March 2007 Archives
One fundamental point which escapes most foreigners must be understood and remembered. Most Italians still obey a double standard. There is one code valid within the family circle, with relatives and honorary relatives, intimate friends and close associates, and there is another code regulating life outside. Within, they assiduously demonstrate all the qualities which are not usually attributed them by superficial observers: they are relatively reliable, honest, truthful, just, obedient, generous, disciplined, brave, and capable of self-sacrifices. They practice what virtues other men usually dedicate to the welfare of their country at large; the Italians’ family loyalty is their true patriotism. In the outside world, amidst the chaos and disorder of society, they often feel compelled to emply the wiles of underground fighters in enemy-occupied territory. All official and legal authority is considered hostile by them until proven friendly or harmless: if it cannot be ignored, it should be neutralized or deceived if need be.Barzini further observed,
The first source of power is the family. The Italian family is a stronghold in a hostile land: within its walls and among its members, the individual finds consolation, help, advice, provisions, loans, weapons, allies and accomplices to aid him in his pursuits. No Italian who has a family is ever alone… Scholars have always recognized the Italian family as the only fundamental institution in the country, a spontaneous creation of the national genius, adapted through the centuries to changing conditions, the real foundation of whichever social order prevails. In fact, the law, the State and society function only if they do not directly interfere with the family’s supreme interests... This is, of course, nothing new, surprising, or unique. In many countries and among many people, past and present, where legal authority is weak and the law is resented and resisted, the safety and welfare of the individual are mainly assured by the family. The Chinese, for instance, in their imperial days held the the cult of the family more praiseworthy than the love of country and the love of good. This is why the Communist regime of Ma Tse-tung tried to stamp out the family, recognizing it as its most powerful opponent. Similarly, wherever the Jews were allowed to settle in Europe, they outwardly conformed to the local laws and impositions, but in their hearts obeyed only their religious rules and the immemorial code of their family life, which allowed them precariously to survive persecutions. It is therefore not surprising that the Italians, living, as they have always done, in the insecurity and dangers of an unruly and unpredictable society, are among those who found their main refuge behind the walls of their houses, among their blood-relatives. Italians have, after all, many points of contact with the Chinese: the Chinese, too, love ceremonies, feasts, elaborate rites, deafening noise, fireworks, and good food; love children and produce many of them; their art is also highly decorative and ingenious but not always deep; they fashion lovely things by hand, and are astute negotiators and subtle merchants. The Italians are also, in many ways, similar to the Jews: the Jews have the same disenchanted and practical outlook; are among the few people who laugh at their own foibles; they entertain a wary diffidence for other people’s noble intentions and always look for the concrete motives hiding behind them. There is, however, this fundamental difference between the Italians and most other people who use the family as their private lifeboat in the stormy seas of anarchy. Anarchy in Italy is not simply a way of life, a spontaneous creation of society, a natural development: it is also the deliberate product of man’s will, the fruit of his choice; it has been assiduously cultivated and strengthened down the centuries. The strength of the family is not only, therefore, the bulwark against disorder, but, at the same time, one of its principal causes. It has actively fomented chaos in many ways especially by rendering useless the development of strong political institutions. This, of course, brings up a complex problem: do political institutions flourish only where the family is weak, or is it the other way around? Does the family become self-sufficient only where the political institutions are not strong enough? However it may be, political institutions never had much of a chance in Italy. The people gave birth to but a few of them: they had to import most of them ready-made from abroad, from time to time…the constitution, the bi-cameral system, liberalism, democracy… The family extracts everybody’s first loyalty. It must be defended, enriched, made powerful, respected and feared by the use of whatever means are necessary, legitimate means, if at all possible, or illegitimate…And it sounds like us! Doesn't it? There's a marvelous book, now sadly out of print, in which one of the leading Filipino minds of his generation tried to do what Rizal did, that is, explain us to ourselves and along the way, to others. That man was Leon Ma. Guerrero and his book was a collection of essays titled We Filipinos. If we take a cue from Barzini, then Guerrero has something similar to say (and he said it about a decade before Barzini wrote his book!), in his essay, What are Filipinos Like? In it he says Filipinos are extremely self-reliant -but only when they have to be, in crisis situations (for example, the Japanese Occupation). He goes on to say,
There is another aspect of self-reliance which has nothing to do with colonialism and its residue.... [Some Americans] cannot understand why grown-up sons and daughters keep living with their parents even after they have been married and begotten children of their own, or why we should feel obliged to feed and house even the most distant "cousins" who find themselves in want. This trait is not exclusively Filipino; it is common to all rudimentary societies. Modern man looks to his government for security but where the government, whether native or foreign, is still regarded as an alien, selfish force, the individual prefers to trust his bloodkin for what are in effect old-age pensions or unemployment insurance. The family is an indispensable institution in these circumstances, and one cannot be too sure that people are happier when it has been supplanted by the state as the center of society.Sounds like the Italians, doesn't it? And indeed just the other day someone told me, "we are like the Italians -it's not that we want better government, it's that we're happiest when there's no government." Which might just explain why public opinion tends to be skeptical of government-announced action plans and solutions -could it be, what we really want, is to solve our problems for ourselves? Any government initiative, taken from such a perspective, is just a hassle. And about government -more on what Guerrero had to say, next time.
Was there ever a government in history that was based exclusively on the consent of the people and renounced any and every use of force? A government so constituted there never was and never will be. Consent is as changeable as the formation of the sands on the seashore. We cannot have it always. Nor can it ever be total. No government has ever existed which made all its subjects happy. Whatever solutions you happen to give to any problem whatsoever, even though you share the divine wisdom, you would inevitably create a class of malcontents… How are you going to avoid that this discontent spread and constitute a danger for the solidarity of the state? You avoid it with force –by employing force inexorably where it is rendered necessary. Rob any government of force and leave it only with its immortal principles, and that government will be at the mercy of the first group that is organized and intent on overthrowing it.A specific word Mussolini used -"inexorable"- to describe how force should be used, is at the heart of the objections expressed by Doronila and the Inquirer editorial. Force is such a dangerous thing to use, that the last thing that should be done is use it promiscuously. But such an attitude -that insists on nuances- can lead to impatience. Particularly since nuances take time, and they don't offer immediate gratification. A case in point is today's story of a general who offered government a share of his loot, if charges against him are dropped. One story like this illuminates just how complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating something like counterinsurgency is. Can a military with crooked generals, ever defeat insurgents? And which is the chicken and which is the egg: corrupt and abusive officers incompetently leading the AFP, or poverty that breeds insurgents, for which you need the AFP to crush it? Which should come first: cleaning up the military, or cleaning up the countryside of rebels? And the questions can go on and on, with infinite variation. Problems can get so tangled-up that they become a kind of Gordian knot, and like Alexander the Great, leaders are tempted simply to hack through the whole knotty mess with a sword. Clean the AFP later. Fight poverty later. Just get rid of the NPA now -and anyone who might help them. Now.
Again, the Philippines is still pretty much a US colony whether we like it or not. Even other Asean countries are trying to gang up on PI, judging it as #1 in corruption.And again:
For me, the Philippines is still under Uncle Sam’s influence anyways. Even here in the United States, there is no single organization that unites the whole FilAm nation.As a journalist, as someone who tries to work with information about politics as it is really practiced, I must say I like the second quote better. But both comments seem to me to originate in one source: Dean Teodoro's unreal assumption that "nothing happens" without US intervention. Stuartsantiago also left two comments. This one was particularly disorienting:
i think you are completely off-track. dont believe government propaganda. the leg, though diseased, has not been been sawn off–you’re just blind to it. gma (and most politicians) sees it very clearly, which is why she allowed daniel smith’s midnight escape from the makati city jail. among other things.I agree about Daniel Smith's midnight transfer; it was done, without a court order, to please the Americans. (Admiral William Fallon, who ran the Pacific Command at the time and is now in charge of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had abruptly cancelled the Balikatan exercises, putting severe pressure on the Arroyo administration.) But for every such craven politically motivated decision favoring the Americans, we can point to dozens of other craven politically motivated decisions that do not favor them. Where does this leave us? I'm afraid that the school of thought that believes that, indeed, "nothing happens in the Philippines without the Americans" is the Philippine political equivalent of a conspiracy theory. It chooses the facts, in fact it recognizes as factual only those it has chosen, to fit a grand, an ambitious, theory. I am also disturbed by the idea, assumed in stuartsantiago's comment, that a journalist would base his thinking on government propaganda. Now I certainly do not wish to say, I certainly do not believe, that I have a monopoly on the right information, or that journalists do. (In fact, I have an abhorrence of the journalist who traffics in "inside" information; you see some of them validating each other's "scoops" in coffeeshops every morning.) But come on! Government propaganda? Surely even a rookie journalist would have, aside from actual experience living in the Philippines, better sources than that. Dean Bocobo was also kind enough to leave a comment. But it is the kind of comment that raises questions about our individual "blind spots."
Funny how Democrats get front page treatment in the Philippines when they hold hearings on the Philippines. As if there haven’t been dozens of US Congress and Senate hearings that have tackled foreign aid to the Philippines all these years. But of course those were run by Republicans and didn’t hear the testimonies of leftist “bishops."Dean misrepresents the news value of the Boxer hearing in the Philippines by attributing its "front-page treatment" to the leading role played by Democrats. In fact, it is the topic of the hearing -- extrajudicial killings in the Philippines -- that guaranteed its high profile in Philippine media. Of course if the Democrats had not won last November, we wouldn't be talking about the hearing today. Of course if there was no US aid involved, there would be no hearing either. But all this is the back story, not the actual movie. Dean does all of us a disfavor by deliberately mistaking one for the other. Lastly, a comment from the dent, who shares Amando Doronila's view that US military aid to the Philippines might soon dry up.
if the premise or as circumstantial evidence/s reveal that the State security forces are behind the killings as found by the Melo Commision then the aid has to stop otherwise it would appear that America is a party implicit and complicit to the killings by giving the arms/logistics to the security forces perpetrating it!Of course Congress has the power of the purse, but this does not necessarily mean that a cut in aid is in the works. The Bush White House does not exactly roll over and play dead, when the Democrats in Congress say so. The Democrats regained control of both houses of Congress in November because of widespread American disenchantment with the war in Iraq. Since then, Democratic leaders have repeatedly called on George W. Bush to start a troop pullout. Five months after the elections, has he complied with the clear, stark message behind what he himself called a "thumping" at the polls? Well, how do you spell s-u-r-g-e?
... once a comment is posted, it's already been sent out via RSS even after we delete it, plus our readers might already have been exposed to something very offensive.Registration is also required, but that seems to me to be a reasonable tradeoff: convenience for content (or at least that is the idea, in discouraging anonymous feedback). Of course, we also need to follow the Inquirer.net template; we understand the need for Inquirer.net's growing family of blogs to, well, retain a family resemblance. As for the "type face" being hard to read, as reader Francis suggested, we're working on increasing the size of the main text (and reducing the size of the block quotes). At the moment, our blogroll consists of only two blogs: the personal blogs Manolo and I keep. It will not stay this way, of course (as a look at our respective personal blogs will readily suggest). We're working on how to properly categorize the blogs we will include -- again, in a way that allows us to follow the Inquirer.net template. This blog, as you can see, is still very much a work in progress. Next up: A response to some of the content-related comments this blog's first readers were kind enough to leave.
The NPA has largely survived on its own, amassing its weapons from carefully planned small attacks against government forces. Military victories in the countryside have been complemented by successes in "revolutionary taxation". Businesses and entrepreneurs operating in the rural areas have now come to include NPA extortion as part of their annual budgets, with such allotments sometimes going as high as 2 million pesos.In its summary of events for 2006, Human Rights Watch says of the CPP-NPA that,
The NPA and CPP continue to enact “revolutionary justice” against civilians in areas under their control, including the killing of individuals they consider to be criminals, despotic landlords, or business owners.That's the CPP-NPA. Does it represent a threat, though? And is it really linked to organizations that the government says are tied to it, but which those organizations say they're not? In his testimony before the US Senate, G. Eugene Martin was pretty blunt in stating that the CPP-NPA are not only a threat to the government and democracy, but that the CPP-NPA also includes the NDF:
The communist insurgency is a serious threat to the Philippine government and democracy. The world’s last remaining Maoist insurgency, the NDF, uses violence and abuses democratic privileges to advance its power. As a legal political movement, NDF leaders are elected to Congress where they continue to oppose the administration and seek to block or destabilize government policies. During election campaigns, the NDF uses kidnappings, “revolutionary” taxes, threats and violence to support its candidates and harass opponents. The Party’s political goals are to weaken the government, gain power through coalitions and eventually replace the democratic system with an ideological communist dictatorship.That being said, Martin then goes on to point out that even if the threat is there, there remains something disturbing about government forces lacking discrimination in going after those threats. Only our government makes the link between the CPP-NPA-NDF and party list groups. And this, I think, is the issue that lies at the heart of the question I posed earlier.
Many government officials, particularly in the armed forces and police, reciprocate the mistrust, seeing a communist hand behind civil society protests against administration policies and actions. Powerful elites influence local police or military commanders to use force against farmers’ complaints over land grabs or workers’ demonstrations over working conditions. Murders of activist farmers and labor leaders in rural provinces are covered up. Journalists investigating the crimes become targets. Similarly, prosecutors and judges are intimidated. Tragically, the result is further alienation from and resistance to the government.As I understand it, Martin's suggesting that this lack of discrimination is counterproductive. But there's an irony at work here: here in the Philippines, only potential targets seem upset:
The killings have become a major issue within the Philippines, yet there is little public outrage despite the release of the Melo Commission report and the initial criticisms of the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council. Public perceptions are influenced by military and official attributions that most of the killings are internal CPP-NPA purges. Most civil society reaction has been from leftist oriented NGOs rather than mainstream organizations, further limiting public concern.But Martin also points out that one reason only those in the line of fire are crying foul, is that the AFP and the government have been effective in downplaying accusations of rubouts as really, the handiwork of the CPP-NPA. In other words, whether Filipinos appreciate it or not, the issue is an important one. To my mind then, the question boils down to this: not whether or not the government is entitled to, and duty-bound, to go against the NPA which itself says it is fighting a civil war, but rather, does it make sense for the government to target the National Democratic Front and include political parties like Bayan Muna, its members, and leaders? Amando Doronila, in a September 2006 commentary pointed to the problems the new policy was causing:
On the counterinsurgency front, the efficiency for ending the slaughter of the noncombatants does not show. The objective of ending the communist insurgency in two years is tied to the killings of the leftists and journalists. They are the two sides of the same coin. The campaign on this sector has stumbled because of wrong policy assumptions. The military, police and justice department are inhibited from bringing the first case against the invisible death squads by the fact that they are looking for culprits in the wrong direction. They had, even before they could start their jobs, already concluded they had to hunt for the killers in the ranks of the leftists. They have put blinders on their eyes, shutting them from searching their own ranks, which are the main suspects of human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International.This is why the debate has been stuck for two years now, resulting only in increased international pressure on our government, which is unable to understand why there's foreign interest in what's going on. Pressure that the March 18 editorial of the Inquirer says should be welcomed. And which Doronila says in his commentary, today, is poised to have an effect on US funding for our government's counterinsurgency operations. Our officials are arguing apples while the rest of the world is arguing oranges. The result is that what the government hoped would be a sign of strength, the arrest and trial of Satur Ocampo, is turning into a farce. But let me close by referring you to someone who knows the targeted party lists up close. In her blog, Ina Alleco gives the party list perspective on why to their mind, the links being made are unfair. My own view is that we cannot just turn our back on over a decade of expanding our democratic space.
On another note, what I can only describe the "fashionista-pundit fight". It didn't appear in the Inquirer, but the quote come from an Inquirer editor, and the quote has caused a ruckus in the blogosphere. I'm referring to Tim Yap, whose quote I came across by way of The Spy in the Sandwich and which I linked to in my blog the other day. Gibbs Cadiz, another writer for the Inquirer, thinks the comment a colossal blunder; ExpectoRants quotes the burning indignation of a poem by way of a response; caffeine sparks denounces the statement while blurry brain says all the denunciations are a good sign .I remember someone telling me that in the bad old days of the Soviet Union, stadiums would be filled by the proletariat, genuinely eager to hear poetry recited. I mention this only to prove that culture -literature, the arts, even in most formal manifestations, such as opera, ballet, the symphony, the play and the painting- is not the enemy of the masses. But confusing celebrity shindigs with culture can make the masses rise up against such self-proclaimed culturati: the problem begins with confusing fashionista society with culture. In the 1960s, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil said the society pages should be abolished. They were, for a time, during martial law. With freedom in 1986 came the return of the society page, now known as lifestyle. In truth, society, showbiz, and gossip, trumps the more "serious" stuff, not just here but everywhere. The magazine industry in the Philippines is booming due to lifestyle magazines: political and news magazines are dying if not dead. And for every reader of this blog, there's literally a hundred who are more interested in Tim Yap. C'est la vie.
Does the Boxer inquiry constitute interference in Philippine political affairs? We say No, for two specific reasons. We say this despite the well-known fact that the US government still exercises inordinate influence in the Philippines.
The test of the mettle of a Filipino leader has always been how he negotiates with Uncle Sam, and the proof of the ability of a Filipino administration is whether it gets a friendly hearing or not from Washington.By and large, this is still true today despite the growth in closer Asean relations, despite President Macapagal-Arroyo's symbolic first visit to Malaysia upon assuming the presidency, despite the many overtures to China. I do not think, though, that any Philippine politician working today (or, ah, not working) actually conceives of Philippine-American relations as a special relationship. What we have, or so it seems to me, is the detritus of a colonial relationship or, to change metaphors, the amputee's sense that the leg long since sawn off is still there, below the knee. (Besides, the term "special relationship" has no meaning to American politicians except perhaps as an infrequently used reminder of the state of US-UK relations.) It is only right to acknowledge that official American interest in the Philippines is more serious and sustained these days, precisely because certain parts of Mindanao form part of the second front in the Bush administration's war on terror. It is also only right to note that the ongoing inquiry of a key subcommittee of the US Senate committee on foreign relations into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines wouldn't have been possible if the Democrats had not regained control of the Senate. But old habits are truly hard to break. Now Filipino politicians of all stripes are scrambling to turn the hearings in Washington, DC to their own advantage. (Despite the Arroyo administration's protestations, about alleged foreign intervention, one gets the sense that, if the shoe were on the other foot, we would hear Palace spokesmen defending, rather than attacking, the hearings.) Or hearing, because as of this writing, Sen. Barbara Boxer's subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs has held only the first one. I found the testimony of the following (already available on the US Senate's website) most interesting: Eric John, who oversees policy for East Asia and the Pacific in the State Department; Jonathan Farrar, also of State, who spoke on the human rights situation in the Philippines; and G. Eugene Martin of the US Institute of Peace (a federally funded but nonpartisan agency). Martin's, in particular, is especially noteworthy, because it tries to present the whole picture (I have a quibble here and there, but in the main it seems to me on the money) without being limited by the language of diplomacy.
I believe the present rash of violence and killings is the result of political nstability and weakness. President Arroyo has expressed her determination to address and resolve the killings. She established the Independent Commission to Address Media and Activist Killings, headed by former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Melo. She also welcomed the investigation of Professor Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council. However, I question her capability to take the necessary steps to end the killings. She has been politically weak since her controversial election in 2004, depending upon support from military and provincial leaders to counter impeachment measures by her opponents in Congress. She has promoted military officers who support her and placed retired military and police officers in high-level civilian offices. Her challenge to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to eliminate the decades old communist New Peoples Army (NPA) insurgency within two years has given the AFP a green light to take any action it wishes against the NPA and their allies. Faced with a persistent low-level NPA insurgency, the military resorts to stretching counterinsurgency strategies to branding leftist organizations as enemies of the state that can be intimidated or eliminated by any means. The communist insurgency is a serious threat to the Philippine government and democracy. The world’s last remaining Maoist insurgency, the NDF, uses violence and abuses democratic privileges to advance its power. As a legal political movement, NDF leaders are elected to Congress where they continue to oppose the administration and seek to block or destabilize government policies. During election campaigns, the NDF uses kidnappings, “revolutionary” taxes, threats and violence to support its candidates and harass opponents. The Party’s political goals are to weaken the government, gain power through coalitions and eventually replace the democratic system with an ideological communist dictatorship.I've seen letters circulating on the Internet, purporting to report what transpired in the hearing and concluding that, "on the floor," there was a consensus that the killings were the responsibility of "the butcher in Malacanang." Not having been at the actual hearing, I cannot say with certainty that the letter-writer was wrong. But my news sense tells me this "conclusion" was a prejudgment and needs to be verified. News reports about the hearing certainly lead me to think the letter writer was an advocate, not an analyst. And yet: I think we all do understand that, precisely because nothing much seems to be happening in the Philippines on the issue of extrajudicial killings, hearings like Boxer's gives those of us who want the killings stopped some reason to hope.
Buffeted by natural and unnatural calamities, the Philippines has carded the worst economic performance among the ... Asean grouping last year. What is more tragic, in the midst of all these miseries, Filipinos are still killing each other in ever increasing numbers. This bloodletting must stop. This madness must cease.That quote is 24 years old (that is, it was spoken almost an entire generation ago). It was written, and said, by opposition Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. His audience: The subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs of the US House of Representatives. Those of us who read the entire testimony some two months later (that is, after Ninoy was assassinated) sensed hope stirring.
...Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces; however, some elements of these security forces committed human rights abuses. During the year there were a number of arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings apparently by elements of the security services and of political killings, including killings of journalists, by a variety of actors. Many of these killings went unsolved and unpunished, contributing to a climate of impunity, despite intensified government efforts during the year to investigate and prosecute these cases. Members of the security services committed acts of physical and psychological abuse on suspects and detainees, and there were instances of torture. Arbitrary or warrantless arrests and detentions were common. Trials were delayed and procedures were prolonged. Prisoners awaiting trial and those already convicted were often held under primitive conditions. Corruption was a problem in all the institutions making up the criminal justice system, including police, prosecutorial, and judicial organs. During a brief "state of emergency" in February, there was some attempted interference in freedom of the press and in the right of assembly. In addition to the killings mentioned above, leftwing and human rights activists were often subject to harassment by local security forces. Problems such as violence against women and abuse of children, child prostitution, trafficking in persons, child labor, and ineffective enforcement of worker rights were common. In addition to killing soldiers and police officers in armed encounters, the New People's Army (NPA, the military wing of the Communist Party) killed local government officials, and ordinary civilians, including through the use of landmines, and were suspected in many of the killings of leftwing activists. The NPA also used underage soldiers in combat roles. Terrorist groups committed bombings that caused civilian casualties, and these groups also used underage soldiers.That's the professional opinion of US diplomats. In other words, the US Senate isn't operating in an information vacuum, or is taking only the world of certain groups for it. What the US Senate is thus attempting to get testimony on the matter to see if the report was accurate. What's at stake isn't diplomatic relations between our two countries, but American policy towards our country -and new policies that might have an effect on further aid being conditional on a better human rights situation. It is fundamentally an internal matter of Americans, involving the US Congress and the Executive branch of the US government.