closes its tree-lined oval to vehicular traffic on Sundays, there are hardly any other accessible green parks left. The green sheltering metropolis is long gone.
2012.04.12 What's wrong with our politics?
The Inquirer editorial yesterday got it right: “Same old, same old,” referring to the familiar names that are expected to adorn the 2013 senatorial slate of the newly-registered United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). UNA’s list includes Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Cynthia Villar, Alan Cayetano, Jackie Ponce Enrile, Gringo Honasan, JV Ejercito, Joey De Venecia, Jamby Madrigal, Ernesto Maceda, etc. But, it must be said, in fairness, that the ruling coalition’s list cannot be so different.
The term "interbeing" ("Tiep hien" in Vietnamese) was coined by the Buddhist monk, Thich Bhat Hanh, to refer to the interconnectedness of all things.
2012.04.05 Burma's long march to democracy
Nothing perhaps could be more embarrassing for a nation’s leader than to represent his country in a forum abroad just after his administration has been decisively defeated in an election at home. An electoral repudiation is an eloquent way of telling the world that a president has lost the right to speak for his people.
2012.04.01 My grandson X
Not many names begin with the letter “X”, and this is probably the first thing that is different about my third grandchild, Xavier, the firstborn of our youngest daughter Jika. The name that his parents have given him is of Basque origin, and is not easy to pronounce. While most Filipinos would say “Zay-vyer,” the older generation would probably render it the Spanish way: “Hah-vyer.” His father, Brice, who is French, tells us that the correct pronunciation is “Gzahv-yeh,” with no nickname. Of course, nothing deters Filipinos from abbreviating all names. As I held him in my arms for the first time last night, I nicknamed him “X.” The little boy looked at me from the corner of his dark grey eyes, and gave me a beatific smile. He seemed to like it.
2012.03.29 Pacman and religion
Saranggani Representative and iconic boxing champion Manny Pacquiao appeared on GMA-7's early evening news the other night in his latest incarnation - religious preacher.
2012.03.25 The 'altruism' of China's death convicts
China is probably one of the most practical nations in the world when it comes to the treatment of condemned criminals. They are not merely executed. As soon as they are killed (usually by a shot in the head), their warm but lifeless bodies are rushed by waiting ambulances to a nearby hospital, where their healthy organs are harvested for immediate transplantation to patients who urgently need them.
2012.03.22 Public opinion on the Corona impeachment
The first of the much-awaited public opinion surveys on the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona has just been released. Pulse Asia’s nationwide survey was conducted between February 26, or two days before the prosecution rested its case, and March 9, before the defense panel began presenting its own witnesses and evidence. The findings are quite startling, though not entirely unexpected.
It’s been two months now since the historic impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona began. Week eight opened with the defense panel taking its turn to offer its own evidence. The public had waited for this with much anticipation. Days before, Mr Corona hopped from one radio-TV program to another to announce that all questions about his properties will now be answered, including his supposed dollar deposits. But what a great disappointment the week has been.
2012.03.15 The return of the mother tongue
Something is about to happen in Philippine education that may have a deep and enduring impact not only on the intellectual development of Filipino children but on their relationship with their communities as well. The Department of Education announced recently that from June this year, when the new school year opens, any of 12 major local languages spoken in different regions of the country will be taught as a subject and used as a medium of instruction from kinder to Grade 3. This crucial shift, known as “Mother Tongue-Based Multi-Lingual Education” (MTB-MLE), is part of the K to 12 basic education reform program. The new scheme has yielded positive results in 921 schools across the country where it has been piloted.
2012.03.11 A battle for sympathy
Impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona will not take the witness stand “unless the need arises,” his lawyers say. Instead it is his wife, Mrs Cristina Corona, who will answer questions about his statement of assets and liabilities. One can only marvel at this manifestation of spousal sacrifice. It is, after all, the husband who is on trial here, not the wife. Mrs Corona’s readiness to take the blows for her husband is admirable. It affirms the Filipino wife’s role as the rock of the family. But what does it say about Mr Corona?
2012.03.07 Balancing the political and the legal
Where do we draw the line between law and politics? As a student of institutions, I subscribe to the theory that the boundaries between the political system and the legal system, far from being carved in stone, are continuously negotiated. This is so even in mature democracies like the United States; it is true even more in transitional societies like ours, where institutions are in flux.
2012.03.04 The 'upper' house
The word “senator” -- like “sir”, “senior”, and “senile”-- comes from the Latin “senex,” meaning an old person. In many countries, the senate is largely an honorary assembly of wise elders who occupy their seats either by inheritance or by appointment. Not so in the Philippines, where the Constitution treats the Senate and the House of Representatives as co-equal and autonomous chambers of the legislature. Indeed, because they are elected by a nationwide vote, our senators see themselves as national figures and think of their position as one step removed from the presidency. It is significant that their term is twice as long as that of congressmen. For these reasons, the public cannot be faulted for thinking that the House of Representatives is called the “lower house” because it is somehow lower in the government totem pole than the Senate.
2012.03.01 Gridlock culture
Political observers in this season of impeachment and popular mobilizations cannot but see the Iglesia ni Cristo’s massive gathering at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila the other day as a “show of force.” But, if the INC crowd indeed carried a message other than a religious one, what might it be and who was its addressee? The speculation is that the target is the Aquino government. And its message supposedly is: “We are strong and we are still around. We helped you in the last election. Do not take us for granted.”
2012.02.25 The 'brod' mystique
When Representative Raul Daza stood up last week at the Senate impeachment trial to introduce himself as the prosecution lead counsel for the day, Presiding Senator-Judge Juan Ponce Enrile formally acknowledged him, and fondly called him “brod”. Enrile then quickly turned to the senior defense counsel, Atty Serafin Cuevas, and likewise referred to him as “brod.” Broadly smiling, the venerable defense lawyer impishly nodded to the chair, and forthwith called out the other “brods” among the senator-judges -- Sen. Edgardo Angara and Sen. Franklin Drilon. This is not how lawyers address one another; it is how frat men call their brethren from the same fraternity.
2012.02.22 The algorithm of kindness
Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, calls on the faithful in our predominantly Christian nation to perform acts of kindness and sacrifice for the less fortunate. They are the poor who are forced to live with little hope in our highly unequal society. They are the sick singled out by fate to suffer a slow debilitating death. Or they may be the momentarily needy, forced by circumstances to turn to friends, kin, and strangers for help. The call to selfless kindness is one of humanity’s hardest tests.
2012.02.18 The lawyer's 'Umwelt'
Ordinary people who have been watching the impeachment trial at the Senate wonder why lawyers cannot seem to ask the most logical questions in the most direct way. Like: How much money did the Corona couple keep in the bank right up to the day they simultaneously withdrew all their deposits? What were the sources of these deposits? If the withdrawals were made out as manager’s checks, have these checks been negotiated? By whom? More to the point: if impeachment is a valid reason for breaching the confidentiality of peso accounts, why can’t the impeachment court ask all the major banks to report all accounts kept by the Corona couple in their banks?
2012.02.15 A lesson in autonomy
Day 17 of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona will likely stand out as one of the most instructive episodes in this fascinating process. What makes it so is the short impromptu speech made by the presiding officer, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, right after Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago furiously scolded the prosecution panel for allegedly using “fake” documents to secure subpoenas for Corona’s bank accounts. Enrile gallantly took full responsibility for the issuance of the subpoenas.
2012.02.12 Constitutional crisis
My understanding of a so-called “constitutional crisis” is that it occurs when the basic law of the land can no longer regulate the conduct of a nation’s collective life. This happens when an existing constitution is superseded by political events, as in a revolution, war, or coup d’etat. Or, when there is a stalemate between the legal system and the political system, with neither one willing to recognize the authority of the other. I do not believe we are in a constitutional crisis as a result of the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order stopping the presentation of foreign currency accounts at the on-going Senate impeachment trial. Nor are we in any immediate danger of falling into one.
2012.02.09 The Constitution and foreign troops
If only because every so often it haunts us like an annoying ghost from an exultant past, it is worth remembering that the 1987 Constitution was ratified on February 11, 1987, exactly 25 years ago. On this day, the entire government of President Corazon Aquino, together with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, swore allegiance to the new Constitution. The event was more than symbolic. It signified the end of the extraordinary powers under which Cory had ruled the country since the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship. It paved the way for the return of a republican system in which governmental powers are to be exercised by three separate and co-equal branches. It authorized the establishment of a Congress and the calling of legislative elections in May that year.
2012.02.05 The trial that matters
Many have correctly noted that Chief Justice Renato Corona is being tried in two venues: in the Senate convened as an impeachment court, and in the mass media serving as the court of public opinion. Some find this situation unacceptable, believing that innocence or guilt must be based solely on the law and the evidence, and not on what the public may think. They consider it intolerable that the merits of a case are being discussed inside and outside the court.
2012.02.02 The outsider
The price you pay for being in the public eye, I remember telling my old friend Ronald Llamas after he took the high-profile job of Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs, is that you must avoid doing what every other person takes for granted as normal. Like buying pirated DVDs, or rummaging through fake branded goods and donated second-hand clothes at tiangges and ukay-ukays. Don’t smoke in public places, I told him. Observe speed limits. Never xerox entire books; they’re protected by copyright. Don’t cheat on your taxes. Declare your assets faithfully, no matter how meager they are. Be careful about your personal life. You’re no longer an ordinary mortal: you’re now a government official.
2012.01.28 Political but fair
It is obvious to anyone who has been watching the impeachment trial at the Senate that this is not an event that non-lawyers would find easy to comprehend or, even less, feel confident to wade into. Despite the laudable effort of the presiding officer, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, to make them less rigid and technical, the proceedings have not been easy to follow. The whole discursive field remains inhospitable to those without any training in courtroom procedure -- including, I imagine, a good number of the senators themselves.
2012.01.25 A crown of distrust
On the fifth day of his impeachment trial, Chief Justice Renato Corona’s lawyers objected to the presentation of evidence that meant to prove that he had accumulated ill-gotten wealth. They argued that this particular charge is not in any of the original articles of impeachment; hence the evidence offered is irrelevant.
2012.01.22 A nation of lawyers
In any highly-publicized courtroom trial, the biggest beneficiary is the law profession itself. Nothing advertises the attractions of lawyering more than the sight of virtuosos and novices displaying their flair (or ineptitude) at direct examination, cross-examination, and argumentation. For laypeople, this is what law practice is about. As a result of the impeachment drama now showing daily on television, there will likely be a spike in enrolment at law schools this year -- as if there were not already too many lawyers in this country.
2012.01.19 A test of institutional maturity
It is worth stepping back from the personalities involved in the ongoing impeachment trial of the Chief Justice if only to appreciate the broad issue of institutional maturity that it poses. Our political system, more specifically Congress, is on test here. Can it discharge its power to impeach without being arrogant and arbitrary? Our legal system, more specifically the Supreme Court, is also under scrutiny. Can it discharge its power of judicial review without appearing vengeful and biased in favor of its embattled chief?
2012.01.14 Impeachment: can it do any good?
Many reasonable people who are not explicitly for Chief Justice Renato Corona have warned that impeaching a member of the high court, let alone its chief, could undermine the judicial branch of government. If this happens, they say, the rule of law would be weakened. Tyranny would reign. Judges would become timid, leaving no one to review or check the conduct of politicians.
2012.01.12 The sacred and the profane
Every devotee who joins the procession of the Black Nazarene comes to offer a pledge (“panata”), or to honor one previously made. A “panata” is deeply personal and is purely voluntary. Often, it is passed on from generation to generation. The devotee asks the spirit of the Nazarene to enter the core of his being. He has wishes and intentions for himself and his loved ones, but he does not press these as demands or entitlements. He leaves it to the Nazarene to determine their worthiness. In return, he makes a lifelong pledge to attend the procession every year, and to visit the icon whenever the opportunity presents itself.
2012.01.08 Between law and politics
At no other time is the line between law and politics more blurred than when Congress holds impeachment proceedings. Charges called “articles of impeachment” are filed. Congressmen don the role of prosecutors, and senators constitute themselves as a jury. They conduct a trial where evidence is presented and evaluated, and witnesses are summoned and questioned. At the end of the process, a judgment of guilt or innocence is handed down. Such events normally belong to the legal system. So, why is a political body like Congress turned into a courtroom?
2012.01.05 Impeachment as a political process
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed so many unfit and corrupt people to public office during her presidency that, by this measure alone, she should have been impeached several times over. For, apart from treason, nothing perhaps can be more injurious to the State than to have people like them run the government. Yet, her political allies in Congress and loyal magistrates in the highest court repeatedly came to her rescue each time she was threatened. Today we are reaping the consequences of allowing an unaccountable president to remain in office for a long time.
2011.12.31 Standard time
Countdown to the first minute of the New Year was a game that my children loved to play when they were younger. The TV would be set to one channel where a digital clock shows the time. The whole family would gather in front of the television, in its conferred role as god of time, and follow the flashing of the last seconds of the old year. As the final seconds fade away, we seek each other out to exchange hugs and kisses in gratitude and hope. But, one of the kids would then switch the television to another channel, where almost always another countdown is still going on. For them this is the real one, and so they would go through another round of hugs and kisses.
2011.12.29 Rizal and modernity
Jose Rizal, our national hero, is sometimes referred to as the "first Filipino". Though his life was short, he was certainly a Filipino without equal in the varied gifts and talents that he possessed. He was thus truly first among equals.
2011.12.25 Births and parenthood
“Come and say hello to your grandson,” my daughter Jika beckoned to me the other day. She was caressing her distended belly now fully occupied by the six-month old fetus growing snugly inside her. My wife put her hand on the spot where it moved beneath the skin, and asked me to feel it. “Xavier, this is your Lolo,” Jika said, as I rested the palm of my hand on what could be the unborn child’s head or elbow. It’s been a while since this youngest daughter of ours, soon to be a mother herself, was born. But like a bolt of recognition, it came rushing back to me: that primal feeling of being swept when you hold a child in your hand for the first time.
2011.12.21 A delicate time
Disasters in search of causes, victims in search of villains, and benevolence in search of recognition. They are all part of the aftermath each time a natural catastrophe of mind-boggling proportions hits our country. It is when we are brought back to existential issues: the inexplicability of human suffering, the chaos of nature, the fragility of life. We pause, and we are prompted to review our institutions, our beliefs, our manners.
2011.12.17 What judicial autonomy means
Some quarters have depicted the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona as an attack on the judiciary, a co-equal and autonomous branch of government.
2011.12.14 Separation of powers
That photo showing President Benigno S. Aquino III meeting with his allies in the House of Representatives just after a majority of its members signed the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Renato Corona might at first glance give the impression of a conspiracy hatched by two branches of government against one.
In his famous essay, “The Philippines a century hence,” Jose Rizal alluded to a practice during the colonial period that somehow mitigated the injustices of colonial rule. This institution was called the “juicio de residencia” or judgment of residence. It required Spanish public officials to render a full account of their performance in office at the end of their term.
In a political system like ours where governmental power is exercised by three co-equal and autonomous branches, disagreements are to be expected. That is how the system works. Each branch of government functions as a check on the others. But the manner in which this check is to be carried out varies from one branch to the other.
2011.12.04 Sybillana Rizalina
When Dr. Jose Rizal was exiled to Dapitan in Mindanao from 1892 to 1896, he busied himself in community development, a vocation vastly different from the role of political ideologue usually associated with him. He built a hospital, opened a school, organized a farmers’ cooperative, introduced the European style of brick-making, built the town’s first dam and irrigation system, and developed the community park. In all these, he harnessed the energy and resources of the local residents, demonstrating a model of community life founded on the people’s own initiative. On the side, his restless mind found time to invent a parlor game for young people.
2011.12.01 A people's hero
Heroes are different from statesmen because while statesmen acquire their authority from political decisions, that of heroes comes from public esteem. Heroes become the exemplars of civic virtue because they consecrate their lives to the pursuit of the common good. For them, the purpose of politics is to form citizens who have the will and the capability to work for the future of an entire community. Statesmen are often drawn from the ranks of heroes, but what ultimately sets them apart is not their heroic quality but their adeptness in the ways of modern politics.
2011.11.26 Equality before the law
Those of us who have known what it is like to be at the receiving end of unjust laws and official tyranny can only marvel at Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona’s latest paean to liberty and equality before the law. “We are a court of law,” Justice Corona sternly reminded Solicitor General Joel Cadiz at the presentation of oral arguments on the legality of the government’s travel ban against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. “It’s our job here under the Constitution to protect the rights of the individual citizen. It can be GMA, Juan de la Cruz, or it can be Mang Pandoy.”
2011.11.23 Lessons from the Maguindanao massacre
It has been two years since the gruesome mass murder that took place in a lonely dirt road in Maguindanao province shook and awakened us to the terrifying reality of local warlords who conduct themselves as if they were beyond the reach of the law. Were it not for the fact that the majority of the victims were media people, the case against the Ampatuans might not have reached the courts. Despite the ruthless manner in which the Mangudadatu women were killed, it is not unlikely that the perpetrators of this crime would have succeeded in localizing the conflict and eventually settling it according to customary rules.
2011.11.19 Rule of law and public esteem
The arrest the other day of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on charges of electoral sabotage has been hailed by those who seek to make her accountable for her past actions as the triumph of the rule of law. Her family, lawyers, and allies, on the other hand, have called her arrest a mockery of the law, drawing attention to the unusual haste in which the investigation was conducted, the charges were filed, and the arrest warrant issued. Though they see differently, both perspectives proceed from a legal standpoint. People think this is as it should be under the rule of law.
2011.11.16 How serious is GMA's medical condition?
How serious is the former president’s medical condition? What are its major indicators? What is the typical outlook for cases like hers? These questions are best answered by medical specialists. Though the answers may not be crucial to the legal issues submitted to the Supreme Court for resolution, they are relevant to the political questions now confronting P-Noy and his Cabinet.
2011.11.12 Las Vegas
All eyes today are focused on a little boxing ring inside the humongous MGM Hotel in the pleasure strip of Las Vegas in the arid state of Nevada in theUnited States of America. That’s where the boxer Manny Pacquiao, the greatest Filipino warrior of all time, and incidentally a member of the Philippine Congress, fights his latest Mexican opponent. What he recently said in jest packs a lot of truth -- that given the number of his fellow congressmen who have traveled to watch his fight, a legislative session could well be convened in one of the gigantic casino hotels after the fight.
2011.11.09 Don Ramon and the Filipino family
Don Ramon Revilla may be the archetype of Filipino machismo, having sired more than fifty children by different women. He may have built a legendary movie career and accumulated a sizeable fortune as an actor and film producer. He may have tasted political power and gained social stature by winning a seat in the Philippine Senate. But, I am certain, only a few would care to trade places today with the old man, given the heart-breaking domestic problems he is facing.
2011.11.05 Faith and the Church
Faith is so intertwined with nearly every aspect of the daily lives of Filipinos that it is hard to say precisely where religion ends and the rest of society begins. A quick look at our mass media and the way we conduct politics and business will show how blurred the boundaries are. As a sociologist, I often find myself wondering if the strict differentiation of faith matters that is supposed to come with secular modernity will ever happen in our society.
2011.11.03 Sinking deeper in poverty
Almost exactly a year ago today (Nov. 3, 2011), I wrote about a young couple who had requested to live and do subsistence farming in a 1.5-hectare plot of marginal land on the slopes of Mt. Malasimbo in Bataan that I had planted to mangoes and coconuts (“Mired in poverty,” Inquirer, 11/11/10). Both in their mid-30s, Rosalie and Dodoy had four children. Their eldest, a boy, was 14 and in third year high school, and the youngest, another boy, was about two years old. In between were two girls who were in grade school. At the time I wrote about them, Dodoy had not been sending money from Manila, where he moved and worked irregularly as an extra tricycle driver.
2011.10.30 The art of dying
2011.10.26 Mindanao from Moro eyes
2011.10.22 Gadhafi's death
2011.10.19 America's autumn of discontent
There was a time in the early ’80s when, having lived through a decade of authoritarian rule, Filipinos began to accept the possibility of remaining under the Marcos dictatorship for a long time. Many liked the sense of security that a controlled environment offered. Others who understood the system and felt violated by it fled abroad or went underground. Those who, for a variety of reasons, chose to stay yet opposed the system waged a struggle not only against the dictatorship but also against pessimism and helplessness.
2011.10.15 The generosity of experience
2011.10.13 Children of the dew
2011.10.08 The vision of Steve Jobs
The death last Oct. 5 of Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, at age 56, could not have come at a more ominous time. The day before, Apple fans awaited the public launch of what everyone expected to be an all-new iPhone 5 – the smart phone that could halt the advance of the rival Android-powered mobile phones and tablets that have recently flooded the market. Apple’s product launches have always been spectacular events largely because Steve Jobs himself presided over them. Charismatic, articulate and gifted with a flair for stimulating showmanship, he exuded the brash optimism of the digital generation.
2011.10.05 Disaster syndrome
2011.10.02 The Constitution and its context
2011.09.29 Meditation on 'Pedring'
2011.09.24 Education in a competitive world
2011.09.21 The lure of authoritarian rule
2011.09.17 Befriending William
William Shakespeare is the English world’s greatest poet and playwright. Though he lived in the 16th century, his works have shaped the way students everywhere use the English language in declamation and think of drama as a literary form. His plays and sonnets are taught in high school and, whether or not they are correctly understood, every other line of English verse students get to memorize usually comes from Shakespeare. Yet, in many Filipino classroom settings, Shakespeare remains as distant as literature itself, and as intimidating as mathematics. Who is Shakespeare and why study him?
2011.09.15 Salonga and the Senate that said no
Twenty years ago, on Sept. 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate took a vote that forever changed Philippine-American relations. By a close vote of 12-11, a sharply divided Senate rejected a new treaty that would allow the United States to continue using its naval facilities in Subic for another 10 years after the expiration of the old colonial agreement. The Constitution requires the concurrence of at least two-thirds of the senators.
2011.09.10 9/11 and perpetual war
Before Sept. 11, 2001, the United States mainland had never been attacked by any foreign power. The closest to this was the bombing of the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 by fighter planes of the Japanese imperial navy. The attack led the United States directly into the Pacific and European theaters of World War II. America declared war on Japan the following day, putting to a close the domestic debate on the wisdom of openly opposing Japanese and German aggression. Three days later, for its support of Britain, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States.
2011.09.07 Reading between the leaks
The publication of stolen documents purporting to be highly-classified cables sent by various United States missions from all over has fueled all kinds of reactions in the countries that are the subject of the reports. Some take the form of wounded pride, others of a sense of having been betrayed. Last Sept. 1, more than 2,000 cables sent from the US Embassy in Manila were released in one go by WikiLeaks, causing quite a stir in the country’s political and business circles.
2011.09.03 Failed institutions and the chopper scam
If you’ve been following the Senate investigation of the helicopter scam in which used choppers were passed off and paid for by the Philippine National Police as brand-new, you would likely welcome the filing of criminal charges against those who were involved in the deal. The case was filed before the Ombudsman the other day by the PNP’s own Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, using evidence mostly culled from the Senate hearings. Leading those charged with the non-bailable offense of plunder is Jose Miguel Arroyo, the husband of the former president. The charge sheet identifies him as the previous owner of the helicopters in question.
2011.08.31 The national pastime
The issue first dawned on me many years ago when, in response to my criticism of billboards that have engulfed the city, people from the outdoor advertising industry told me that without them, Manila would be a very dark and unsafe place. Billboards, they said, are what light up the streets and enliven the cityscape. So, did the city’s dark and unlit avenues make commercial billboards a necessity? Or, has the proliferation of billboards relieved the government of its duty to light up and take care of public space? Which one is cause, and which one is effect?
2011.08.27 Libya after Gadhafi
Now that Libya’s dictator, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, is being hunted down by his own people, he must be wondering what went wrong with his calibrated program to re-invent his regime’s image. In the last 10 years, Gadhafi went out of his way to befriend the West. He tried to impress upon the world that he was steering Libya in the direction of an open economy and a modern constitutional democracy.
Anyone who has ever gone abroad on a tour can easily imagine the terror, shock and trauma that the victims of the hostage-taking incident at the Luneta went through on Aug. 23, 2010. They had come for a holiday. Though brief and hectic, the trip afforded them a pleasant break from routine. But nothing prepared them for what happened on the day they were supposed to fly back to Hong Kong. The tour bus that was taking them around for a final glimpse of Manila was seized by an armed person in police uniform. He had grievances against his government and threatened to kill all of them if the authorities did not grant his demands. This was a nightmare they had seen in the movies, but now they were living it.
2011.08.21 Jacinta and language
2011.08.18 When art irritates religion
2011.08.14 Katipunan blues
2011.08.11 London's looters
2011.08.07 The humbling of America
2011.08.03 Dutiful silence
2011.07.31 Moving on: the cult of forgiveness
2011.07.28 State of our values
President Aquino's second State of the Nation Address was a good speech, but not the kind that is expected at the opening of Congress. It was not so much a discussion of the state of the nation, as it was a meditation on the state of our values as a people. In this lies its power as well as its weakness.
2011.07.24 Solidarity as charity
2011.07.21 Institutionalizing slush funds
Amid revelations of how lottery proceeds meant for charity were being dispensed by the past administration to purchase vehicles for the use of some bishops, the main goal of the ongoing Senate hearings has been snowed under. This goal goes into the very heart of what the government’s role should be, and what purposes should inform policy making. There are two questions for the Senate inquiry: (1) What is the nation’s policy on gambling and other games of chance? (2) Should the government be running gambling operations?
2011.07.17 Zaldy's gambit
Almost two years after his arrest in connection with the Maguindanao massacre, detained former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan has yet to be arraigned. This means that the case against him, unlike that of his father and brother, has hardly begun. His biggest wish is to be taken off the list of the accused before he is formally indicted. That is his objective. All the talk about him offering to turn state witness so he might testify against his own relatives is a presumption made by others. His statements to media are neither here nor there. The only explicit thing he has said is that he had nothing to do with the crime.
2011.07.14 When bishops apologize
No one saw it coming: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines apologizing for causing pain and confusion among its flock over an issue in which some bishops have been implicated. Filipinos are so used to hearing public figures cynically offer implausible justifications for their actions, or throw back mud at their critics in response, that many anticipated a bruising battle between Church and State over the issue of using public funds to purchase vehicles for some favored bishops. The CBCP’s gesture of humility will not put closure to the issue. But it elevates it to a level that dispels antagonism and makes room for nuance and context.
2011.07.09 The costs to the Church
Although the Church draws its mandate from God, it remains very much a human institution. Its leaders are human beings like the rest of us, subject to the same desires and temptations that besiege ordinary mortals. Its structures likewise mirror the characteristics of the society in which it operates. But, as a religious institution, the Church offers a vision that transcends the world of the here and now. It prescribes a mode of living based on faith that is different from, and at times opposed to, what is common or conventional. Herein resides its distinct societal role. This role is what is undermined when its leaders act like ordinary politicians or businessmen, seeking power or peddling influence, or trading for profit.
2011.07.07 State support for religion
Today in Western Europe, fewer and fewer people go to church. Yet, many modern states in that part of the world continue to collect religion’s share of public taxes. Citizens are asked to indicate to which religious group they belong, and, on this basis, a percentage of the tax collected from them is turned over to their church. If a taxpayer signifies that he has no religious affiliation, the corresponding religious tax is not collected. This valuable tax support has, however, not been enough to keep many centuries-old cathedrals and monuments from languishing in neglect and disrepair. This situation has often forced governments to take full responsibility for their rehabilitation and maintenance in recognition of their historic and cultural significance.
2011.07.03 Sara and the sheriff
For punching a sheriff in the face in the middle of a chaotic demolition of squatter shanties in her city, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte faces legal sanctions. She may be reprimanded, suspended, or even dismissed from office for disorderly conduct and for obstructing the enforcement of a court order. Be that as it may, from hereon, it will be difficult to defeat her in any election for any public position in Davao. She has become her own person, no longer just the stand-in for a famous father. The incident, epically captured by television, has been replayed countless times on the national news. Her feistiness and readiness to stake her personal authority on behalf of the poor will become part of political legend. This is how folk heroes in a pre-modern society are made.
2011.06.29 Dealing with the new China
China is such a huge and complex country that it is never easy to know, at any given time, what it is doing or what it is saying, or even who speaks for it. Its pugnacious behavior in the disputed waters of the South China Sea in recent weeks stands in contrast to its longstanding effort to reach out to the world with offers of generous loans and inexpensive technology. Are we seeing here a radical shift in policy?
2011.06.26 Documentation and identity
One of the the most read articles in the New York Times online in recent days is the story “My life as an undocumented immigrant,” written by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino who came to America as a young boy, completely unaware that his documents were fake. This legal deficiency hounds him from the moment he learns about it and becomes conscious of its implications.
2011.05.26 God in politics
God’s word was invoked several times in the session hall of the House of Representatives this week as legislators debated the Reproductive Health bill. The bill’s main proponent, Rep. Edcel Lagman, basically argued that the issue of the common good, which the bill purports to serve, is for the State alone to settle. His interpellators countered that Congress must not ignore the religious sensibilities of its constituents because the Constitution itself states that we are “a nation under God.”
2011.05.22 Family size
I belong to a brood of thirteen children. Maybe I can speak with some authority about the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a large family. It was fun, but it was very hard. It took a while for me to erase the blind impress of past deprivations. Except for my brother the priest, we are all today married and have children of our own. None of us however has more than four, and our average family size is less than three. In itself, having more children is neither good nor bad. A lot depends on what your goals and priorities are, and how you manage the situation.
2011.05.19 Libidinal economy
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was plucked out of the first class cabin of an Air France flight by the New York airport police last Saturday afternoon, just minutes before the plane was to take off. The police arrested the 62-year-old “DSK” to answer allegations made by a hotel housekeeper that he sexually assaulted her that same day. In a hurry to leave the plush hotel in which he stayed, he forgot his cell phone in the room. He was going back to Europe, where, among other things, he had a scheduled meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the terms of a financial bail-out for crisis-stricken Greece.
2011.05.15 Debating the RH bill
On so fundamental a proposal as the Reproductive Health bill (HB 4244), there is bound to be wide and passionate disagreement. The bill touches on matters that lie within the scope of three basic institutions: the State, the Church, and the family. Although differing views on such matters may not always be reconcilable, they can be made—in the spirit of democracy—to accommodate one another.
2011.05.12 A turning point in Singapore
Singapore held its general election last Saturday, May 7. But even in our politically obsessed society, hardly anyone took notice. This indifference is understandable. Filipinos are generally uninterested in the politics of other countries, except the United States. Singapore is also one country that most people do not associate with politics. After all, this city-state has been ruled by the same party, the People’s Action Party, since it became self-governing in 1959. One cannot expect to find meaningful politics in a situation like that.
2011.05.08 Making a difference
A morning radio program the other day asked its regular listeners to phone in their opinion of President Aquino lll's performance. Taking off from the Social Weather Station's recent report of a steep drop in the President's ratings, the hosts posed two questions: "Based on your own personal expectations, is President Noynoy's performance work 'over' or 'under'? What should he do to gain public approval?"
2011.05.05 Avoiding a clash of fundamentalisms
Soon after United States President Barack Obama personally announced that US Special Forces had killed Osama bin Laden, Americans exploded in triumphant patriotic celebrations. They gathered in public places rhythmically chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” No doubt, they saw the killing of the world’s most wanted person as a major victory in the US-led war against terrorism. But, if Bin Laden portrayed himself as the face of militant Islam, what image does America effectively project when it goes into frenzied celebration like this?
2011.05.01 The taming of organized labor
There are more workers today who work for wages than was the case 50 years ago. And yet, ironically, the increase in size of the working class has not increased the ranks of organized labor. Workers’ unions today have considerably less power over the conditions of production. Indeed, one can go further and say that countries like the Philippines have less control over the fate of their own economies than before. It is important to ask why as we go through the rituals of another Labor Day.
2011.04.28 Popes and princes
The royalty and the papacy in the modern world no longer wield substantial political power, yet the beliefs surrounding them have remained as vibrant as ever. So compelling are these beliefs even today that modern media find themselves ineluctably drawn into the swirl of royal and pontifical events. In the process, they sometimes become the unwitting purveyors of the same royalist and theocratic mindsets that they oppose in the name of modernity and democracy.
2011.04.24 Noli me tangere
Most Filipinos will recognize the Latin phrase “Noli me tangere” as the title of Jose Rizal’s first novel, rather than as a biblical line from the gospel of St. John (20:17). In English, it is usually rendered as “Touch me not.” This was what the risen Jesus told the startled Mary Magdalene when she tried to approach him after he had called her name. The meaning of this utterance has been the subject of much dispute, not least because it appears only in John and not in the other gospels.
2011.04.21 Light riders
We all feel a need, at a certain point in our lives, to share our blessings with others. Philosophers sometimes call it the obligation of solidarity. But two things often deter us from taking the first step. One is the thought that whatever we do for others, our effort is but a drop in the bucket. We don’t change anything. The other is the fear that the small initiatives we take to lighten the burden of others usually only mask the urgent need for enduring social reforms. These apprehensions are not without basis. But if we give in to them, we could find ourselves easily justifying our own smugness.
2011.04.17 To God what is God's
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” This is Jesus’ reply to a tricky question that an audience of Pharisees and Herodians threw at him. It is quite possibly the first ever statement on the separation of church and state. The religious and political leaders of his time had been trying to entrap him as he went about preaching. They waited for him to say something subversive, blasphemous, or shallow, that they could use against him.
2011.04.14 Every picture tells a story
That picture of a maid, possibly a Filipina, walking behind a tall Singaporean young man in military camouflage and carrying his big rucksack while he fiddles with his cell phone, has sparked a lively Internet debate. The comments it has generated are fascinating in themselves, reflecting a wide range of concerns and standpoints. Hardly anyone spoke for the maid.
2011.04.10 Poverty and distributive justice
The latest Social Weather Stations survey figures on hunger are truly alarming. More than 20 percent of Filipino families (or more than 4 million families) have reported experiencing involuntary hunger in the first quarter of 2011. Though the number is slightly lower compared to a year ago, the March figures nonetheless show a steady quarterly rise from the 15.9 percent of September last year. The problem, says SWS president and Inquirer columnist Mahar Mangahas, appears to be concentrated in Luzon, where hunger has risen to a new record level of 25 percent. This is quite puzzling—and it is worth figuring it out—for there has been no major natural disaster in Luzon during the first quarter that might explain it.
2011.04.07 Gadhafi's sons and Libya's future
In view of the current stalemate and worsening civil war in Libya, the quest for solutions has turned to the prospect of a political settlement that will drive Moammar Gadhafi into exile while making room for one of his sons to sit in a transition government. This possibility has focused world attention on the eccentric dictator’s seven sons.
2011.04.02 Willing victims
THIS IS not about the three Filipinos who were put to death in China the other day for heroin smuggling – though it may well apply to them. They were victims of drug syndicates, of a harsh justice system, and perhaps of a desire to find a quick way out of poverty. They most likely knew what they were getting into. In that sense, they were willing victims.
2011.03.31 The Flor Contemplacion syndrome
Many reasonable people do not understand why the resources of the entire Filipino nation have been mobilized to persuade China to spare the lives of the three Filipinos who were executed on Wednesday for the heinous crime of drug trafficking. They ask: Why are we spending precious diplomatic capital to plead for the lives of three convicted criminal offenders? Are we not being selfish in thinking only of our own nationals? Can we not also sympathize with the nameless individuals whose lives have been ruined by the drugs regularly brought into China by drug mules?
2011.03.27 Marcos and memory
The corpse of Ferdinand Marcos, who died in exile in Hawaii in 1989, lies unburied in a family museum in Batac, Ilocos Norte. Imelda Marcos, now a member of the House of Representatives, insists that she will allow nothing less than a hero’s burial for her husband’s waxen remains. More than 200 of her fellow representatives have signed a resolution asking President Aquino, whose father was murdered by the regime, to authorize the late dictator’s burial at the nation’s Libingan ng mga Bayani.
2011.03.24 A world without borders
Worried that they have not been able to contain the threat of nuclear radiation from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency recently re-classified the situation to a level 5 nuclear event. This means that the risks it poses are no longer just local; they are likely to spill beyond Japan’s borders. The wind and the sea could carry radioactive material to distant parts. Japan’s nuclear crisis has thus become the world’s own.
2011.03.20 Coping cultures
“There has been an extraordinary demand for more Masses,” my brother Bishop Ambo told me. “Some people go to church twice on Sundays. The churches are packed, and we don’t have enough priests to minister to everyone’s spiritual needs.” I saw what he meant when I visited him the other day, a full week after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan. Every seat was taken and many people were standing on the aisles as he said Mass. The collective praying and singing filled the cavernous Holy Rosary Church with resonant voices that rose to the heavens like smoke from burning incense.
2011.03.17 Risk and danger in nuclear power
Our sensitivity to risk is not constant. It is always shaped by events happening around us. Twenty-five years ago, in November 1985, we were ready to fire the first nuclear power plant in the Philippines. A fateful, last-minute check demanded by international inspectors showed a few minor deficiencies in the provisions for an emergency, significantly delaying the operation of the plant. Three months later, Edsa people power happened.
2011.03.13 High school reunions
Like most people now in their mid-60s, I recently joined my high school classmates in a series of reunions to mark the golden anniversary of our high school graduation. There is something extraordinary about meeting one’s classmates after 50 years. You wonder how they have changed and in what ways they have remained the same. You wonder too what vivid memories about you they have kept, if any. Compared to 25th anniversary reunions, golden gatherings are warmer and kinder. There is genuine interest in the other person and a readiness to share in his or her achievement, or misfortune. Everyone is invited to bask in the gentle glow of a shared humanity.
2011.03.10 Impeaching the Ombudsman
Can one be political and fair at the same time? More precisely, can one be a fair-minded politician in this country? The answer, of course, is yes. But it is the uncertainty of the answer we usually give to this question that provides Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez the warrant to denounce the case against her as nothing but the product of partisan politics. She courts public sympathy by exploiting the Filipino’s generally negative view of the country’s politicians. Ironically, by routinely asserting that impeachment is a political exercise rather than a judicial proceeding—a game of numbers rather than a matter of justice—our politicians unwittingly play into Gutierrez’s hand.
2011.03.06 World opinion and Gadhafi's Libya
World opinion, mainly shaped by Western media, is swiftly moving in the direction of an armed international intervention in Libya. All eyes are focused on the United States. In a recent statement, President Barack Obama declared that Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi “has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave.” While making it clear that the United States will act only in concert with the international community, Obama has ordered the US military to prepare itself so that it has “full capacity to act, potentially rapidly.” What we must prevent, he said, was “a situation in which defenseless civilians were finding themselves trapped and in great danger.”
2011.03.03 Freedom and its contingencies
Any Filipino politician, or diplomat, or journalist, or academic who claims to have foreseen the rapid deterioration of the political situation in Libya today must indeed have extraordinary perceptual, analytical and predictive powers. He or she could make billions advising the United Nations, the United States, China and all the global corporations that control the world’s economy today. Not even the US, with its unrivalled intelligence system, has been able to anticipate the complex events that are now swiftly unfolding in North Africa and the Persian Gulf.
2011.02.27 People power the day after
EDSA I had two crucial moments. The first showed the people in the streets asserting themselves as a sovereign political force. The second belonged to the lawyers who worked behind the scenes to draft a new political order. The people authored the series of protest actions that successfully drove away the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. But it was the lawyers who formulated the framework that justified Cory Aquino’s assumption of the presidency on February 25, 1986.
2011.02.24 Modern revolutions and the mass media
Karl Marx, the ideologue of communism, did not think that the peasantry could be a force for socialist revolution. There were two reasons. First, since their quest was limited to owning land, peasants tended to be politically conservative. Second—and I think this was the more important point—the peasants in their farms, unlike workers in factories, were typically isolated from one another, and therefore unable to form the class consciousness essential to a revolution.
2011.02.20 Perfect drug mules
How have we become the world’s favorite transshipment point for opium, cocaine and heroin? How have Filipinos become the favorite couriers for such high-value drugs? The reports say that as many as 630 Filipinos are being held today for drug trafficking in various jails all over the world. Of these, 205 are detained in Chinese prisons alone. These are alarming figures by any measure. Who are these Filipinos? How did they get into this criminal trade?
2011.02.17 Politics of the extraordinary
Philippines February 1986, Egypt February 2011—both are examples of contemporary political upheavals that social scientists now call “extraordinary” moments in politics. They signal a departure from “normal” politics—from statist politics, from institutional procedures and rituals of representation, from government by political elites and professional bureaucrats. Such moments point to the promise of a new beginning, of a “founding” event that restores to the people their sovereign right to self-determination.
2011.02.13 The ideology of love
To call love an ideology would seem to trivialize what is generally assumed to be a deeply personal and indescribable experience. The word “ideology” is normally associated with politics. It suggests a particular vision of the world, a set of concepts, and a proposed way of acting that is consistent with this vision and illuminated by these concepts. But, recent writings, like Niklas Luhmann’s wonderful book, “Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy,” are blazing new trails by precisely examining love as an evolving form of communication—one that is informed by a distinct semantics or ideology of love.
2011.02.09 Politics and suicide
Suicide is a complex phenomenon. It is both a deeply personal act that is almost inaccessible in its meanings, and a social phenomenon that mirrors significant shifts in the life of a society.
2011.02.06 Between chaos and change
Between the promise promise of change and the threat of chaos lies the wish for an orderly transition. The old order is dying but the new cannot be born. Even before the first flush of victory starts to fade, anxiety grips the forces of change. Suddenly, the road ahead appears complex and uncertain. This crucial moment of hesitation is all that the conservative forces need to justify moderation. Instead of the total obliteration of the crumbling order, the prospect of a peaceful transfer of power is offered.
2011.02.03 The origins of graft
2011.01.30 A tradition of graft
At the Senate investigation into the plea bargain agreement between the Ombudsman and the former Armed Forces comptroller, retired Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia, the inquiry last Thursday turned to the entrenched system of graft inside the military. A retired budget officer, Col. George Rabusa, who used to work at the comptroller’s office, testified in detail to the existence within the AFP of a traditional practice of building up a slush fund from which all kinds of illicit payoffs are made.
2011.01.27 Moral panic
Anyone who reads or tunes in regularly to the mass media nowadays cannot fail to be gripped by a sense that Philippine society is headed for a systemic breakdown. Criminals appear more brazen. The police seem more helpless, or in cahoots with the criminals themselves. Prosecutors are unable to pin down the guilty; the courts are not trusted. Journalists are murdered. Politicians are beyond the reach of the law. The metropolis has become the hunting ground of carnappers, terrorist groups, mobile phone muggers, and motorbike-riding holduppers. Criminal syndicates dealing in drugs, human trafficking, and kidnap for ransom operate with impunity. And the whole government itself seems powerless to combat corruption.
2011.01.23 The things that matter
I HAVE always been fascinated by the special role that taxi drivers play as observers of their own society. Their interaction with a wide variety of people, including foreigners, in the course of a day’s work gives them a unique vantage point from which to view their lives. They also tend to be amazing communicators, performing a function that door-to-door salesmen of an earlier era used to perform—that of news bearers and cultural interpreters. This is the same role that the “jueteng cobrador” or bet collector in our society still plays.
2011.01.20 Reclaiming the Constitution
Charter change is in the news again. No one is sure who or what is driving it. But, definitely, the writing of a new constitution is being projected as something that is both timely and urgent.
2011.01.16 Modern but out of place
SINGAPORE. I am in this finely-manicured garden city to participate in a conference that aims to figure out what modernity has meant for people living outside the Western world. The West has always been the referent for the Modern, because it is where it all began. But Singapore is the perfect venue for something like this because while its modernity is beyond dispute, this is a country that is self-consciously asserting both a global and an Asian identity.
2011.01.13 The Filipino's religious devotions
IT IS one of those enchanting events that vividly encapsulate the Filipino’s idea of what it means to live in this world. I refer to the annual procession of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. But we may point to other equally popular religious devotions, like the fluvial procession of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, that have produced echoes in many nations, wherever Filipino migrants have found a home.
2011.01.09 Just retiring
At the beginning of the year, I received a heart-warming e-mail from one of my former students who has kept in touch. Having heard that I would be officially retiring from teaching soon, she wanted to know if she and another classmate could attend my “last lecture.” I thanked her for her thoughtfulness, but told her, partly in jest: “Sorry, I have not prepared a final lecture; I’m just retiring, not dying.”
2011.01.06 Popular opinion and the law
Following the release from prison of people who had figured in highly publicized cases, a morning radio program recently conducted an interesting opinion survey. Listeners were invited to share their views on the question: whether the authorities did the right thing, or committed an error, in freeing the principal figures in four celebrated cases. The four cases were those of Sen. Antonio Trillanes, Hubert Webb, the “Morong 43,” and Carlos F. Garcia.
2011.01.02 Amor fati
On a day like this, the beginning of yet another year in time’s eternal stream, we may be forgiven for indulging in a bit of philosophical musing. Not everyone may be inclined to write the customary list of personal resolutions for the New Year. Others prefer to take stock of the year just past—in other than political terms. This is particularly true perhaps for those who, like me, are getting on in years. At a certain point, you stop trying to change yourself. Instead of wallowing in regret and resentment, you accept who you are, and you try to reflect this in everything you do.