In his first joint command conference of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police in Malacañang last week, President Rodrigo Duterte declared he wanted the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group “crushed.” This should have been said on the first day of his administration. The bandit group has gotten away with various kidnappings and terrorist activities in Mindanao and is reported to have forged some inchoate ties with ISIS. DU30’s new directive allows a shift in his current peace and order drive, which since July 1 had zeroed in solely on illegal “drugs,” resulting in over 6,000 drug suspects killed, amid an outcry on human rights abuses.
DU30 should have gone much farther, though. For one, he could have made it clear whether or not the world’s oldest communist insurgency was still a threat to the Philippine state. He has already appointed CPP/NPA/NDF members to the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet, without an enabling peace agreement. And the peace talks between the government and the NDF have become a simulated process between NDF-1 and NDF-2. The communists are getting everything they want, without yielding anything to the government.
The overall national security situation needs to be examined at greater depth. This should involve senior government leaders, statesmen and national and international security experts. Congress should also be actively involved, if we have a functioning and responsible Congress. But since Congress has reduced itself into a rubber stamp of the President, we have to dispense it from any serious responsibilities. The National Security Council, properly constituted, should take the lead in providing the necessary assessment. Private individuals, public intellectuals and academics should be free to offer their own thoughts.
A necessary debate
Through this column, I have tried to trigger a modest debate on this issue the past few weeks. I began by disclosing, by name, the Cabinet and other sub-Cabinet appointees from the CPP/NPA/NDF, starting with Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., the ex-priest, ex-rebel, ex-mayor, who ran DU30’s presidential campaign, and now “supervises” at least 12 critical agencies related to the government’s anti-poverty program. Next to DU30, he has become the most powerful man in government, and is sometimes referred to in some circles as the “co-president.”
Evasco has unveiled his plan to replace the existing government structure with a “socialist” one, through his Kilusang Pagbabago (Movement for Change), which he has begun to organize as a political party, nationwide. Using public funds and facilities, he has appointed regional coordinators and other officers for the KP all over the country, who are all members of the CPP. The overall plan, as gleaned from the existing literature, envisages the establishment of a communist revolutionary government to replace the constitutional government and install a communist dictatorship. This may seem unreal to many, but Evasco evidently believes in it.
Evasco and Malacanang have managed to pretend that no one has publicly expressed serious concern about his activities. But two of my distinguished columnist-colleagues have weighed in to contribute their thoughts. In his Jan. 6, 2017 column, Rigoberto D. Tiglao, a former CPP member, asks, “Communists in Duterte’s gov’t: Good or bad?” He approves of DU30 appointing communists to the Cabinet even without a peace agreement with the CPP/NPA/NDF, and expresses confidence that the appointees will not be corrupt. “Communists are like the Iglesia ni Cristo, faithful in the workplace: mostly incorruptible,” writes my esteemed friend.
Communists as honest as the INC?
This should be music to the Evasco and the INC, which was recently rocked by some street demonstrations arising from some internal controversies. However, early reports say that a group has been set up near Atrium building in Makati, allegedly with the blessings of Evasco’s colleagues, to help facilitate transactions with the government at a maximum fee of “15 percent.” They bill themselves as an “incorrupt” and transparent group because they say that “the going rate for facilitating government transactions starts at 30 percent.”
“The biggest risk for Duterte,” Tiglao continues, “is for those, especially the Yellow Cult and the Clerics planning to overthrow him through a coup d’etat is to exploit his having communists in his Cabinet for black propaganda. They will claim that the President has become a puppet of godless communists, and therefore has to be overthrown by force.” Tiglao seems to see no chance for such a coup, nor for Evasco’s dream of turning the Philippines into a communist state.
Likewise, in his Jan. 8, 2017 column, “Charting the course off a confused revolution,” the redoubtable Mauro Gia Samonte, also a former communist, does not believe Evasco would succeed. But he warns: “The real danger consists in this: that given the powers and prerogatives Evasco must have consolidated in his hands through his effective control of those 12 agencies named by Senator Tatad, he must be out to grab more such powers and prerogatives by which he may eventually delude himself that he could embark on an armed power grab. Unless he succeeds, too, in integrating the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) into the NPA, that power grab cannot be had except through a civil war.”
For its part, The Manila Times in its New Year’s editorial expressed serious concern over my revelations and urged DU30 to deal with Evasco with finality, or be held responsible for the consequences. A Filipino friend in the West Coast said the editorial, along with my columns on Evasco, have gone viral among US-based Filipinos. They are worried.
The Erdogan model
The average political and military observer doubts the NPA will ever be in a position, now or in the future, to overwhelm the combined strength of the military and the police. But former Defense Secretary and National Security Adviser Norberto B. Gonzales is worried that if Evasco’s mass indoctrination program (through the KP and its spy system called “masa masid”) succeeds, DU30 would be free to do whatever he wants, even without the support of the armed forces. He can do what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did when confronted by a military coup, Gonzales said in an interview on my GNN weekly show last Sunday. He recalled that Erdogan thwarted a coup by mobilizing “the people” against the armed forces.
In Gonzales’s opinion, to underestimate Evasco at this point would be a serious mistake.
It appears that aside from controlling the 12 critical agencies which DU30 has put directly under him, Evasco would like to extend his reach deeper into the economy, as columnist Samonte fears he might. Highly informed sources tell us that Evasco is pressing for a local banker, who is also a CPP member, to be appointed Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank) when Gov. Amando Tetangco retires in a few months. Evasco’s alleged candidate is now the President and CEO of a fast-growing local bank. One of the reasons Evasco is reportedly pressing for the CPP banker’s appointment is because he would like to block the appointment of Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. to the same position.
Yasay to the Central Bank?
Yasay’s interest in the BSP position has provoked curiosity not only within the Cabinet. Diplomats and bankers alike are puzzled about it. First of all, Yasay became foreign secretary, without any credible excuse. He had zero experience in diplomacy and international relations, his last job was as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he got mixed reviews. Caligula could not have done much worse had he made good his threat to make a Roman consul of Incitatus, his horse. But born in Kidapawan, and sent to high school in Davao, he was eminently qualified to become part of the Cabinet whose members are almost exclusively from Mindanao.
Since then Yasay has zigzaged with DU30 on foreign policy. He echoed DU30 when he said the government was not going to talk to China without talking of the arbitral ruling it had won against Beijing at the Hague. He echoed him again when he said the government would not refer to the ruling at all when it talked to Beijing about future ties. Despite years of immigration-lawyering and teaching law in the United States, which had raised some suspicions that he could be an American citizen or a green card holder at the very least, he said “America has failed us” after DU30 said he would separate economically and militarily from the US, and align himself with China and Russia “against the world.” His performance as foreign secretary has been an unmitigated disaster for the Philippine government.
But before he could make amends, DU30 announced that Senator Alan Peter Cayetano would replace him as soon as the one-year ban on the appointment of those who had lost in the last May elections expires. Cayetano, who lost as DU30’s running mate, has no more experience in diplomacy and international relations than Yasay, and has tried to cram for the job by attaching himself as excess baggage to DU30 wherever he went. He was present on his Asean trips, he even managed to join DU30 when he broke protocol and boarded the Russian anti-submarine ship with senior members of the Cabinet, and put the Republic under the jurisdiction of the captain of the ship.
As a member of the Legislature, Cayetano has no place in DU30’s presidential entourage. Assuming he is to replace Yasay, that can only happen after May 9, 2017. That’s five months away, there’s no need to make Yasay a lameduck long before he actually becomes one. But Alan Peter is not our subject here. There will be time enough to examine his qualifications when DU30 names him to the job. For now, we could talk a little bit more about Yasay, and the reason/s for Malacañang’s decision to announce his departure five months before it takes place.
The most important appointment
Finance Secretary Carlos (Sonny) Dominguez is reported to have described the BSP top post as “the most important appointment” DU30 will have to make soon. In no serious government does it ever happen that someone who has failed to make the grade in one important portfolio is raised to a position that has the most serious responsibilities to the economy. Although Yasay has more experience in banking than in diplomacy, his having served as vice chairman and legal counsel of Banco Filipino Savings and Mortgage Bank for some years also exposed him to serious liabilities.
According to a 2011 news release posted on the BSP website, Yasay, together with other bank officials, is charged with: wilful refusal to stop the conduct of unsafe, hazardous and unsound banking practices; falsification and issuance of false statements to hide the true financial condition of the bank; wilful refusal to file audited financial statements; wilful refusal to report DOSRI (directors, officers, stockholders and related interests) borrowings amounting to P2.192 billion, or 53.5 percent of total loans; and wilful refusal to collect past-due and non-performing loans, amounting to over 90 percent of all loans.
The bank itself has been accused of operating a Ponzi scheme in which new deposits were used to pay old ones, with the officers paying themselves and their lawyers more than what the bank was earning. In 2010 alone, so goes the allegation, the bank’s lawyers “led by Yasay” were paid P245 million while the bank earned a mere P242 million during the previous three years.
After Tetangco retires, we will need a BSP governor who is at least just as good. It would be a shame if DU30’s choice for the position were limited to a failed foreign secretary or a banker from the Reds.