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For 32 years after her late husband, dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was toppled from power, Imelda Marcos was never convicted of the crimes she allegedly committed during the reign of Marcos. Of the approximately 100 cases of graft and corruption filed against Imelda, the Philippine government lamely prosecuted her only to let her go.  Indeed, from the time the government allowed her to come home from exile to bury her deceased husband in 1989, she was untouchable.  She even ran for president in 1992.  She lost but proved that her husband’s following – the “Marcos Pa Rin” crowd – has remained loyal to her. 

 

Yes, she defiantly stood up against the establishment, the same people who ousted the Marcoses from power.  But that didn’t discourage her to give up Philippine politics; after all, she and her husband were the conjugal rulers for more than two decades.  They had it so good that they didn’t see it coming from, of all places, right under their noses in Malacanang Palace.  It was no other than Marcos’ Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and his Chief of Staff and cousin Lt. General Fidel V. Ramos who led the People’s Power Revolution in 1986.

 

Exiled to Hawaii at the urging of their best friend in Washington DC no less than the late President Ronald Reagan himself, who ordered then-Sen. Paul Laxalt to telephone Marcos.  After trying to persuade Marcos to step down, Marcos finally asked him, “Should I step down?  Senator, what do you think?”  It was what Laxalt was waiting for.  Laxalt then replied with his famous line: “Mr. President, I am not bound by diplomatic restraints. I am talking only for myself. I think you should cut and cut cleanly. I think the time has come." There was a long pause.  Then Laxalt asked, “Mr. President, are you still there?"  “I am still here, senator," Marcos replied. "I am so very, very disappointed.”  Thus, the longest presidency in Philippine history came to an end.  The Marcoses were flown to Hawaii in exile.  Marcos died in September 1989 leaving the fabled Marcos loot behind for his heirs.   Marcos also left behind billions of dollars in real estate and business assets.  But the Philippine government sequestered them all.  Although some have been sold, a large number remained unsettled. 

 

National politics

 

And this is where Imelda and her two children, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Imee Marcos, have inched their way to national politics, while retaining complete control of politics in their home province of Ilocos Norte.  Currently, Imelda is in her last term as congresswoman of the Marcoses’ bailiwick, the second congressional district, while Imee is serving her last term as governor.  Both will be termed out in 2019.  Then what?

 

Meanwhile, Bongbong, who lost to Vice President Leni Robredo in the 2016 elections, has protested the results of the election to the Supreme Court working as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).  At one time it was rumored that the PET will declare Bongbong winner without the benefit of a recount.  But how can the PET make a ruling without a recount?  There were talks that the Marcoses bribed some justices to do just that.  But it must have fizzled out since the PET started recounting a pilot area comprising of three provinces.  The recount is still ongoing.  However, depending on the outcome, a full recount is very much likely to happen, which means it won’t be completed until after the 2020 elections rendering it moot and academic. 

 

If that would be the case, Bongbong -- hedging his political future on the recount --would be out of the presidential race.  And this is where his sister Imee would come in – she would run for president.  And that’s probably the reason why she is running for senator in 2019, a stepping stone to the presidency.  Recent polls showed her in 7th or 8th place among the senatorial wannabes vying for 12 seats.

 

Battle royale

 

The question is: whom would she be facing in the 2022 presidential elections?  Who comes to mind are Vice President Leni Robledo, Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Sen. Grace Poe, and the President’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio.  There could be more; but these aspirants, in my opinion, are now weighing their chances.

 

But because of Imee’s support among the formidable Marcos loyalists and her mother’s vaunted mega-wealth, she’d be put on the top tier of presidentiables, a battle royale between Robredo, Duterte-Carpio, and Imee Marcos. 

 

But Duterte-Carpio, too, has a very strong backing from her father’s loyalists, the more than 16 million who voted for him in 2016.  She can add her growing base of loyal followers. She can be very formidable indeed. 

 

Robredo, being the incumbent vice president, is presumed to have the support of those who voted for her in 2016.  She narrowly defeated Bongbong, which is now the basis of Bongbong’s electoral protest. 

 

With the conviction of Imelda, the millennials could be turned off and put their support behind Duterte-Carpio who had proven that she could be as forceful – if not more forceful – than her father.  And this is also where “blood is thicker than politics” plays an important aspect in the presidential election.   Indeed, Duterte -- whose alliance with the Marcoses is strong -- has no other option but to get behind his daughter’s candidacy.  As they say, nothing is permanent in politics.  Strange as it may seem, your friends today could be your enemies tomorrow; and your enemies yesterday could be your friends today.   It’s a strange world indeed.

 

Wrecking ball

 

And this where this writer believes that the conviction of Imelda would affect the upcoming battle royale.  Could it be that there are powerful people who are trying to discredit Imee by way of Imelda?  Could the conviction be used as a wrecking ball to demolish Imee’s presidential aspirations?  As opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement, “I hope this ruling would serve as a crucial electoral guide to our voters this coming election.”

 

It’s interesting to note that Imelda still has all the political connections and topnotch legal representation to influence the corruption cases against her. The fact that none have succeeded in the past 32 years is a testament to her inherent power to avoid convictions until now, which begs the question:  Where did the judge who convicted her get the courage to convict a high-profile and seemingly untouchable defendant?  Just imagine the tremendous amount of pressure the judge was subjected to rule for acquittal.

 

Indeed, looking at past court decisions, no judge had the cojones to declare Imelda guilty and issue a warrant of arrest.  This time the court found her guilty of seven counts of graft -- after a trial that took 28 years to prosecute -- each punishable by a minimum of six years in prison.  She was sentenced from a minimum of 42 years to a maximum of 77 years in prison for making seven bank transfers totaling $200 million to Swiss foundations -- which the Marcoses opened in 1968 in violation of the Philippine Constitution -- during her term as Metro Manila governor between 1972 and 1984. 

 

She’s also automatically disqualified from holding any public office.  That means that she cannot run for her daughter Imee’s governorship of Ilocos Norte, which she filed her candidacy last October.

 

It is expected that Imelda would file a motion for reconsideration.  And if the judge   sustains Imelda’s conviction, she could then appeal to the Court of Appeal and if that fails, then it goes to the Supreme Court. 

 

It is interesting to note that the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court) had once convicted Imelda of graft in 1993, but the Supreme Court overturned the anti-graft court's decision in 2003; thus, saving her from a 12-year prison sentence, which begs the question: Would the current Supreme Court do the same thing for her?  Indeed, the Supreme Court also did the same thing for Gloria in 2016, after she was detained for several plunder cases against her in 2011.

 

Presidential reaction

 

In reaction to Imelda’s conviction, Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said: “While we note that there are still legal remedies available to Congresswoman Marcos, this latest development underscores that our country currently has a working and impartial justice system that favors no one.”  Panelo also said, “The ruling against Imelda Marcos was proof that Duterte ‘is not in the business of exerting undue interference or influence’ on courts, and he respects the decision.”  The hidden message is crystal clear – Duterte isn’t prone to support Imee.

 

At the end of the day, one wonders: Will Imelda’s conviction bring down the Marcoses?

 

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With the renewed relationship that’s growing between President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, there is a lot of goodwill that has been going on between the two countries.  And with the forthcoming state visit of Xi to the Philippines, a lot of bilateral activities are happening to ensure that the first state visit of a Chinese leader since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would be successful.

 

In Duterte’s letter to Xi extending his greetings on China’s 69th founding anniversary, he told Xi that their recent interactions have “borne much fruit.”  “I look forward to welcoming you in Manila soon and to discuss the path forward our countries and peoples to sustain our bonds and make it more meaningful,” Duterte said.

 

But all is not as rosy as the two leaders appear to be in their exchanges.  Underneath the serene diplomatic discourse, there are undercurrents that both sides tried so much to evade so as not to cause friction between the two countries.  There are two major issues that could disrupt their relationship:  territorial dispute on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and illegal drugs. 

 

The WPS dispute has led to a diplomatic standoff, which for now has avoided an outbreak of hostility that could lead to open conflict between the two countries.  With that in mind, neither country would bring their territorial dispute out in the open.  To do so could have dire geopolitical consequences that would draw the superpowers into the fray.

 

Pandemic drug situation

 

The problem of illegal drugs is a different animal.  Duterte made a promise during the presidential campaign in 2016 to get rid of corruption, drugs, and criminality in the country within three to six months.   Two years later, the corruption, drugs, and criminality are still the major problems in the country.

 

In a recent speech in Malacañang, Duterte said, “I told you that I will go after drugs and I warned everybody because… what used to be millions of transactions worth, it’s now billions.” Evidently, Duterte’s “War on Drugs” – by his own admission -- is a total failure.

 

Who are the players?

 

The illegal drug operation involves various players, to wit:  Foreign drug manufacturers, smugglers, corrupt government officials, shabu laboratories, drug lords, corrupt Customs officials, corrupt PDEA officials, corrupt police officers, drug pushers, and drug users. It’s a hierarchy where all the players play a part in the distribution network that has turned the Philippines into a country of drug-induced zombies.  It’s destroying the country!

 

It’s no wonder then that Duterte had given up.  But how did it get to a point that within two years, the illegal drug trade has taken a quantum leap in spite of Duterte’s crusade against illegal drug?  Definitely, something is wrong with the picture.

 

With the government’s emphasis on eliminating the drug users – more than 4,000 have been killed to date – it is a mathematical impossibility to stop the illegal drug trade.  Duterte, after three months into his presidency, was shocked when he realized that there were more than four million illegal drug pushers and users! Simply put, it’s virtually impossible to stop the illegal drug trade without exercising extreme measures.   

 

Distribution hub

 

In my humble opinion, I believe that you cannot eradicate the drug problem by killing the victims – the drug users.  The drug problem started at the top of the food chain – the foreign drug manufacturers that are based in China.  The Philippines has become the major distribution hub because of the corruption in every level of the government structure.  Corrupt government and local officials protect the smugglers, shabu laboratories, and drug lords, who in turn bribe the corrupt Customs, PDEA, and police officers.   

 

The question is: How could Duterte stop or prevent the Chinese drug manufacturers from distributing their illegal products from entering the Philippines?   With the way Duterte’s “War on Drugs” is being waged, the government is losing.  But here’s the rub: Since Duterte doesn’t have the power to stop the drug trade from China, he should then focus in going after the smugglers who are the primary conduit between the Chinese manufacturers and the distribution chain.  If he stops drug smuggling, then the war on drugs is half won.  The other half is how can he influence and convince China’s leadership to stop the flow of the illegal drugs into the Philippines?  And this is where Duterte could use his friendship with Xi. But can Xi do it?  Or, would he do it? 

 

This author believes that Xi can’t and wouldn’t do it.  First, he can’t do it because the main ingredients – precursor chemicals -- to produce methamphetamine or shabu are legally manufactured in China.  China is a major source of precursor chemicals necessary for the production of cocaine, heroin, crystal methamphetamine, which are used by many Southeast Asian and Pacific Rim nations. China produces over 100,000 metric tons of acetic anhydride each year. [Source: Wikipedia]

 

Secondly, Xi wouldn’t do it because it’s a major legal drug manufacturing industry in China, which is controlled by the powerful Chinese Communist officials and the influential CEO’s of China’s drug manufacturing industry.   

 

There are two ways to manufacture shabu: One is to smuggle ready-to-use shabu and the second is to smuggle precursor chemicals in lesser quantity that can then be “cooked” with other locally and legally available chemicals – e.g., hydrochloric acid, battery acid -- in secret shabu laboratories, protected by corrupt government, local, police officials.  But it is hard to find the locations of these secret labs because the operators have the ability to relocate them easily or build new labs if they’re exposed.  Besides, corrupt local officials are easily bribed to keep their mouths shut.

 

Chinese connection

 

It is interesting to note that a recent news report has linked Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua to business tycoon Michael Yang, who is suspected of being a drug dealer.  The report became an international cause célèbre.  Imagine, a top Chinese diplomat involved in the drug trade? 

 

It all began when Duterte had “declassified” a PDEA dossier linking a group of former policemen and government officials to a Davao-based businessman allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade.  Could that be Michael Yang?

 

But in a recent speech, Duterte cleared Yang, saying that Yang, who is the owner of the Davao City Los Amigos (DCLA) stores in Mindanao, cannot be involved in the illegal drug trade, citing his ties to Zhao. “They said Michael Yang is a drug addict. The Chinese ambassador sleeps in his house, he’s even part of the entourage of the Chinese Premier,” Duterte reportedly said. But what that proves is that Yang is connected to high Chinese officials, which makes one wonder: Would his Chinese connection extend all the way to the Philippines’ officialdom?  Is Yang untouchable?

 

With the influence that Zhao had with China’s powers-that-be, perhaps he can convince them to crack down on the importation of shabu or precursor chemicals to the Philippines. With Xi scheduled to visit the Philippines in the coming months, it would be nice if he’d bring with him a commitment to shackle the shabu manufacturers.  It would certainly curb the deadly drug trade with China. 

 

At the end of the day, one has to remember that the deadly drug with China follows the rule of supply and demand: Decrease the supply and the demand would eventually decrease, too.  Conversely, increase the supply and you create more demand.   

 

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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.    

 

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

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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.    

 

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

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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.  

 

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