HOW we managed to blow P15.5 billion, if this figure is indeed correct, to light up the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the 31st Asean and12th East Asia summits, and the 13 other inter-related summits in Manila last week is a question the government must address with complete transparency. It seems too hefty a bill even by imperial standards.
The last time we hosted a comparable event, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders Meeting in 2015, we spent only a fifth of that. The increase is more than 500 percent. Why the astronomical jump? Has inflation risen that much since President Rodrigo Duterte took over? The economic statistics do not indicate that. We need a rundown of where every peso went to avoid any accusatory talk. The Commission on Audit should confirm the accuracy and propriety of all disbursements.
Outspending the Chinese
We need not ask how much China spent to open the Forbidden City and put up a royal show for US President Donald Trump. We need only find out perhaps how much Vietnam spent on its APEC meeting in DaNang, which DU30 himself attended, prior to our summits. The information could be instructive.
How much did Congress actually appropriate for the purpose? Did Congress correctly calculate the summits’ total requirements, or did PDU30 have to access his discretionary and intelligence funds to augment what was authorized by Congress? Under Sec. 29 (1), Article VI of the Constitution, ‘No money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.”
For us to see the whole exercise was cost-effective, the government should be able to show not only the costs incurred but also the benefits derived from the relevant activities. The results should correspond to the known objectives. Ironically, these were never clear to the public, and the summits failed to produce a single binding declaration which reflects a consensus on any single substantive issue deliberated upon during the conference.
How DU30 won
So, the summit gains, real or hypothetical, remain a matter of individual perception and analysis, both for the individual participants and for the global audience. DU30 was clearly the biggest winner, not in terms of what the world leaders said in support of his government, but in terms of what they did not say to question his drug killings, which had become a hot-button issue around the world.
The only world leader who managed to say something publicly about the issue was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a short conversation with DU30 after the Asean-Canada commemorative summit. There is no report of what Trudeau said, and how DU30 had responded to it; but it seemed to have been a positive exchange, until Trudeau talked to the press about it.
Then the notoriously short presidential temper, which had been kept in check all throughout the summits, snapped again. DU30 swiftly denounced the statement as a personal and official insult to him, giving his social media trolls and his contractual defenders everywhere else something to bury their claws on. This, I thought, was an over-reaction.
One must know how to win and behave accordingly as a winner. After Donald Trump, the European Council President Donald Tusk, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and all the others decided not to being up the issue of human rights, it became indisputably clear that DU30 had won his game, and that he could afford to be generous to any of the 20 leaders who did not share the group’s apparent acquiescence to the killings.
Dealing with Trudeau
Indeed, he could have simply ignored Trudeau’s press statement, or dismissed it as one national politician’s effort to make some brownie points with his constituents at home, who had expected him to say something interesting abroad.
Had he wanted to put Trudeau on the defensive, he could have— suggested a friend who’s not even a DU30 supporter— sardonically assured the Canadian prime minister that he was trying his best to deal with the drug killings, except that he was also saddled with such problems as the 50 container vans of toxic waste which had been illegally shipped from Canada to the Philippines in 2014, but which the Canadian government has been unable to repatriate until now. So why doesn’t Trudeau do his job well, so he could do his own much better?
It would have been quite a conversation.
Or DU30 could have flippantly instructed his partner Cielito “Honeylet” Avancena, who had her formal international coming out party at the Asean gala dinner on Nov. 12, and his special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go, whom the media now calls “national photobomber,” to physically and publicly destroy the “selfie” they had taken of themselves with Trudeau, as an expression of his displeasure with the prime minister. Bong Go’s “selfie” with Trudeau ran on the front page of Philippine Star while DU30 was complaining of the PM’s personal and official insult to him.
He could also have asked all those silly women around him, who had swooned over Trudeau on Facebook to permanently “unfriend” him.
Instead he denounced Trudeau’s statement to the press as a personal and insult to him.
Keeping the global silence
But Trudeau is the least of DU30’s problems. His real problem lies with all those world leaders who had said nothing about human rights while they were in Manila, but would remain under intense pressure to speak up once they are out of range from the Filipino president. Can they keep their silence for long?
Trump will perhaps do his best to keep DU30’s “friendship” on which depends the close political, economic and military relationship between the US and the Philippines, especially vis-à-vis China, but will it restrain the restive forces in the US Congress and within the official establishment itself?
Let DU30 not forget that even after the US Air Force had flown Marcos and his family to Hawaii after the 1986 EDSA revolt, US President Ronald Reagan’s support for, and “friendship” with, the Filipino strongman never wavered. But this could not prevent the combined forces of the US Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department from supporting the proposition that Marcos should finally go down. And he did.
And what about the European Union and the UN? Will Donald Tusk’s and Antonio Guterres’ silence in Manila restrain the various human rights activists in the EU and the UN from pursuing their lifetime advocacies now? What happens to Agnes Callamard, the unstoppable UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions? Will she abandon her unfulfilled desire to investigate the drug killings in the Philippines?
The final arbiter
But more than any and all of this, what happens to the various Philippine groups that had begun to coalesce in order to confront the DU30 government, in peace, on the drug killings?
The first manifestation of this phenomenon took place on November 5 at EDSA in response to the call of Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 from the lower class to the middle and upper middle classes joined the march from the EDSA Shrine to the People Power monument.
Its obvious success invites similar, and possibly bigger, demonstrations. There is every sign that this resistance movement, if one may call it that, is fast spreading across the nation.
Will it suddenly stop now just because the leaders of the US, the EU and the UN have decided not to talk to DU30 about the problem? This possibility cannot be discounted, but the more distinct probability is that those who have decided to march against the killings could now, fairly or unfairly, lump the world leaders together with DU30 as “supporters” of the killings.
None of them, DU30 especially, could be unaware of this. And it is naive to assume that the threat of DU30 going rogue and declaring a “revolutionary government,” which a number of ignorant DU30 fanatics are determined to goad him into proclaiming as a solution to all his problems, would make the growing resistance disappear.
A self-coup, by whatever name, (auto-golpe, to the Latin Americans), creates a problem where none exists, not a solution to anything. Only the ignorant and the foolish will want DU30 to abandon his constitutional platform, and mount this unconstitutional one. And yet they seem to abound in various places. The recent fall of Robert Mugabe in Zimbwawe, after 37 years of dictatorship, is a useful reminder that no dictatorship ends well.
DU30 must try to make his Asean summits’ success a permanent one, and the only way for him to do so is to declare conclusively that we have seen the last of the summary drug killings, and that all drug deaths will now be investigated, the guilty parties prosecuted and punished, the narcotics supply from China and other foreign sources interdicted, and that he would now make a serious effort to lead an incorrupt and competent government.