A Good Week, Relatively

I cannot believe it, a whole week and not a slur, expletive, Legislative hearing, extra-judicial killing (EJK) or separation. Even Typhoon Lawin bypassed most of the country. Is the Duterte Presidency getting soft?

Sorry, I spoke too soon. Mouthing his boss, House Speaker Alvarez just declared American tourists should be required a Philippine visa under the principle of non-reciprocity. Visitors from China (two million promised), Europe, Japan, and all countries requiring Filipino tourists a visa; will need, presumably, to follow suit. If Duterte is concerned Filipino-Americans might kill him for his “separation” statement, this new initiative should do the trick. Good-bye tourism program. It is no longer more fun in the Philippines.

Otherwise, it was a fruitful week. Our very own Kylie Verzosa was proclaimed Miss International 2016 in Tokyo. Presidential Apostle and Dude Martin Andonar announced this was part of the $19 billion package negotiated by the President with Japan: “Kylie, Kylie, Kylie. Rody, Rody, Rody”. Kiss naman.

Of the $19 billion in goodies, $17 billion was from Marubeni Corp. alone for infrastructure and such. This prompted Malacanang to announce: “We are separating from Tokyo and doing a pivot to Marubeni. After years of being BFF (for the socially clueless, Best Friend Forever) Japan is taking us for granted with its measly aid. It is not personal. We are just re-balancing our foreign relations”. Duterte is scheduled to make a State visit to Marubeni in the coming weeks.

The sum total of the President’s trick-or-treat to China and Japan is now $43 billion and rising even as I speak. Thanks for bringing home the bacon, Sir, or the sushi as it were. This is equivalent to P2.1 trillion, repeat Two Point One Trillion Pesos, or P21,000 for every Filipino man, woman and child. That is simply awesome. We just now have to repay it all in dividends, interest, capital and bribes; not to speak of our sovereignty. But, hey, let’s stay positive.

Duterte was sadly unable to meet with Emperor Akihito due to the sudden demise of the latter’s 100 year old uncle, Prince Mikasa. Our condolences go to the Royal Family and the Japanese people. I just love Japan. How sad is that, 100 years and he passes away just when Duterte is to visit. What was it, the chewing gum, the re-balancing, the potential slur, the sartorial indifference or is there a universal message there from the Imperial deities? Speaking of the One, the President claims God talked to him while on the plane home –I kid you not- but it was on an unrelated matter and it was a different God. The Man told him to stop cursing. What, so Rody is now listening to the Almighty but not to the 100 million Filipinos who have been urging him to do the same? That is not how democracy works.

Japan is a close ally of the U.S. It is the Philippines’ number one trading partner and largest donor. It has a running territorial feud with China which has caused many Japanese companies to relocate their Chinese assembly plants to our country. Tokyo is therefore concerned about our new “forever indebted” relations with China.

Duterte has pulled off the delicate balancing act of talking to Tokyo and talking to Beijing and hoping neither of the two shall meet. Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe looks to have taken to our man. Maybe he sees in Duterte the traditional values of the samurai, strength, integrity, courage and readiness when required to fall on one’s sword. Sen. Dick Gordon believes the President has already done the latter with his controversial pronouncements, figuratively of course. Sen. De Lima, the Liberal Party, the CIA and all the bad people wish Rody would do it literally.

Duterte is seemingly rather fond of Abe as he is, incidentally, of Chinese Premier Xi and Russian President Putin. Absent clarification to the contrary, he has called Japan “our brother”. We are an expanding international family: We have a new found sibling and a new found Sugar Daddy, China. Next stop: Russia and Rody’s favorite uncle and hero, Tito Vladimir. Sir, please just do not confuse “putang ina” with “Putin” which is phonetically similar. We would not want you interchanging them as you did, inadvertently, with Barack.

Dubbed Los Tres Amigos, the President set forth in Beijing his grand vision for world dominance, just China, Russia and the Philippines against the world. That is one bold undertaking. Other than a shared Marxist-Leninist past and one of the longest borders in the world, Russia and China have little in common these days. Russia has gone into Syria and the Crimea where China has remained silent while China has gone into Scarborough Shoals while Russia has remained silent. And, say again, how did we get into such lofty company? Maybe China and Russia want us around because we are so much fun to be with.

The President is back for a well-deserved rest. He has no intention of visiting the graves of EJKs this Nov.1. Rody also has no new Quixotic windmills to battle that we know of: He has dealt with his bucket-list of druglords, the EJKs, the U.S., China, Japan and foreign tourists. There is still unfinished business with De Lima & Co. and odds and ends like traffic and jobs but, you know what, Rome was not built in a day, so let’s give him a break.

But we are not done with the shocks and the scares. In case anybody has forgotten, Monday is Halloween.

From The Horse’s Mouth

Much has been made by media, pundits, businessmen, foreign leaders, Government officials and everyday people of the President’s State visit to China. You can disregard all of these by just viewing the above (click the You Tube button).The video is long but if the future of our country is of  any importance to you and your children, invest the time. It is worthwhile.

The President’s speech  was ostensibly to announce our country’s new independent foreign policy and separation from the U.S. to a State-sponsored, high level Chinese audience; but it became more than that. It was, on occasion, wandering musings of and to himself. Sometimes direct, sometimes implied it is the first self-expression serious, unadorned of spin, translation, bravado and the inevitable tirade on drugs; of Duterte’s persona, his core beliefs, his passion for the Filipino, his biases and the degree thereof, his contradictions, his personal slights and demons, his mental process; and how these will drive our nation’s future. But enough said.

The clip is for mature audiences only. Like Halloween the material may delight, shock, frighten or otherwise unsettle you. You may agree or disagree with the content but you will not leave unaffected.

The Sum Total

Just kidding.

That is the sum total, approximately, of President Duterte’s explanation of his ‘separation” statement.

Concerned this may be overly succinct, Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella clarified: Separation is simply “an assertion that we are an independent and sovereign nation now finding common ground with friendly neighbors with shared aspirations (are you still with me?) in the spirit of mutual respect, support and cooperation”. And that was the abbreviated version. I did not realize there are people who actually talk that way.

Speaking of sum totals, the term is very much in vogue in Malacanang these days as in ”The Scarborough Shoals is not the sum total of our relations with China” or “$15 billion (recently upgraded from $13.6 billion) is the sum total of deals from the State visit”. Question: What is the difference between “sum total” and, say, just “sum” or just “total”? Does coupling the two add a deeper meaning to, say, our relations with China? If so why not “the collective sum total”?

Another popular word is “re-balancing” as in “We are re-balancing our foreign policy” but it conjures controversial derivatives like balanced and unbalanced so let’s not go there.

But I digress.

The Philippine delegation to China, by one witness, was stunned by the President’s “separation” statement. Some are still wandering dazed in the Forbidden City. The President may have noticed so he somewhat retracted: “It’s to the best interest of my country (the Philippines) that we maintain that relationship (with the U.S.) Why? Because the Filipinos in the Unites States will kill me”. That will add to the druglords, business oligarchs, corrupt officials,the CIA, the Liberal Party and Sen. De Lima who want to do just that.

China was surprised by the blowback from Philippine media, the business community and our Asian neighbors. You mean $15 billion or whatever is not enough? To further sweeten the deal China is expected to allow Filipino fishermen to return to Scarborough Shoals. Ay, salamat naman. Thank you for allowing us to return to a place that, you know what, actually belongs to us.

The $15 billion in deals has also been upgraded to upto $24 billion depending on which hat numbers are being pulled from.

The BPO industry which employs 1.3 million call center agents is concerned about the loss of 77% of its commerce with American clients. Not to worry, says China, we have enough companies to replace that business.

Philippine media cannot still quite come to grips with our new “independent” foreign policy. The Inquirer, a normally studied newspaper, reported “Manila would henceforth be more ‘dependent’ on Beijing”. This must really drive the President crazy (or crazier as Agot would put it): What part of “INDEPENDENT foreign policy” does the Inquirer not understand?

The Financial Times, a respected British newspaper, recently interviewed me about the President. Understand I have never met Duterte and I am a poor judge of character so I had only one thing to say: Get to know the man and you will get to know his Presidency. The mistake of media and the international community is to cover the Administration from the top down -from his pronouncements, policies and programs- when they should be doing it from the bottom up.

Everything in the President is about him. His persona and not his Office will set the stage and he wants everybody to know this. He dresses, talks and acts out of protocol . The President’s agenda is driven by his passion, his ideology, his personal slights and insecurities, petty or not, his provincial experience, his individual interactions, and even perhaps his medical (Did he admit to being bi-polar?). It is said his animosity towards America stems from a particular incident as Davao Mayor. So there are Philippine-American relations and Duterte-American relations which are not always the same even if joined at the hip.

The President thinks strategically in the long term even if he meanders hyperbolically in the short term which is where the frustration sets in. He is binary, things are black or white, good or evil. He is a zero-sum thinker in that one cannot add without subtracting: Plus China must mean minus America. The concept of synergy, that one plus one can equal three, is one FVR has suggested he use.

Journalistically, the danger is in overthinking the man and hanging on to his every word. Forget that he calls Putin his “favorite hero”. He is on a mission which ostensibly is the well being of the Filipino. Stay with that, let everything else fly, it will eventually be clarified or corrected.

If we knew on May 10  what we know now, the President would still have been elected perhaps not with the same margin. His trust rating is good if somewhat diminished but this happens to the best of leaders. The Duterte Presidency has still some ways to go so be ready for a rough ride. There is, hopefully, a method to the seeming madness.

For my part I am frankly getting weary (or should it be wary?) of all the back and forth,  contradictions and clarifications, slurs and apologies, the “out of context” and “lost in translation”; and the uncertainty that comes with it all. I just want to know whether the traffic will be fixed, whether the druglords and ninja cops will serve real time and not in some luxurious digs, whether Filipinos can get a proper education and a good job at good wages, whether our broken politics will be mended, whether I can breathe clean air and drink safe water, whether I can walk the streets and whether Filipinos can enter America without a visa.

That is the sum total of my desires as, I imagine, is the nation’s.

China, China, China!

President Duterte’s State visit to China was a success -at least for the Chinese.

The President called China “a friend of the Philippines with deep roots”. He announced the Philippine’s economic and military “separation” from the U.S. This was greeted by prolonged applause from the audience of 1.2 billion Chinese. The 500 strong Philippine business delegation did not quite break out into “China, China, China!” even if that would have been appropriate.

The U.S. State Department said it would ask the Philippines to define “separation”. Let me help: Webster defines ‘separation” as “setting or pulling apart as in severance and partition”. Duterte defines it as “good-bye”.

Washington found the President’s statement “baffling”. It obviously still does not get it. It  hopes Duterte’s pivot to China is a pirouette.

Ex-President Ramos said Duterte cannot severe our long-standing relations with America “just on his say-so”. Duterte replied: “Actually, I can.”

A Pentagon spokesperson said the countries’ Mutual Defense Treaty is “rock-solid”. Defense Secretary Delfin Llorenzana said as much but has since downgraded it to ”U.S. military aid is not needed” and subsequently to “I am not sure what to make of it”’. Pending further clarification, National Security Advisor Hermogenes Esperon said the President meant what he said unlike when he called Obama a SOB and compared our drug war to the Holocaust and Hitler.

DFA Secretary Jun Yasay may not have heard the President’s statement so he had nothing to add.

DTI Sec. Ramon Lopez said: “The President’s statement will be better explained by the people around him.” Lopez is obviously not one of those people.

Presidential spokesperson Martin Andonar said: “We have good relations with China. We will have good relations with Russia. We had good relations with America and Europe.”  Note the use of the present, future and past tense. Martin is the same person who likened himself to an Apostle following Jesus.

Chinese Premier Xi was super pleased but more so was Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, who should be credited with the historic accomplishment. He should also be credited with a nice hair-do.

In other somewhat related developments:

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) is considering changing its name to the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Industry. The Federation of Filipino-Chinese Commerce and Industry does not think that is funny.

Enrollment applications for Xavier School has exploded. So has the demand for Mandarin tutors by businessmen (especially those with Spanish, Basque and Indonesian provenance) and army personnel wishing to understand Chinese military instruction kits. Have you ever tried reading the English translation of a Chinese appliance manual? Well try reading that of a Chinese guided missile in the original language.

Filipino-Chinese have stopped naming their children Washington, Alexander, Lincoln and Franklin.

The Bureau of Corrections approved the requests of Peter Co and Vincent Sy, two alleged top Chinese drug dealers, to transfer from the modest Medium Security Prison to the luxurious Maximum Security Prison. Rosanna Roces, Vincent’s alleged girlfriend, was pleased. Jaybee Sebastian, the Filipino drug chieftain, was down-graded to the Medium Security Building for having the wrong name.

A protest by members of the Communist Party of the Philippines in front of the U.S. Embassy was marred when a police van ran over a number of protesters. The driver of the van was one Franklin Kho of probable Chinese descent; but this was coincidental. The U.S.  Embassy said maybe not.

China promised to send 2 million tourists to the Philippines. Casino Stocks in Macao slumped while those in Manila rose.

Bank of China committed to lend $3 billion to high-grade Filipino firms at “market rates” on a “non-binding” basis for which Malacanang was ever so grateful; even though that is what commercial banks do, lend money at market rates on a non-binding basis to high-grade private companies. The Administration has not acknowledged the billions of bonds already raised in Western capital markets by the Philippines.

China committed another $6 billion in soft loans to the Philippines. The President joked that hopefully these need not be repaid. The U.S wished this was so. If we default, China will own the rest of the Philippines Chinese businessmen do not already own.

All in all the State visit redounded to $13.6 billion in commercial deals. These include the commercial and soft loans; $15 million in drug rehab money; past, present and future transactions, imagined or not; and the kitchen sink.

China committed $15 million (P725 million) for drug rehab centers for which the President expressed his thanks. Ramon Ang and Bobby Ongpin earlier committed P1 billion each for the same thing but that did not even merit a Presidential nod and a wink.

The State Department abolished its Philippine desk for budget reasons but expanded the CIA’s Philippine desk for security reasons.  U.S. presumptive President, Hillary Clinton, announced she will be dispatching Rody’s soul mate Donald Trump to repair Duterte-U.S. relations and to compare notes on their various escapades.

China offered special concessions to Filipino fishermen in the Philippines’ adjudged Exclusive Economic Zone in the Scarborough Shoals. Justice Tony Carpio said it should be the other way around if Duterte is not to be impeached but Malacanang believes that is nit-picking.

China agreed to PH-China joint development of oil fields in the disputed territories but they will call us, not us them.

When pressed, Malacanang said the Scarborough Shoals does not represent the “sum total” of our relations with China. On the other hand, $13.6 billion does.

As I said, by and large it was a successful trip.

The First Bump In The Road

The statement stopped the Duterte Administration on its tracks.

On Oct. 8 2016 ex-President Ramos wrote in a Manila Bulletin op-ed: “Team Philippines is losing in the first 100 days –and losing badly. The Government should have hit the ground running instead of being stuck in unending controversies about EJK killings and in cuss words and insults. Equally discombobulating are the mix of ‘off and on’ statements by P. Digong on Philippine-U.S. relations. So what gives? Are we throwing away decades of partnership on President Du30’s say so?”

Strong stuff from the one person who Duterte credited with getting him to run for President and who Rody has called “his hero”. The message was professional, pointed and personal. It was not issued lightly. Only FVR could have done it and still be standing.

FVR’s statement has since been reinforced by Joe Almonte, FVR’s former National Security Advisor, and Associate Justice Tony Carpio, then FVR’s Presidential Legal Counsel. Almonte said the Philippines should seek friendship with all rather than alienate one (America) in favor of another (China). Carpio cautioned the President against making pronouncements that cede our rights on the Scarborough Shoals. This could be ground for  impeachment.

In the latest Pulse Asia poll Duterte continues to have an 86% trust rating even if this has slipped from 91% in July.

The foregoing echoes sentiments voiced privately even among a number of the President’s supporters. In the meantime, the stock market continues to slide and the peso to weaken. Many foreign direct investments in call centers and others are on hold. Tourist arrival numbers are undisclosed perhaps for a reason. Credit default swaps (CDS), the principal measure of the riskiness of a country, have widened but more on this later.

Mine workers bring canaries when going underground to warn them of critical loss of oxygen. When the canary dies it is time to get out. What could be such an event in this Administration?

A dying canary could be when the President’s approval (as distinguished from his trust) rating starts to drop. Approval and trust ratings generally move together but not necessarily. The former indicates whether the job is getting done, the latter whether the leader is seen as honest. In the end PNoy had high trust but low approval numbers.

A dying canary could be when economic metrics –the stock market, the peso, foreign direct investment, tourist arrivals and the CDS- deteriorate. CDS are particularly important. They measure the country’s credit risk (CDS are essentially the difference between the interest rate the Philippines has to pay on its foreign loans and the U.S. Treasury rate). CDS determine our cost of borrowing. Our CDS are still the tightest among our neighbors but they have widened recently. It is the speed of the move as well as the absolute movement that must be watched.

A dying canary could be when poverty and income inequality rise because of the disproportionate focus on drugs, the unnecessary trash talk and business uncertainty and risk arising therefrom.

A dying canary could be resignations by respected Government officials. The Cabinet mutiny of the Hyatt 10 in GMA’s time was arguably the start of Gloria’s decline. The President’s Secretaries are mostly classmates and (literally) old Davao buddies so it will take a Titanic moment for them to jump ship. Nonetheless, the President is not making it easy for them with his controversial talk. On Duterte’s threat to oust the U.S. military, Defense Sec. Delfin Llorenzana went overnight from “Our country is still weak, we still need a strong country for our ally” to “We can live without U.S. military aid”. DFA Sec. Yasay went from “We have to respect EDCA. I did not hear President Duterte say all Philippine-U.S. military exercises will be terminated” to “America has failed us” (Incidentally this is the second time Yasay has not been listening). At some point some of the President’s Men may retire from loss of hearing.

A dying canary could be when the military gets antsy over our cuddling of our previous enemies and dumping of our friends. The President is mindful of this and has doubled their salaries and attended their wakes.

A dying canary could be when “ninja policemen” go unpunished. What happened to the rogue cops identified in the now defunct Senate hearings on EKJ killings?

A dying canary could be when we have a major environmental disaster and the U.S., the U.N. and the Europeans do not show up.

A dying canary could be when Manila traffic finally grinds to a halt, the MRT collapses and the NCR suffocates. In the latest poll the President’s trust rating has fallen the most (from 92% to 81%) in the NCR.

A dying canary could be when people of stature start standing up and say the canary is dead.

FVR declaimed the fact the fate of 101 million Filipinos is determined by the President’s single “say so” particularly when such say so is unwarranted. The President has reached back over a century to justify to Filipinos, ASEAN leaders and the world why the U.S. cannot be trusted.  Germany and Israel talk to each other despite the Holocaust. White America elected a black President. The President favors a hero’s burial for martial law President Marcos. Why can he not forgive American atrocities in the 19th century?

We have the only leader who has correctly identified the multiple cancers in our nation in drugs, corruption, feudal politics, business oligarchies and the hoods in robes. He is also our only leader with the courage and determination (and the skill?) to perform the necessary surgery. The tragedy is in his seeming vendetta against our erstwhile allies, their leaders and anybody who has the temerity to speak up; he could be complicating the procedure and, God forbid, hurt the patient.

Let us pray it does not come to that.

Hello China, Here We Cooome!

President Duterte and a horde of Cabinet officers, businessmen and other hangers-on are set to visit China on Oct. 18. Even though it looks awfully like it, it is officially not a mission of mendicancy nor a thumb nose at the United States.

The visit is Part I of our new independent foreign policy otherwise known as How To Sleep With The Enemy And Still Be Modest. The International Court of the Hague recently ruled that the Mainland illegally annexed our territory; but never mind. If we are going to be molested, we might as well enjoy it.

Ironically the visit is arguably more important to the Chinese than it is to us. China hopes the agreements reached will be the template for its relations with other Asian nations with whom it has territorial disputes. In the formula China will be allowed to de facto “occupy” the contested geographies in exchange for trade, money and special commercial privileges.

China is sooo excited. The Philippines is culturally, politically, militarily and economically in the image and likeness of the U.S. Our values, spoken word and education are American. Our political system is American. Our call center agents talk American. We are often mistaken for little brown Americans. By successfully wooing America’s longest and closest ally in the region, one China has just effectively invaded, it will be sending a message it is the new stud in the bloc. China will regain the international recognition it seeks. We will be China’s new trophy wife.

In return, China will give us market access, money, tourists and arms, hopefully lots of it. China just this week opened its markets to Davao’s bananas and pineapples. It has offered to finance our rehab centres and the Mindanao rail project. China has invited the Philippines to join its Asian Infrastructure Bank.

Duterte adores China so he is not a hustler just out for the money. Rody is part Chinese. He loves their obedience and discipline. He shares their political ideology. He thinks it so cool that China is unfettered by the niceties of democratic accountability, dissent and human rights.

What about our disputed territory? The President might well be annoyed the International Court ruled in our favor. He is now stuck with a judgment that constitutionally leaves him little wiggle room. If he does not pursue our claim he may violate his sworn duty to protect our sovereignty. That would be treason, an impeachable offense. Malacanang announced the subject will not be on next week’s agenda. Thank goodness.

The reality is we cannot enforce our rights. Possession is 99% of the law and we are not in possession. There is also the Golden Rule that he who owns the gold rules. I suspect we will just permanently agree to disagree. There could be a “moro-moro”, a Philippine-China Panel to negotiate the dispute with the implicit understanding that no outcome is ever to be reached. China could agree to special rights for Philippine fishermen and vague vows for joint development of oil and gas finds. China will commit to clamp down on exports of illegal drugs.

The Philippines will, of course, come with a dowry. The President announced he welcomes Chinese investments in infrastructure, telecoms, power projects and others. The Chinese have long been interested in mining so let us see how that plays against his environmental promise.

Who are the winners and losers in the China Project?

The biggest winner is China.

Winners are Philippine businessmen with long ties to the Mainland. Lucio Tan reportedly has particularly strong understandings with the Chinese leadership. GMA, an Administration ally, has previous connections with China (remember the controversial ZTE?). Ayala is reportedly sending a power-packed contingent but it sorely lacks the right DNA.

The losers are the Unites States. It wishes Duterte was part American.

The losers are Western and, to a lesser extent, Japanese multinationals. They will now have to compete against Chinese businesses who are unrestrained by Foreign Corrupt Practices Acts, governance, price and quality controls.

The losers could be the telcos and San Miguel. China is strategically interested in our telecom industry. We could see a new player with Chinese and PH as partners. China has three service providers –China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom- each of whom has more subscribers and money than Smart and Globe together. All they need are the frequencies.

After the “purchase” of the SMC frequencies, Smart and Globe control some 78% of the spectrum. The Price Competition Commission has ruled the P70 billion deal is non-competitive. Duterte could well pressure the parties to scuttle the pact. This would not only release spectrum for a new entrant but enable the Government to monetize the frequencies. The Government might also “encourage” the telcos to share their cellsites with the new player to expedite its roll out.

What about the Filipino? Short term we should benefit from the Chinese money. Long term the question is whether we are seeking an annulment with the West or whether we are simply rebalancing our foreign relations. The President’s hostile comments suggest he has found new love elsewhere but that could just be Rody talking -or pretending to talk- hurt.

But let us understand that China is no monogamist. China will not necessarily hump us and dump us but you know what I mean. Again, China is of no help with our ISIS problem in Mindanao. It has at best been neutral on them in the Middle East. The arms it offers do not match ours. It is therefore important we not burn our bridges to the West. We will need them as an economic and political counter-weight and as a supporter against Islamic terrorism. Politics is about addition. We should be friends with everybody.

In a speech in Indonesia, Duterte referred to the sovereign state of Laos as a “China satellite”. If not mindful, we could well be similarly termed.

Only 100 Days And Whew!

As Karen Davila said, it’s been only 100 days but it feels like a year.

The good news is the nation and the President are still alive. The bad news, arguably, is some 3,500 are not.

The good news is Filipinos, the Chinese and the Russians are happy. The sad news is the residents of Bilibid prison, Leila de Lima, the Liberal Party, the U.S., the EU, the UN, the CHR, some 3,500 families and Bobby Ongpin; are not.

The good news is on a net basis 65%% of Filipinos are satisfied with the President’s work. That is the second highest rating (after FVR at 66%) of any Filipino President after 100 days in office. The bad news, President Duterte would be pleased to know, in the same period President Obama had a net satisfaction rating of 36%.

The good news is Duterte scored himself 6 of 10 on his performance. The bad news is media really doesn’t care.

The good news is petty crime is down 49% which explains the President’s popularity. The bad news is the State Department and the European Commission dispute this.

The good news, if anybody cares, is the stock market is up 6.3% since July 1, 2016 when Duterte took office. The bad news it is down 6.5% since its high on July 21, 2016. The euphoria is wearing off but the sentiment is still positive. The Jakarta stock market, arguably our closest comparable, is up 7.5% in the same period.

The good news is the Indonesian rupiah is up 1.7%. The bad news is the peso is down 2.8% from P46.98 as of June 30 to P48.27 as of writing. The peso was as strong as P45.96 on June 8, 2016 when our next President was known but had not yet assumed office.

The good news is the Philippines has two new friends in China and Russia. The bad news is the Philippines is about to lose two old friends in America and the EU.

The good news is the President had selfies with 9 ASEAN leaders at the Laos Summit. The bad news is he had none with Obama.

The good news is Duterte sat between Indonesia’s Widodo and Russia’s Medvedev. The bad news is he did not get to sit between Obama and UN Sec.General Moon.

The sad news is the Senate lost one of its members with the passing of Sen. Miriam. The good news (to the Administration) is the Senate could well lose another.

The good news is the President has started a conversation with the Communists and the Muslim insurgents to end decades of hostilities. The bad news is the President terminated his conversation with the Americans to end decades of love.

The good news is we are punching above our weight in the world arena. Cristiane Amanpour can now actually locate us on the map. The bad news is the Pope has been told of the provenance of his mother as, tangentially, has Pres. Obama.

The good news is the President has been a good communicator. He has effectively conveyed he means business be it on his war on drugs, his fight against corruption, his streamlining of the bureaucracy or his call against corporate oligarchs. He has instilled fear not by threatening to jail the culprits but by vowing to kill them and burn their houses and whoever is in them. Filipinos love it when he talks dirty.

The bad news is the President’s spokespersons (all six of them) have been bad communicators. They have not properly conveyed the President’s agenda to the media and the world. More importantly they have failed to present the true person of the President. These have led to confusion and uncertainty. They explain the weakness in the peso, the drop in the stock market and why many foreign investments are now on hold.

The President has made the communication task difficult by straying on message and personally reacting to criticism -and let’s not even talk of the profanity; but his men have not helped by individually speaking out of turn and by not recognizing the nature of the problem. They have tried to explain the President away by claiming his controversial statements are a “loss in translation” or “out of context “ which has simply widened the divide.

It would be a breath of fresh air if whichever Presidential spokesperson was to stand up and simply say: “People, I understand your frustration. The President is crass. There is no cause for anyone, President or not, to be disrespectful. The President’s new foreign policy is creating uncertainty in business. EKJ killings are morally reprehensible. The slaughter of 3 million addicts because they are brain dead and can no longer be rehabilitated or because they are a social and economic burden to society; is unacceptable.

The President is who he is. He is flawed. When he speaks he is part bravado, part mischief, part hyperbole, part hubris, part conniving, part patriot, and part actor. He will more than occasionally lose it. But he is also a man who is honest and courageous, a man who is passionate about the Filipino, a man who has sworn to make our people safer, more educated, healthier, and wealthier; and if the path to that is a ruthless cleansing of the drug menace and a brutal end to corruption in Government, politics and business; then so be it. We are in a war to save our nation and in war, tragically, shit happens. Despite their best efforts, women and children die when Americans or Russians launch drones on crowded communities. But the object of the President’s war is lasting peace, progress and prosperity for the Filipino and he is steadfast in this resolve. It is a difficult task and it is the President’s unfortunate destiny that the people elected him to do it. “

What about that, no spin, just straight up?

Why The Trash Talk?

The greatest danger of the Duterte Administration, I always said, is of over-reaching. The President’s statement on the slaughter of drug addicts and the comparisons to Hitler and the Holocaust (for which he has apologized) is getting him closer to if not past that point. This follows many other controversial remarks however unintended, oblique or lost in translation.

So why does the President speak this way? Here are some theories:

1. The President is a poor communicator- The President communicates well with the Filipino people. You do not garner 16 million votes nor have a 91% trust rating by being a poor purveyor of words. What he does not do is communicate well with everybody else.

(Speaking of which, the State Department commented on our strained relations with the U.S.: “It would be a serious mistake in a democratic country like the Philippines to underestimate the power of the public’s affinity for the U.S. That’s people power.” Translation: Filipinos will take to the streets against Duterte for our love of America. Seriously? As with its interpretation of the President’s reported slur on Obama, the State Dept. still does not get it.)

2. The President believes the people want him to talk tough- But do Filipinos really want Duterte to blaspheme the Pope, call the U.S. Ambassador gay or insult Jews? I do not think so.

3. The President does not speak linearly- With Duterte, one thought does not necessarily follow another. Rather, especially when confronted with criticism, the President speaks in outbursts which collectively amount, somewhere, to a message. If an Obama speech is an elegant Western menu with clearly defined appetizers, entrees and desserts a Duterte speech is a Mongolian grill of unspecified ingredients: There is a culinary expression in there but you just have to figure out what it is.

4. The President is loose with his meanings and analogies- He is a lawyer trained in the preciseness of language but when angry or frustrated  he will say things that are out of context or inappropriate. He said he will be happy to slaughter all “drug addicts” when he may have meant “drug pushers”? Or does he believe addicts are indeed not victims but criminals who should be killed?

5. Duterte believes all politicians and super powers are hypocrites but he is selective in his examples- Thus he will highlight the maltreatment of Western Governments against minorities, refugees and former colonies but will forget the Japanese atrocities of WWII, the purge of Stalin and the Mao Cultural Revolution.

6. The President is an advocate of efficient Government- He believes our criminal justice system is ineffectual: So why spend money and effort to prosecute and incarcerate criminals when one can just shoot them? Again, why bother to rehabilitate shabu addicts when, as he has often pointed out, their brains are “fried within 6-12 months”? Extending this argument to the political arena, Duterte seemingly believes a “benevolent dictatorship” is more efficient than democratic institutions and the rule of law. He admires strongmen –Xi of China, Putin of Russia- and autocracies as models of political and executive expediency.

7. The President says nothing is personal to him but in fact everything is personal to him- The President recently told a gathering of policemen to ignore criticism from media and foreign elements yet he himself does not follow this cue. He takes all adverse comments as a personal affront and he reacts not by countering the point of view but by insulting the persona; hence his slurs on the U.S. Ambassador, the U.N. Secretary General, and the sexual inclinations of De Lima. Shaming, profanity and ridicule are his weapons of choice.

8. The President likes to speak in hyperbole- He enjoys shocking media and the world audience. This is due to his innate mischievousness but also because he understands exaggeration makes for headlines. He cannot believe media takes him literally. He said at the outset of his Administration that he should not be taken at his every word but nobody is listening. Maybe he now understands that as President of the Republic his words matter.

Filipinos want the President to succeed. He is the only leader in sight with the determination, courage and wherewithal to fight our drug menace and bring real political, economic and social change to the nation.

It is a gargantuan task so why does he have to make the job any harder, why does he have to add to the list of his detractors with controversial comments that are unnecessary? They do not further his agenda on drugs nor, for that matter, that of the nation. They do not enhance our foreign policy, protect our OFWs, encourage tourism, promote the economy or make the Philippines and Filipinos stronger or more likeable to the outside world. If anything they do the opposite.

So, Mr. President, why the need for the trash talk?