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A recent issue of the Philippines Today, headlines: “Duterte warns China of war over oil, uranium.”  I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  Was President Rodrigo Duterte bluffing?  Or did he finally find the courage to remind Chinese President Xi Jinping of the Philippines’ claim in the West Philippine Sea (WPS)?

 

Although Duterte had insinuated a few times before about war with China over oil exploration, he wasn’t taken seriously.  People would say, “He was just joking.”  But this time around, he seemed to be serious.  He gave the warning in a speech before the League of Municipalities on the Philippines (LMP), about two months prior to Xi’s scheduled visit to the Philippines in November.  What gives?

 

Duterte considers Xi as a “good friend,” having been able to get huge loans for his infrastructure projects.  He told his audience: “Mr. Xi Jinping, we also have a claim.  You know we have the award [U.N.’s arbitral tribunal ruling that awarded the Philippines in June 2016].  But I will not insist on recovering the award because it would result in a war, and it will be a massacre, I know.  But please be it noted that one day during my term, I will assert (our rights).”  Does that mean that by asserting our rights, he’ll go to war – a real war, not word war – against China?

 

Which bring another question to the fore:  Did Duterte play “offensive” move at a time when Xi is scheduled to visit the Philippines in November?  Could it be that he’s posturing to gain positional advantage when he faces Xi to talk or negotiate the issues that have been festering ever since Duterte abandoned pursuing the arbitral award? 

 

Checkmating Duterte

 

Surmise it is to say, if Duterte were a good chess player, he would move his pieces in positions to prevent Xi from moving his pieces forward within checkmating distance.  Xi now has to rethink of revising his playbook when he arrives in the Philippines.  He may have to deal with a leader who has changed his tune and might not be too willing to agree or accede to his proposal – or demands? – in relations to the Philippines’ claims in the WPS.

 

But the problem is what Duterte told his audience that if there is war, it “would result in a massacre,” a line he had repeatedly mentioned in the past.  This would weaken Duterte’s hand.  Besides, Xi is certain that Duterte will never go to war against China, simply because the Philippines doesn’t have the means to go war.   War with China would entail the use of naval and air forces in the contested waters.  With no heavy warships and just a dozen jet fighters, Duterte was right when he said that it would end in a massacre of Philippine forces.

 

Duterte’s ace card

 

Okay, so Duterte was bluffing… just joking again.  However, Xi knows he can’t go to war with the Philippines because Duterte has an ace card: the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which calls for each party to come to the aid of the other in the event of an invasion from China or any other country for that matter. 

 

It's interesting to note that the anti-American leftists in the Philippines have tirelessly been demanding for the revocation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the U.S.  But what baffles a lot of people is that the leftists don’t demand the abrogation of the MDT.  Why?  Is it suffice to say that the Filipino people – including the leftists -- treat the MDT as an “insurance” from the threat of war by another country, particularly China?  

 

When the Philippine Senate rejected the renewal of U.S. bases in the country in 1991 and the closing of the bases the following year, China – within two years – occupied the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.  The Philippine government couldn’t do anything to stop the occupation.  China could then have invaded the country.  But the MDT deterred her.  Without it, the Philippines would have fallen easily to Chinese invasion.  The “insurance” worked. 

 

It’s interesting to note that the MDT also covers any Philippine naval vessel that is attacked in the high seas.  That is why the BPS Sierra Madre, a rusty vessel of World War II vintage, was purposely grounded at the Ayungin Shoal in 1999 with a contingent of Philippine marines stationed on board to keep the Chinese at bay.   China had incessantly demanded that the Philippines remove the grounded Sierra Madre.  They even offered to haul it away for free!   Obviously, once the Sierra Madre is removed, they can then occupy Ayungin Shoal without interference.   

 

Malacca Dilemma

 

But China isn’t ready to go to war against America.  Not yet.  It would take many years for China to catch up militarily with the U.S.   But because of China’s dependence on foreign oil that accounts for 80% of her oil consumption imported from the Middle East and Africa, China is inflicted psychologically with what is called “Malacca Dilemma.”  

 

The “Malacca Dilemma” is a term coined by former Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2003 on China’s over-reliance on the Malacca Straits where her oil imports from the Middle East and Africa pass through.  A conflict in the region or war with the U.S. would effect China’s geopolitical and energy strategies.  If war erupts between U.S. and China, the U.S. can block the chokepoint at the mouth of the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean; thus, stopping all oil shipments to China.  It is estimated that China has strategic oil reserves that would last for only 10 days.  Without oil China would be paralyzed and rendered useless militarily. 

 

In my column, “Duterte’s red lines: Is it a joke?” (June13, 2018), I wrote: “When Duterte told Chinese President Xi Jinping during a recent trip to Beijing that the Philippines intended to drill in the Recto Bank, Xi told him: ‘We’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war.’  Whoa!  It must have hit Duterte like a double whammy!    

 

“In an effort to placate Xi and maintain a friendly relationship, Duterte offered to jointly explore and drill for oil in the Recto Bank on a 60-40 sharing deal. “China has offered joint exploration and joint operation. And I said, maybe, we give you [China] a better deal, 60-40,” Duterte told an audience on April 26.”

 

Clearly, China wouldn’t go to war against the U.S. and, by extension, the Philippines.  China couldn’t afford the economic loss she would incur if war erupts, which makes one wonder: How are the Philippines and China going to play their geopolitical chess game when Xi visits the Philippines?  And who is bluffing: Duterte or Xi?  Or both? (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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Since Donald J. Trump was elected President, legal and illegal immigrants are no longer safe from deportation even when they follow the law to a tee.  According to news reports, the Trump administration is “expected to issue a proposal in coming weeks that would make it harder for legal immigrants and illegal immigrants to become citizens.”  Other reports said that Trump’s plan to deport them, which doesn’t need congressional approval, was part of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller’s plan to limit the number of immigrants who could obtain legal status in the U.S. each year.  His goal is to cut legal immigration in half and get rid of all illegal immigrants.

 

Who is Stephen Miller? 

 

Stephen Miller is Trump’s 32-year old senior policy advisor, speechwriter, anti-immigration policy chief, and right-hand troll.  A known provocateur, Miller is a white nationalist who supports rightwing, white supremacist, and alt-right causes.  An observer once described him as someone who “likes getting s rise out of people in a very sociopathic way.”

 

In his job in the White House, Miller developed policies such as the barring of individuals from Muslim majority countries, cuts to legal immigration, family separation, and the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).   He used his influence in the White House to subvert bipartisan legislation that would have provided permanent protections for “Dreamers.” Dreamers are the young people – mostly Hispanic – who benefitted from former President Barack Obama’s DACA executive order when the DREAM Act -- Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors -- failed to pass in Congress several times.  In September 2017, Trump rescinded DACA that has kept nearly 800,000 young immigrants from deportation since 2012.  Recently, he fashioned Trump’s controversial “Zero Tolerance Policy” that forcibly separated migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.  And now, Miller’s ultimate dream of ridding the country of immigrants is about to become a reality. 

 

But Miller seems to be running away from reality in regard to his family roots.  His uncle David Glosser, a retired neuropsychologist and Miller’s uncle on his mother’s side, said that Miller’s great-great-grandfather Wolf-Leib Glosser left the village of Antopol in what is now Belarus amid “violent anti-Jewish pogroms” there and came to the US.  He landed on Ellis Island in 1903 and within a few years was able to bring over the rest of his family. 

 

“I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country,” Glosser wrote.

 

 Miller’s blueprint 

 
 Miller’s master plan is to deport immigrants – legal and illegal – based on what he believed are “violations” of immigration laws.  His rulemaking proposal targets legal immigrants (green card holders) in the U.S. who have used or whose household members have used the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Food Stamp and other social programs, including the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for the aged.  For participating in these social programs, illegal immigrants could be hindered from obtaining legal status, while legal immigrants’ application for citizenship could be imperiled.  In both cases, “violators” could be deported.  Those hardest hit are immigrants, mostly people of color, who are working in low-paying jobs that are not enough to support their families.   

 

The crux of the matter is in a document called “affidavit of support,” which is required of all sponsors to execute.  Basically, it is a document an individual (sponsor) signs to accept financial responsibility for another person (new immigrant), usually a relative, who is coming to the United States to live permanently.  An affidavit of support is legally enforceable; the sponsor's responsibility usually lasts until the family member or other individual either becomes a U.S. citizen, or can be credited with 40 quarters of work (usually 10 years). [Source: US Citizenship and Immigration Services]

 

The anti-immigrant blueprint designed by Miller and his white nationalist cohorts in the Trump administration first came to fruition in the early months of the Trump presidency.  The  White House is currently reviewing the draft and once Trump approves it, it will be published in the Federal Register; thus, making it a law of the land. 

 

Elderly immigrants

  

One of the groups that would be hardest hit by Miller’s anti-immigration initiative are elderly immigrants who were sponsored by their children under the Family Reunification law, which Trump refers to as “chain migration.”   Since a majority of them were admitted to the U.S. in their senior years, they don’t have Social Security benefits and therefore don’t have any earnings or income.  As such, they would qualify to receive SSI benefits.  In addition, SSI is also used to help blind and disabled people, who have little or no income.  It also provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. 

 

The Family Reunification law allows the immigration of “immediate relatives” of US citizens, which is not subject to any annual visa numerical limits.  Immediate relatives are: (1) Spouses and unmarried children of US citizens; (2) Parents of US citizens; and (3) Widows, widowers, and children of deceased US citizens.

 

Chain migration           

 

Another anti-immigration policy that Miller has been working on is “chain migration.”  On January 8, 2018, The Hill reported: “Miller pushed the White House message on immigration reform, calling for a border wall and an end to ‘chain’ migration, the process by which an immigrant can petition to bring family members to the United States, as well as the adjustment of the country's visa lottery system.”  But didn’t Miller realize that it was chain migration that made it possible for his family to enter the U.S. beginning in 1903?

 

It is interesting to note New York Times’ headline on August 9, 2018 that says: “Melania Trump’s Parents Become U.S. Citizens, Using ‘Chain Migration’ Trump Hates.”  The report said that Trump’s Slovenian in-laws, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, became US citizens by taking advantage of the Family Reunification program.  When their lawyer, Michael Wildes, was asked if the Knavses had obtained citizenship through “chain migration,” which Trump has repeatedly and vehemently denounced, he said, “I suppose.  Chain migration is a ‘dirtier’ way of characterizing the bedrock of our immigration process when it comes to family reunification.”

 

Punishing immigrants

 

Among the ethnic groups of immigrants that would suffer most under these changes to immigration laws are Filipinos. Filipinos, who are known for their close family ties, are arguably the largest group of citizens and legal immigrants who have sponsored their elderly parents to avail of Family Reunification Laws. 

 

One month into Trump’s administration, a draft executive order under consideration would have widespread chilling effects for legal immigrants including the prospective ones who have been waiting for many years – as much as 20 years -- to reunify with their relatives.  Trump started attacking the process of sponsoring relatives as “chain immigration” and he vowed to stop it.  But it’s not limited to legal immigrants.  He also targeted illegal immigrants. 

 

Once implemented, this sinister attempt to punish immigrants could result in mass deportation of an estimated 20 million legal and illegal immigrants -- Filipinos and other people of color.  At no time in US history had this uprooting of immigrant families had been tried before.  However, the large number of Filipinos working in the healthcare industry could have a crippling effect in hospitals, clinics, medical and nursing professions, and the elderly care home industry, which is growing fast due to the 60 million aging “baby boomers.”

  

If Trump proceeds with the deportation of an estimated 20 million immigrants, the result could be catastrophic to the healthcare, agricultural, hotel and entertainment, sanitation, information technology, and other industries, which would have a crippling effect on the economy for lack of qualified professionals and skilled workers. 

 

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For the second time since 2001, former president and now speaker of the House of Representatives Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo staged a coup d’état.  The first was on January 20, 2001 when then vice president Arroyo took over the presidency after then president Joseph “Erap” Estrada was ousted by the late Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes with the blessing of the Supreme Court. 

 

Based on a purported letter from Erap seeking a temporary leave of absence --drafted by Erap’s Executive Secretary, the late Ernesto Angara -- the Supreme Court approved the temporary takeover of Arroyo as “Acting President.”  However, when Arroyo took her oath of office before Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., she was sworn in as “President,” not “Acting President” as agreed unanimously by the Supreme Court justices.  Did Davide deliberately omit the word “Acting”?  Your guess is as good as mine.  

 

Seventeen years after the coup d’état in 2001, the 71-year old Arroyo -- now a congresswoman representing the 2nd district of Pampanga -- staged another coup d’état.  This time she grabbed the Speakership of the House of Representatives from Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.  

 

The story goes that just before the arrival of President Rodrigo Duterte to deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, 2018, Arroyo hastily convened a secret meeting of the majority party, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas mg Bayan (PDP-Laban).  When Duterte arrived in Congress, Batasan Pambansa, he was surprised, apparently without prior knowledge of the coup.  Some lawmakers said that he was so infuriated with what happened that he threatened to walk out of his own SONA.  If Duterte didn’t indeed have a hand in the coup, does that mean that he’s losing his grip on the House?  If so, who engineered the coup?

 

Coup mastermind

 

But just like the coup in 2001, Gloria evidently masterminded the coup.  But Gloria by herself wouldn’t be able to the influence her peers in the House without the support of someone who has power over them.  Gloria reportedly used the rift between Speaker Alvarez and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, the president’s daughter, to pursue her Machiavellian goal.  It was said that the rift was fueled when Alvarez allegedly called Duterte-Carpio a part of the opposition when she formed a separate regional political party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP).  Angered by the accusation, Duterte-Carpio slammed Alvarez and called him an “insecure fat sleaze.”     

 

Recently, Duterte-Carpio told reporters that HNP was willing to forge alliances with other political parties.  Interestingly, there were talks that some lawmakers from the ruling PDP-Laban were considering jumping ship to Lakas-CMD, which was Arroyo’s political party before she pledged allegiance to PDP-Laban in October 2017.  But here’s the kicker: The word is that Lakas-CMD would merge with Duterte-Carpio’s HNP. 

 

Could it be that Gloria is rebuilding Lakas-CMD to what it was before: a strong political party during her presidency?  It must be remembered that members of Lakas-CMD migrated to the Liberal Party (LP) in 2010 when Benigno Aquino III took over the presidency.  When Duterte was elected president in 2016, they turned coats and joined Duterte’s PDP-Laban.

 

Changing political affiliation is a matter of convenience, not for philosophical differences.  Their loyalty is to the candidate, not to their party. They’re known as “balimbings” (turncoats).  To a lot of them, it’s a matter of self-preservation… or survival.  It’s like a musical chair; if you’re not fast enough to switch, you’re out of the game.

 

Federalism
 

With the presidential election still four years away, why is there a stampede to form alliances now?  What comes to mind is the transition period from the current unitary system of government to the proposed federal system of government, which will be submitted to a referendum.  

 

A few months ago, Duterte appointed a Consultative Committee to draft a new federal constitution.  While it is not yet in final form, it will divide the country into 18 federated regions.  However, the national government, except for some changes, will remain in its present structure, which is somewhat similar to that of the United States.  Region is to the Philippines what State is to the U.S.

 

The Executive Department will have a president and vice-president elected as a team.  The Legislative Department will retain the current structure with a Senate and House of Representatives.  Senators will be elected per region, two from each region; a throwback to the 1935 Constitution in which 24 senators were elected at large.   

 

All elected officials will serve for four years with one reelection.  The Judicial Department will consist of four courts: Federal Supreme Court, Federal Constitutional Court, Federal Administrative Court, and Federal Electoral Court.  In addition, each region will have a Regional Supreme Court, Regional Appellate Court, and Regional Trial Courts.  

 

 If federalism fails to win in the referendum, then it’s back to status quo.  However, if federalism were approved, it would kick in a new “political game.”  It is not surprising then why Gloria wanted the speakership.  With the support of Duterte’s PDP, Gloria’s Lakas-CMD, and all the balimbings who are waiting in the wings ready to jump ship, Gloria could wield immense power, which she could use to further her personal agenda.

 

Lucky Luciano Syndrome

 

This brings to mind the question: Can Duterte trust Gloria?  Will Gloria remain loyal to Duterte?  Which reminds me of the legendary Mafia gangster, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano.  Luciano engineered the fall of his first boss, Giuseppe Masseria, and then swore allegiance to his boss’s rival, Salvatore Maranzano.  A few months later, Luciano engineered the fall of Maranzano.  He then convened the heads of the five Mafia families in New York.  He suggested that they form a “national commission” to rule over Mafia business.  The capos agreed and they elected Luciano as the Chairman of the Commission, the capo di tutti capi  (boss of all bosses) or the “Godfather.”  Apparently afflicted with the “Lucky Luciano Syndrome,” one wonders whom would she topple next?

 

Speculation is rife that Duterte will run for president and pick former senator Bongbong Marcos as his vice-president running mate in 2022 under the new federal constitution.  However, given the close political and personal relationship between Duterte and Gloria, Duterte might decide to partner with Gloria instead.  But knowing what had happened to his good friend Erap, Duterte might want to keep Gloria at a safe distance for his own preservation.  But Gloria has to watch out for Sara.  If Sara could help Gloria get the speakership, she could also topple Gloria from her perch.   

 

Sara has shown that she can play hardball politics.  She manifested her appetite for power when she formed HNP.  But to what end?  Could HNP be her vehicle to advance her political ambitions?  She could run for Regional Governor of the federated government of her bailiwick in Davao or use it as a springboard to run for a congressional seat in the House of Representatives.  She can then challenge Gloria for the speakership in 2022.  Or she can run for Regional Senator and position herself to become Senate President.  Either way, she would cross the threshold into national politics, which is a totally different ballgame.

 

Unholy alliance

 

But what about the Marcoses who have been salivating for a comeback to power?  Would Bongbong settle for Duterte’s vice-president?  But where else would he go? Would he settle for a “second in command” role?  Unless he sets his sights higher, which could put him politically at odds with his older sister Imee, who is presumed to be eyeing the Senate presidency or Speakership. Remember, “Politics is thicker than blood.”  Imee has been preparing to go national since Bongbong lost the vice-presidency to Leni Robredo by a slim margin.  Bongbong filed a protest before the Supreme Court but it could be rendered moot and academic if the new federal constitution were approved.  And that would throw him into oblivion.  Ugh!

 

Recent reports say that Imee Marcos and Sara Duterte-Carpio have formed an informal alliance or should I say, unholy alliance?  But the question is:  Who between the two of them would take the top billing and who would play second fiddle to the other? This could cause their unholy alliance to fall apart.  Tough question indeed and only time will tell.  

 

With all these ambitious hard-hitting and headstrong women – Gloria Arroyo, Sara Duterte-Carpio, and Imee Marcos -- positioning themselves in the power game, Philippine politics would never be the same again.  Indeed, Philippine politics is now at a crossroads.

 

 

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In 1284, as the legend goes, the people of Hamelin, Germany, hired the town’s rat-catcher, a piper, to lure the rats away with his magic pipe.  The piper was dressed in multi-colored (“pied”) clothing; hence he was called the “Pied Piper.”  He led the rats out of the town and into the sea where they drowned.  When the town’s people refused to pay him for his services, he retaliated by using his magic pipe and led their children away as he had with the rats.

 

Today, the term “Pied Piper” describes a person who talks often convincingly but who leads people into disaster.  It is also used to identify a leader whom people willingly follow as he leads them into danger or trouble by means of lies and false promises.

 

During the 2016 presidential elections in the U.S., Democratic Party officials labeled the Republican Party’s candidate Donald Trump a “Pied Piper candidate.”  Using his strong appeal to white nationalists and right-wing conservatives, Trump got the nomination of the Republican Party by eliminating his 16 rivals, one by one, in the primaries. 

 

During the general election, Trump used demagoguery to deliver a populist message such as “America First” and “Make America great again!”  He also manifested anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim behavior.  But to his die-hard supporters, his coded messages stirred their own prejudices.    

 

Massive protests

 

The day after Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, the largest organized protest against him occurred in Washington, DC.   The protest -- Women’s March -- was then the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.  Protests in various cities around the world were held in support of the Women’s March.  After that, more protests occurred against Trump’s immigration policy, Travel ban, and the controversial Zero Tolerance Policy that forcibly separated migrant children from their families.

 

As the anti-Trump protests snowballed, his base of diehard voters became angrier. They turned out in large numbers in rallies Trump organized in cities where his voter base was strong.  And in these campaign-like rallies, Trump would excite them using inflammatory rhetoric against the anti-Trump protestors.  

 

He strongly believes that his followers would follow him blindly and remain loyal to him regardless of what he does – right or wrong.  Indeed, on January 23, 2016, then presidential candidate Trump caused controversy when he said during a campaign rally in Iowa: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” That’s how confident he was.  Knowing how effective it was, he had since repeated the same line over and over again.  It worked and they loved it!  Which makes one wonder if he’d ask them to jump off the bridge, would they do it?   Trump would probably say, “Yes, they’ll jump for me.”  Does that manifest over-confidence or is it symptomatic of his imbalanced psyche? 

 

Faux pas

 

When Trump visited the Queen of England last July 13, huge anti-Trump demonstrations were held in London and other cities.  An orange blimp shaped like a baby in a diaper floated above London. It was called “Baby Trump.”  But what is more surprising was the number of anti-Trump protesters who showed up at the rally.  It was estimated that the protesters numbered from 100,000 to 200,000.  The British media was particularly critical.  One newspaper, the Daily News, showed a cartoon of Trump holding Putin with one hand and shooting Uncle Sam with the other hand.  It was captioned, “OPEN TREASON.”   

 

The social media was also inundated with postings expressing indignation and outrage over Trump’s behavior in London and during the NATO Summit in Brussels two days before.  Trump broke protocol when he arrived 12 minutes late to his meeting with Queen Elizabeth.  And when they reviewed the honor guard, Trump rudely walked in front of her.  The Queen had to walk fast to catch up with Trump and walked by his side, which was the norm. After his visit with the Queen at the Windsor Palace, he bragged to reporters that it was the first time in 70 years that the Queen reviewed an honor guard.  Certainly, that was a lie. 

 

It’s interesting to note that no other members of the Royal Family joined Trump and the Queen for tea.   Was it a deliberate snub for Trump who had said, “Britain is in turmoil” and defended Foreign Minister Boris Johnson who had resigned over Brexit?  

 

 It was bad enough that Trump made some faux pas during his visit with the Queen; he also criticized Prime Minister Theresa May.  He accused her of wrecking Brexit, warning that “she may have killed off any chance of a vital US trade deal,” which is a diplomatic taboo to say.  He also told May: “Boris Johnson is good friend… He would make a great prime minister,” which certainly rubbed May the wrong way.

 

Helsinki disaster

 

But the worst thing happened during the Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki on July 16.  During the question and answer session following their press briefing, Trump was asked about the indictment of 12 officers from Russia’s GRU, the equivalent of the CIA.   They were indicted in the US for allegedly hacking the Democratic Party’s computer servers during the 2016 elections.  The investigation that led to the indictment was backed up by US intelligence agencies.  But in a stunning rebuke of the US intelligence community, Trump declined to endorse the US government’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, saying he doesn’t “see any reason why" Russia would be responsible.  Standing next to Putin, he then firmly said in no uncertain terms:  “I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But, I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.  He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would.”  Huh?  Did Trump just throw America and the American people under the bus? 

 

And when Putin was asked whether he had actively wanted Trump to win the presidency, and if he directed any officials to help ensure Trump would win?  Putin’s answer to the double question was: “Yes, I did.  Yes, I did.  Because he [Trump] talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal.” It was a disaster!

 

Putin’s puppet

 

The Helsinki disaster triggered a tsunami in public opinion.  Waves of Americans vented their anger and displeasure over Trump’s treachery.  Many called him a traitor, Putin’s puppet.  How can their Commander-in-Chief sell out to the country’s geopolitical enemy? 

 

Trump was shocked at the reception back home.  Although his diehard base remained loyal by deluging social media with postings of their support, the rest of the country was thunderstruck!  Why?  He believed that he had just finished an outstanding performance on world stage.  He must have felt that America had disgraced him.  How can the American people elect him as president and then abandon him when he needed their unqualified support?

 

Now Trump is going to exact vengeance against America for turning her back on him.  And what a better way to avenged America’s shabby treatment than to find an ally in Putin?  So, a few days after his devastating diplomatic fiasco, Trump invited Putin to come to America.  He will honor him as his special guest during the military parade he had planned for November 10 to celebrate Veterans Day, which is preceded by the midterm elections on November 6.  The outcome of the midterms could lead to Trump taking his victory lap – if he retains majority in Congress -- with Putin on his side, or receive the biggest insult -- if he loses Congress -- to his presidency in front of the hundreds of parading soldiers.

 

And just like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Pied Piper of the White House is going to retaliate with his magical tweets by leading America’s children away and propel America into Russia’s orbit.    

 

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In 1284, as the legend goes, the people of Hamelin, Germany, hired the town’s rat-catcher, a piper, to lure the rats away with his magic pipe.  The piper was dressed in multi-colored (“pied”) clothing; hence he was called the “Pied Piper.”  He led the rats out of the town and into the sea where they drowned.  When the town’s people refused to pay him for his services, he retaliated by using his magic pipe and led their children away as he had with the rats.

 

Today, the term “Pied Piper” describes a person who talks often convincingly but who leads people into disaster.  It is also used to identify a leader whom people willingly follow as he leads them into danger or trouble by means of lies and false promises.

 

During the 2016 presidential elections in the U.S., Democratic Party officials labeled the Republican Party’s candidate Donald Trump a “Pied Piper candidate.”  Using his strong appeal to white nationalists and right-wing conservatives, Trump got the nomination of the Republican Party by eliminating his 16 rivals, one by one, in the primaries. 

 

During the general election, Trump used demagoguery to deliver a populist message such as “America First” and “Make America great again!”  He also manifested anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim behavior.  But to his die-hard supporters, his coded messages stirred their own prejudices.    

 

Massive protests

 

The day after Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, the largest organized protest against him occurred in Washington, DC.   The protest -- Women’s March -- was then the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.  Protests in various cities around the world were held in support of the Women’s March.  After that, more protests occurred against Trump’s immigration policy, Travel ban, and the controversial Zero Tolerance Policy that forcibly separated migrant children from their families.

 

As the anti-Trump protests snowballed, his base of diehard voters became angrier. They turned out in large numbers in rallies Trump organized in cities where his voter base was strong.  And in these campaign-like rallies, Trump would excite them using inflammatory rhetoric against the anti-Trump protestors.  

 

He strongly believes that his followers would follow him blindly and remain loyal to him regardless of what he does – right or wrong.  Indeed, on January 23, 2016, then presidential candidate Trump caused controversy when he said during a campaign rally in Iowa: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” That’s how confident he was.  Knowing how effective it was, he had since repeated the same line over and over again.  It worked and they loved it!  Which makes one wonder if he’d ask them to jump off the bridge, would they do it?   Trump would probably say, “Yes, they’ll jump for me.”  Does that manifest over-confidence or is it symptomatic of his imbalanced psyche? 

 

Faux pas

 

When Trump visited the Queen of England last July 13, huge anti-Trump demonstrations were held in London and other cities.  An orange blimp shaped like a baby in a diaper floated above London. It was called “Baby Trump.”  But what is more surprising was the number of anti-Trump protesters who showed up at the rally.  It was estimated that the protesters numbered from 100,000 to 200,000.  The British media was particularly critical.  One newspaper, the Daily News, showed a cartoon of Trump holding Putin with one hand and shooting Uncle Sam with the other hand.  It was captioned, “OPEN TREASON.”   

 

The social media was also inundated with postings expressing indignation and outrage over Trump’s behavior in London and during the NATO Summit in Brussels two days before.  Trump broke protocol when he arrived 12 minutes late to his meeting with Queen Elizabeth.  And when they reviewed the honor guard, Trump rudely walked in front of her.  The Queen had to walk fast to catch up with Trump and walked by his side, which was the norm. After his visit with the Queen at the Windsor Palace, he bragged to reporters that it was the first time in 70 years that the Queen reviewed an honor guard.  Certainly, that was a lie. 

 

It’s interesting to note that no other members of the Royal Family joined Trump and the Queen for tea.   Was it a deliberate snub for Trump who had said, “Britain is in turmoil” and defended Foreign Minister Boris Johnson who had resigned over Brexit?  

 

 It was bad enough that Trump made some faux pas during his visit with the Queen; he also criticized Prime Minister Theresa May.  He accused her of wrecking Brexit, warning that “she may have killed off any chance of a vital US trade deal,” which is a diplomatic taboo to say.  He also told May: “Boris Johnson is good friend… He would make a great prime minister,” which certainly rubbed May the wrong way.

 

Helsinki disaster

 

But the worst thing happened during the Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki on July 16.  During the question and answer session following their press briefing, Trump was asked about the indictment of 12 officers from Russia’s GRU, the equivalent of the CIA.   They were indicted in the US for allegedly hacking the Democratic Party’s computer servers during the 2016 elections.  The investigation that led to the indictment was backed up by US intelligence agencies.  But in a stunning rebuke of the US intelligence community, Trump declined to endorse the US government’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, saying he doesn’t “see any reason why" Russia would be responsible.  Standing next to Putin, he then firmly said in no uncertain terms:  “I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But, I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.  He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would.”  Huh?  Did Trump just throw America and the American people under the bus? 

 

And when Putin was asked whether he had actively wanted Trump to win the presidency, and if he directed any officials to help ensure Trump would win?  Putin’s answer to the double question was: “Yes, I did.  Yes, I did.  Because he [Trump] talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal.” It was a disaster!

 

Putin’s puppet

 

The Helsinki disaster triggered a tsunami in public opinion.  Waves of Americans vented their anger and displeasure over Trump’s treachery.  Many called him a traitor, Putin’s puppet.  How can their Commander-in-Chief sell out to the country’s geopolitical enemy? 

 

Trump was shocked at the reception back home.  Although his diehard base remained loyal by deluging social media with postings of their support, the rest of the country was thunderstruck!  Why?  He believed that he had just finished an outstanding performance on world stage.  He must have felt that America had disgraced him.  How can the American people elect him as president and then abandon him when he needed their unqualified support?

 

Now Trump is going to exact vengeance against America for turning her back on him.  And what a better way to avenged America’s shabby treatment than to find an ally in Putin?  So, a few days after his devastating diplomatic fiasco, Trump invited Putin to come to America.  He will honor him as his special guest during the military parade he had planned for November 10 to celebrate Veterans Day, which is preceded by the midterm elections on November 6.  The outcome of the midterms could lead to Trump taking his victory lap – if he retains majority in Congress -- with Putin on his side, or receive the biggest insult -- if he loses Congress -- to his presidency in front of the hundreds of parading soldiers.

 

And just like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Pied Piper of the White House is going to retaliate with his magical tweets by leading America’s children away and propel America into Russia’s orbit.    

 

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Unceremoniously ousted as Chief Justice by an eight-vote majority of the Supreme Court, Maria Lourdes Sereno must be contemplating what her future will be?  During a press conference in the aftermath of the controversial “quo warranto” petition that passed muster of the Supreme Court, Sereno told reporters at a press briefing that she “believes she does not have to hold her old title to continue her fight against President Rodrigo Duterte's policies, which she said have taken a toll on the poor and marginalized.”  It was her opening salvo in her war against the forces led by Duterte who conspired to remove her from the High Court.  Speaking in the vernacular, Sereno said: “Many people are going hungry and many are getting killed.”  It was the perfect message to wage a campaign against the incumbent president.

 

Sereno’s departure from the Supreme Court opens new doors for her, which is certainly a welcome opportunity to advocate reforms in the country’s judicial system.  And there is no better venue than to serve in the Senate where she could use it as a platform to effect changes in the dysfunctional Judiciary.  The opportunity to do so came from Liberal Party (LP) President Sen. Francis Pangilinan who offered her a spot on the LP’s senatorial slate in next year’s midterm elections.  Pangilinan said Sereno would be a strong addition to the opposition.  “We need strong women in our ticket,” Pangilinan said.

 

Indeed, Sereno, who has never held an elective office before, would add to the opposition line-up her broad legal and judicial experience, which is sorely lacking in today’s electoral process where candidates for office are usually drawn from the entertainment sector.  In essence, the qualification that is being used in selecting candidates is “popularity,” which of course translates to the ability of candidates to get votes and win elections.  Gone are the days when candidates were some of the best legal minds in the country, the likes of which include Jose P. Laurel, Claro M. Recto, Quentin Paredes, Jose Diokno, Emmanuel Pelaez, and Camilo Osias.  Although Osias was not a lawyer – he was an educator – he was an eloquent orator whose persistent advocacy paid off in 1932 with the passage of the Hare–Hawes–Cutting Act, which put the Philippines on the road to independence in 1946.  Today, actors, comedians, TV personalities, basketball players, and boxers dominate the political process.   

 

Conflicting laws

It is no wonder then that there are a lot of conflicting laws that contravene each other, thus sowing confusion in the interpretation of the law.  Take for example the ouster of Sereno.  The Constitution is very clear as to how Supreme Court justices are removed from office, which is by impeachment.  When the impeachment case against Sereno stalled in the House of Representatives, the Duterte administration resorted to using a quo warranto petition.  But quo warranto has never been used before in lieu of impeachment. Nevertheless, eight of the Supreme Court justices, comprising the majority, voted in favor of the quo warranto petition.  But who is there to challenge the validity of quo warranto among members of the High Court?   In essence, the use of quo warranto to remove Sereno can be best described as “judicial voodoo.” 

 

Judicial voodoo

In the Supreme Court ruling that absolved Justice Mariano del Castillo of plagiarism“Judicial Voodoo vs. Rule of Law” (November 2, 2010), I wrote: “The Supreme Court ruling defied conventional logic and used convoluted rationale that could only be construed as an aberration – or abrogation – of established norms and standards.   It was classic case of ‘Judicial voodoo’ taking precedence over the rule of law where the magistrates used mumbo-jumbo reasoning [to arrive at a decision].”

 

“Another controversial ruling of the Supreme Court was when it totally ignored Section 15 Article VII of the Constitution -- which bans midnight appointments – and allowed then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to appoint Justice Renato Corona as Chief Justice during the prohibited period.  This could only be construed as ‘judicial voodoo’ where rule of law was debased for the purpose of circumventing the constitution for the aggrandizement of a few.” [Ibid]

 

“Sad to say, with Corona at the helm of the Supreme Court until 2018 [Note: Corona was impeached on December 12, 2011] — when he reaches mandatory age retirement — and the other Arroyo appointees holding a majority until then, the Aquino administration would be under the spell of ‘judicial voodooism’ for a long time to come.   Are these the signs that portend to the coming of the Dark Age in Philippine jurisprudence?  Or, are we already at that age?” [Ibid]

 

In the case of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the quo warranto petition, the majority disregarded the constitutional provision on impeaching constitutional officers and blindly used convoluted reasoning to judicially lynch Sereno.  The sad part is that there was no higher authority that could override the Supreme Court justices’ lack of judicial aptitude in interpreting the Constitution.

 

The quo warranto petition against Sereno was filed before the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Jose Calida to remove her from her post as the Supreme Court Chief Justice. The petition was made to nullify then President Benigno Aquino III’s appointment of Sereno as Chief Justice of the High Court.  The legal community, including the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and a battery of law deans and professors, reportedly denounced Calida’s petition as “unconstitutional.”  Many legal luminaries are of the opinion that allowing Sereno to be ousted via quo warranto not only violated the constitutional provision on impeachable officials and the rule of court, but it would also make justices of the High Court, and the entire Judiciary, vulnerable to undue pressure and intimidation from the President, who is the appointing authority on all judicial appointments, from Municipal Judges to Supreme Court Justices.  

 

Sereno’s options

With Sereno out of government service, she is faced with four viable options, viz: (1) Retire and write her memoirs; (2) Go back to the practice of law; (3) Form or join a public interest group to advocate for judicial reform; or (4) Run for office.  Under Option 1, Sereno retires and devotes her time to writing her memoirs, which would tell her story and expose the inequity she suffered from the Executive Branch.  But at 58 years of age, she’s too young to go into retirement.  Under Option 2, Sereno goes back to the practice of law, which would be financially rewarding for her.  Under Option 3, Sereno forms or joins a public interest group to advocate for judicial reform and to overhaul or streamline the Judiciary Branch to make it more effective and responsive to the public’s needs.  Under Option 4, Sereno runs for Senator, which would give her the opportunity to pursue her advocacies at the highest legislative level in government.  Winning a Senate seat would effectively vindicate her of the accusations made against her, which led to her ouster from the High Court.   Indeed, the possibility of Sereno running for a Senate seat next year is one of the best news since Duterte became president. Sereno would bring a lot of experience to the Legislative Branch.  Since there are only a few lawmakers who actually know the law, Sereno’s entry into the political arena would be an opportune time for her to serve the public’s interests and make a great deal of difference.

 

When asked if she’s going to run for office, Sereno said she has yet to discuss the matter with her team because she wants to focus on her legal and political problems for now.   But she should make up her mind soon because there is barely a year left to the 2019 elections.  She should position herself at the head of the pack of senatoriables.  The sooner, the better.  She should also be cognizant that politics is a game where latecomers rarely make it to the finish line.  Indeed, she has only one chance to win a Senate seat.  If she misses that chance, it’s good-bye for her.

 

So, quo vadis, Sereno? (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

 

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In my column last month, titled “Boracay: Paradise Lost,” I wrote: “ Today, Boracay is facing a multitude of environmental issues – overcrowding, garbage, and water pollution -- and there are no easy solutions to fix them. The worsening conditions had prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to threaten to close the popular resort island, which he described as a ‘cesspool.’  He instructed Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu to resolve the problems in six months.”

 

But Cimatu has a problem bigger than his head.  The number one problem that’s causing his migraine is the non-enforcement of an ordinance requiring residents and business establishments to connect to the island’s sewerage system.  DENR has given businesses not connected to the sewer lines one month to link up or face sanctions. 

 

What we’re talking about here is just the tip of the iceberg.  With the number of visitors increasing 14% every year, it’s projected to hit 2.2 million in 2018.  But the environment may have reached a point of no return where it would take 25 years or more to rehabilitate and restore it to its pristine condition.  But that’s easier said than done.  The problem is that nobody seems to be interested in fixing the damage to the environment.  They just want to deal with “beautifying” the landscape. 

 

Faced with an impossible order to fix this gargantuan environmental problem, Cimatu might just have to quit his high-paying government job and be content with his hefty retirement pay as a retired four-star general.  He served as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 56 in September 2002.   He served in that position for four months.

 

Think of Oahu

Given his military background, Cimatu expressed disapproval of the planned construction of a 23-hectare casino in Boracay.  He said that Boracay is not the place for this type of establishment.  He cited Boracay’s limited capacity and the DENR’s goal to restore it to its former pristine state.  Although a 23-hectare slice of the island is small relative to the island’s 1,032-hectare size, it would expand the commercial use of the island to a point where it would lose its “Paradise” image.  It would be another Oahu, a Hawaiian island “Paradise,” which had, within a few generations, become so commercialized and packed with people.  It has become one of the most expensive real estate in America.  Nobody calls it “Paradise” anymore.  Its land area is about 100 times larger than Boracay.  Can you imagine how Boracay would look like 30 years from now?  Think of Oahu.

 

Cimatu said that he did not receive any requests for permits for the construction of a casino on the island.  He indicated that he was caught off guard by the reports that plans to build a casino are already underway.   He also clarified that DENR has been planning the rehabilitation and closure of Boracay “months before these reports began to surface.” 

 

“No farms in Boracay”

 

Meanwhile, Duterte approved the recommendation of three government agencies for a six-month closure of Boracay effective April 26 to make way for its rehabilitation.  Duterte also announced his plans to subject the island for land reform since the island is “agricultural.” His statement has become the butt of jokes among the locals. “There are no farms here,” a resident told a reporter.  “I plant vegetables on our rooftop.”

 

It’s interesting to note that Cimatu couldn’t make official statements about building the casino because DENR hasn’t been approached by any Chinese businessman.  But Cimatu asserted that if the plan pushes through, the project would have to comply with Environmental regulations.  But a provisional license has already been granted by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) for the casino by Macau-based company Galaxy Entertainment and their Filipino partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp.

 

But it seems that Cimatu doesn’t really have a role in the approval process for the casino.   As it turned out, Francis Lui Yiu Tung, vice chairman of Galaxy Entertainment, has been talking to Duterte to discuss “potential business opportunities in the Philippines.” 

 

Galaxy will partner with Philippine-based Leisure and Resorts Work Corp. to open a $300m to $500m casino on Boracay.  At present, Melco Resorts is the only Macau-based operator to have a footprint in the Philippines.  Melco’s $1bn City of Dreams Manila opened its doors in Manila’s Entertainment City in 2015.With the rush to build casinos on Philippine soil, PAGCOR said that it would refrain from issuing new gaming licenses in Manila during the next five years, following requests by existing integrated resort operators.  Interestingly, Galaxy’s license application was submitted before the ban took effect.  Needless to say, Galaxy’s competitors aren’t happy about PAGCOR’s decision, which obviously favors Galaxy.

 

Another point of interest is Galaxy’s Philippine-based partner, Leisure & Resorts World Corporation.  Leisure & Resorts World Corporation, through its subsidiaries, engages in bingo gaming business in the Philippines. The company provides traditional and electronic bingo gaming services; operates and licenses eGames stations; licenses, monitors, and regulates various i-gaming activities of game operators and entities. It also conducts junket gaming operations; owns and operates the Midas Hotel and Casino; and develops and operates resorts. In addition, the company engages in gaming, recreation, and leisure activities; and development and leasing of real estate properties. As of December 31, 2016, it had approximately 9,790 E-Bingo machines in 138 bingo parlors. Leisure & Resorts World Corporation. [Source: Bloomberg.com]

 

It is with great anticipation what this partnership between a casino and a bingo operator would bring to the people of Boracay, particularly to those whose livelihood depends on tourism.  Would it benefit the people?  Or would it be the milking cow of the casino operators? 

 

One of the dangers of having a casino in Boracay is the further deterioration of the environment.  Think of the human traffic it would create?  Has an environmental impact study been done? 

 

Another danger is that a casino would be a magnet for criminal activities such as organized crime, illegal drugs, illegal gambling, and prostitution. 

 

Uncertain future

 

Right now, with Boracay facing an uncertain future, its citizens are deprived of the revenue generated by tourism.  And there is no telling how long the closure would be. With no other industry other than tourism, the closure would affect some 17,000 workers.  However, it is anticipated that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will hire some 5,000 informal sector workers and members of indigenous communities for temporary cleanup jobs, which begs the question: What will happen to the 12,000 soon-to-be out-of-work employees?  In a move that creates more confusion and chaos than what the tourism businesses would be faced with, DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III ordered business owners not to lay off any of their workers during the six-month closure, which is set to start April 26. In a labor advisory Bello issued on April 6, he said, "Temporary suspension of business operations should not and must not result in the termination or separation of any employee.”  He said that businesses can only observe the “no work, no pay” scheme or let their workers use leave credits during the closure.

 

No matter how DOLE cuts it, the closure would result in unemployment for some 12,000 workers, many of whom are from other provinces who took jobs in Boracay to support their families back home.  There simply is no other way to generate income for them.

 

At the end of the day, while there is no easy way to solve Boracay’s environmental problems, allowing a Macau-based conglomerate to operate a casino on the island would be detrimental to the preservation of the country’s patrimony.  The best and surest way to save Boracay from the ravages created by carpetbaggers and profiteers is to ban the operation of casinos on the island.   Duterte should not allow Boracay to fall victim to man’s greed for profit.  Don’t put Boracay in Galaxy’s orbit. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

 

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In a gesture of friendship, South Korean President Moon Jae-in hosted a luncheon for Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un after the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  It was the most significant diplomatic encounter between the two Koreas in many years.

 

Their meeting was preceded by another event, when dignitaries from around the world assembled at the Olympic Stadium’s VIP box.  In the box sat twelve world leaders and their spouses, who included U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, and Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister. The presence of Ms. Kim signals a thawing of tensions between the two Koreas.

 

Interestingly, Pence who was seated on the front row with his wife Karen to his right, was just a few feet away from Kim Yo-jong who was seated on the second row right behind Mrs. Pence, an arm’s length away from Pence.  It was reported in the news that Pence seemed to have made no effort to acknowledge her. It’s interesting to note that by not acknowledging her presence, it is considered a “snub” – an insult in Asian cultures.  It certainly would have earned Pence – and by extension, the United States – some respect had he simply nodded to acknowledge her presence.  It was a diplomatic faux pas, which Pence could have avoided with a smile.   But as it turned out, he coldly ignored her and watched the entire show with a stiff neck.

 

Missed opportunity

 

What could have been a great opportunity to start a new chapter in U.S.-North Korea relations, Pence’s seemingly arrogant stance had doused any prospect to jump start bilateral talks between the two countries… or even better, a trilateral negotiation including South Korea.   It could also open the door for the inclusion of China in future talks, particularly the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.  But to convince North Korea to abandon her nuclear program would be an exercise in futility.  It would be like telling a little boy to throw his marbles away.  No way!

 

But as North Korea grows up and matures into a more responsible society, the notion of peaceful coexistence between the two Koreas gains viability.  But first, the two Koreas must end the state of war that they’re in since the Korean Armistice was signed in 1953.   

 

Korean Reunification

 

But a final peace agreement has yet to be achieved, not with the current political situation.  And for it to evolve into a détente between the two Koreas, they must demonstrate that they’re willing to sit down and discuss the issues that have driven a wedge between them.  The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics would have offered that opportunity.  For the first time in 65 years, the two nations joined together in an Olympics parade as One Korea.  And proudly beaming with a smile, South Korean President Moon seemed to be enjoying playing host. Surely, he is looking at the Winter Olympics as an opportunity to re-establish bilateral talks with North Korea.

 

Although it’s too soon to talk about reunification without inciting protests from South Korean conservatives -- who have been critical of the use of the Unification Flag – the timing for such an overture fits perfectly well.  The conservatives claimed that the Reunification Flag has undermined South Korea’s “big moment” as host to the Olympics.  

 

Generational loyalty

 

Incidentally, the conservatives used to be avowedly pro-reunification.  However, over the years, their numbers dwindled, which paradoxically is indicative of generational loyalty; that is, younger generations of South Koreans identify themselves distinctly different from North Koreans.  To them, the concept of “One Korea” and “shared nationalism” is fading away. As one South Korean think tank researcher said, “The more and more we move to younger generations, the idea that we are one people is disappearing.”  A recent survey by RealMeter showed that only four out of 10 South Koreans favored the idea of the two Koreas flying the Unification Flag at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.  By contrast, a similar poll conducted in 2002 showed 76% of South Koreans approved of flying the Reunification Flag during the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.

 

While South Korean “nationalism” may be a major factor in blocking any attempt to reunify the two Koreas, “family reunification” has a strong emotional pull in bringing the two Koreas under one government in an open society.  It’s hard to imagine how this could be achieved with North Korea ruled by an authoritarian government in a communist society, while South Korea, by contrast, is governed democratically in a capitalistic free market economy.  South Korea is one of the richest countries in the world, while North Korea is a pauper state.  

 

Unifying the two Koreas

 

Politics aside, it would be ideal to unify the two Koreas under the South Korean model simply because the union would have a better chance of thriving.  It would bring progress to the lives of 25.6 million North Korean.  If unification is to be done under a North Korean government, what do you think would happen to the lives of the 51.1 million South Koreans who would be forcibly integrated into a repressive communist society?

 

But the problem with unifying the two Koreas under a South Korean government is that China would most likely object to such union.  There is just no way that China would agree to letting go of North Korea, which has served as a buffer zone to China’s eastern flank.  And with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles that North Korea could use to threaten South Korea, Japan, and America’s western periphery, the U.S. nuclear defense umbrella is weakened.

 

But China’s objection to a unified Korea under a South Korean government is not the only problem.   Although the U.S. must appear to favor “One Korea” under a South Korean government, the U.S. could be taking a political risk because once a unified Korea is achieved under a South Korean government, there is no assurance that South Korea’s defense alliance with the U.S. would survive in its current form.  Indeed, with the elimination of a North Korean nuclear threat and massive troop invasion, the U.S.-South Korea defense alliance would no longer be as needed as it is today, which means that South Korea would eventually ask the 28,500 American troops to leave.  And in the case of China, there would no longer be a need to be adversarial.  China had always been trying to maintain friendly bilateral relations with South Korea and if North Korea doesn’t exist anymore, there is no reason why they can’t be friends.  After all, China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner.  Indeed, China would immensely benefit -- politically, economically, and militarily --from a unified Korea

           

Kim Jong-un’s invitation

 

During the luncheon hosted by Moon, Kim Yo-jong extended a formal invitation to Moon to visit North Korea.  Moon responded by suggesting the two countries “should accomplish this by creating the right conditions,” adding that talks between North Korea and the United States were also needed, and requested that “North Korea be more active in talking with the US.”  That was a smart move by Moon.  Clearly, Moon still needs the protective nuclear umbrella of Uncle Sam.

 

If Kim agrees to Moon’s suggestion to bring the U.S. to the negotiating table, then it would open the door to a peaceful resolution of the Korean people’s quest for reconciliation and reunification.  

 

(This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

 

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Ever since the Constitution was drawn in 1987 in the aftermath of the EDSA People Power Revolution, several attempts have been made to revise or change the Constitution.  The most common reason for a charter change was the extension of the president’s term, which was originally set for a single six-year term. For some reason those elected were bitten by a “presidential bug” that afflicted them with a desire to stay in the office longer than six years.

 

The idea of extending the president’s term began with the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos who declared martial law in 1972 prior to the expiration of his second term.  He remained in office until 1986 when the people who became fed up with his corrupt and brutal regime ousted him.

 

The late President Cory Aquino was the first to serve under the single six-year term. Close to the end of her term, many of her supporters encouraged her to run for a second term arguing that she was not covered by the single six-year term imposed by the 1987 Constitution.  She refused to run.  She also opposed attempts to amend the Constitution to do away with term limits; thus, allowing the reelection of incumbent presidents.   Her successor, Fidel V. Ramos tried to amend the Constitution by pushing for an initiative.  The initiative failed and never went beyond first base. 

 

Gloria’s game plan

 

In my column, “Betrayal of EDSA” (June 9, 2009), I wrote: “In 2001, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power by way of a sham People Power revolution that deposed president Joseph Estrada.  The people unwillingly relented hoping that Gloria would turn the country around.  But within a few days after she took over the presidency, a major corruption scandal occurred involving Gloria’s Secretary of Justice. Evidently, corruption was seeded into her administration the day she took over the presidency. EDSA was betrayed. They used her to gain power for themselves.

 

“With one year left in her term of office, many people are convinced that Gloria would do whatever it takes to remain in power beyond 2010. [In 2006] she almost succeeded in getting a Charter change approved through a people’s initiative. However, the Supreme Court rejected the legality of the people’s initiative. [Had the Supreme Court voted in favor of the ‘people’s initiative,’ Gloria would have been the country’s Prime Minister by now with an open-ended term of office. That is, as long as her political allies in Parliament would support her, she’d remain in power… indefinitely].
 

“On May 28, 2009, Gloria merged the Lakas-CMD and Kampi parties into one under her leadership. Right after the ceremonies merging the two largest political parties, the word was that Gloria talked to the congressmen behind closed doors. According to leaks from insiders, her marching orders to them were to pass House Resolution 1109 as soon as possible. HR 1109 would convene the House as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) for the purpose of amending the 1987 constitution… without the Senate. According to news reports, Gloria supposedly promised each congressman P20 million for his or her ‘yes’ vote on HR 1109.
 

“On June 2, the House of Representatives passed -- nay, railroaded -- HR 1109 by voice vote. The debate was cut short denying the few oppositionists an opportunity to speak out against HR 1109. But what could the handful of oppositionists have done? Tyranny of the majority prevailed. Once again, EDSA was betrayed.”

 

New Constitution

 

HR 1109 triggered massive protest rallies against the attempt to rewrite the Constitution, which was perceived to be a move by Gloria’s allies in the House of Representatives to extend her term beyond June 2010.
  

With cha-cha stopped on its track, Gloria’s allies pursued another avenue — they pushed her to run for Congress.  She did and has been member of Congress since then.  Now she is posed to take another shot for a national office in conjunction with Duterte’s push for a charter change to replace the form of government to that of a federal system before the 2019 elections.

 

According to news reports, a draft of the new constitution is in the works.  There are also plans to call for a joint session of Congress, which would be converted into a constituent assembly (con-ass) to revise the1987 Constitution.  The body would then produce a draft of the proposed federal constitution, which would then be submitted in a plebiscite during the May barangay elections.

 

However, many believe that with a tight timetable, there might be attempts to cancel the 2019 elections for senators, congressmen, and thousands of local officials.   Known as No-El (No Election), it is expected to entice holdover national and local officials to go along with it.  But if Duterte fails to pursue No-El, well…. Duterte could always declare a revolutionary government (rev-gov).  With members of Congress on his side and the military could be “bought,” only the Supreme Court could stop him, unless he makes a move to abolish the Supreme Court. 

 

Incidentally, recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) polls show that a large number of Filipinos disagree with Duterte’s plan to declare rev-gov.  They found that 39% disagreed, 31% agreed, and 30% were undecided on declaring Duterte's anti-‘destabilization’ provision over the country.  But regardless whether the people agreed or disagreed, Duterte is believed to be bent on declaring a rev-gov if that would achieve his agenda, which many believe was taken from a page out of Marcos’ playbook.

 

Federal system

 

It is interesting to note that Gloria would seem to play an important role in Duterte’s plan. It’s been often mentioned that the federal system that what Duterte had in mind would be a parliamentary form of government.  If such is the case, then more than likely a prime minister would serve as the head of government while the president would remain head of state.  Or it could be similar to the French template, which has a strong president that sets policy and a prime minister that runs the state bureaucracy. 

 

Gloria is a trusted confidant of Duterte, which would ensure strong working relationship between the two should they share power as president and prime minister.

 

But what is unusual in their seemingly strange relationship is that Duterte is a hard-nosed anti-corruption crusader while Gloria had presided over one of the most – if not the most – corrupt administrations in the Philippines.  It would be hard to imagine how they could work together in that kind of environment. 

 

With Duterte and Gloria working in tandem, it would be hard for the opposition – if any -- to “fiscalize” them.  There would be no checks and balances since it is expected that the legislature would be stacked up with Duterte’s political allies who would do Duterte’s bidding.  Do you remember Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Bayan (New Society Movement) where he got 98% of the parliament’s vote all the time?

 

But the real danger in Duterte’s attempt to shift to federalism is not the system itself but the people who would run the system.  Then the danger of autocratic rule seeps in, which could lead to repression of the people’s rights.  Then what?

 

At this point in the country’s history where relative peace and economic progress is taking quantum leap, it is best to maintain the status quo and not to disturb the social equilibrium of the nation and derail its prosperity.

 

At the end of the day, dancing cha-cha to Duterte’s tune could lead to missteps to the detriment of the people.

 

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It’s not everyday that someone would call the most powerful leader in the world a “moron” or anything close to that.  But that’s what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did.  And for those who don’t know what it means, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “moron” as a “very stupid person” or “a person affected with mild mental retardation,” which then begs the question: Is Donald J. Trump a moron? 
 
But whatever you might think about it, the real reason Tillerson called Trump a moron is actually “terrifying” as the Daily Beast reported the incident on October 4, 2017.  It reported that the insult came one day after "a meeting about Afghanistan in which Trump compared the process of reviewing strategy in the country to the renovation of a high-end New York restaurant." It then said that NBC News reported that “Tillerson called Trump a ‘moron’ after a meeting concerning the US' nuclear arsenal in which Trump asked for 10 times more nuclear weapons.”
 
According to NBC News, the meeting was in July and Trump’s “insane request” was apparently in response to information Trump was given about the US’ steady decrease in nuclear weapons since the late 60’s. The officials at the meeting were said to be surprised by his request, and had to explain to Trump “the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup.” 
 
The NBC News reported further that Trump said several times that he also wanted more troops and military equipment.  But officials told NBC News that no increase in the nuclear arsenal is planned.  Soon after the meeting ended, the officials who stayed behind overheard Tillerson say that Trump was a “moron.”  When a reporter asked Tillerson to confirm if he called Trump a “moron,” he didn’t dispute it.  
 
But what might sound “petty” is a serious problem… a very serious problem, considering that the person referred to as a “moron” is the most powerful man on earth who has at his disposal more than 5,000 nuclear warheads.  And he wanted to increase that number tenfold?  This man is not only a “moron,” he is the “Moron-in-Chief.” And he must be crazy, too! 
 
Dr. Strangelove
 
Which reminds me of the 1964 movie, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”  It is a political satire black comedy film that satirizes the Cold War fears of a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States.
 
Although the Cold War is now over, the specter of a nuclear war is still very real.  With North Korea threatening to attack the U.S. with a barrage of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, it has driven Trump closer to the brink of madness and self-destruction.  The sad part of it is that the whole humankind would suffer, nay perish.
 
In less than a year in the presidency, Trump has reduced the world’s only superpower to an impotent eunuch denigrated by rogue states like North Korea and Iran.   
 
When Trump addressed the U.N. General Assembly with a threat to “totally destroy North Korea” if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un responded: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”  Kim’s personal response marked an escalation of the word war between Trump and Kim.  North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA then released the following statement: “The mentally deranged behavior of the U.S. president openly expressing on the UN arena the unethical will to ‘totally destroy’ a sovereign state, beyond the boundary of threats of regime change or overturn of social system, makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure.”  
 
So, where is all this hyperbole leading?  With North Korea conducting 19 missile tests and one nuclear test in 2017, North Korea is getting closer to its goal of developing a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the U.S.  North Korea is now believed to possess 60 nuclear weapons. 
 
Trump’s miscalculations
 
But North Korea’s nuclear blackmail is only the tip of the iceberg.  While the threat can be neutralized at a very high cost in lives and resources, there are a number of Trump miscalculations that could change the world order.
 
In my column, “Trump’s geopolitical miscalculations,” (May 12, 2017), I wrote: “But the worst in Trump’s miscalculations in Asia was his decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a security and economic agreement between 12 countries led by the U.S.  Seven of the member-countries hail from the Asia-Pacific: Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam, of which four are ASEAN members (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam). Collectively, the TPP member-countries account for 40% of world trade.  Ironically, it was the U.S. under the presidency of Obama who started the negotiations among the 12 countries.  Unfortunately, while 11 countries ratified TPP in 2016, the U.S. Congress under Republican control failed – or refused – to ratify it in the last few months of Obama’s presidency.  When Trump took over, withdrawal from TPP was one of his first acts – victims of his vindictive assault on policies and programs that Obama implemented.”
 
China fills the void
 
 With the U.S. out of the “big picture,” it is anticipated that China would step in to take the place of the U.S. in the TPP.  It’s ironic that TPP, which the U.S. was instrumental in forming as a counterbalance China’s dominance in world trade, would end up circling in China’s orbit.
 
But while the TPP might hurt the U.S.’s trade relations, there is nothing more destructive than Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement last June.  The agreement was adopted by consensus by representatives of 196 parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC in Paris on December 12, 2015.  To date, 195 members have signed the agreement, 168 of which have ratified it.  By Trump’s withdrawal, the U.S. will join two other U.N. member countries – Syria and Nicaragua -- that haven’t signed on.
 
On October12, 2017, Trump brought his war to the home front, launching an assault on Obamacare.  He issued an executive order that stopped payments worth billions of dollars to health insurers to subsidize low-income Americans.   It was a move health insurers have warned will cause chaos in insurance markets and a spike in premiums.   
 
The following day, Trump did what he’d been threatening to do and that is: pull out of a deal freezing and reversing Iran’s nuclear program if Congress and U.S. allies do not agree to strengthen it.  In trying to justify his decision, Trump said: “As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into."  
 
Sad to say, what Obama put together in the eight years he was president, Trump dismantled them in eight months.  And it would probably take another eight years –maybe more -- to put them back together. As someone once said, “Rome wasn’t built in one day, but they were laying bricks every hour.”  In the case of the U.S., Trump is burning it, day after day.  And he fiddled while doing it.
 
 
 
 
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