Father's Son - Miracles of Quiapo by Ingming Aberia

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Showing posts with label Inkdrops. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Inkdrops. Show all posts

Let the Magalong buzz begin

Let the Magalong buzz begin was also published by The Manila Times on 19 July 2023.

Former police officer now Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong.

I saw Ping Lacson's tweet: "We may have found a probable future leader our country needs. Yet, for what he stands and fights for versus the 'new normal' in Philippine politics, will he be electable as one?"

Former Senator and Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Lacson was referring to former PNP General and now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong whose anti-corruption soundbites recently made the rounds in media. Corruption in government is well-known. From scholarly studies, court cases, congressional investigations, investigative and fact-finding reports, etc. that document specific cases of corruption, one can see the rot everywhere. But people have probably developed immunity from the stink—which is what Lacson may have meant when he talked about "new normal"—they no longer seemed bothered by it. Corruption in "Love the Philippines" is no longer abnormal. 

Perhaps what makes Magalong's diatribes feel like a puff of fresh air is that he is talking from personal knowledge. In a media interview, he said, among other things, that:

"I had a chance to talk to several contractors. I asked them assuming that I will take cuts from infrastructure projects, how much will it be? And they said about 10 percent to 15 percent or 20 percent to 25 percent, depending on the decision of the mayors or the lawmakers."

Since everyone wants to have a cut—he says "members of the Bids and Awards Committee receive commissions, as do other individuals involved in the decision-making for projects"—Magalong explained that “only about 45 percent to 52 percent will be left (to the actual contractor and project). In short, if the project is worth P100, they said 'Sir, we will have to settle for P42.50 to P55', including their profit so they will be forced to make substandard projects.”

One may add that public goods (such as infrastructure facilities) and services are not only substandard. They take more time than necessary to finish. A close look at the details of the annual budget of government at any level (national, provincial, city, municipal, barangay), will likely show that placeholders exist for "multi-purpose buildings"; or "multi-purpose pavements"; and other recurring expenses. Turn-key one-time budgets for those kinds of projects are just not enough for the feeding
frenzy at the crocodile farm.

Thieves collaborate not only across organizations. They work together along hierarchical lines as well. Back in the day when I worked with local government units as staff of a foreign-funded project, a municipal mayor told me that the request for release of financial assistance allocations by the budget department required grease "everybody happy" money.

Congress is poised to deliberate on the 2024 national budget worth around Php5.77 trillion. It is 9.5 percent higher than this year's budget of P5.2 trillion. Surely this again should raise the mood meter at the farm—never mind that private gain will come at a cost, as always, of public pain. Taxpayers will bear the brunt of paying for amortization and interest of public debt that will finance as much as 42 percent of next year's budget. The planned borrowing exposure is bigger by 12 percent than this year's total debt. Magalong rues that while congressional pork barrel funds have been outlawed by the Supreme Court, members of Congress continue to get away with buffet rounds of full serving.

“The way they dispose of it is institutional. Some congressmen have several projects and roads but the bidding was rigged. You can check the profile of some legislators and LGU executives – many of them are contractors and suppliers. They get a percentage and they also get the projects as contractors.”

Magalong's lament needs to be contextualized in how government allocates its resources, foregoes potential revenues, prioritizes spending, and consequently how it manages possible conflicts that may arise from competing interests. Addressing PNP personnel at Camp Crame, he said:

“We, in the uniform service, are willing to give up a small amount of our pension just to help the national government, just to address this huge deficit, just to address this big national debt. Let’s wait to see what our brave legislators have to say… Hopefully, one of them will come out in the open… It is about time that legislators should also give a big contribution to address national government issues, especially on our financial debts.”

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier raised the alarm of a "fiscal collapse" unless government is able to reverse the rate at which it provides financial support to the pension system for military and uniformed personnel (MUP). The national budget has allotted P213 billion this year and as much amount for next year. It can balloon to a trillion pesos by 2035, according to Diokno, which can eat up a sizable portion of the budget itself.

Pension systems require young people to pay so that the old ones can enjoy their retirement benefits. The MUP pension system is odd because, unlike the Government Service Insurance System and Social Security System members who must contribute to the common pension fund until age 60, MUPs are not only exempted from paying contributions at all to the pension fund, but they also retire at the age of 56. Even if MUPs in active service do pay (as government proposes in its MUP reform agenda) the enjoying old would still outnumber the paying young.

The MUPs are of course blameless if it now appears they are ripping off government. Previous administrations, especially during the martial law years of the first Marcos government, have accorded the troopers with preferential treatment over other mortals. Perhaps there was no other way to manage discontent among men in uniform. The Cory Aquino government that followed the first Marcos government tried to experiment with other options and ended up being rocked by at least 9 bloody coup attempts.

Unease among military men that percolate into confrontation with authority often arise from perceived irregularities within their ranks and the civilian government in general. The military revolt that morphed into the Filipino-trademarked People Power in 1986 was initially a revolt against corruption and favoritism. Magalong himself has served time for an alleged participation in an attempt to topple the Gloria Arroyo government in 2006. (Her government barely survived after the "Hello Garci" scandal erupted in 2005.)

Magalong has a consistent record (probably a unique one) of advancing the truth over self-interest. An investigation he led about the 2015 Mamasapano incident that claimed the lives of 67 government troopers and local rebels came out with a report that implicated his superiors, namely PNP chief Alan Purisima and President Benigno Aquino III, for misconduct. In 2019, he testified against then PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde in a Senate investigation, charging the latter for “protecting police officers involved in a drug trade.”

Magalong’s impeccable governance record as a police officer and an LGU chief executive, done with integrity, competence and courage, makes him the leader our country needs. Hopefully we can follow his example regardless of whether he submits himself to a national vote in the future or not.

Manila and the elderly me

I went to the barangay hall (a residential unit that serves as an office) last December to claim cash subsidy for senior citizens. I've been one of Manila's senior citizens since January 2023.

The mood was light and enticing, as can be expected in such an occasion where oldies become kids again, showing more animation as the time to open their Christmas presents approaches. I got old dismissing myself as a social animal, but I was there: trying to exchange feel-good banter among fellow elderlies. I could also sense the good-mannered mien of barangay officials and staff members. While waiting for my turn, one of them offered to print three photocopies of my senior citizen ID.

And then my name was called. My anticipation grew to excitement as I took a seat in front of the barangay chairwoman. Shortly after she gave me two glossy one-thousand-peso bills, she asked me to raise them, along with a print copy of my ID, to level with my wrinkled face. She herself was taking my photo like she did with all beneficiaries before me. 

I joked about the elaborate rituals. I also thought about the environment owing to what seemed to me as inordinate use of paper for the documentation, but I kept this thought to myself. 

"For audit purposes," she explained.

There was more. The chairwoman also gave away boxes with a Manila City Hall label and branding. She also took photos of these gifts with the happy recipients. I would later learn that this box contained a coffee mug.

After the profuse thank-you repartees, it was time for me to sign the acknowledgement sheet. Another staffer scanned the roster for me. After going over all the lists, she announced to my horror that I was not in any of them. She however clarified that I was in the "not qualified" list.

I heard staccato of words coming from the barangay chairwoman, her staff, and fellow elderlies. They probably meant to console me, but I could not exactly remember what they said. All I remembered was Manny Pacquiao landing a sneaky punch on my flat nose. For a few seconds I tried to recover from a knockout blow. In my embarrassment and with reluctance, I returned the money and the box to the barangay chairwoman.    

The barangay staffer who earlier produced photocopies of my ID offered to message somebody—assumably one who had authority—for clarification. I waited for her word, who later advised me to proceed to the Manila Office for Senior Citizens Affairs at San Andres in Malate. And so to the OSCA in Malate I went the next day.

I have been to this place when I applied for my ID a year ago and had to remind myself that three copies of each document that need to be processed would be required. So I decided to have three copies of my ID photocopied prior to proceeding to the OSCA. Unlike the people at the barangay hall, the people at OSCA did not appear pleased to see me, correctly judging that I was worth nothing more than rubbish and probably dump-bound. 

Feeling prepared and accomplished, I showed an OSCA staffer the three copies of my ID while explaining to him that the barangay had sent me to them. I decided against pounding on the tale of my aborted cash gifts after noting no one among my fellow OSCA callers was there to claim anything. The staffer was about to launch a homily on how people like me are better off by following instructions when another staffer, a lady, intervened to say I was probably in the dump list. The guy attending to me must have felt relief to find a way by which to get rid of me. "Go to City Hall," he said.

At the OSCA in City Hall, crews of mostly young female staffers made sure their visitors felt attended to. I wondered if it was policy to hire more women when old men were always outnumbered by old women anywhere. The thought was out of order, of course, and I had to settle with the observation that OSCA staffers were trained to keep old men charmed; and also maybe to keep them from feeling grumpy? It definitely did not take long for me to feel grumpy.

One of the staffers offered me a chair as soon as she saw me trying to make my way to the entrance door, assuring me of her support as if I was inside the office myself. I liked this set up. It meant I did not need to argue my case with anyone. But it also prompted me to think that the office did not have enough space for its visitors. Like many of its neighboring cities, Manila just doesn't have enough space for its constituents: the homeless on the streets and those who call the sidewalks their workplaces—vendors (both mobile and extensions of existing structures) and yes, even barangay fixtures, facilities, and police precincts. 

But space limitations don't prevent OSCA in Manila City Hall from getting its job done. As I waited for feedback from the staffer to whom I gave photocopies of my ID after telling her the purpose of my visit, I could see fellow senior citizens leaving the place with the look of satisfied customers. 

After about fifteen minutes, the staffer came back to me with a heartbreaking news. She said I was in the inactive list because I supposedly failed to claim the cash subsidy in two previous occasions that this dole out was given by the city government. I tried to explain that the first time I went to the barangay in April 2023, the barangay officials did not found my name in the list, assuring me instead that I should be included in the next payout; the second time in August 2023, the same barangay officials told me there was nothing left for me because I was late, again assuring me that I should be included in the next payout.

I raised my voice in protest, arguing with the polite and calm lady staffer to whom I should have apologized later, that I did try to claim my cash subsidy on every occasion that I got wind of it, except that each time I did so I left the barangay empty handed. My agitated pleading changed nothing. She advised me to get a certificate of re-activation from my barangay.

On reflection, I can understand why OSCA unqualifies those who are unable to claim their goodies for the two previous payout dates. But I think the basis of such a policy is a false, cold-blooded assumption: that either the beneficiary has died or has transferred to another local government unit (LGU), so there is no point in appropriating funds for something that is not there.  

Despite the paper-and-ink-heavy documentation that both OSCA and the barangay require for their transactions, they are unable to support their operating protocol with data. Otherwise, they would have known that I have yet to die and have not transferred to another OSCA. LGUs in fact have a strategic resource that they can leverage to access data from Comelec, Philhealth, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Bureau of Internal Revenue, among other agencies of government. Pooling of government data through application programming interface (API) for whole-of-government use can boost LGUs' digital transformation, especially in areas of disaster risk management and property tax management reform. This resource is civil registry data on births and deaths. Use of this data can put an end to fraud that exploits thousands of members Philhealth, Comelec, GSIS, SSS and other pension systems, etc. who appear on their records as alive but are in reality already living in another world.

I can also understand why LGUs would prefer to spend money to hire people than invest in digitalization. People can vote in an election, while machines cannot. While efficient administration and good governance is good politics—in many cities in Japan, South Korea and China, for example, people pay their property taxes online in a process that (i) gets done in less than five minutes, (ii) minimizes cheating and evasion, and (iii) resolves disputes in a highly transparent manner—but it may not necessarily mean the reformers get rewarded at the polls.  

Reshaping Urban Landscape: Navigating the Traffic Conundrum

A view of Metro Manila vehicular traffic. Photo credit:

Unveiling the Crisis of Urban Congestion and Mobility

The urban landscape of major cities, notably Metro Manila, has succumbed to the stranglehold of incessant vehicular traffic. A crisis that transcends inconvenience, this escalating issue has cast its shadow over commuters, drivers, corporations, and government agencies alike. A sobering revelation from a 2018 Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study projected that Metro Manila's daily traffic congestion extracts a staggering economic toll of 3.5 billion pesos, projected to swell to a colossal 5.4 billion pesos by 2035.

Economic Strain and Transit Paralysis: Navigating the Urban Abyss

The unrelenting gridlock has precipitated a multifaceted crisis, compounded by a public transport system that teeters on the brink of collapse. The question arises: How did we reach this point of no return, and who shoulders the blame?

A dissection of this quagmire lays bare a system burdened by systemic flaws, exacerbated by an undue focus on urban centers. The root cause of this chaos traces back to a dearth of nationwide perspective. It is an injustice to solely target the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for a problem that demands the orchestrated involvement of the entire government machinery.

The Nexus of Urban Woes: An Exploration of Root Causes

Two pivotal factors fuel the engine of traffic congestion: burgeoning population density and the relentless surge in vehicle numbers, coupled with an unyielding road network. The trajectory is clear: an influx of migrants seeking urban livelihoods strains resources, while the constant influx of vehicles overwhelms existing infrastructure.

The urban exodus from rural heartlands stems from the allure of brighter economic prospects. This tide of migration, propelled by mounting challenges in agrarian domains, has propelled for decades. In response to this crisis, diverse strategies emerge among individuals. Some amongst the affluent opt for suburban dwellings, while others resign themselves to navigating an inept public transit system. These divergent approaches inadvertently contribute to the burgeoning traffic nightmare, as private vehicles exacerbate congestion.

Urban Masses: A Daytime Phenomenon

The gravity of the issue becomes palpable when we consider the daylight transition in urban centers. The daytime population swells from a modest 13 million to a staggering 15 million in Metro Manila, as revealed by the World Population Review. The strain inflicted on infrastructure and services during daylight hours reflects the magnitude of the challenge.

This surge is not merely statistical; it represents a culmination of individual struggles to secure their livelihoods in a congested metropolis. This surge also underscores the city's role as an economic hub, a magnet for commerce and enterprise.

Economic Symbiosis and Population Flux

A profound symbiotic relationship exists between urbanization and economic growth. Emerging business prospects and expansive consumer markets drive rural-to-urban migration. The burgeoning real estate sector fuels demand for labor, fuelling further waves of migration. Supply chains, woven intricately with industry, amplify these urban dynamics.

But migration isn't solely a matter of choice; it is also influenced by displacement caused by natural calamities and conflicts. Villages ravaged by armed confrontations lay desolate, compelling residents to seek refuge in urban havens. This juxtaposition between push and pull factors continues to shape the urban panorama.

Revolutionizing Solutions: Proposing Reverse Migration

The enduring resolution to the traffic crisis necessitates a paradigm shift: reverse migration. A holistic approach driven by local economic stimulation is a pivotal step towards unraveling this web of congestion. The private sector, although not the harbinger of this transformation, is poised to seize the initiative when signs of prosperity manifest.

In light of the complexity surrounding the shift to a federal governance model, revisiting the 60-40 revenue sharing arrangement between national and local governments becomes pivotal. Senate President Tito Sotto's recommendation to relocate government offices to peripheral regions offers an appealing prospect. However, the selection of host locations warrants reconsideration.

Host Cities: Catalysts for Change

Proposing provincial governments as potential hosts for this dispersal program lends weight to the strategy. An innovative approach that factors in an LGU's migration rate, average income, and population density amplifies chances of success in securing hosting privileges. Financial mechanisms like direct loans, bond issuance, or national government subsidies could propel these cities towards becoming hosts.

The benefits for hosting LGUs are manifold. Envision Batanes housing the Senate and Jolo accommodating the House of Representatives. These locales would inevitably flourish, with government offices acting as magnets for associated developments. The ripples of change extend beyond politics to the commercial landscape, with property developers and educational institutions gravitating towards these epicenters.

Catalyzing Transformation: Rethinking Government Office Placement

A further dimension of transformation involves ranking government offices, influenced by levels of corruption. Those tainted by corruption should be swiftly transitioned to impoverished LGUs, an approach that not only holds offices accountable but also fosters equitable development across regions.

In the labyrinthine journey of untangling urban congestion, a powerful undercurrent surges—shifting the fulcrum of economic activity. The proposed reverse migration strategy heralds a fresh dawn, reimagining urban landscapes and diminishing the chokehold of traffic. As the nation


This rewritten article was first published on 10 September 2019 with the title "Traffic, Imagined from Afar."

Unlocking China's Strategy: Decoding the Path of the Dragon

Hongkong pro-democracy protests in 2019. Photo credit: ABC

Exploring China's Historical Influence and Evolving Strategies

The narrative of China's influence in the Philippines stretches back centuries, long before European explorers set foot on these shores. These early "chinky-eyed" traders navigated the seas, establishing barter trade with the native populations and leaving an indelible mark on the nation's history.

Legacy of the Trade Masters: China's Enduring Impact

The Chinese traders, renowned for their business acumen, seamlessly integrated into the diverse landscapes they encountered. Embracing local customs, many adopted names that reflected their newfound homes. The genesis of names through purchase or word contraction showcases their adaptability.

Remarkably skilled in commerce, Chinese descendants wielded significant economic power by 1990. A study by Victor Limlingan, a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management, revealed that 8 out of the top 10 wealthiest families across countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia were either Chinese nationals or individuals of Chinese descent.

The Nexus of Wealth and Power: Unraveling Political Influence

Intriguingly, studies indicate that a mere 10 percent of a nation's population controls a staggering 90 percent of its wealth, regardless of economic status. This stark inequality extends globally, underscoring the potent link between money and power.

In the Philippines, the interplay between economic prowess and political maneuvering is evident. Economic affluence shapes political dynamics, influencing public policies and governance. The intricate web of influence encompasses various methods—legal and dubious—to achieve vested interests. From bankrolling political campaigns to steering public expenditures and even manipulating the judicial process, economic clout is a game-changer.

China's Quiet Dominion: Leveraging Financial Influence

China's influence extends beyond military might—it thrives on leveraging economic power to infiltrate nations. This approach finds resonance in the Philippines, where the allure of financial backing makes the country susceptible to infiltration.

China's ascent, likened to a python's slow but relentless strangulation, is marked by patient execution. Both state funds and individual entrepreneurs exert financial dominance, rendering the Philippines defenseless against infiltration. The process may be unhurried, but the outcome is undeniable—subjugation through force, cloaked in the guise of diplomacy.

Mastery of Multifaceted Tactics: China's Hegemonic Pursuits

Drawing parallels to the adage "many ways to skin a cat," China's pursuit of dominance is marked by multifaceted strategies. Its endeavors span territorial claims, from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the expansive West Philippine Sea. The web of financial control extends to nations like Djibouti, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka, and Angola, ensnared in debt and allegiance to China.

China's imperial aspirations are rooted in a cohesive strategy, emblematic of Mao Zedong's philosophy of central control emanating from the periphery. Its patient orchestration is evident in territories like Hong Kong and Taiwan, where careful groundwork precedes assertive action. This calculated approach mirrors the way of the dragon, waiting for the optimal moment before pouncing.

The China Card: A Game of Diplomacy

A pivotal moment arose in the Philippines' history during the ratification of the Treaty of Paris in 1901. This decision was fueled by self-interest, with senators advocating retention of the Philippines as a colony to tap into China's vast market. Subsequently, the China card was played during the Marcos era, strategically aligning with China during a precarious time.

The narrative unfolded with a series of significant events, including controversies surrounding deals with Chinese firms during the Arroyo administration. The current Duterte government faces scrutiny for its inability to assert sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, as mandated by international law and validated by The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016.

Subversion Through Finance and Strategy: China's Unique Imperialism

Unlike previous colonizers who relied on military might, China's imperial design employs a potent blend of money and strategic planning. This nuanced approach hinges on compelling ideas rather than outright warfare. It is a blueprint that can be countered with superior ideas and strategies that transcend mere military prowess.

China's ascendancy in the Philippines, a narrative shaped over centuries, demonstrates the power of financial influence and strategic maneuvering. The road ahead unfolds with uncertainty, as nations navigate the multifaceted game orchestrated by the dragon. In this ever-evolving saga, the key to unlocking China's influence lies not in force but in the articulation of ideas that champion sovereignty and shared prosperity.


This rewrite was first published on 12 August 2019 with the title "The Way of the Dragon".

Countering China's Ascent: Navigating the Evolving Strategies

Sight of a dragon dance. Photo credit: Freepik

Understanding China's Shifting Approach in Establishing Regional Dominance

The ascent of China on the global stage has been nothing short of remarkable, resembling the calculated moves of a Komodo dragon seeking its prey. In a departure from former leader Deng Xiaoping's counsel to "hide your strength, bide your time," China is now shedding its cautious approach and embracing a more assertive stance in its quest for dominance.

Unveiling the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): A Grand Design

China's flagship endeavor, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is a multifaceted strategy aimed at consolidating its grip on both international and domestic markets. This comprehensive initiative encompasses diverse sectors, including infrastructure, education, construction, transportation, and energy. The ambition is to create a network that spans over 60 countries, connecting Asia, Europe, Oceania, and East Africa through extensive infrastructure networks by land and sea.

While the vision is compelling, the investment required is monumental. The estimated cost for the intricate infrastructure networks alone ranges from a staggering US$4–8 trillion. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, linking Kashgar in China to Gwadar in Pakistan, comes with a price tag of $46 billion. This massive undertaking seeks to intertwine economies and reshape regional dynamics.

Navigating the Risk Landscape: China's Calculated Gamble

Like any grand investment, the BRI comes with inherent risks. The ability to manage security challenges in host countries is a critical consideration. China's capacity to handle threats and maintain stability is under scrutiny, especially when compared to the U.S.'s track record in safeguarding its interests abroad. This calls for a careful evaluation of China's approach by its allies, who are investing their faith and financial resources via institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

While projecting an image of friendship, China recognizes the need to bolster its military capabilities. As it expands its global influence, China's strategy involves enhancing its military presence. Military bases are reportedly being established, even in countries like Cambodia, where such actions might contravene constitutional norms. China's strategic facilities in the South China Sea further contribute to the projection of its power. The cultivation of naval military forces in countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vanuatu underscores China's expansive ambitions.

The Motivation Beneath the Surface: Profits and Global Influence

Behind China's diplomatic maneuvers lies a common motivation shared by many nations: economic gain. China's pursuit of profits mirrors the U.S.'s actions, where power dynamics are often masked by the rhetoric of peace and democracy. In the realm of global influence, China's rise challenges the U.S.'s supremacy, leading to a showdown between two formidable contenders. Both nations are driven by wealth, sophistication, and astute decision-making.

China's resilience is evident in its ability to navigate challenges such as tariff wars initiated by the U.S. By strategically exporting goods from less affected countries, China manages to minimize the impact of tariffs. In this high-stakes competition, both nations strive to secure their positions while adapting to an ever-changing global landscape.

The Dilemma of Spectators: Navigating Uncertain Alliances

Amidst the geopolitical rivalry, many observers find themselves in a precarious position, hesitant to take sides in the escalating contest for dominance. The Philippines, for instance, walks a tightrope, displaying signs of affinity towards China while cautiously guarding against overreliance.

Maintaining alliances shares parallels with the world of trade, akin to the rice trader's art. Just as farmers choose the trader over the National Food Authority due to debts, sovereign states must weigh the advantages of allegiance in a complex international scenario.

China's Ambitions and the Role of Friendship

China's aspirations for imperial supremacy hinge on its ability to nurture and sustain alliances. The BRI's success lies not only in economic gains but also in the cultivation of long-term relationships. China's charm offensive resonates, but its lasting impact depends on its ability to influence political and military leaders who share its vision. Notable successes in this realm include Cambodia and the Philippines.

For those who seek to halt China's rise, lessons can be drawn from the fluid dynamics of international relationships. The realization of the BRI, coupled with the establishment of military bases abroad, hinges on the alignment of neighboring states with China's interests. The key to countering China's ascent is engaging in a discourse that unlocks voters' understanding and encourages them to question the dragon's grip.

Undoubtedly, this endeavor poses challenges, especially in a world fueled by social media and data manipulation. However, even the best-laid strategies can falter in the face of compelling issues, as evidenced by the Hong Kong protests. Leaders not tethered to external influence are likely to pursue paths that resonate with their constituencies, shaping a future that transcends allegiance to China or the United States.

In the arena of global power dynamics, the stakes are high, and the outcome remains uncertain. As China's dragon sets its sights on supremacy, nations must navigate an intricate landscape, where strategic choices have far-reaching consequences.

This rewrite was first published on 18 August 2019 with the title "Stopping the Dragon".

Senator Jose Avelino: A Complex Legacy Unveiled

Philippine Senate President Jose D. Avelino. Photo credit: Google Arts and Culture

Exploring the Multifaceted Persona of Jose Avelino and His Enduring Impact

The name of Jose Avelino is not one that elicits admiration, but rather a mixed bag of sentiments. His memorable quote, "What are we in power for?" has etched him into history, leaving behind a legacy that is both intriguing and divisive. Avelino's role in Philippine politics is a tale of complexity, characterized by a mixture of ambition, influence, and the enduring pursuit of power.

Unveiling the Infamous Quote: A Closer Look

Jose Avelino's name is inextricably linked to the quote, "What are we in power for?" This seemingly innocent question, when viewed within its context, reveals a deeper layer of intent. While the words themselves could be interpreted positively, their utterance marked Avelino with a sense of opportunism and disregard for the ideals associated with public service.

The year was 1949, a time when the Philippines was grappling with the aftermath of World War II and internal strife. As President Manuel Roxas' successor, Elpidio Quirino faced a nation in turmoil. The economy was in shambles, and the Hukbalahap insurgency threatened to plunge northern Luzon into chaos.

Within the government, corruption scandals cast a shadow, eroding public trust. Complaints emerged that non-party members were being appointed to crucial positions, adding fuel to tensions among Quirino's allies. Avelino, who held key roles in both the Senate and the Liberal Party, found himself entangled in the complex web of politics.

The Collision of Political Ambitions

The backdrop of the 1949 presidential elections heightened the tension between Quirino and Avelino. As the two leaders vied for the party's nomination, their supporters clashed, setting the stage for a showdown. The internal strife mirrored the external challenges, highlighting the delicate balance the Philippines was navigating.

A pivotal moment arrived in January of that year when Quirino convened a meeting with party leaders at Malacanang. The outcome of this meeting would resonate through history, shedding light on Avelino's character. It was during this gathering that Avelino supposedly uttered the now-infamous quote.

The Aftermath and the Unraveling Truth

The consequences were swift. The Manila Chronicle reported the verbal confrontation, quoting Avelino extensively. His words, questioning the necessity of investigating abuses in power, struck a chord. The public, already grappling with the aftermath of war, witnessed a candid admission that left an indelible mark on their perception of politicians.

In February of the same year, Quirino successfully ousted Avelino from his position in the Senate. Despite this setback, Avelino pushed forward, running for President against Quirino and Jose Laurel of the Nacionalista Party. Ultimately, Avelino's bid fell short, and his fall from power was as dramatic as his rise.

Avelino's Legacy: Complex Dimensions

The rise of Jose Avelino was remarkable for a probinsyano (a person from the provinces). His academic brilliance and eloquence propelled him forward. His friendship with Claro M. Recto, a fellow academic standout, shaped his journey. Both graduated summa cum laude from the Ateneo and pursued law degrees at the University of Santo Tomas.

Before entering politics, Avelino organized labor unions in Samar, showcasing his commitment to social justice. His legislative contributions were impactful, including key legislations like the Philippine Workmen's Compensation Law. Advocating for education, he played a role in establishing public high schools across provinces and contributed to the creation of the Social Security System.

Unveiling the Truth: A Victim of Misrepresentation

Recent accounts have surfaced, shedding new light on the infamous quote. In contrast to the sensationalized version, Avelino's actual words were rooted in a profound commitment to public service. Faustino Tobia, a witness to the Malacanang caucus, revealed Avelino's true sentiment.

Tobia quoted Avelino as saying “Señor Presidente, ¿no es la verdad que sin hacerlos vigorosamente es traicionar y negar esencialmente nuestros deberes como sirvientes públicos? ¿Para que esta el nuestro mandato del pueblo?” (“Mr. President, is it not the truth that not addressing vigorously these problems [i.e., of losing the Liberal Party’s insight into the postwar reconstruction, the country’s peasant plight that is fueling the Huk’s insurgency, and the moral discipline of those who use their position or influence in government to advance their selfish ends, like appointing less qualified men from the opposition party] is to betray and negate fundamentally our duties as public servants? What for is our mandate from the people?”)

From a non-partisan perspective, these words reveal a dedication to fulfilling one's role in serving the nation.

Honoring A Complex Legacy

In recognition of Jose Avelino's multifaceted impact, the Office of the President has declared August 5 as Jose Avelino Day in all three Samar provinces. His legacy invites contemplation, challenging us to look beyond the surface and explore the intricate layers that define his persona.

In conclusion, Jose Avelino's name evokes a myriad of emotions and perceptions. His journey through the intricate landscape of politics highlights the complexity of human nature and the intricate interplay of ambition, service, and the pursuit of power. As we honor his memory, may we remember that history, like people, is multi-dimensional, and the truth often lies beneath the surface.


"Senator Jose Dira Avelino" was first published on August 10, 2019.

Unlocking Peacekeeping Challenges: A Critical Examination

Photo credit: United States Institute of Peace

Discover the Pressing Issues and Complexities Surrounding Global Peacekeeping

The world of international diplomacy is once again facing a significant challenge, as the United Nations grapples with a critical issue – the stability of its peacekeeping efforts. In an era of escalating conflicts and shifting global dynamics, the vital role of the UN in maintaining peace is under threat. Join us as we delve into the heart of this matter, exploring the intricacies that underscore the urgency of addressing peacekeeping challenges on a global scale.

The Looming Crisis: Financing and Contributions

Recent developments have cast a shadow over the UN's peacekeeping initiatives. The financial strain resulting from non-payment of dues by numerous member states is raising serious concerns. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently sounded the alarm, revealing that the United Nations is currently grappling with its 'worst cash crisis' in almost a decade. Shockingly, 64 out of 193 member states have defaulted on their annual dues, causing a cascading effect on the UN's ability to function effectively.

Of paramount significance is the contribution of the United States, the largest contributor to the UN. The US is withholding its financial support, owing a staggering $674 million for the 2019 regular budget and an additional $381 million for prior budgets. With the US funding 22 percent of the General Assembly budget and 28 percent for peacekeeping, the implications are far-reaching. Additionally, several other countries, including Israel, Brazil, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay, find themselves in arrears.

Immediate Impact and Looming Dangers

The ramifications of this financial crisis are dire. If defaulting members do not rectify their dues, the UN will be unable to pay salaries for approximately 37,000 Secretariat personnel by next month. The repercussions extend beyond mere financial constraints, potentially leading to the postponement or cancellation of crucial conferences and meetings. However, the true gravity of the situation lies in the UN's ability to uphold peacekeeping operations effectively.

Countries like the Philippines, which contribute peacekeeping troops to regions in turmoil, are grappling with the repercussions of this crisis. The UN's inability to reimburse expenses incurred by contributing nations threatens the sustainability of these vital operations.

Historical Parallels: US and UN Budgetary Disputes

The current turmoil is not the first time the UN has faced budget-related turmoil, particularly involving the United States. Historically, disputes over funding have marred the UN's budgeting process, often linked to the financial contributions of the US. In the 1980s, the Clinton administration imposed a cap on the US share of the UN peacekeeping budget at 25 percent. This decision led to the accumulation of arrears totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Although subsequent administrations raised this cap, tensions persisted.

Even in 2006, the US demanded a vote on the approval of the UN budget – an unprecedented move that underscored the ongoing discord. Former President Donald Trump further escalated tensions, asserting that the US would not pay more than 25 percent of the UN peacekeeping budget. This position harkened back to the Clinton-era formula and reignited discussions about fairness in funding.

Deeper Implications: Questions of Mandate and Sovereignty

Beneath the surface of financial disputes, deeper questions concerning the UN's mandate and the execution of that mandate emerge. Leaders like President Trump have not only scrutinized the financial aspect but have also questioned the efficacy of the UN's role on the global stage. Withdrawals from treaties such as the UN Arms Treaty and the UN Human Rights Council, driven by concerns over resolutions related to Israel, exemplify this complex landscape.

Similarly, the Philippines' withdrawal from the UN International Criminal Court, triggered by the threat of investigations into alleged human rights violations, points to a growing trend. The dynamics are evolving, and as disputes intensify, the UN's reputation and effectiveness are called into question.

The Origins and Hope of the United Nations

Reflecting on the origins of the UN, we recall a world scarred by the devastation of World War II, with an estimated 85 million lives lost. In 1942, the victorious countries, led by the Big Four (United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China), established the UN. Their primary objective was to prevent the recurrence of global conflicts and bring stability to an uncertain world.

The inception of the UN echoed the events of 1919, when the League of Nations (LoN) was established in a bid to prevent the resurgence of conflict after World War I. However, the LoN's inability to prevent subsequent conflicts and invasions underscored its limitations, leading to its eventual dissolution.

A Glimmer of Hope Amidst Uncertainty

In a world where the consequences of another war are unimaginable, the imperative of peacekeeping remains. While the UN's path may be fraught with challenges and imperfections, its efforts hold the promise of a safer and more harmonious global future. The moral imperative of peace may not always sway sovereign entities, yet individuals with the capacity to effect change can intervene when governments falter.

As the urgency of the situation mounts, individuals must take action to support the UN's critical mission. The narrative of financial strife should not eclipse the broader objective – ensuring a world where diplomacy prevails over conflict, and the shared hope for peace is the driving force.

The Future of Peacekeeping: A Collective Endeavor

In conclusion, the United Nations stands at a crossroads, grappling with financial turmoil while striving to maintain its vital peacekeeping efforts. The challenges are significant, but they also present an opportunity for collective action and meaningful change. As global citizens, it is our responsibility to support the UN's noble mission and advocate for effective solutions that pave the way for a more peaceful and secure world. By rallying behind the UN, we can contribute to a future where the forces of diplomacy triumph over discord, and peace is upheld for generations to come.


This article is a rewrite of Peacekeeping Is On The Ropes, Again, which was first published on October 16, 2019.

Shifting Tides: Navigating Philippines' Path Away from China's Grasp

Photo credit: Amazon UK

Strategizing for Sovereignty: Short and Long-Term Approaches

In the intricate dance of international relations, the Philippines faces a formidable challenge—how to break free from China's tightening grip while preserving its own sovereignty. This formidable task can be approached through two distinct paths—one geared for immediate impact, the other designed for long-term transformation. However, the key lies in initiating these processes without delay.

Understanding the Adversary: Sun Tzu's Wisdom

Before delving into the strategies, it's crucial to assess the adversary. As Sun Tzu's teachings emphasize, knowing the enemy is the foundation of victory. China's actions, particularly in the West Philippine Sea, reveal its blatant disregard for international norms. The nation stakes its claim to territories legally belonging to the Philippines, ignoring court rulings and resorting to lawlessness and violence. The audacity mirrors historical instances of power wielding authority above international law.

China's Assertion of Power: A Modern Serengeti

China's assertiveness echoes an animal kingdom where strength reigns supreme. Comparable to the Serengeti's dynamic, understanding and strategizing become paramount. Engaging in futile rants serves no purpose; the wise focus on actionable solutions.

Unmasking Global Dynamics: Allies in the Balance

Global politics unveil a similar paradigm, as the US garners support from its allies. Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), while not rogues themselves, share responsibility for US actions. Amid this complex network, the rules of the jungle apply, where both powerful and vulnerable nations align for self-preservation. Just as Pumba follows Kion for safety, smaller nations seek refuge under the wings of mightier allies.

China's Agenda: Unraveling US Ties, Fostering New Alliances

China's objectives involve unbinding US alliances while cultivating a fresh wave of support. Despite the Philippines' seemingly minor stature, China has designated it a priority target. Swiftly and effectively, it has begun dismantling the eagle's grip on its smaller counterpart.

Philippine History and Influence: An Evolving Narrative

The Philippines' historical role within US-China dynamics spans generations. Once a far-flung kingdom under Spanish rule, it later found itself entangled in the web of US expansionism. From imperial powers to global dominion, the ebb and flow of history has shaped the Philippines' role within this narrative.

A Century's Shift: From Colonization to Global Dominance

A century later, taipans embraced the American market, reversing the course of influence. China's ascent continues, with its billionaires outnumbering their US counterparts. Within ASEAN, a significant majority of the wealthiest are either Chinese immigrants or descendants.

The Belt and Road Initiative: Global Promises and Skepticism

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) beckons with promises of global wealth through trade. Lured by financial incentives, nations have flocked to participate, envisioning prosperity. However, China's disregard for international law casts a shadow of skepticism. While the BRI presents opportunities, its credibility is tainted by its actions in the West Philippine Sea.

Nurturing National Sovereignty: Strategies for the Philippines

Short-Term Approach: Informed Governance

The immediate route to sovereignty necessitates establishing a government that genuinely represents the people's interests. Central to this process is educating citizens about China's false claims in the West Philippine Sea and other contested regions. Achieving this involves an inclusive effort that unites individuals and nations. Urgency propels the need to initiate these endeavors immediately.

Long-Term Vision: Cultivating Independence

For the long term, the Philippines must carve a path to independence. Fostering self-reliance, innovation, and economic growth creates a foundation for a sovereign future. By harnessing its resources and collaborating on a global scale, the nation can rise as a power in its own right.

The Imperative of Action: A Pivotal Crossroads

In navigating the complex waters of international relations, the Philippines stands at a crossroads. Choosing between immediate response and enduring transformation is a decision laden with implications. Regardless of the path taken, one truth remains—action must commence now. As Sun Tzu once stated, "In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak." The Philippines' journey towards sovereignty rests in this delicate balance.


This is a rewrite of In the Wild, the Fittest Survives which was first published on August 25, 2019. 


From the Philippines to the World, with Love

Photo shows a Filipina caregiver attending to an elderly. Photo credit: iSavta.

Unleashing a New Era: The Philippines' Path to Global Dominance

In the grand tapestry of time, a mere 4 to 5 generations from now, the Philippines could emerge as a world conqueror. Yet, this conquest won't involve missiles or bullets but rather the compassionate touch of its caregivers and healthcare professionals. To achieve this audacious vision, the government must lay the groundwork today, paving the way for a transformative future.

Seeding Progress: A Vision Beyond Borders

By 2050, the realm of possibility extends to fertile hectares yielding an abundance of diverse sustenance to feed entire metropolises. A single medicinal capsule may suffice to provide a week's nourishment. Casting our gaze further into 2100, the marvels of medical science could potentially extend the human lifespan to 150 years. The connection between Earth and Mars could be woven by commercial flights, and the cosmos might unveil its secrets to earthlings.

Technology's Boundless Canvas: A World Unified

In a world knit together by rapid strides in information and communication technology, political and territorial boundaries may fade. This harmonious globe, as envisaged by luminaries like John Lennon, will stand as a testament to unified human existence. The facets of life are poised to undergo monumental shifts, barring two constants: the depths of human desires and the passage of time.

The Eternal Struggle: Unyielding Desires

Human desires, akin to the days of Adam and Eve, will forever retain their rebellious nature. Defiance of a higher power remains embedded in human nature, with the audacity to reshape the world, manipulate nature's tapestry, and dominate all inhabitants therein. The sanctity of money will continue to wield its influence, rivaled by few. From state-sanctioned deaths to gender struggles, the common theme persists—challenging divine authority to prove self-sufficiency.

Subtext of Transformation: The Rise of Homosexuality

The rise of homosexuality, subtly underpinned by mockery of divine creation, emerges as a curious manifestation. While nuclear warfare and environmental decay through global warming pose existential threats, the interconnectivity of souls through homosexuality stands as a harbinger of an era's end.

Unveiling the Inevitable: The Specter of Aging

Science, in its pursuit of profit, may manipulate the aging process, extending human life spans. However, aging and mortality remain inescapable facets of existence, untouched by scientific advancements.

Demographic Reshuffling: The Geriatric Influx

Affluent nations grapple with unsettling demographic forecasts due to their aging populations and declining birth rates. Conversely, countries like the Philippines, boasting robust birth rates, can shape their trajectory with an eye toward the influx of their geriatric caregivers.

Future Horizons: The Geriatric Care Industry

A 2018 study by Persistence Market Research forecasts a $2 trillion valuation for the global aged care services market by 2026. The study envisions a geriatric population of 2 billion by that same juncture. Notable countries like Japan, Italy, Portugal, Germany, and Finland lead with the highest elderly populations. In the USA, 19 percent of the projected population will be 65 years or older by 2025.

Philippine Advantage: A Tradition of Compassion

The Philippines, anchored in values of familial bonds and reverence for elders, holds a distinct competitive edge in the realm of caregiving. A study by Japan's Rissho University and Hosei University highlights the country's caregivers and healthcare workers as widely embraced and preferred worldwide. Their compassionate service resonates with foreign clients undergoing treatment.

Blueprint for Success: Crafting a Path Forward

The Philippine government stands at the precipice of opportunity, poised to harness this burgeoning niche. A comprehensive strategy can pave the way, encompassing incentives for educational institutions fostering caregiving and healthcare programs. The Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) must adopt a proactive entrepreneurial stance, constructing aged care facilities complete with infrastructure, staff, and human resource development.

Creating Collaborative Enclaves: A Visionary Approach

Considering the lucrative market in well-off countries, the PRA could partner with proponents through public-private partnerships. These collaborators would establish facilities where regulations permit, offering comprehensive day care services, geriatric ailment treatment, and even in-home care. Various contractual arrangements like Build-and-transfer, Build-lease-and-transfer, Build-operate-and-transfer, or Build-own-and-operate could be tailored to suit feasibility.

Deployment and Graduation: A Strategy Unveiled

The government's masterstroke involves deploying families, not just individuals, to these embedded aged-care hubs. These families will gradually integrate into local communities, nurturing a bond with host regions. Over 5 to 10 years, they will transition from dependency to self-sufficiency. As vacancies arise, a fresh wave of caregivers and healthcare professionals will embark on missions anew.

Harvesting the Future: A World Transformed

Four or five generations hence, the world will bear witness to a populace bred from waves of caregivers and health workers dispatched abroad by the government. In achieving this conquest, the Filipino race will wield a new form of influence—one rooted in care and love, supplanting military might with the power to transform nations through compassion.


From the Philippines to the World, with Love was first published on September 7, 2019 

Transparency and Interpretation: Navigating Duterte's Context

Lawyer and former President Rodrigo Duterte cabinet member Salvador Panelo.

Deciphering Duterte's Clarity Amidst Contradiction

In the realm of emotions, Air Supply's song echoes that unmistakable feeling—love. Similarly, in the political landscape, President Rodrigo Duterte's intentions, while at times seeming contradictory, appear crystal clear. The government's commitment to overhaul governance, eradicate criminality, and elevate the nation to global prominence is as evident as daybreak. This assertion gains further credence through satisfaction rating surveys and the eloquent articulations of Salvador Panelo. His words, even when muted, resonate and resonate well, especially among avid supporters like myself.

Interpreting Contrasts: Duterte's Message vs. Panelo's Clarification

Though occasional disparities surface between President Duterte's pronouncements and those of his spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, the root cause shouldn't be attributed to ambiguity. Instead, it's a matter of context.

Mr. Duterte has adopted a paradigm suggesting that unorthodox methods, albeit challenging established norms, are the catalysts needed to propel the nation forward. Operating within a constitutional framework sculpted from the ashes of dictatorship, Duterte's approach veers into unconventional territories. On at least one occasion, he provocatively challenged the constitution's sanctity, likening it to mere toilet paper.

The Enigma of Unconventional Methods

These unorthodox methods beckon inquiries. In response, the administration employs a varied toolkit. For political opponents, displacement from key positions, detention, and the specter of incarceration loom. Duterte himself demonstrates his hands-on stance, dealing with detractors real or imagined. The weight of his response is evident as he menaces government officials, including State Auditors, with physical harm for service delays. His scathing remarks target the Catholic Church's hierarchy and other vocal quarters opposing the drug war's summary executions, which disproportionately victimize the marginalized.

Parsing Duterte's Context: Popularity vs. Genuine Concern

In Duterte's realm, the objective is clear—popular governance. Whether a genuine concern for the populace underscores this approach remains a question. However, staying in power is paramount. His office's potency is the conduit through which his envisioned transformations become reality. The more he employs confrontational rhetoric, infusing fear into the hearts of criminals, and visually conveys order in crime-afflicted communities, the higher his trust ratings ascend.

Panelo's Dilemma: Balancing Idealism and Pragmatism

Meanwhile, Salvador Panelo grapples with reconciling the chasm between the ideal and practicality within the current landscape. Despite the significant toll exacted by the war on drugs, Panelo avoids publicizing this facet—likely to prevent backlash from fervent government supporters. In a way, he functions as a buffer, potentially safeguarding a future pivot in public sentiment, akin to a child candidly addressing the emperor's invisible clothes.

Navigating Contradiction: Panelo's Verbal Artistry

When queried about government combating criminality via criminal means, Panelo's response is an artful blend of words and expressions. His face morphs, transmitting his truth in inexplicable ways: "Drug-related killings are absolutely not state-initiated nor state-sponsored."

Peering into the Past for Context

Recalling a story of Rodrigo Duterte's youth, a narrative emerged of him shooting a fellow student during his law school days at San Beda. This recollection surfaces in light of Panelo's recent explanations. His role was reminiscent of a similar role back then, sparking a parallel that timelessly resounds.

Interpreting Presidential Eloquence: A Tale of Misunderstanding

President Duterte, during a speech to newly appointed VIPs, diverged into a tale of a mayor he once labeled a narco-general. His words recounted an orchestrated ambush: "Loot, p—mo, nanalo pa na mayor. Inambush kita, animal ka, buhay pa rin!"

In a bid to elucidate the president's intent, Panelo intervened. The spokesperson cited confusion due to Duterte's Bisaya idiom, admitting his lack of proficiency in Filipino. The rephrased interpretation: "Inambush ka na, buhay ka pa."

Deciphering the Puzzle: Clarity or Confusion?

Even when unmuted, Panelo's clarifications sometimes introduce a sense of incredulity, reminiscent of tales so incredulous that even a novice can perceive the irony.


This is a rewritten article that was first published on September 25, 2019 with the title "Even a Fool Would Know."

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