When Grown Men Cry

Bato was sobbing while Kerwin, awkwardly, hands him a tissue. The sight of this in a Senate hearing on national television says something of our nation, what exactly I am not certain.

Bato is, of course, our beloved Philippine National Police Brig. Gen. “Bato” de la Rosa, the man tasked by the President to erase the drug menace in our country. Kerwin is Kerwin Espinosa, allegedly one of the top drug lords in the Philippines. Kerwin is 31 years old.

Bato was in tears over his failure to fix the nation’s drug problem and the corruption within his ranks. Derwin had just fingered Police Superintendent Espenido, the man Bato had hand-picked to curb drugs in Kerwin’s hometown of Albuera, Leyte as receiving protection money. Kerwin also testified to paying Sen. Leila de Lima some P8 million for her election campaign through her driver and lover one Ronnie Dayan.

As it happened, across town this same Ronnie Dayan was testifying about things he apparently knew nothing about. In a House hearing called “in aid of legislation”, Dayan confessed to indeed delivering paper bags from Kerwin to De Lima but was unaware of their content. Eight million pesos in cash in paper bags and Dayan never thought of taking a peek. This should tell you about the veracity of the rest of his testimony but the Congressmen were not listening. Committee Chair Umali had to continually and lengthily remind his colleagues that theirs was not to judicially inquire into any one person i.e. Sen. De Lima; but the smell of blood was just too strong. They were so excited at the prospect of delivering the head of the lady Senator to the President, they had no ears for anything else. Leila could be in trouble.

The hearings were the latest in a series that has been going on for months. One would think the Senate and the House had other preoccupations like crafting laws to make ours a better place; but this is so much more fun. I mean how often do legislators get to preen on national television? Power, drugs, illicit sex, jealousy and the frailties of a woman, it does not get much better than this.

What we have so far is an accumulation of “he said, she said” testimonies, all of course under oath, from a motley of low-lifers, drug lords and corrupt law enforcers offered immunity and other goodies for whatever truths and lies they have to offer, generally lies I suspect. The witnesses are mostly serving or soon to be serving multiple life sentences for drugs, murder, kidnapping and such; so the threat of perjury and whatever modest jail sentence comes with it is really not a problem.

I imagine those already incarcerated are assured of better prison conditions –airconditioning, karaokes, overnight conjugal visits, and cell phones to allow them to ply their drug trade. Those not are invited to join the Witness Protection Program and everything wonderful that comes with it.

There is also the promise of security a fate which Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Kerwin’s father, was sadly unable to enjoy. He was shot by some twenty policemen at 4.30 in the morning for reportedly resisting arrest. These policemen were serving him a search warrant even while he was already in jail. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre admitted the scenario was “unusual”. Now you understand why PNP Chief Bato was in tears.

What is it about our men in blue that they are so emotionally fragile? Is it the pressure of work, the headlights or the holier-than-thou demeanor of our Senators? I recall PNP Dep. Director Leonardo Espina weeping at the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano affair. Another police officer,  PNP Supt. Melvin Marcos, broke down with Bato at this last Senate event. Marcos is accused of being a drug protector. He lamented how his family and his reputation were being dragged through the mud. Somehow, though, his actuation was not as compelling.

What are we to make of all of this? What are we to say of conflicting statements by criminals fueled by proffers we will never know about? How should we react when self-confessed drug lords are openly feted and hailed as prodigal heroes by our elected officials and highest law enforcers (PNP Chief Bato: “I am torn between two lovers, between my men and Kerwin Espinosa who I admire for telling the truth”); while their victims, poor ordinary people, tricycle drivers, fathers and husbands, druggies we are told, are gunned down in the stealth of the night?

Maybe it is we 100 million Filipinos who should be doing the sobbing.

On Trips And Burials

The President is on another whirlwind trip.

This time he is in Lima, Peru with “other” world leaders to discuss the future of our planet (Yes, we are now a nation to be globally reckoned with). It is also the first reunion of Los Tres Amigos, the triumvirate of Duterte, Xi and Putin –not necessarily in that order of importance- who will preside over the new world order. Donald Trump has applied for membership but that is still under consideration.

Lima is an appropriate venue for such a heady encounter. Lima is one of the highest capitals of the world. At 5,038 feet above sea level the rarefied air can affect in strange fashions one’s perspective on global dominance and others.

The altitude may have caused the President to miss the APEC Leaders’ Gala dinner so he was sadly unable to wish President Obama good-bye and good riddance. Our President gets seemingly sick prior to important engagements like a similar dinner in Laos where Obama again was to be present; and Kris Aquino’s hosting in Davao.

Unfortunately, the Peru trip meant the President was unable to attend ex-President Marcos’ burial at the Libingan. He fought very hard for it to happen so he must have been disappointed. He did presumably send his regrets.

As it turned out Duterte was not the only one to have missed the occasion. Thousands of anti-Marcos activists – or “temperamental brats” as Presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar endearingly calls them- similarly did not attend not for want but for not having been properly notified. They thought the nine-day novena for the ex-President was still in progress in Ilocos.

The burial timetable was accelerated for a number of reasons: One, military intelligence (is this an oxymoron?) tipped the family that the so-called “yellowists” would violently disrupt the proceedings. Two, it was best if the President was not in town to avoid putting him in the awkward position of deciding whether to be there or not. Three, traffic would be horrendous if word was to get out prematurely.

The “yellowists” should not feel slighted that they were uninvited. The nine Supreme Court Justices who ruled in favor of the Libingan burial were also not present either because they were not asked (talk of ingratitude) or because they were on well-earned holidays.

Even the Foreign Diplomatic Corps was noticeably absent. Marcos is an ex-President whose internment would normally warrant their presence. Ambassadors were turning to each other when the prospect of an invitation arose –do we attend or not? – so there was a collective sigh of relief when told the burial would be a “private affair”.

As promised the event was “simple” and dignified. CNN was not there to confirm that but we are taking the family’s word for it. Marcos’ coffin was on a flag-draped, horse-driven carriage reminiscent of Kennedy’s Arlington internment only without the crowds and the national mourning.

Critics and media immediately likened the stealth burial to that “of a thief in the night”. They did not clarify which was the operative noun in that phrase.

Libingan Ng Mga Bayani is the place where soldiers and heroes are laid to rest. Only three Presidents are there –Quirino, Garcia and Macapagal. In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Antonio Carpio penned that Mr. Marcos was not a soldier since his ouster in EDSA I was “the ultimate form of dishonorable discharge”. This leaves the hero thing as the only other claim and this is where the problem lies. Was Mr. Marcos a hero?

If you listen to the family, the old man really, really wanted Libingan as his last resting place. Therefore one can understand his offsprings’ insistence to honor their father’s wishes. Madame Marcos was also adamant. To appease the crowd, the family agreed to settle for a “soldier’s burial” instead of the full Monty but as it happened they were still able to squeeze in some pomp and circumstance and full military honors.

In truth with traffic and rising gas costs it is really more convenient for visitations, maintenance and such; that President Marcos be buried close by rather than in some far-flung area of the north. Like Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides in Paris, the site can now be a tourist attraction as one of the political wonders of the world or, as someone put it, how to go from zero to hero.

Anyway, the matter is temporarily over with and as Karen Davila tweeted, what next? Well, our history books can now finally set the record straight: The Supreme Court decision allowing Libingan arguably qualifies President Marcos to indeed be a hero. This country can have strange notions like how we are one of three countries to rule the world, how the Scarborough is really ours, how EJKs are a myth, how druglords live in misery in prison, how Mayor Espinosa was shot resisting arrest, how murdered journalists have it coming and how the Ampatuan massacre was just a stroll in the hills gone bad. This one, I guess, is just another such notion.

For the family’s sake, we trust the tomb will be properly secured since the temperamental brats are unlikely to leave it alone. Visitation will, we are told, only be by appointment. Libingan is a nationally-legislated and taxpayer-supported cemetery so the public can openly and freely pay respect to its heroes. Is it therefore incongruous and in violation of equal rights that President Marcos’s remains be restricted to a chosen few? An over-burdened Supreme Court may again have to weigh in on this one. Tourists may have to wait indefinitely.

What is clear is that even in death Marcos’ shadow looms large over this nation.

Musings About Nothing

Will everybody please leave Bato alone.

I am referring to the criticisms of PNP Chief “Bato” De la Rosa’s trip to watch Senator Manny’s Las Vegas bout courtesy of our champion. Even the otherwise staid Ombudsman has weighed in: She is considering investigating Bato for receiving a gift in violation of regulations. Ma’am Carpio Morales must have a pretty light schedule these days.

The fact is nobody has been busier than our beloved police chief pursuing drug-lords, extra-judicial killings and, most taxing of all, attending Congressional hearings. He and his family deserve a free, well-earned break. Better that than all the politicians who attended the event courtesy of taxpayers’ money.

Speaking of foreign trips –or what Filipinos would call vacations- the President is off next week to Peru to attend yet another APEC Summit. After Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Japan, Brunei and Malaysia, this would be his 9th trip in 5 months all, of course, for a good cause. VP Leni travelled twice for official work and was pummeled for it. What is good for the gander is obviously not good for the goose.

The President is flying to Lima (no relation to Senator De Lima) via New Zealand rather than the U.S. because it is quicker and not because he might be deported by some black immigration officer in LAX.

In fairness the President too deserves a respite but maybe he need not bring half his Cabinet in tow with him. I realize Macchu Picchu is nice this time of the year but there is unfinished work at home like the economy and traffic both of which could use some help. The country has only 45 days left of the 6-month deadline imposed by the President to fix matters and that includes two dead weeks for Christmas.

Yeah, the economy has been somewhat off-keel. The peso is at a six year low, the stock market is moribund (but who cares?) and Western investors are whining about moving elsewhere. Some of this has to do with Trump but a lot of it started way before that cataclysmic event. Our country’s credit default swaps, the purest measure of our international credit risk, has worsened 25% since shortly after the new Presidency in July.

Budget Secretary Ben Diokno said a weak peso is actually good: Every one peso devaluation reduces our budget deficit by P7.2 billion. Wow, on this math at P100/USD we could totally eliminate our budget deficit and more! At this exchange rate, our foreign debt in pesos would also double, gas would be at P100/liter and we would need a bayong to carry our cash for groceries.

As for traffic, don’t even get me started on that.

One senses that locally the natives are getting restless. After the euphoria of the war on drugs, the De Lima hearings, and the $43 billion commitments from China and Japan, people are waiting for the next fix and it has to be better than Chief Presidential Apostle and Apologist Martin Andanar calling anti-Marcos supporters “temperamental brats”. The old script is getting ragged from reruns and could use a refresh. In case we need reminding the current narrative is:

  • We are a nation of over 3 million druggies and if only they could just die.
  • Human rights is baloney.
  • For over 100 years America has been just awful. We are done with them.
  • China is beautiful and Putin even more.
  • Western leaders, media and the International Courts are dopes us and can go to hell.
  • We do not need foreign assistance other than what is offered by China and Russia.
  • If people do not behave the President is junking habeas corpus and anything vaguely connected to it.
  • The President is prepared to be jailed or perish in service of the nation.

The Palace is taking suggestions for the new season of The House On The Pasig. How about:

  •  A U.S. State visit for Rody to finally meet his soul mate Donald. This, only of course, after a similar trip to Rody’s favorite hero Putin.
  • A fire in the Bilibid Maximum Security prison after the stove for cooking shabu accidentally spilled over.
  • Ditto for the jail housing the Ampatuans.
  • A Duterte Tower in Trump’s new golf course arranged by newly appointed Ambassador for U.S. Special Relations, Joey Antonio. This will mirror Joey’s Trump Tower in Manila.
  • Senior Privileges to anybody earning less than P300 a day.
  •  Courtesy travel, accommodation and tickets to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight for the 9 Justices who voted to bury Marcos in Libingan.
  • Visa requirements for two million Chinese tourists unless China waives theirs for us.
  • Visa requirements for Balikbayans who voted for Trump. This is to retaliate for the 750,000 Filipino illegals to be deported.
  •  Filipinos to be allowed to fish in Chinese waters. (China: But we are already doing this in Scarborough.)
  •  A Rody/Leni love interest so he need no longer just ogle her knees and Bongbong drops his electoral protest against her.
  • Free dinner and sleep-over with Sen. De Lima’s ex-paramour Ronnie Dayan in a location of his choosing; and a P1 million reward for revealing the latter.

As I said, just random thoughts about nothing.

Why We Must Talk To The Kids

Jamie was very, very upset with the U.S. electoral outcome. He is 8 years old. He is the son of my daughter Sam, an American citizen. Jamie did not understand why someone who was generally said to be a bad person was elected President of his country; until his parents talked to him.

Kate, the Grade 2 teacher of Jamie, sent Sam the following note:

“ Sam,

I just wanted to thank you for whatever you and your family shared with Jamie about the election. We had a conversation today, and he completely led the group towards a positive conversation about democracy, why it’s important to vote, and about empathy for the other candidate’s supporters. Way to go! It really helped me guide the class through a difficult conversation.


The above speaks at various levels. It speaks about Jamie. It speaks about Jamie’ s parents. It speaks about Kate and the unheralded work of teachers in nation-building. Lastly and this is what I wanted to write about, it speaks about citizenship be it of the U.S., the Philippines or the world.

Someone once said the solutions for the planet are not in good leaders but in good followers. Bad followers rarely produce good leaders while good followers always make for good leaders.

Bad followers are not necessarily bad people. In the wake of the Trump victory, much has been said derogatorily about “white-lash”, the white, working-class Americans who won Trump the election. Yet I know of wonderful Americans of varying race, color, creed and economic standing, sober, God-fearing people who care for their families, their communities and their nation; who voted for Trump. But they were scared and fear drove them to vote for a man who was not ethically eligible to be hired as a lowest level employee but is now the President of the United States.

Fear elicits the worst in us. In the Titanic, even well-meaning passengers were elbowing each other to get to the lifeboats. Americans were afraid of their jobs, falling real wages, high healthcare costs, immigration, student debt, and terrorism and in their anxiety turned to a man who promised them America could be great again. They were afraid of being left behind in a world that was just too fast for them with its technology and need for quantifiable performance and instant gratification. Fear breeds anger, intolerance, exclusiveness and rudeness and that is why it is important we talk to the children about that.

It is important to tell our children not to be afraid, that that they are safe in the love and security of their homes and their parents. It is important to tell them the sun will rise tomorrow as it did today. It is important to comfort them there are institutions that will safeguard abuses by the leaders. Lastly, and this is critical, it is important they know there are men and women, neighbors, friends and even strangers who share lofted ideals and this community will not allow their world to be upended by one man or the vitriol of his supporters; and they represent the majority of the people. Hillary won the popular vote if not the electoral one.

It is important our children understand that every man has his truth. That truth may not be theirs or the universe’s but it represents the sum of what they honestly believe. Only by appreciating the issues, fears, religious beliefs and backgrounds of the other side can one start to have a conversation on the common good and overlapping space on which one can build a relationship and a community.

It is important our children realize they should not have a sense of entitlement, that they are who they are not because of their wealth, education, upbringing, color or religion but because of their values: how they behave, love their fellow man and care for those with lesser in life.

It is important children recognize that how and when they must speak is often more important than what they speak, that words do matter, and that they do as they say. Our social and political life has been overturned by technology. We no longer converse verbally where by tone and exchange we can understand and make ourselves understood. What passes as social discourse are 140 words tweeted over a smartphone. It is just so much easier to scream expletives and threaten their families than make an intelligent case for oneself.

Children should learn that democracy and freedom of choice do not always produce the best outcomes but, to paraphrase Churchill, they are better than the alternatives and over the long run are our best assurance of fairness and progress.

There was a time when we believed leaders should be role models for our children. That is no longer so. Recent elections in the U.S. and elsewhere have shown that bullying and bigotry are strengths to be celebrated rather than weaknesses to be contained. Political correctness is corny and dull. It is a reflection of ourselves that our culture has been so debased.

It may be too late for this generation to return to an era when courtesy, care and understanding were qualities to be taught and emulated because that is what humans do, those are what make for a civil society, what differentiates us from the instincts of animals.

But it may not be too late for the next generation and that is why we need to talk to the kids even at this time.


That is the only way to describe the unprecedented, unpredicted, and unfathomable victory of Donald Trump. Despite his character, lack of funding, ground organization, negative polls and everything including the kitchen sink, the Donald pulled off what must rank as the greatest political upset in any time and place. Was there something wrong with the predictions or was it the kitchen sink?

Trump’s victory will draw wide parallels with our own Presidential elections. Neither winner had the resources, the incumbency, the experience, the intellectual persuasion or the political correctness; yet they overcame the odds.

Voters in both countries wanted change, not marginal change but quantum and disruptive change. Duterte beat a man who was endorsed by a popular President, who was experienced in governance, who had the lineage and the honesty to be President. Trump beat a woman who was similarly adept and heavily endorsed by a still very likeable President and his even more likeable wife, by Hollywood, by media, and even by Republicans. Mar and Hillary campaigned on a platform of more of the same but the same, however good, was not good enough. They both represented the Establishment and the elite and the electorate was no longer having any of that.

The change that Duterte and Trump tapped into was not as wide as it was deep. They understood the reality and desperation of the average man, in our case the disparity of income levels between the 1% and the 99%, the daily agony of getting up at 4 in the morning and returning at 9 at night to avoid traffic, the anxiety of having one’s cellphone snatched and the arrogance and corruption of those in authority. In the U.S. the issues were loss of manufacturing jobs, rising health costs, falling real wages, immigration and terrorism. Duterte and Trump projected the toughness and derring-do the electorate felt was needed to get the job done.

Duterte and Trump proved that personal traits however boorish, misogynistic, lying, biased or outlandish; do not matter. On the contrary, Trump’s victory could be an affirmation that bad behavior sells electorally and could encourage Duterte and other aspiring politicians to do more of the same.

Duterte and Trump showed that pundits and polls can be and are wrong. Going into Nov. 8 every poll had Clinton winning with probabilities of 70-90%. Trump’s message was Brexitt Plus Plus referencing how UK predictors had similarly gotten England’s exit from Europe wrong.

How will a Trump Presidency impact the Philippines?

Relations between Malacanang and the White House will greatly improve. The President, I imagine, has already fired a congratulatory note to the American President-elect unless Yasay has not yet heard. Donald and Rody come from the same space: direct, pragmatic, womanizing, and iconoclastic. They stem from far different backgrounds but they are soul mates at their core. They have many groping stories to exchange. They are mindless of what anybody has to say in Duterte’s case on his War on Drugs and extra-judicial killings, in Trump’s case on immigration and terrorism. Donald will not lecture Rody on human rights since he himself has taken a fundamentalist view on deporting illegal immigrants and torturing terrorists. They are not liberal bleeding hearts. They will get along swimmingly.

Duterte and Trump each have an affinity to Vladimir Putin so that is another common denominator. It could now be America, Russia and the Philippines against the world unless  China sulks about being left out.

On foreign relations Trump is expected to retreat into Fortress America. He believes the U.S. should limit its foreign military presence particularly in Europe where he wants the host countries to assume a bigger burden for their security. Applied to Asia, this could mean the U.S. will cede more of the region to China which vindicates Duterte’s position to reduce our dependence on American diplomatic and military support. Our President was prescient in pivoting to China. The Mainland will be pleased.

On international trade, Trump has vowed to review all treaties which would mostly affect Mexico and Canada but could have ripple effects on the Philippines. He campaigned on a platform of keeping American jobs onshore. This could discourage the outsourcing of U.S. business processes to outsiders which would impact our BPO industry not so much on the low level call center work as on the higher value-added services.

Trump’s victory initially spooked financial markets worldwide as stocks and risky assets were sold off for safe-haven US Treasuries and cash. Things have since calmed somewhat although still on edge.The uncertainty on Trump adds to the uncertainty on Duterte so we could see continuing weakness in the peso, our stock market and American direct investments.

The world is changing and Trump’s victory is confirmation of that. Nations and peoples are afraid and fear has made them more intolerant and isolationist. They are locking their doors. The trend towards globalization is reversing. This bodes badly for international efforts particularly on Climate Change,  human rights, immigration, and world hunger and poverty.

Ours is becoming a less compassionate planet at a time of growing population and income inequality, shrinking resources and increasing terrorism. It is now everyone for himself.

It will not, I am afraid, be a happy place to be.

Is Dutertism A Cult?

The dictionary defines a cult as “a group of people with beliefs regarded by many as extreme, sinister or dangerous”. It is often characterized by “a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person”. Many cults believe in the divinity and super-powers of their leader.

Herbert Kelman, a Harvard social psychologist, identifies three major elements in a cult:

  1. Compliance- “Cult members may privately disagree but comply publicly to an order when the figure of authority is present”.

2. Identification: “Cult members follow orders because of their admiration of the leader. They emulate their leader’s behavior. They do not question his judgment”.

3. Internalization: “Cult members adopt the group’s beliefs as their own. They are distrustful of outsiders and seek to stifle dissent”.

People join a cult because they believe they have been disenfranchised by society. Membership brings a sense of belonging that reflects this feeling of exclusion. There is a dependency on a leader who articulates their loss.

Cults are generally associated with the dark side. They denote mind control, extreme beliefs and even mass suicide. Examples are Jim Jones and his commune; Hitler and the Nazi movement; Mao and the Cultural Revolution (Trump and his Republican followers?). However cults are not necessarily evil: Jesus Christ was arguably a cult figure who became mainstream.

Is the Duterte Administration a cult?

A cult is technically a fringe group. The Duterte Presidency is supported by over 80% of the people which makes it the mainstream and therefore not a cult.

However Dutertism has many of the elements of a cult. We see the trait of Compliance among his staff who often will say something only to retract or contradict themselves when the President takes the opposite view.

We see the Identification trait among his close-in advisers and supporters. His Cabinet Secretaries and political allies often mouth his trash talk and policy positions even when, by the President’s own later admission, they were said lightly.

We see the Internalization trait among Duterte’s social media activists. They have imbibed the President’s philosophy and vision as their own. They believe the system has been stacked against them by the amalgam of corrupt politicians and law enforcers, greedy businessmen, druglords and hoods in robes; and the only solution is a cleansing of these evil elements regardless of the collateral damage. Not only are they intolerant of dissent, Dutertistas act as a kangaroo court and lynch mob in one, publicly vilifying those who question the President.

Cults believe that the world is against them. This helps keep the membership united and strong. Whether it is Hitler claiming the Jews are the problem, or Mao believing revisionism and capitalism are out to destroy Communism or Trump’s allegation the elections are rigged, cults adhere to conspiracy theories. Dutertistas are convinced –and there is probably some truth to this- the Liberal Party and the CIA are out to get their man.

Does the President encourage his cult status?

Like all leaders on a mission, the President prefers the path of least resistance where obstacles and opposition are trampled before him. If a cult status is what it takes, then why not?

Is it driven by ego?

One cannot be the President of 100 million people and not have a tinkling of hubris. If you did not have it before, the Office will certainly imbibe it in you. So, yes, Duterte has the hubris and narcissism, maybe even more than his fair share, but nothing compared to leaders of the vil Empires mentioned above. Duterte was not an early candidate but now that he is in charge, his persona -and the strengths and weaknesses that go with it- propel his vision for the country. He has announced he will retire soon after he has set the train in motion. This is either just the President and another virtuoso performance or it could be the real sense of who he is. Only time will tell which is which.

Is the President’s unpredictable behavior part of a cult culture?

Cult leaders are identified by their uniqueness and unwillingness to conform to social norms. JC was not your typical good Samaritan. He trashed the merchants in the Temple. He gave of his life to atone for the sins of mankind, I mean how great is that? By his talk, demeanor and sartorial indifference Duterte wishes to project his one-of-a-kindness. He has also volunteered to die for his country though not necessarily on the cross.

Or maybe Duterte just loves to unsettle and shock, to weird people out. He loves to unbalance media with notions like his conversations with God, his adoration for Putin, and his separation from Americans which is not quite a severance but maybe it is.

Maybe he believes outrageousness is what makes people listen to him. It has certainly worked. Foreign media now devotes more space to him then any other leader certainly of a minor power like us. Having then tuned in, he can deliver his mission statement.

Maybe that is what turns him on, the idea that if he says the sun revolves around the earth, his audience will ask “Oh, really?”

The Duterte Presidency is technically not a cult but contains many elements of one. On the positive side, it is focused and can be well intentioned however that is defined. On the negative side, it stifles dissent and is unaccountable. A cult, like religion, is an article of faith. You simply have to believe that what the leader says is what is good for you. Therein lies the dilemma.