Monday, May 30, 2016

Duterte’s honeymoon with China begins

Like all relationships and marriages, both parties will try to work, or live, harmoniously and reconcile their differences, if any.  This is called the “honeymoon” period and it could last for a long time or it can be abbreviated depending on how they relate to each other.  It may sound simplistic, but they hope that by the time the honeymoon is over, they’d remain married, partners, allies or friends.  Nobody could predict the denouement of their relationships, but as someone once said, “There are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.”

It did not then come as a surprise that America’s enemies during World War II – Germany, Japan, Italy – became her allies, and her allies USSR and China became her enemies during the Cold War that followed World War II.  And these alliances – North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and U.S.-Japan Security Treaty – have endured for more than 65 years.  And today, NATO has become the bulwark in the defense the 28 NATO countries against enemy invasion, which is crucial to the U.S. national interests.

And in Asia-Pacific, the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty has become a formidable deterrence against Chinese expansionism.  Other treaty allies of the U.S. in Asia-Pacific are South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines.   These alliances form a line of defense along the First Island Chain – linking Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, and Borneo -- which would deter China from breaking out into the Western Pacific.

Choke points

To prevent China from breaking out, the U.S. has to have a strong military presence in Japan and the Philippines, where she can control two major choke points to the Western Pacific.  These are the Miyako Strait between Okinawa (Japan) and Taiwan, and the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Batanes Islands (Philippines).  With several air force bases, a naval base, and 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan, the U.S. maintains strategic dominance over the Miiyako Strait.  But it is a different situation in the Bashi Channel, which is wide open and defenseless.  However, the U.S. had shown interest in deploying her forces to the Batanes Island and the Laoag City airport in northern Luzon.  If the Philippines agrees to this proposal, it would shut off the Bashi Channel from Chinese intrusion… and effectively makes the First Island Chain impenetrable.

Recently, the Philippines and the U.S. agreed on the locations for four American air force units and one army base under the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperative Agreement (EDCA), which was signed in April 2014.  In addition, the former U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base is a frequent destination for U.S. warships while the former Clark Air Base is used to host American surveillance planes that keep an eye over the South China Sea.

It’s interesting to note that EDCA was signed as an executive order under the Aquino administration.  As such, it can be terminated by the incoming administration of presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte, who considers himself as a left-of-center politician.  However, he admits that he had been on friendly terms with the communist New People’s Army (NPA), which makes one wonder: How is he going to deal with China in regard to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea?

Bilateral talks

It is no wonder then that a week after Duterte’s landslide victory last May 9, China’s ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua paid him a courtesy call in Davao City. Zhao congratulated him on his victory and expressed his country’s expectation of working with his administration to “properly deal with the differences, deepen traditional friendship, and promote mutually beneficial cooperation, so as to bring the ‘bilateral ties’ forward.” 

Obviously, Zhao was referring to “differences” on the South China Sea territorial disputes, which the Philippines under the Aquino administration had submitted to the United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration.  It challenged the legality of China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the South China Sea under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  However, China refused to recognize the authority of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and indicated that she will reject its decision on the matter.                                    

As Duterte’s “honeymoon” with China begins, there would be a lot of posturing by both sides.  But the crux of the dispute is China’s iron-clad claim to her indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea demarcated by the “nine-dash line,” which has no fixed coordinates simply because it was arbitrarily drawn on a map in 1947 by China’s Nationalist government under Chiang Kai Shek.  China considers the South China Sea as one of her national core values, which are “non-negotiable.”

If Duterte were to initiate bilateral talks with China, he’d be faced with a dilemma. China had in the past offered joint development in the Spratlys.  However, she has one pre-condition: That the Philippines concedes to China indisputable sovereignty over the Spratlys.  If China sticks to this pre-condition and Duterte accepts it, the Philippines must vacate all the islands she occupies in the Spratlys including the populated Kalayan Island Group (KIG), which is part of Philippine national territory as defined in the Philippine Baselines Law (R.A. No. 3046, as amended by R.A. No. 5446 and R.A. No. 9522) and in Article I of the 1987 Constitution.  This would be a violation of the Constitution, which is an impeachable act.  Either way, the honeymoon would be over before it started, which begs the question: What would be Duterte’s next step?

Junk EDCA?

Faced with pressures from militants to scrap EDCA, Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Duterte will be confronted with the problem of national security.  While he had said during the campaign that he was willing to junk EDCA, he is now saying that his administration will continue EDCA since the external defense of the country is weak.  Indeed, with no warships and no warplanes to defend her territory, the Philippines would be at the mercy of China.     

And once American forces are out of the Philippines – again – what do you expect China would do next?  One needs to remember that when the Philippine Senate removed the American bases from Philippine soil in 1992, China took possession of the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef within two years, without firing a shot.   With the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal completely controlled by China, the province of Palawan -- which is less than 100 miles from the Spratlys -- would be an easy target. China could then claim that the Chinese had been in Palawan since ancient times.  And like what she did with the Spratlys, Scarborough Shoal, Paracel Islands (claimed by Vietnam), and Senkaku Islands (claimed by Japan), she would probably come up with another “ancient map” showing Palawan as part of her territories.   And pretty soon, the Philippines could become a vassal or client state of China, which would effectively deprive the Filipinos of their sovereignty.


Bully vs. bully


Duterte, street smart – or “kanto boy” -- as he is, should know that it takes a bully to fight a bully.  He should also be aware that size matters.  In other words, a little boy cannot fight a big bully.  So what the little boy would do is to call his big brother.  In the case of the Philippines, Duterte would turn to big brother America, a bully bigger that China, for help.  And this is where EDCA, MDT, VFA, and LSA would level the playing field.  


At the end of the day, one might say that Duterte’s honeymoon with China would just be an exercise in futility.  But the lesson learned would provide him with a clear direction of how – and where -- he should lead the country in the next six years.   



Monday, May 16, 2016

Duterte: Strongman with a soft spot

Some would say that presumptive President-Elect Rodrigo “Rody” or “Digong” Duterte is a leftist, which he admits.  Some say he is a communist, which he denies.  Others say he is pro-China.  And a few say he could be the new “Amboy” – that is, “America’s Boy.”   Honestly, nobody knows that much about his brand of politics.   

Who the hell is Digong then?  With so many contradictions on what he had said during the campaign, one might say, “This guy is enigmatic!”  He’s got a little bit of the brashness of Donald Trump—which he denies.  “Trump is a racist, I am not,” he said.   He’s got a little bit of the unpredictability of Vladimir Putin.  Hmm…  He’s likened to the benevolent dictator Lee Kuan Yew, which he’d probably say, “Heck, I’m better than Lee!”  Some say he’s like the late President Ramon “The Guy” Magsaysay, the most popular president the country ever had.  And some see him as a real-life embodiment of the movie character “Dirty Harry.”   The locals call him “The Punisher” for his zero tolerance against criminals.  And what you’ve got is Trump, Putin, Lee, Magsaysay, and “Dirty Harry” all wrapped into one.  

Yes, Digong is popular with the masa – common people -- but feared by criminals.   It’s the alchemy that forms a brand of “political populism,” one that justifies populism to achieve a political end.   And it works best in a country mired in poverty and corruption.  It is no wonder then that when he promised to eradicate crime in three to six months, only a few casts doubt that he could do it without declaring martial law, but the majority sees it as flicker of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.  In their minds, if Digong were successful in transforming Davao City from the “Murder Capital of the Philippines” to the safest city in the Philippines and “one of the safest in the world,” then that is good enough to give him their votes.  Forget that some skeptics don’t believe these statistical claims, but when the residents of Davao City feel safe, then these become “facts” unless proven otherwise.  And who among his political rivals have the credibility to challenge his claims?   


Fighting corruption


When Duterte entered the presidential race last November, he promised to fight corruption.  “If I will become president, corruption has to stop,” he said.  He added that it has been bleeding the nation dry and pushing the people deeper into poverty.


When he was asked if he could really do it, he said he gained his experience of fighting corruption when he worked as a prosecutor for the Tanodbayan, the predecessor of the Ombudsman.   He said that he “hounded” the corrupt when he was a Tanodbayanprosecutor.  “Once upon a time, I was one of only two Tanodbayan investigators in Mindanao.”  With a tinge of populism, he would tell government officials not to shortchange the public.  “Don’t grab from people’s mouth what they are about to eat. What is theirs is theirs,” he’d remind them.   His passion for the masa gives him credibility that he is capable of fighting corruption. 


During the last days of the campaign, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV dropped a bombshell accusing Duterte of enriching himself while in office.  Duterte then opened his bank account to public scrutiny to prove that there was only P17,000 in it, not P211 million as Trillanes had alleged.  His quick response added credibility to his character.


By contrast, when Vice President Jejomar Binay, one of his presidential rivals, vowed to fight corruption and go after corrupt officials, nobody believed him.  And when asked to disclose his bank accounts, Binay refused. How could the people believe him when he has several plunder charges filed against him before the Office of the Ombudsman, and secretive about his wealth?  He has zero credibility.  


Economic growth

Not content with outgoing President Benigno Aquino III’s economic growth of an average of 6 percent, Duterte plans to pursue a growth of 7-8 percent or higher. “If we want to reduce the poverty rate, we need a higher growth,” his spokesman Peter Laviña said.   And this begs the question:  Can he do it?  Yes, he can.  However, as what had happened in the administrations of Aquino and his predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who have sustained high economic growths, it did not alleviate the suffering of the poor.  In spite of the Philippines’ high economic growth – it’s the “best economy in Southeast Asia today” -- poverty and hunger are on the upswing.   Why?    


In 1973, World Bank president Robert McNamara spoke about poverty, saying: “Despite a decade of unprecedented increase in the gross national product of the developing countries, the poorest segments of their population have received relatively little benefit [because] rapid growth has been accompanied by greater maldistribution of income in many developing countries.”  He went on to say that “the growth of GNP is essentially an index of the welfare of the upper income groups. It is quite insensitive to what happens to the poorest 40%, who collectively receive only 10-15% of the total national income.”


It wouldn’t take a social scientist or economist a long time to figure out that this was exactly the problem the Philippines faces today, which is: maldistribution of income.  Add corruption to the mix and the outcome is: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.   Indeed, if there is one challenge that Duterte will be faced with, it’s how he’s going to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor?  To find the answer, one has to look at our Asian neighbors, the so-called “economic tigers.”  If there is one measure of their success, it’s their growing middle class, which increases as the lower class decreases. 


It’s noteworthy to mention also that a lot of social scientists are of the opinion that corruption creates poverty, not the other way around.  If Duterte makes good of his promise to fight corruption, he’d have a good start in fighting poverty as well.  And with his empathy for the poor, Duterte could feel at ease in starting a peaceful political and economic revolution.   


Platform for success


Duterte has a three-pronged platform that he plans to implement in the first six months of his presidency, which his spokesman Peter Laviña had outlined as follows:


1. Pursue a 24/7 fight against drugs, criminality, corruption, and poverty;


2. Call on Congress to pass a law for the election of members of a Constitutional Convention to undertake a “major rewriting” of the 1987 Constitution.  The objectives are to institute a shift to a federal parliamentary form of government, and to ease the current restrictions on foreign ownership of land, public utilities, educational institutions, and participation in the exploitation of natural resources; and


3. Pursue negotiations and forge peace agreements toward political settlements of the protracted armed conflicts both with the Left revolutionary forces and the Muslim rebel organizations.


One might say that his platform is ambitiously quixotic.  But he has one chance to succeed.  If he fails, he’d finish his term just like most of his predecessors – mediocre.  If he succeeds, he’d be looked upon by generations to come as the Father of the Sixth Philippine Republic.   But he can only achieve that if he remains what he is today: a strongman with a soft spot for the masa.




Saturday, March 19, 2016

Growing up in Martial Law Negros"

Jon Ray Fernandez, 2016 

(Photo by Jay Fermin FMG)

I grew up in a mixed political household (also a mixed religious one) My maternal grandmother  and my mother were  staunch supporters of the Partido Nacionalista because her sister Ma. Lourdes was the nacionalista mayor of Valladolid in Negros. My maternal grandfather was a Quirino (cousin of President Quirino) from Ilocos which makes it self explanatory why he was rock solid Marcos.  My maternal grandmother and mother were closely linked to RSB-Roberto 'BOBBY" Salvador Benedicto and his wife Julie both powerful Marcos cronies, Bobby or RSB as he was popularly known, was the comptroller of the Negros Sugar Industry and Traders Royal Bank- both were not only my moms god parents (and my own) but were my grandmothers constant travelling companions all through out the 1960’s and 70’s.

On the other side of my family-my fathers family were all partido liberal and deeply anti-Marcos.  I think you can safely assume that politics and religion divided our family.  I came into political consciousness in the very turbulent years of the 80’s, though I was politically immature, my brother and I were deeply interested in politics.  But we were influenced by my grandmother-who blamed the communist insurgency on the leftist and student protesters, which was a giant headache for the sugar planters on Negros. She felt they were out to destroy the feudal system which made sugar planters rich beyond the dreams of millions of Filipinos. It was safe to assume she failed to connect that the reason why her farm hands went to the mountains to join the NPA in the first place was because of deep corruption and the eventual collapse of the sugar industry brought about by her friends-the Benedictos and their big boss in Malacanang –President Ferdinand Marcos.

I do not think UP politicized me ( my Lola and Mom were not very happy), even before entering the state university I was already politically opinionated.  But after reading many books and seeing and hearing for myself the many screaming matches in my own house about the Marcoses and the Aquinos. I decided to find my own truth.

I see a new generation of young  Filipinos constantly praising the Marcos dictatorship and talk about the good old days during the 20 years of conjugal dictatorship- most of these young people were not yet born, but I was around and knew what was going on. 

( Philippine Airforce UH-1H flying North over Negros Occidental. Photo by Jay Fermin FMG )

Let me talk about my experience from a Bacolodnon or Negros point of view. During the sugar boom of the 1940s, 50s and 60s the sugar industry made all the Negros planters rich beyond the dreams of avarice.  These were the boom years because the USA bought their sugar from the Philippines, and Cuba the other sugar producing island was out of the picture, America imposed trade sanctions on the newly communist Cuba. So sugar only came from the Philippines and other small  sugar producing islands like Puerto Rico,  but still not even close to what the Philippines was sending to the USA. So we had a monopoly. 

Negros was called the richest island in Asia!

Back then if you were a Negros planter, your life was good,  beyond good it was great. All the planters were super rich, these were the boom years- I remember my grand parents and relatives buying houses in the newly developed Makati business district- Forbes park, Bel Air, Urdaneta and Magallanes village- and all out kapit bahays  in these gated villages were all Negrense.  They even had apartments in New York and San Francisco (we had a house in Chicago).  I knew of planter families in Bacolod who had small airplanes and helicopters.   All the the other planter families in our gated Village in Bacolod (Sta. Clara) went to Europe every year in huge tour groups-the Sarosas, Maranons, Lacsons, Jalandonis, Cuencas and so many other Bacolod families.  My grandmother used to say they she went around the world 12 times with my mom, staying for months in the best hotels.  You have to remember this was in the 1950s and 60s when there was no such thing as piso fares or budget airlines.  Back then traveling via PAN AM or TWA was a white gloved affair.  It was reserved for the rich.  The Negros planters were thus called “HACIENDEROS”  

Then Ferdinand and Imelda entered the palace in 1965- he was young and dynamic, she was beautiful and gracious.  Filipinos thought it was the dawn of a new era, Marcos and Imelda were like the JFK and Jackie Kennedy of Asia.  The first 5 years of their reign were uneventful.   

Then around 1970 things started to change in Hacienda Sugarlandia Negros: the economy was failing, and we had a law and order problem in Negros even at the height of Martial Law,  the NPA started to grow in number, from a small force of 2 thousand they grew to around 30 thousand,  the people working in the farms started leaving their jobs and joining the NPA in the mountains,-  the decades long feudal system which had made all the planter families super rich began to crumble.  My Moms ninong and Marcos best friend Roberto Salvador Benedicto was siphoning billions of pesos from the Negros sugar industry to Imelda’s private shopping sprees. The Benedictos were sooooo rich they had a private Lear Jet ( not the Cessna two engine) in their own small airport terminal ( the old cebu pacific terminal in the old airport was their own private airport)  I remember my grandmother used to travel with them, the airport had a red carpet from airport terminal to the airplane stairs  . This I remember because I was on that plane several times.

The once thriving and unfair sugar industry began to disintegrate right before our eyes.   By the 1980’s things had gotten worst in Bacolod( I remember these dark years)   The gracious garden parties in Sta Clara were replaced by super high walls with electric barbed wire- even the richest hacienderos did not feel safe in their huge houses.  The law and order situation in Negros had gotten so bad, that if we drove to our farm, there was a possibility of being abducted by the NPA’s new armed group called "The Sparrow Unit".   I remember that we had to change our telephone number at least once a month because we would get death threats very often on the phone.   Then one day in the early 80’s- my dad disappeared and there were whispers that he was abducted by the Sparrow Unit. He re appeared after 2 days (I assume my grandmother had paid some sort of tribute fee to the NPA for his release)  Til the day my father died-he never mentioned this incident-maybe trauma (I don't know).  My best friends family  (another haciendero family) and their farm home was entered by the NPA, they were all tied up and made to kneel- thankfully, nothing bad happened to them.

Negros in the 1980's was a dark, dismal and in many ways lawless. We were so desperate for safety that all the rich planter families had private armies called CAFGU's- ex military men willing to be private security for Haciendero families.  It was a dark time.

But the worst was yet to happen, around 1982 a famine hit Negros.  There was no food left in the farms except for coconut and camote. We planters were as helpless as our farm hands- many Negrenses left their huge haciendas to go to the USA to work as nurses aides or clerks- it was that bad in Negros- ika nga tapos na ang happy days.   

Then Newsweek magazine used the picture of a starving Negros child for its cover-  the child was malnourished, bone thin, almost close to death, this child looked like a victim of the genocide or famine in  Africa,  but it was not Africa, it was in my province, we could not believe it-  Negros the island that once bred millionaires by the truck load had turned into an island of hunger, violence and death.   The once proud sugar industry had collapsed. Because RSB and Marcos had strangled it and stolen every peso they could get.  Imelda used the Bacolod money to purchase several buidings in New York, not units- BUT BUILDINGS on 5th ave considered the most expensive  block of real estate in the world.

I am not an Aquino fan. I don't like Noy Noy or Kris or any of Corys cronies who were also thieves,   but lets be real about the Marcoses.   I am not taking sides in this argument. I am only talking about my experiences as a child of Bacolod in the 1980’s.   

 Life was not good and if you dare debate me about it.  All I can say to you is  “Where you there?, kasi I was there.”

Text by Jon Ray Fernandez
Printed with permission 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Is it Grace or ABG?

February 19, 2016


By Perry Diaz 

By the looks of it, the May 9, 2016 presidential election could turn out to be a hellishly contentious battle royale.  With five major presidential candidates, the outcome of the elections is predictably unpredictable.  Indeed, recent presidential preference surveys showed see-sawing and criss-crossing ratings among four of the five major candidates, to wit: Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and former DILG Secretary Mar Roxas.  


Trailing far behind them is Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, whose anemic – if not pathetic – ratings, would, under normal circumstances, classify her as a “spoiler.” But the forthcoming presidential election would by no means be under normal circumstances.  There are just too many variables.  Some are known variables, some are unknown, and a few are unknown “unknown,” foremost of which is how the Supreme Court is going to treat Poe’s status as a “foundling” – that is, a person whose parents were unknown.   


Judicial voodooism


There is nothing wrong with being a foundling except when you want to be president of the Philippines.  However, a foundling under normal circumstances could do anything a natural-born Filipino could do.  But under the Philippine Constitution, a person who is not a natural-born Filipino citizen is not qualified to run for the office of president, vice president, senator or representative.   Is that discriminatory?  Some people – including a few Supreme Court (SC) justices – say it is so.  And that is why the high court is hearing oral arguments to no end, which makes one wonder: Why can’t these supposedly defenders of the Constitution interpret such simple provisions of the law.  Instead, some of them seem to be threading into the realm of “judicial voodooism.”  And after four oral arguments, their number has increased to five justices – known as the Sereno bloc, most of whom are appointees of President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III -- who are now reportedly inclined to cut Poe some slack on her status as a “foundling.” All they need now is to convince three more justices into agreeing to their “voodoo” interpretation of the Constitution.  


Carpio Doctrine


But several justices led by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio are of the opinion that because Poe is a foundling, she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen but may be considered naturalized Filipino citizen.  He said that the Constitution only allows natural-born Filipino citizens to run for president.   And this is the gist of Poe’s disqualification case.


Lots of questions, no answers


With the ballots – with Poe included as a presidential candidate – ready to be printed, what do you think would happen if the SC disqualified her after the ballots were already printed?  This would give the voters enough reasons to demand reprinting the ballot without her name on it.  But what if the Commission on Elections (Comelec) rejected their demands and proceeded with the election?  With Poe leading the pack with the highest approval rating, do you think the four other candidates would take it sitting down?  And what do you think would their supporters do?   Indeed, there are lots of questions but no answers, which makes one wonder: Is this the perfect recipe for another EDSA uprising?


It’s for this very reason that Chief Justice Sereno should – nay, must! – expedite the disqualification case against Poe.  Failure to do so would be tantamount to grave abuse of power.   And to think that she’ll be the country’s top magistrate until 2030 makes one wonder where is the country heading?  


Now, here is the stinger.  Ready?  Eleven of the Supreme Court justices will be retiring during the term of the next president, possible Poe.   That would give her or whoever is elected the power to appoint their replacements.   That would give the next president virtual control over the three branches of government.  But one can argue that regardless of who is elected president, he or she would appoint 11 Supreme Court justices.  And this is where character, integrity, honestyand competence are what voters should be basing their choice for president on May 9.


Least evil


Given all the issues raised against the five major candidates, it is going to be hard deciding who among them is the best man – or woman – for the job?  But here is the problem with this question:  The candidates are hard to qualify as to who is the “best” because none of them had been a president before.   However, their character, integrity, honesty, and competence can be weighed by quantifying their “excess baggage.”  In other words, it is presumed that they all have excess baggage.  Is it then fair to presume that they are “evil” in varying degrees?  If so, then let me reframe my original question:  Who among the candidates is the least evil?  


So, who do you think is the least evil?  I’ll leave it to my readers to decide that.  But to highlight some of the excess baggage that the candidates carry, here are some for your discrimination:  Jejomar Binay is corrupt to the core (kurakot kuno). Grace Poe lacks the experience (and therefore “incompetent”), and she is not natural-born Filipino (kano kuno) and she lied about her citizenship and residency.  In regard to Duterte, the people are divided between those who call him a gangster and those who revere him as a gang-buster or “The Punisher, and some liken him to the late disciplinarian Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.  Roxas is honest but some people think he is incompetent (walang alam kuno) and some call him Mr. Palenke, a derogatory moniker.  And while Miriam Defensor Santiago is reputedly incorruptible, her detractors called her “Brenda” (“brain damage” kuno) when she ran for president in 1992.


So there you go.  You can now select who you believe is the “least evil” among the five candidates.  Do you prefer an allegedly corrupt politician to someone who allegedly lied about her citizenship and residency?  How about between an allegedly incompetent person and one who is allegedly mentally unstable?  And how about between an allegedly corrupt politician and an honest but allegedly incompetent politician?  And so on.  


Birds of a feather


Now if you take a look at a different perspective, the danger of electing the most evil of the candidates takes a quantum leap.  Take for instance if the one elected is corrupt to the core: Do you think that he or she would have the character to appoint honest and incorruptible jurists to the Supreme Court?  Could it be that the character of the president would somehow be reflected in the character of the person he or she appoints to the high court?  Does the mantra “Birds of a feather…” apply – perhaps subconsciously -- in the selection process?   Look at former prez Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who is now detained pending plunder charges against her.  Her appointee as Ombudsman resigned to avoid impeachment.  Her appointee as Chief Justice was impeached and removed from office.  Her appointee as Secretary of National Defense and subsequently Secretary of Energy – a retired four-star general – committed suicide after being accused of corruption while he was the AFP of Staff.  

In regard to Arroyo’s 16 appointees during her two presidential terms, there were at one time 14 of them serving during Aquino’s early years in office, of which – not surprisingly -- about 10 of them voted as a bloc in ruling against most of Aquino’s executive orders.   


Suffice it to say, the next president will be in a position to exercise such immense power that would transform the Supreme Court into a body that would reflect the philosophy – and character – of the appointing president.  Given the chance of choosing among Binay, Poe, Duterte, Roxas, and Santiago, the Philippine electorate has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chart the direction of the Supreme Court by electing the least evil of the presidential candidates.  


While some say that corruption is the number one issue against presidential candidates, it hasn’t really stopped a corrupt politician from getting elected.  Take for instance Binay who has several plunder charges filed against him.  Yet his approval ratings have remained high.   However, one can argue that they’re all corrupt!


In the case of Poe, she is accused of misrepresenting – some call it lying – her citizenship status and meeting the 10-year residency.   And that smacks right into the issue of character, which begs the question:  Does she deserve to be the leader of more than 100 million Filipino citizens when her own citizenship is mired in controversy?


At the end of the day, it comes down to the question:  Should the people vote for Grace or anybody but Grace (ABG)?