Mindanao Times » Sonny Boy Mendoza http://mindanaotimes.net Tue, 25 Sep 2018 16:00:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.25 THE PEN| Under a Duterte presidency http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-under-a-duterte-presidency/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-under-a-duterte-presidency/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 03:47:52 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=27642 ]]> WITH the national elections just a few days away, many are already cringing at the prospect of a Duterte presidency.  Critics of the firebrand mayor from Davao City have taken to mainstream and social media to paint a bleak picture of a country that may soon come under his so-called iron-fisted rule:  nationwide summary executions on a massive scale; a government populated by rebels/communists/socialists; a ramping up of China’s construction of infrastructure facilities in waters within the Philippines’ territorial sovereignty; and a possible breakdown in the country’s moral fabric.

The list of possible scenarios under a Duterte government continues to grow by the day. And if we are take these probable scenarios hook, line and sinker – as the mayor’s detractors would like to believe – there is virtually nothing to look forward to when the man dubbed by Time magazine as the “Punisher” takes over the reins of Malacañang. By and large, the Philippines and its 100 million residents are headed for the abyss, so to speak, a situation which the predominantly Catholic nation never imagined it would ever confront since the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. 

At this point, it is easy to be carried away by the grim prediction of those who foresee a nation that may well be on the throes of a moral, economic and political bankruptcy.  However, this is entirely based on the playbook of those who fervently believe that Duterte, the current frontrunner in the SWS and Pulse Asia presidential surveys,  isn’t a worthy successor of President Aquino, and once elected, will most likely reverse all the economic gains achieved by P-Noy Administration. These so-called experts have in short taken the liberty of branding the Duterte presidency as “Unqualified and unfit to govern.”

But in all honesty, do we, as a nation, truly believe that the Philippines, having secured a reputation of being one of the best performing economies in East Asia and a beacon of democracy in the region, is really headed for the “Dark Ages”? In as much as we respect the opinion of those who have strongly expressed their doubts over Duterte’s ability to lead the nation, I believe that all the scenarios they have painted, however convincing they sound to be, will not come to pass. Why? Because I believe that Duterte will not define the presidency; the presidency will be defined, first and foremost, by the people who will elect him into office.

On the concern that the country’s waterways will be flooded by the lifeless bodies of criminals, the mayor has, time and again, declared that he will wage an all-out war against lawlessness.  By now, many imagine him patrolling the streets of Manila or Cebu in a Harley Davidson with a pistol tucked to his waist, similar to what he has done for many years in Davao City. But we must remember that the mayor is a lawyer and former city prosecutor who primarily used the rule of law to bring law offenders to justice. He will not, as many would like to believe, shoot down suspected criminals sans a strong case against them, or without giving them the benefit of due process.

In his campaign speeches, Duterte has said that he will not hesitate to kill and be killed. But on the other hand, “killing” is not exactly on top of the Philippine president’s list of priorities. Knowing the mayor’s penchant for colorful language, he has used the term “kill” more as a figure of speech than anything else to express his disdain for those who violate the law. But nobody has actually seen him point and shoot a gun at a person, and despite the investigations conducted by the CHR and foreign human rights groups, there is no concrete evidence which directly links the local chief executive to the so-called Davao Death Squad or “DDS” which has allegedly been responsible for the numerous extra-judicial killings in the city.

So how do we think will the tough-talking mayor exactly deal with the problem of criminality, which has been a thorn on the side of the Aquino Government? In the nationally televised debates, Duterte has pledged to double, if not, to significantly increase the salaries of our men in uniform.  This will provide our police force greater incentive to carry out their duties, despite the dangers and difficulties of their profession. Under the mayors’ leadership, we expect that the national government will finally be able to address long-standing issues confronting the PNP,  while promoting the culture of discipline and boosting the morale of the nation’s police force.

There is also strong possibility that the mayor will take a hands-on approach in the nation’s battle against illegal drugs and may even temporarily assume the position of the country’s top crime czar. He has, time and again, threatened to lay to waste those who are involved in the trade of such illegal substances, which have robbed the nation’s youth  and their families of a bright future. We believe that nobody can stand in the way of Duterte, as he goes after these drug syndicates and bring them to justice. We are certain that the mayor’s war against these peddlers of death will not be bloodless, as he has vowed to use any means necessary to eradicate the scourge of illegal drugs.

But most importantly, we see the mayor leading by example, as he gives the the Filipino people a sample of the kind of discipline which the people of Davao have been  used to and have benefited from. The city’s anti-smoking ban, 30-kph speed limit, the firecracker ban, and the curfew imposed on minors are some of the local laws which we feel would be expanded at the national level under Duterte’s leadership.  We expect certain groups or sectors to raise a protest against these laws (if passed by Congress), but they will soon realize that such kind of discipline will redound to their benefit.

Meanwhile, on the issue of Mayor’s Duterte’s perceived closeness with the communist movement and his willingness to let them join his cabinet, he has declared during interviews that the rebels are “welcome” in Malacañang. He even said that he would give the CPP/NPA three Cabinet portfolios, which include the departments agrarian reform, social welfare and development, and environment and natural resources. We can’t imagine the revolutionary movement’s battle-hardened warriors sitting in air-conditioned offices and drafting policy papers, but the mayor’s offer for them to join him is a sign of good will. However, despite the mayor’s perceived closeness  with the communist rebels, he has stood firm on his belief that armed struggle will not resolve the insurgency problem in Mindanao. 

Just recently, the Duterte made an emergency trip to Davao to receive five police officers who were released by the NPA after being held hostage for several days. The mayor said that he even castigated the rebels for the abductions, as he expressed his exasperation over the frequent kidnappings by the rebel group of policemen and soldiers. Over the years, it has been reported that Duterte has facilitated the release of men in uniform who have been captured by the rebels during armed encounters in the countryside.  It is worthy to note no police officer or soldier has lost his life during and after the negotiation of their release.

At this point, it is difficult to predict how Duterte will exactly negotiate peace with the CPP/NPA. The fact that CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison has thrown his support behind the mayor raises the possibility that a peaceful settlement between the Philippine government – under a Duterte presidency – and the revolutionary movement is no longer a pipe dream. However, there are those who remain wary about negotiating peace with the rebel group. But knowing the mayor’s extensive experience in dealing with the rebels, he may be in the best position to determine how the national leadership can finally convince Mr. Sison and his men that their cause can also be fought through non-violent means.

We must remember that today’s Davao City was forged in the fires of a raging insurgency.  And Mayor Duterte was at the center of the turmoil which engulfed Mindanao’s so-called “killing fields,” as he painstakingly built a consensus among the various sectors in the city and obtained their commitment to pursue the path of peace and development. This was a major feat in itself, as the mayor was faced with groups and forces that were diametrically opposed to each other. But in the end, the mayor was able to rally their support because of the kind of leadership he provided during those difficult times, assuring them that Davao City would rise from the ashes  and become a show window of peace and economic prosperity.  

 

In the meantime, fears that Mayor Duterte will handle the threat posed by China to the nation’s sovereignty with kid gloves  is actually not only a question of his sense of patriotism, but also his willingness and determination to stand up to the Asian giant’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. Although the mayor’s perceived non-combative approach in dealing with China’s leadership has been a major cause of concern among political observers, this strategy may provide another possible avenue to peacefully resolve the long-festering territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.

We don’t believe that the mayor is willing to give up the country’s sovereignty over a mere railway project or several millions of dollars in foreign aid. But perhaps, he recognizes the fact that the Philippines faces an uphill battle, which can eventually have serious repercussions if the country’s row with China further escalates. Duterte’s playful answer that he will ride a jet ski to the disputed islands and stake the country’s claim can be viewed in two ways: First, that the mayor is willing to put his life on the line to preserve our national sovereignty. And second, he isn’t afraid to take a hands-on approach in dealing with the Xi government, which has shown that it will not hesitate to use military force in asserting its nation’s supremacy in the region.

The mayor’s current stand in dealing with China requires that he recruit the best legal and diplomatic minds that will help him formulate a comprehensive foreign policy framework that will ensure the nation’s best interests. Although his strategy is a departure from the Aquino Administration’s outspoken, legalistic approach, holding bilateral talks with China should not be viewed as a sign of weakness on the part of the Philippine government. We must remember that China has, since time immemorial, been one of our country’s biggest trading partners, and therefore, this economic bond could provide the impetus for pursuing a diplomacy-based, dialogue-driven discussions on the sea dispute in the future.

And finally, on the assertion that the nation’s moral fiber will weaken once Mayor Duterte assumes the presidency. Those who espouse this line of thinking are like Cassandras who fill the air with dire warnings aimed to convince the Filipino people that Duterte is the antithesis of a true leader, and will therefore usher another era of gloom and doom for the nation. The mayor’s critics contend that the issues which have hounded the mayor all throughout his nationwide campaign – his use of gutter language, his alleged disrespect for women,  his reported connections with the Davao Death Squad, his BPI bank accounts which supposedly contains millions of pesos that haven’t been accounted for – should be enough reason not to elect him to the highest position in the land.

The mayor’s presidential rivals are now riding the same bandwagon, and have alternately taken swipes at him, as they question whether he indeed possesses the moral wherewithal to lead the nation. But let us turn the tables around and ask each of these candidates these two important questions: First, who among them is free from so-called “political baggage”? And second, if elected into office, can they unite the nation? This, to our mind, is the main qualification of a true leader. Yes, it is the right for the Filipino people to demand that its leaders be incorruptible and measure up to the highest moral standards.  But at this point in our nation’s history, it is, first and foremost, a leader’s ability to rally the support of all sectors of the community and move them to action that will provide a true measure of his leadership. 

To our mind, Duterte fits the bill, as his candidacy has demonstrated that Filipinos from all walks of life – drivers, students, farmers, corporate executives, soldiers, rebels – can come together and unite under one purpose, one dream. The mayor’s platform of governance is anchored on his commitment of a more responsive, people-centered  bureaucracy. Being a populist by heart, the mayor has repeatedly said that he will push for a federal form of government,  which aims to decentralize power from “Imperial Manila” and disperse development to the countryside. If this happens, he will be providing the Filipino people  the chance to play a more significant role in governance, and most importantly, the opportunity to chart their future and equally partake of the benefits of economic growth.

Let us give Mayor Rodrigo Duterte the chance to fulfill his promise. Let us help him make history.

 

 

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THE PEN| The right leader http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-the-right-leader/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-the-right-leader/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 03:18:48 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=27283 ]]> WITH the national elections barely two weeks away, the Philippines is once again at a crossroads, as its people troop to the polling precincts to elect the leader whom they believe will not only address the nation’s ills, but more importantly, help chart a better and brighter future for the country.

During the course of the last three presidential tables, we have been given a fairly good ringside view of how the five aspirants for the country’s top posts  – Grace Poe, Rodrigo Duterte, Jojo Binay, Mar Roxas and Miriam Defensor-Santiago – hope to address the woes confronting the country: poverty, graft and corruption, criminality and threats to our sovereignty, among others.

Although these debates, organized by the COMELEC in partnership with the country’s leading media organizations, have earnestly tried to focus on the most pressing issues and concerns facing the nation, they have unfortunately not been been able to draw out concrete “roadmaps” from the candidates on how they specifically intend to sustain the country’s economic growth.

It therefore came as a pleasant surprise when no less than Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, one of the country’s most-respected business leaders, recently made the brave forecast that the country’s  economy will continue to expand regardless of who wins the presidency. From our experience, big business have a propensity for being pessimistic during such periods of uncertainty, especially when the nation’s leadership is undergoing a major political transition.

“We tend to be optimists in the Ayala group, not pessimists. We believe in the country and we believe that irrespective of who gets chosen into a leadership position, the country will continue to progress,” Zobel said in an article published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Observers view Mr. Ayala’s statement as a major compliment to the Aquino Administration, which has in the past six years, been able to turn the country’s economy around  from being the “Sick Man of Asia” to one Asia’s fast-emerging Tiger economies. This plaudit couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, as President Aquino’s anointed one, Mar Roxas, has remained in the bottom rung of the most recent presidential surveys.

However, the business tycoon’s remarks shouldn’t be misconstrued as a categorical endorsement of Roxas’ candidacy as some might think. Rather, it should instead be viewed as a major challenge posed by the country business community to whoever becomes the new occupant of Malacanang. It was the private sector telling the five presidentiables: “The economic groundwork has already been laid out. It is now up to you (presidential candidates) on how you will sustain the country’s economic momentum.”

Mr. Ayala knows what the Philippine’s next president needs to do in order sustain and enhance the country’s march towards sustainable growth and development. Having done business in the country during the course of several presidencies, he has figured out what works and what doesn’t.  And based on his company’s vast experience locally and internationally, the nation should, first and foremost, be at par with global standards. There is no escaping globalization, and if countries aren’t able to cope with stringent ever-increasing demands of international markets, they will be left by the wayside.

“The reason why I believe that is that we’re interlinked globally now. From a standards point of view, from an economic point of view, the world looks at us and we cannot escape and be in isolation from the trends that are taking place. I think, generally, these trends have taken standards up—(such as in) governance and leadership. You will have some better leaders, some worse ones. But we have shown as an economy under the current leadership that we have evolved as a country tremendously and moved forward. I don’t see the clock going backwards on that,” he explained.

Clearly, Mr. Ayala understands that the Philippines economy is closely intertwined with developments in global markets, the more reason that the country’s new leadership  should have a firm grasp of the issues and concerns that may impact on our nation’s standing in the world stage. Although he remains pragmatic in the sense that the nation may elect good or bad leaders, the upcoming political exercise next month should not be a reason for the next president to veer away from the positive, forward-looking direction established by the current administration.

Although the business magnate didn’t categorically state the candidate he is supporting, he hopes that the next chief executive will be up to the task of steering the nation’s economy forward, while being able to effectively adapt to the myriad challenges spawned by globalization. All of the five candidates have already presented their platforms of government, with most of them saying that they will work towards creating an environment conducive to investment, strengthening the agriculture sector, addressing infrastructure gaps, enhancing the competitiveness of the local manufacturing sector, and creating greater employment opportunities for the people.

All these proposals  sound well and good on paper. But in the final analysis, what the nation needs at this point is a leader who doesn’t only have a firm grasp of economic fundamentals, but someone who can translate grand plans into action. We need a leader who can cross party lines, conduct an earnest dialogue with non-allies, and heal the culture of divisiveness  that has gripped our nation in a stranglehold. Most importantly, we need a leader who commands the respect of the country’s various sectors – business, academe, religious, political – and can rally their support to bring about genuine economic growth and long-lasting peace in a country.

Let us choose the leader our nation rightfully deserves.

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THE PEN| Maverick http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-maverick/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-maverick/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 07:49:59 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=26973 ]]> CITY Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte is, by and large, a maverick. Although he has spent 22 years of his professional career as a politician, he has staunchly refused to conform to the norms and niceties that are expected of public servants of his stature. This is perhaps the reason why he is perceived by many as uncouth, undiplomatic and disrespectful of authority.

It therefore didn’t come as a surprise when Duterte, now the front-runner in the latest SWS surveys, caught the ire of netizens over his seemingly insensitive comments regarding Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill who was raped, and subsequently killed during the 1989 hostage crisis at the Davao Penal Colony.  In a video that was posted on YouTube over the weekend, the mayor told the crowd attending his campaign rally in Amoranto, Quezon City that he was displeased because he should have been the “first.”

Although the mayor is known for his penchant for using so-called gutter language, which oftentimes borders on the visceral and obscene, we believe that the joke was not meant to offend or desecrate the memory of the fallen missionary. It could have been an unrehearsed, spur-of-the-moment attempt to inject rumor or lighten up the crowd. However, there are those who strongly feel that there is no justification whatsoever to the chief executive’s utterances. Let us call a spade a spade, they say. 

From a moral standpoint, the mayor’s critics may have reason to call him out although he has already apologized for his verbal gaffe.  In fact, even some of the mayor’s supporters have taken to social media to express their displeasure over his supposedly insensitive remarks. For their part, various women’s groups and even officials of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippine’s have called on the Filipino people to carefully weigh in on the issue, and determine if the controversial mayor deserves to be the occupant of the highest office in the land.

The president’s rivals have also smelled blood, and have pounced on the opportunity to castigate Duterte for his perceived insensitivity, and more so, for taking the issue of rape lightly.  Poe, Binay and Roxas have taken turns in highlighting the mayor’s slip of the tongue, which to them is a clear indication that he is unfit to the lead the nation.  The other presidentiables’ spin doctors and keyboard armies have been hard at work for the past several days, as they try to milk the issue for all its worth.

The mayor however seems to be unfazed by the hullaballoo created by his statement. This is not to say that he has become insensitive to such scathing criticism. He has perhaps accepted the fact that since he categorically declared his intent in joining the presidential race, he and the members of his family would be the subject of intense public scrutiny, and therefore, steeled himself to be hit from all sides. This may be the reason why he has decided to unleash all the skeletons in his closet, and bare his soul to the Filipino people.

At his stage, no one can point an accusing finger at the mayor and tell him that he has been untruthful or withheld crucial information from the public. Duterte has time and again drawn flak for the manner in which he has made his indiscretions known.  His critics contend that he is too vulgar and has no concept of decency. But the mayor has remained true to form since he took his oath of office as mayor.  He will not sugar coat his words for the sake of producing ear-pleasing sound bites.  He will tell things from his blunt perspective – unfiltered, scathing , and even terrifying even to some.  

Political analysts have tried to “deconstruct” the Dutete phenomenon, and explain the reasons behind his growing popularity and meteoric rise in the surveys.  They say that one possible explanation for this is the mayor’s openness and candid demeanor, qualities which the other presidential candidates are quite short on. These traits have been on full display during Duterte’s campaign rallies wherein he would tell the crowd anecdotes, which you didn’t expect a  presidentiable to say. Listening to him talk is akin to a conversation you had with your favorite “probinsyano” uncle who, despite his stilted Tagalog and bathroom rumor, always spoke the practical truth.

Observers have also described Duterte as a populist, the reason he has garnered the support of the broadest spectrum of society – taxi drivers, business executives, government workers, students, rebels, overseas workers.  But is being a populist bad? We don’t believe so. The mayor doesn’t pander to people’s sentiments or emotions just for the sake of creating distrust of hatred for the Aquino Administration. What he gives his audience is a no holds barred, unflattering picture of the country’s current state, which is largely characterized by corruption, lawlessness, hunger and malnutrition, particularly in the countryside. The truth hurts but someone has to take the bullhorn and make the grim announcement so the people may know.

Each of the presidential candidates have their own distinct style of getting their ideas across. Duterte has chosen a style that may be crass and repulsive to some, but honest and refreshing to others. Those who regularly tune in to the Mayor’s TV program “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” will be first to tell you with a straight face how many times the chief executive swore or cursed. But the people of Davao have learned to take the mayor’s colorful language with a grain salt. What they look forward to is the mayor’s pronouncements that will have an immediate and long-lasting impact on the city’s economy, peace and order.

If the mayor becomes the next president of the Philippines, we can be sure that he will: One, eradicate graft and corruption in government.  Two,  pursue the peace process with the MILF, MNLF and CPP-NPA, and make the negotiations as transparent and inclusive as possible. Three, lead in establishing a more conducive business climate in the country where trade and investment can flourish. And four, decisively address the problem of illegal drugs  and criminality across the nation.

Should a leader like Duterte be judged by the language he uses?  Definitely and rightfully so. But this should not be the sole measure or main qualification to be the next occupant of Malacanang. The mayor’s track record as a public servant should, first and foremost, speak for itself.

Yes, Duterte may have a foul mouth. But he walks his talk and gets the job done.

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THE PEN| Legacy (Second in a two-part series) http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-legacy-second-in-a-two-part-series/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-legacy-second-in-a-two-part-series/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 03:37:59 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=23247 ]]> PRESIDENTS Benigno Aquino and Barack Obama are both in a situation where the preservation of their respective legacies will be determined not only by their successors, but how their policy reforms have been entrenched into the bureaucracies, and how deep these have sunk into the consciousness of the people. President Aquino has openly endorsed Mar Roxas, believing that the man whom he has counted on for his loyalty and reliability, would be able to provide continuity to the administration’s “Daang Matuwid” battle cry. However, Roxas’ approval ratings still refuse to pick up despite the president’s anointment, a worrisome development which may perhaps be giving Malacañang’s occupants sleepless nights, as they now confront in earnest the prospect of either a Binay, Duterte, or Poe presidency. President Obama and his policy team, on the other hand, are placing their bets that the Democratic party, led by its front runners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, will regain its lost momentum, and convince the American people that the liberals are still in a position to provide the most feasible, if not the best, solutions to the challenges the country is facing. Donald Trump is now making serious headway in the Republican polls, and there is now a strong possibility that he may become the next occupant of the White House, unless Clinton or Sanders convince the American people that their approach is more viable than the seemingly heavy-handed, outlandish proposals of Mr. Trump.

On the other hand, it would be safe to say at this point that the policy reforms initiated under the Aquino Government in the economic, social and political fronts have made their mark, and whose results are now being felt by the nation’s more than 100 million citizens.  The country is no longer viewed as the laggard that it used to be, as it has emerged as one of the most stable and fastest growing economies in Asia.  The Philippines is now considered to be in the same footing with its progressive ASEAN counterparts such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, although the nation’s economic fundamentals such as its ability to generate more local jobs and entice increased foreign investments need to be given more attention by development planners. Red tape has also been significantly reduced in key government institutions such as the Bureaus of Customs and Internal Revenue, although the collection efficiency and processes of these agencies can still be further improved.  The administration must also provide greater focus to the nation’s power sector, particularly the power utilities and ancillary industries that are operating in Mindanao. More private investments need to be channeled into the sector, as its major players try to move away from its heavy dependence on hydro-electric power which has, over the past two decades, fueled the island-region’s impressive growth. 

For its part, the Obama Administration has presided over one of the most difficult economic recoveries in the country’s history. Doomsayers even predicted that the collapse of the United States’ once robust financial sector signaled the downfall of one of the world’s remaining super powers. However, amidst the gloom and doom which had enveloped the nation, President Obama and his policy team crafted an ambitious economic recovery plan, which not only resuscitated an economy that was on the verge of collapse, but made the American people once again believe that their nation could still play a major leadership role in the world stage.  Obama’s two-pronged approach of creatively addressing the nation’s financial woes, while deciding to curtail its participation from two major wars, proved to be instrumental in putting the country’s economy back on track.  The President had, time and again, drawn flak from critics who believed that the White House’s decision to exit from Iraq at a crucial juncture was an unwise move, to say the least, as it would give the terrorist groups the opportunity to re-consolidate themselves and wreak further havoc in a region that was in virtual disarray.

But President Obama was determined to show that the United States didn’t have to play the role of the world’s policeman every single time armed conflict erupted. He would go on to argue that putting boots on the ground was not the only solution, but instead emphasized the need for the world to come together amidst their differences in foreign policy, and iron out a multilateral solution to address the growing terrorist threat. And as the ISIL continues to make its presence felt in the Middle East and beyond, orchestrating suicide bombings and armed attacks from the suburbs of Paris to the streets of Indonesia which have killed hundreds of civilians, the U.S. President has become the voice of reason, as he has repeatedly called on the world’s leaders to shun their go-it-alone attitude and work together to put an end to the atrocities of the Islamist groups. And in line with his seemingly pacifist ways, the president has also reached out to the leadership of Iran, and through Secretary of State John Kerry, brokered a deal that would put on hold, albeit temporarily, the nation’s nuclear ambitions.  The U.S. has likewise renewed its economic ties with Cuba, a move that has been viewed by policy experts as a strategy to win back the support of its former foes, and as a result, project a United States that was more attuned to political realities on the ground.   

During the course of his presidency, President Obama’s proposed policies – from health care, to gun control, to foreign policy – have encountered roadblock after major roadblock, as the Republican party, which now has virtual control of Congress, has apparently adopted a non-compromising stance which has made it virtually impossible for the White House and the legislative department to agree on issues of national interest. And although the President has the power to veto proposals coming from Congress, the current political dynamic in the U.S. has made policy-making an unfeasible exercise. It is therefore an amazing accomplishment for the Obama Administration to have  been able to pull off a dramatic economic recovery,  although the country’s major political parties were don’t see each other eye to eye. The U.S. still isn’t in the pink of health as compared to the highly robust state it was in during the 90s, but nevertheless, the nation is showing signs of a major economic recovery, as its much-vaunted middle class is now regaining the purchasing power it lost years ago. 

Though the political dynamics in their respective countries maybe poles apart, Presidents Aquino and Obama share a common sense of urgency and hope, as they try to push forward their respective policy agendas and achieve results, albeit in varying degrees of success. While President Aquino’s party controls the upper and lower chambers of Congress, enabling his administration to institute much-needed socio-economic reforms, the Democratic party of President Obama, on the other hand, is the current minority, which in American politics, means a very nil chance of policy initiatives emanating from the White House to get approval from Congress. In his State Of Union Address, the U.S. President admitted that he was partly to blame for the political standoff at Capitol Hill, and pledged that he will work harder in the remaining years of his term to improve White House-Congressional relations. In the past several weeks, President Aquino has called on the Filipino people to ensure the continuity of the gains achieved by his administration. Malacañang believes that supporting the administration’s official candidate will be the key in achieving this goal, although in the final analysis, it will be the Filipino people who will ultimately chart the nation’s course for peace and development.

President Aquino and Obama’s terms in office will therefore be remembered not only for their respective accomplishments at heads of state, but how the world views them not only as leaders, but more importantly, as human beings.

 

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THE PEN| Legacy (First in a two-part series) http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-legacy-first-in-a-two-part-series/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-legacy-first-in-a-two-part-series/#comments Fri, 22 Jan 2016 07:46:14 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=22600 ]]> THOUGH on different sides of the hemisphere, Presidents Barack Obama and Benigno Aquino III are uncannily on the same boat. Both are at a crossroads in their careers as public servants, as the U.S. President is set to relinquish his post two years from now, and would be entrusting his would-be successor with a legacy, which, in all certainty, will be a fiercely debated topic for years to come once he vacates the White House. His Philippine counterpart, on the other hand,  though leaving behind an economy that is a lot stronger and more resilient than it was six years ago, faces a dilemma, as he remains uncertain whether the economic and political gains achieved during his presidency will be given continuity by the one who takes over the reins in Malacañang.

In his State of the Union Address early this month, an upbeat President Obama declared that the United States was, and still is, the most powerful country on the planet, although  Republicans would be hard put to take this statement hook, line and sinker. The President seemed to have regained the spring in his step and the swagger in his speech, which was reminiscent of the time he addressed crowds during his first presidential campaign wherein he popularized the phrase “audacity of hope.” However, it would not be too much a stretch of the imagination to believe his assertion that the United States still remains a superpower and a force to be reckoned with in the global stage. More than 80 percent of worldwide financial transactions are conducted in dollars. The United States accounts for more than 37 percent of global military spending, more than four times the amount spent by China. In 2013 alone, the U.S. dispensed around $32 billion in foreign aid across the globe, making it the biggest donor country. And the country remains the leader in innovation, as nine out of the eight largest tech companies in the world are based in the U.S.

But President Obama’s term of office can hardly be described as a bed of roses. When he assumed office in 2008, the U.S. was reeling from the worst financial crisis it had experienced in decades, perhaps since the last Great Depression. The nation’s economy was in shambles, as its financial sector took a heavy beating, primarily brought about by the collapse of the country’s real estate market. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans lost their jobs, banks went bankrupt, and once robust financial institutions were lining up for government bailouts. The United States was also in the midst of two brutal wars in the Middle East, which was bleeding the U.S. economy to a tune of almost $10 million a month. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers were being killed in the battlefield, millions of civilians were dying in the crossfire, as the U.S. Government seemed to have found no end in sight for a war that was anchored on the belief that Iraq’s despotic ruler had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in his arsenal.

President Obama’s first two years in office were therefore spent addressing these twin concerns, mustering every ounce of political capital he had earned during his candidacy to bring the country’s economy back on track to pre-crisis levels, as his administration tried to cushion the domestic and international blowback of the two major wars the country was embroiled in. Left with no other viable alternative, the government gave out bailouts to banks, financial entities and major corporations in the hope that a shot in the arm would eventually lead to their eventual recovery.  On the other hand, although the Saddam regime had already been toppled and replaced with a Shiite-led government, the peace and security situation in Iraq remained as volatile as ever, giving rise to various local insurgent groups, which threatened to overthrow the newly-established Shiite led-government. Moreover, the Al Qaeda still remained an influential and powerful force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. The Obama Administration focused on hitting where it mattered the most, and that was targeting the organization’s top leadership headed by its founder Osama Bin Laden.

Nearing the end of his first term, the President’s hair was not only grayer and his wrinkles more pronounced, it seemed that the political support that he had worked so hard to earn was, as observers noted, running low, as the American people felt frustrated and disenchanted, to the say the least, with the way in which the economic downturn had impacted on their livelihood and way of life. What made matters worse was, President Obama and his policy team was going against a recalcitrant Republican party in Congress which seemed to block  the administration’s proposals at every turn.  The national government’s health care reform bill, for instance, which aimed to provide better and more equitable medical benefits for all citizens, took every ounce of political will from the White House to get the nod of Congress. The Obama Administration’s proposal to pull back from Iraq was also met with opposition, as Republicans believed that this move would somehow weaken the country’s position in the region, and send a wrong signal to its allies in the Middle East.

President Aquino, on the other hand, rode on a massive wave of public support, which catapulted him to the highest position in the land. Many believe that the neophyte senator’s victory should be credited to two factors: first, Mar Roxas’ decision to withdraw from the presidential race and therefore, making Aquino the LP’s standard bearer, and second, the demise of his mother, Edsa icon Corazon Aquino, which once again galvanized the Filipino nation after so many years of political divisiveness, and elect a leader they believed would carry on the battle against graft and corruption. The younger Aquino however didn’t disappoint his countrymen, as he immediately rolled up his sleeves and hit the ground running at the start of his term to prove that his slogan “Daang Matuwid” was not merely a catchphrase but his administration’s adopted mantra.

Among the first to fall by the wayside in the Aquino Administration’s anti-corruption campaign were the incumbent Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and concurrent Ombudsman who were both impeached, with the former’s failure to honestly disclose his assets and liabilities which amounted to hundreds of millions, while the latter was accused of underperformance and having failed to act on several graft cases filed during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Charges of plunder and malversation of public funds were also filed against three sitting senators after a highly-charged Senate Blue Ribbon investigation revealed their alleged involvement in the “PDAF” scandal. Though some skeptics believe that the cases levelled against these public officials were all politically motivated, the Aquino government has stood firm in its assertion that the charges were not tainted with politics, but were carried out to give flesh to the administration’s battle cry of transparent and accountable governance.

Next on the Philippine President’s agenda was the peace process in Mindanao, which he vowed to decisively address when he assumed office. Unlike the previous two administrations which half-heartedly negotiated with the rebel forces through the barrel of the gun, Aquino and his policy team were more cautious and deliberate, learning from the lessons of the past and choosing to deal not only from a position of strength, but more importantly, from a moral and historical standpoint. The President gathered some of the best academic, political and legal heads in government and assembled the government peace panel which dealt directly with the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF). The GRP panel, headed by chief negotiator Shiela Coronel-Ferrer,  would forge on and despite major opposition from all sides of the political spectrum, would pull of what was deemed impossible years ago: the approval of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) and the signing of the final peace agreement between the Philippine Government and the MILF.

President Aquino’s credibility however took a major hit during when the Mamasapano incident broke out, which threatened to flush down the drain all the inroads which his administration had painstakingly worked hard to achieve. The brunt of the blame fell on the shoulders of the Chief Executive who, critics stressed, was the country’s Commander-In-Chief, and therefore, should be held accountable for the death of the Special Action Force members. Senate hearings on the massacre would reveal that the invisible hand of the former PNP Chief was behind the botched police-led operations, as Interior Secretary Mar Roxas appeared to be misinformed and was reportedly kept in the dark by the President himself and Gen. Purisima. The President’s approval rating hit an all-time law, as citizens expressed their distrust for the Chief Executive and his administration which, to their minds, were incapable of competently handling situations of internal conflict.

Notwithstanding the barbs that have been thrown at him and his team – from the manner in which the administration handled the Typhoon Yolanda relief efforts, the Mindanao power crisis, and the country’s crime situation – the chief executive and his policy team have managed to ably steer the country’s economy to greater heights. The country posted its highest GDP in years – 7.8 in 2013 – which was an impressive feat in itself. And as the economy due to the fast-expanding real estate sector and the bullish stock market, which hit record highs, as credit rating agencies such as Standard and Poor raised the Philippines’ credit rating a notch above the minimum investment grade.  Although the nation’s growth rate has tapered down the past year, the country’s economic fundamentals have remained stable, making the nation a destination of choice among multi-national companies who want to expand their international operations.

(To be continued in tomorrow’s issue.)

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THE PEN| Continuity http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-continuity/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-continuity/#comments Thu, 07 Jan 2016 05:41:14 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=22012 ]]> WITH LESS than five months remaining in his term, President Aquino’s is facing a dilemma, as he tries his best to convince the Filipino people that the nation is not only better off since the start of his term, but more importantly, to sell them the idea that the reforms undertaken during his watch needs to be sustained at all costs.

And herein lies the rub, as there is an important precondition to the President’s plea: In order to ensure the momentum of the current administration’s initiatives, the country must elect the candidate which the Chief Executive thinks is the best person, or politician, for the job – Mar Roxas.

There is something presumptuous in the President’s argument, as it is seems to be predicated on the premise that in order for the country to move forward,  as it has truly been for the past six years, its citizens must elect a leader which has received the blessings of Malacañang.

If we would follow this line of reasoning, it akin to being made to believe that it is only the candidate of the Aquino Administration which holds the key to the nation’s continued economic progress. Simply put, the future of the nation rests on the shoulders of the President’s anointed one.

It’s either Roxas or all the Aquino Government’s accomplishments go down the drain.

At first glance, there is nothing wrong with this strategy, and that is, to associate Roxas with the inroads of the Aquino Administration and package him as the rightful heir apparent of the President. Perhaps, this is the only way that Malacañang can present the former interior secretary in a more realistic, positive light. As they say, in Philippine politics, image is everything. 

By and large, Roxas’ image needs a major make-over. Since last year, he has languished near the bottom rung of the Presidential surveys of the Social Weather Station and Pulse Asia.  Currently, there are no signs that this trend is reversing in his favor.

Observers say that Roxas’ dilemma – his inability to present himself as a man of the “masses” – is his greatest weakness. His lineage may have inadvertently played a part in creating this perception. Though in recent months, he has tried his best to project himself as more engaging and accessible, this tact doesn’t seem to be gaining traction.

The manner in which Roxas handled the relief and rehabilitation efforts during Typhoon Yolanda, particularly how he dealt with the battered province’s local officials in the storm’s aftermath, also created a major political backlash which up till this day he is still smarting from.

His unflattering conversation with Mayor Romualdez, which was captured live on video and uploaded on YouTube, presented to the public an official who not only lacked good judgment, but one who was also insensitive, and only acted upon the behest of political expediency.

Malacañang was quick to defend Roxas’ actions, explaining that the video didn’t present a clear picture of the events which unfolded that day. There may in fact be truth in this assertion. But the damage had already been done and Roxas has paid dearly for this ever since.

Roxas’ handling of the Mamasapano incident may also have exposed his ability – or lack thereof – of managing explosive, high-pressure situations.  As DILG secretary, he was made responsible for the massacre, as he was supposed  to be on top of the crisis as it unfolded. However, the former legislator appeared to be ill-informed and out of the loop, as it turned out during the Senate investigations that the former the PNP director general was reportedly calling the shots all along.

By officially passing on the torch to Roxas, President Aquino therefore hopes to boost Roxas’ weak political standing, and provide him a much-needed advantage over the other presidential candidates. And as a former cabinet official and a trusted member of the Chief Executives’s policy team, he can, if he so wishes, claim some amount of credit for the inroads that the national government has achieved over the years.

Having held the DILG and DOTC portfolios, there is no question that Roxas has had his share of accomplishments. Although these appointive posts didn’t exactly give him the chance to showcase his skills as an economic manager in which he is best known for, his stint as interior secretary was an opportunity to strengthen existing political alliances and build new ones, while bringing himself closer to local governments and communities in the countryside.   

However, the results of the recent nationwide opinion surveys indicate that Roxas still hasn’t managed to bridge the gap between himself and the majority of the Filipino people who will cast their votes four months from now. Despite the President’s unequivocal support, his presidential run has become an uphill climb, which has also been punctuated by verbal tussles with other aspirants who are turning out to be more outspoken, deliberate and have a clearer game plan than him.

This has put Roxas and President Aquino in a bind, with their political careers hanging in the balance, and in a way, dependent upon each other.  While the Chief Executive is nearing the end of his term, he still feels that his work is still unfinished, with no guarantee that the next occupant of Malacañang will continue to implemented the policies he and his team have painstakingly crafted and put in place. Unless, of course, Roxas wins.

On the other hand, Roxas has to carry the full weight of the President and the ruling party’s expectations on his shoulders, hoping against hope that fate, the administration’s machinery, and hopefully, the support of the Filipino people, will carry him to victory. To do this, he must not solely rely on the President’s endorsement, but step up to the plate, so to speak, and demonstrate that he has one of the most impressive resumes among the prevailing lot of contenders.

By this time, he must not be content in giving out generic statements, which are mere variations of the national government’s oft-repeated theme. Promising to continue what the Aquino Administration has started, while vowing to fight graft and corruption is good and may help his cause, but Roxas must know better than this and start speaking his mind without necessarily extolling the virtues of the administration.    

He doesn’t have to do a Duterte by dishing out interesting bits and pieces of his personal life. But he must be able to clearly present to the nation his platform of government, without the need to anchor it on the accomplishments of the Aquino government. This may be re-assuring to foreign investors who are most worried about transitions in political leadership.

Roxas must also present himself not as a clone or an alter-ego of the President, but as an honest, competent and forward-looking leader which the country needs in light of the ever-growing domestic and foreign challenges it confronts.

Sure enough, the President wants the programs implemented under his “Daang Matuwid” battlecry to last well beyond 2016. And it is a legacy that he should be proud of. A legacy that all Filipinos must be part of. 

The reforms initiated under the Aquino administration have enabled the Philippines not only to finally shed its image as the “sick man of Asia,” but also to demonstrate that the nation was capable of carrying out deep and cross-cutting economic, political and social reforms which hopefully will be felt by generations to come.

But in the final analysis, we must remember that the country’s fate doesn’t lie in the hands of Roxas or any of the other presidential candidates. It lies in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people.  

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THE PEN| Leap of faith http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-leap-of-faith/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-leap-of-faith/#comments Mon, 02 Nov 2015 03:58:51 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=19785 ]]> IT HAS actually been several months since I planned to write this piece. Let me state for the record that I am not apolitical; I believe that I am – like the majority of Filipinos are – deeply rooted in my own political beliefs and personal musings. This has actually put this writer in a tight spot because it is difficult to remain objective, most especially if one has already formed his own set of opinions on the particular person, issue or topic he or she intends to dissect.

For instance, writing about Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged – or undeclared – presidential ambitions has presented a dilemma because the mayor commands this writer’s highest respect and remains on the top tier of his list of outstanding public servants. Therefore, if I write about the man who has been referred to by residents as the Father of Davao City and the “Dirty Harry” of the south by his admirers, I would end up extolling his virtues as a politician: uncompromising, forward-minded and fearless.

So, how does one write about a man who has already been virtually proclaimed as a living legend not only by the people of Davao, but also by millions of Filipinos across the country and not laud him for his outstanding accomplishments as a local chief executive, crime buster, legislator, and peace negotiator?

I believe that you simply cannot.

By and large, the mayor has become synonymous to Davao and the impressive economic gains the city has achieved over the years. From an area that was once declared as Southern Mindanao’s “killing fields,” Davao has blossomed to become one of Mindanao premier cities, which boasts, among others, of a highly-skilled workforce, modern infrastructure and telecommunications facilities and abundant natural resources.

Throughout the politically-turbulent, coup-ridden 80s, to the boom years of the 90s, to the economically-challenging period of the 21st century, Mayor Duterte has kept Davao’s City sail and rudder aligned with the winds of change. While a handful of cities and municipalities in Mindanao – Davao included – were able to ride the bandwagon of economic growth, there were others that were unfortunately left by the wayside, and have remained at the periphery of economic development.

Although it should not only be the mayor who should receive credit for Davao’s dramatic transformation, many observers have noted that it is mainly due to the chief executives “iron-clad” leadership that the city has continued its march towards progress. Between the carrot and the stick, the mayor has opted to use the latter more often, which to him may be a more effective instrument in enforcing the rule of law, while the city’s development planners laid down the crucial groundwork for trade and investment to flourish in the area.

Much has been said and written about Mayor’s Duterte’s preferred brand of justice and the manner in which he dispenses it. Some have attested to the veracity of allegations linking the mayor to the infamous group which has been said to be responsible for the hundreds of extra-judicial killings in the city, mostly involving individuals who have been linked to criminal activities. On the other hand, there are those who say that the chief executive’s rumored links with the shadowy organization is only part of his growing legend as a folk hero and protector of the masses.

But the mayor himself has made no qualms in acknowledging his involvement in the said killings, which have targeted suspected pickpockets, holdapers, and drug peddlers. In fact, during a recent interview with Rappler’s Maria Ressa, the mayor admitted that he has “killed” in order to protect his people. It is difficult to ascertain if this was just said in jest, or was a direct admission that he has indeed put the law in his own hands and will not hesitate to do so if the circumstances call for it.

The mayor has in fact had several run-ins with the Commission on Human rights over his questionable human rights records. But he has remained adamant and unfazed, challenging the agency to file cases against him in court and prove their allegations against him. In the meantime, the mayor has continued to issue warnings to law violators in his weekly TV program, telling them to pack up and ship out, or be ready to face repercussions of their acts. Those who do not heed his warnings have either landed behind bars, disappeared or have been found – lifeless.

Another major issue that has been leveled against the mayor is his close association with the hard left, even having gained the distinction of being a rebel sympathizer. Again, he was upfront in admitting that he supported the cause being espoused by the insurgents, although he pointed out that positive change could not be achieved through armed struggle. Numerous times, the chief executive has been called on to act as a negotiator and facilitate the release of police officers and soldiers who had been abducted by the New People’s Army.

It is worthy to note that the mayor has had a fairly high success rate in securing the hostages’ freedom, a feat that has been praised by the families of the victims, while questioned by those who are uncomfortable with the chief executive’s perceived closeness with the rebel group. But it has been difficult to prove the chief executive’s formal ties with guerillas, a relationship which he describes as based on courtesy and mutual respect. This mindset may not score big with members of the AFP but has gained the support of the people, particularly those residing in the countryside and have been witness to the ravages of war.

Most of Mayor Duterte’s avid upporters were therefore disheartened when he called for a press conference this month and announced with finality that he wasn’t throwing his hat into the 2016 presidential race, and then, subsequently filing his candidacy for mayor. People saw Inday Sarah Duterte’s act of shaving her head as a strong signal that her father had finally been convinced to gun for the presidency, regardless of his standing in the latest SWS and Pulse Asia Surveys. However, this would not be the case, as the mayor seemed to have made up his mind to ride into the sunset once his term ends next year.

But the people who have been behind the Mayor Duterte’s listening tours, Federalism symposiums and media sorties across the country would have nothing of this. To their mind, this is only the mayor’s way of bidding his time, and a strategy to throw off kilter his opponents for the highest office in the land, who have all filed their certificates of candidacy. They say that the mayor actually has until December to finally make up his mind.

Knowing the mayor’s unpredictability and political savvy, he just might take the leap of faith and may even become, just by a stroke of luck, the next occupant of Malacañang.

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THE PEN| No man [or country] is an island http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-no-man-or-country-is-an-island/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-no-man-or-country-is-an-island/#comments Fri, 11 Sep 2015 02:04:47 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=17580 ]]> PROFESSOR Randy David made an astute observation when he wrote in his recent column that Filipinos have a tendency to become insular and turn a blind eye to events that are happening around the world.

The well-respected academic and writer said that this inward-looking attitude could be gleaned from the seemingly scant attention that Philippine media has given to recent global developments such as the Syrian, Iraqi and Libyan migrant crisis which threatens to spill over other parts of Europe and beyond the continent’s borders.

Instead, the country’s major TV networks have chosen to report on stories which seem to have been lifted from the police’s daily blotter: murders, robberies, rapes and neighborhood shootings. And viewers who get to watch these events as they unfold on the evening primetime news don’t even blink or feign disgust, as they take their dinner or unwind after a long day’s work.

We are sure that Prof. David didn’t mean to put our country’s media in a bad light, as he is also a journalist himself. The point that he is perhaps trying to make is that Filipinos, by and large, have become so desensitized from the daily bombardment of negative local news that they have become indifferent to the great human tragedies that have befallen other nations.

This is quite surprising, considering that the Philippines has had its share of tragedies over the past several years. Super-storms Sendong, Pablo and Yolanda threw nature’s full wrath upon the country, resulting in thousands of lives lost, billions of property destroyed, and turning once thriving communities into virtual ghost towns.

The nation was virtually “shell shocked,” as it grappled not only with the seemingly gargantuan task of addressing the immediate needs of the victims, but more importantly, rebuilding the typhoon-ravaged areas.

As the Philippine Government marshalled its resources to respond to the calamities, the international humanitarian community wasted no time in making its presence felt in the hardest-hit areas. Less than a day after the typhoons had struck, foreign responders were already on the ground, surveying the damage, providing first-aid treatment, and rescuing people who were buried under collapsed houses, buildings and trees.

Despite the pall of gloom which hung over the disaster-stricken areas, the sight of foreign nationals distributing relief goods, attending to the wounded, and working side by side with Filipinos was truly a heartwarming and impressive sight. The tall Caucasian with the gentle touch and the smiling Japanese medic had come to symbolize the kindness and generosity of our foreign allies who are willing to risk life and limb in order to save the lives of people who are thousands of miles away from their home countries.

And more than two years after Yolanda left the country’s shores, international donor agencies continue to provide much-needed assistance which are meant not only to help victims meet their basic needs, but more importantly, to ensure their future by building schools, setting up potable water systems, and providing livelihood funds and training on enterprise development.

To be sure, Filipinos are grateful for all the assistance they have received from friends and allies in the international community. But it would do well if we can perhaps translate this appreciation into more concrete terms by providing aid to the people of other nations who are now being ravaged by war, famine and disease. There is so much we do to contribute in this great humanitarian effort.

With the power of social media, we can help raise awareness on the plight of the people of Syria. The image of a dead three year-old Syrian boy being carried by a Turkish medic was heart wrenching, making the world realize the full extent and impact of the ongoing civil war that has gripped the country. It is not enough for us Filipinos to sympathize with the plight of Syrians by merely clicking on the like and share button; better if we can take part in a massive worldwide online campaign that will finally put an end to the violence that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

The country’s educational system can also play a major role in this global effort. Elementary and secondary teachers can discuss more thoroughly during their civic education classes the causes of the ongoing civil wars and their effects on populations. It seems that students these days are no longer interested in current events, which is actually a shame. With the way things are shaping in the world stage, it would do best if the youth are well-informed on these developments which in all likelihood will have an impact, one way or the other, on their future.

For their part, the nation’s media organizations can perhaps dedicate more airtime for the coverage of events not only in Syria and the Middle East, but those which can have a major impact on the nation’s economy and well-being as a whole. If a major daily can do a front page story on the blossoming romance of a boobtube couple which “dubbed” its way into the public’s consciousness, why can’t the leading TV networks allot a few more minutes for stories highlighting international initiatives to address situations of conflict and how ordinary citizens can help in the humanitarian effort?

Although the Philippines is an island-nation, this doesn’t mean that its people must constrained by the country’s insular nature. We, as a people, should not be afraid to reach out and lend a helping hand to those in need, especially to those who have fallen victim to humankind’s inhumanity.

It is time for us to pay forward.

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THE PEN| Pragmatism http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-pragmatism/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-pragmatism/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 02:57:37 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=11481 ]]> IT LOOKS like the Aquino Administration may be forced into playing a gambit, as it makes the pragmatic – and difficult – decision on who to field as its standard bearer come 2016. There are strong indications that President Aquino is seriously considering Senator Grace Poe as his successor, as the chief executive has dropped several hints that the lady legislator would be able to “continue what he has started.”

This development does not in any way augur well for Mar Roxas who has been anxiously waiting in the wings for President Aquino’s anointment. After all, the DILG secretary remains the Liberal Party’s presumptive candidate, which was confirmed by no less Senator Franklin Drilon a few weeks ago. But based on the President’s recent pronouncements, Sec. Roxas’ chances of securing the administration party’s endorsement are becoming slimmer by the day.

If this happens, it will be the second time that Sec. Roxas’ presidential aspirations will have to take a backseat. The first time was when he agreed to scuttle his presidential run, which paved the way for then Senator Aquino to become the LP’s standard-bearer in the 2010 presidential elections. This was considered by many as a selfless – and logical – act on the veteran senator’s part, as it led to President Aquino’s imminent rise to Malacañang.

But Philippine politics, as they say, is based more on expediency than moral principles. And this holds especially true for the Aquino Administration, which up till this time, has not solved the riddle that is called Jojo Binay. Despite the raging controversy surrounding the vice-president’s supposedly ill-gotten wealth, he has remained on top of the SWS and Pulse Asia surveys. The embattled VP’s credibility may have taken a serious beating in light of the ongoing Senate investigations but he still remains ahead of the pack.

We know that a political party’s main criteria in selecting its standard-bearer is his or her “winnability.” One’s performance or qualifications may be important factors, but unfortunately, these don’t translate into votes. And going by the results of the recent SWS and Pulse Asia survey results, Sec. Roxas’s chances of winning is diminishing in the run up the elections, as he is currently tied with Davao City Mayor at third place at 15%, down from 19% last December 2014. Binay remains on top with 37%, while Sen. Poe is a close second with 31%.

The tide may have turned in Sec. Roxas favor if President Aquino endorsed the former’s candidacy early on. In fact, many were expecting the chief executive to push for a Roxas candidacy at the start of the year after the latter categorically declared his intent on gunning for the country’s highest position. But apparently, this did not materialize. The DILG secretary may have the confidence of the chief executive in administrative and operational matters, but it seems that this trust has its limitations. It must be heartbreaking for the Sec. Roxas to realize this.

But with the Aquino Administration’s serious intent on taking Sen. Poe into its fold, this sends a strong message to both allies and foes alike that the President is considering every available option in order preserve the social, economic and political inroads the country has achieved during his term – and ensure his legacy.

This is not to say that Sec. Roxas is not of presidential caliber. In fact, this writer thinks that the DILG secretary is among the most qualified in taking over the reins of Malacañang. As a senator and cabinet secretary for almost two decades, Sec. Roxas has pushed for programs and policies that have largely benefited the local business community and made the Philippines a leading player in the global economic stage.

And on numerous occasions, he was literally in the “eye of the storm,” as he presided over the difficult and tumultuous relief operations in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. And early this year, he was tasked by the President to do heavy damage control, as the Philippine National Police faced a serious attack on its credibility after the Mamasapano incident.

Senator Poe, on the other hand, though only in her first term as a member of the Upper House, has been a beacon of light in the theatre called Philippine politics. Her objective and above-the-board manner in which she handled the Senate’s investigation on the Mamasapano encounter displayed her level-headed character, and, no pun intended, grace under pressure. This was no mean feat, considering that she is a neophyte senator and did not occupy any other high-level position in the government like Sec. Roxas.

The lady senator has certainly charmed her way into the hearts and minds of the Filipino people during her brief term as a public servant. Though she and her father – the late Fernando Poe Jr. – may be poles apart in terms of personality and perspectives regarding governance, many believe that the senator carries with her the same principles and “masa” appeal that endeared her father to Filipinos. We believe that it is these traits which the Aquino Administration hopes to capitalize on this coming elections.

By this time, Sec. Roxas may have read the writing on the wall. Sadly, his unquestioned loyalty and dedication to President Aquino has not given the latter enough reason to declare him as the man who will carry the administration’s torch. Roxas must however learn to deal with this reality and start to weigh in his options. If the ruling Liberal Party finally decides to adopt Poe and declare her as its official candidate, Sec. Roxas can still run as an independent if he doesn’t want to rock the party’s boat.

But at this crucial juncture, this may be unfeasible and counterproductive. Roxas doing a “go it alone” may just further sow divisiveness within the ruling party and consequently, pave the way for a Binay presidency.

President Aquino must be losing a lot sleep just thinking of this eventuality. Unless, Roxas, once again, makes the ultimate sacrifice.

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THE PEN| A PR debacle  http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-a-pr-debacle/ http://mindanaotimes.net/the-pen-a-pr-debacle/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 07:21:05 +0000 http://mindanaotimes.net/?p=9003 ]]> SENATOR Antonio Trillanes may not get brownie points with the Aquino Administration but he may have made an astute observation when he pointed out that the President’s plunging popularity ratings should not be blamed on media but instead on the Chief Executive’s communication team.

Describing Malacañang’s media strategy as “deficient,” Sen. Trillanes noted that the President’s communications group could have done a better job in its handling of the Palace’ public response to the Mamasapano issue which has over the past three months deeply divided the nation and put into peril the passage of the much anticipated Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Based on a nationwide survey conducted by the Social Weather Station (SWS), from March 20 to 23, the President’s approval rating has dropped to its lowest since he assumed the presidency in 2010.

Trillanes, a known ally of the Aquino Administration, did not specifically single out who exactly in the President’s communication team should take the flak for the President’s declining approval ratings, but nevertheless put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the group for its failure to “reign in” the Chief Executive.

But some believe the senator could be taking aim at Secretary Sonny Coloma, head of the Presidential Communication’s Group, who recently remarked that the drop in the president’s approval ratings is largely “media-related.”

It’s quite surprising that it took Senator Trillanes, a former military officer who shot to prominence for his involvement in the infamous Oakwood  mutiny, to call out the Palace on its faulty media relations efforts and not his other Senate colleagues who are known to be more media-savvy.

We do not see any ulterior motive for the senator in his critique of President Aqunio’s communications group, except that he may have been among the few of the Chief Executive’s allies who are genuinely concerned about the perceived shortcomings in Malacañang’s media relations strategy and how this will impact on the ongoing peace process between the national government and the MILF.

The senator noted that the President is a highly emotional individual, a trait that should have been known by his communication’s group and used as a basis in crafting Malacañang’s “messaging” on the Mamasapano encounter which has from all indications created a public relations nightmare for the administration.

So far, President Aquino has given several public statements on the Mamasapano issue, the most recent  one during the graduation ceremonies at the Philippine Military Academy where he finally took responsibility for the encounter but still refused to apologize for the decisions he made as the nation’s Commander-in-Chief.

Many observers however believe that the earlier pronouncements made by the President, particularly the one he gave  on the day news broke out on the encounter, had significantly eroded his credibility, as it seemed to expunge him from any command responsibility due to the Chief Executive’s apparent lack of information on the cloak and dagger operation which led to the death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos, 14 Moro Islamic Front (MILF) fighters and three civilians.

Adding insult to injury was the President’s decision to skip the arrival honors for the fallen SAF commandos at Villamor Air Base and instead attend the inauguration of a car production facility, picturing him as a Chief Executive who not only had a misguided sense of priorities, but was one who was far removed from reality and devoid of empathy.

The President would eventually make up for this error in judgment by meeting with the wives and kin of the SAF commandos, which was extensively covered by media. But the damage had already been done, with the image of the President hobnobbing with company executives, as the coffins of the slain police officers rolled out from the belly of the C-130 had already been seared in the national consciousness.

The President’s meeting with religious leaders in Malacañang last March also drew wide public criticism when he pinned the blame on sacked PNP-SAF Commander Getulio Napeñas for “deceiving” him and not following directions from the latter to coordinate the highly-classified SAF operation with the Philippine Army. In a previous statement, the President would also admit that he was lied to by suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima, whom the Chief Executive had staunchly defended  from criticism.

In between the President’s public statements, members of his communication group which include Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Sec. Coloma, and Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte would alternately give out statements which either tried to clarify the Chief Executive’s earlier pronouncements,  or simply gave more justifications for his actions on the Mamasapano issue.

But instead of shedding light on the issue, the mixed messages coming from Malacañang at the aftermath of the Mamasapano incident has further added to the public’s confusion and consequently,  created more questions which are crying for answers.

Clearly, Malacañang has been on crisis management mode, as the President’s team has been grappling with the massive political backlash that was unleashed upon it by the Mamasapano encounter. First and foremost,  the Filipino people are searching for answers which only the Aquino Administration could provide them. And second, the nation wants an assurance that the government is on top of the situation.

As to the former, it is still difficult to say if the government, most especially, President Aquino, has already “come clean” about what knows about the real score in Mamasapano.  Those who have closely followed his public statements have noted a lot of inconsistencies, most especially on the true extent of his knowledge during the actual police operations to take down Marwan and Usman.

Whether Malacañang was just trying to protect the President and insulate him from further criticism, we can agree with Senator Trillanes that the Chief Executive’s men didn’t do a splendid job. This is because Filipinos felt that there was a cover-up involved at the highest levels and worse, the government was trying to withhold vital information from the public. This, in turn, created more conspiracy theories, which added to the general sense that the Palace was not really intent on clarifying matters once and for all despite how many “official” versions of the truth the Palace has churned out.

Moreover, it seemed that there was no sense of cohesiveness in the President’s statements,  except the general line that the Chief Executive was being fed with wrong information by his trusted lieutenants, and that his orders were disobeyed , which inadvertently led to the bloody encounter.

But as many believe, the buck stops with President. As the nation’s Commander-In-Chief, he is primarily  responsible for the actions of the country’s highest military and police officials. Pinning the blame on Napeñas or Purisima simply won’t hold water because clearly, President Aquino was apprised of what was transpiring in Mamasapano and therefore could have made a judgment call during that fateful day that could have saved the lives of all, if not most, of those who perished in the encounter.

But the President must also remember that the responsibility held by his office goes beyond making strategic military, economic and political decisions. Most of all, he is the nation’s father and being so, should be its top administrator, agenda-setter, and most importantly,  crisis manager.

Certainly, a tough order the nation’s highest official. All of which the President Aquino must fulfil to the best of his abilities if he is to recover from the Mamasapano debacle and secure his legacy with the Filipino people.

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