To say that President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s “isolation is now complete,” as my friend and colleague Yen Makabenta says in an earlier piece on this page, may be an overstatement, but The New York Times August 28, 2014 editorial on “Political Mischief in the Philippines” marks a significant shift in the coverage of the Philippines by the world press.
The Times, arguably the world’s most powerful newspaper, has apparently decided to take the lead. We should welcome it.
Crimes, and high crimes at that, (not simple mischief), with serious implications to our moral, spiritual and democratic existence, have been committed by the Philippine head of state. But none of these have merited any attention from the normally alert and eagle-eyed American press. None of the learned American journals, academics or public intellectuals appear to have noticed either.
The last major article on the Philippines in a distinguished journal was probably “The Philippines without Democracy,” by my good friend Peter Kann, former publisher of the US Wall Street Journal, which appeared in Foreign Affairs, the quarterly journal of the Eastern establishment, in 1974. That was 40 years ago. Now, exactly the same thing could be said: the oldest Asian democracy has been hijacked by a petty tyrant.
A review of the state of democracy in the world by Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, in a commencement address at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government last June glanced through the various problems facing the emerging democracies, many of them children of the Arab Spring. But not a word was said on the rape of democracy in the Philippines.
The Times editorial is the first notable article in the Western press to suggest that not all is well in the Philippines. But it does not look at the problem extensively or deeply enough.
The Times laments, as many others do, Aquino’s threat to seek two constitutional amendments through Congress, first to allow him a second term, and second, to clip the powers of the Supreme Court, for having declared his multi-billion peso Disbursement Acceleration Program null and void.
These ideas are widely opposed, and Aquino knows it. So one day before the Times editorial came out, and one day after the National Transformation Council called for his “immediate resignation” in its August 27 Lipa Declaration, Aquino announced he would no longer push for a second term.
But he said nothing about his wanting to clip the powers of the High Court. And one political sidekick–Congressman Edgar Erice of Kalookan–while traveling with him in Mindoro and speaking to the press within Aquino’s hearing, said he would push the second-term proposal anyway. This drew no adverse reaction from the President.
We cannot therefore write off the threat just yet. For although Aquino has done very little to deserve his current term, and he has already weakened the High Court beyond any further weakening, Aquino could easily railroad the amendments, should he decide to do so, just because he could still bribe the completely bribable Congress and manipulate the country’s prostituted automated voting system.
But Aquino’s crimes are not only in the making. Many have already been consummated, and amending the Constitution for his own ends will merely add to them. The actual bribery of Congress in order to impeach and remove Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and to railroad the widely opposed Reproductive Health Law, the prostitution of the automated voting system, and the untold misuse of billions of pesos of unconstitutional DAP funds are but the most outrageous of his unpunished crimes.
No Filipino president has done anything similar. These have allowed Aquino to control Congress and to subtly threaten every SC justice with impeachment and removal, like Corona, if they fall out of line. So they have tried to toe the line.
This is obvious in their ruling on the Reproductive Health Law, which declared as “not unconstitutional” (except for a few truly execrable provisions) what is wholly and patently unconstitutional, and on the Priority Development Assistance Fund, which outlawed the “pork barrel” for lawmakers, but not the far more massive presidential pork barrel.
In the case of the DAP, however, the Justices had no choice but to rule as they did, declaring it unconstitutional, 13-0, for their own self-preservation and self-respect. As men and women of the law, they had to show that even under the shadow of an overbearing president, they could still say no when the only answer was no, and call white what everyone else knew was white, and black what everyone else knew was black.
But Aquino obviously wants a servile Court, as servile to him as he is to his foreign masters. Thus the threat to turn it into an unabashed rubber stamp. It is a credit to Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Aquino’s own appointee, and the rest of the Court that they have decided to stand their ground.
What we have in the country today is an emerging dictatorship that has seized all levers of power, without declaring a state of emergency, in order to hijack the tripartite system of government and invade even the private lives of citizens. Aquino exercises the presidency without any sense of its constitutional limits, least of all the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances, and the inviolable separation of Church and State.
For their part, the big external powers and the big liberal press which have long tried to hold to account every miscreant leader who defied the prescribed norms anytime anywhere in the world have simply decided to let everything pass. The foreign press has failed to cover Aquino with the same zeal and vigilance with which they had covered Marcos.
Last February, Aquino used a NY Times interview to call on the international community to support his government in its conflict with China, which he accused of acting like Nazi Germany before the annexation of Sudetenland in 1938. From that interview, Times reporter Keith Bradsher volunteered the monumental nonsense that “in his nearly four years as president, Mr. Aquino, 53, has exceeded expectations in his country and the region for what he would be able to accomplish in a nation once known as ‘the sick man of Asia’.”
But the world’s greatest newspaper of record never sought from PNoy the kind of in-depth interview which NYT executive editor A. M. Rosenthal, foreign editor Warren Hoge, and Times correspondent Seth Mydans had with his late mother Cory on Dec. 15, 1985 before she became president. From that interview, the NY Times team came out with a profound reading of Cory Aquino’s capability, which Rosenthal personally transmitted to US Secretary of George Shultz in a private meeting, and to President Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, and Chief of Staff Don Regan during a dinner at the White House.
“That empty-headed woman has no positions. She is a dazed and vacant woman,” Shultz quotes Rosenthal as saying, in the former’s memoirs, Turmoil and Triumph.
But Michael H. Armacost, who had been US ambassador to the Philippines from 1982 to 1984, told Reagan after Rosenthal had left the room, says Shultz, that the Makati businessmen were advising Cory, and that they were “sound.” Obviously Armacost had an inflated view of the Makati Business Club and never expected that Cory’s first immortal words in office would be, “I hate unsolicited advice.”
Before the 2010 elections, TIME magazine put out a cover story that polished off PNoy as some kind of political “savior”without any hint of his slightest qualification for the highest office. That signaled to the rest of the world, rightly or wrongly, that he was the “American candidate.” And through Smartmatic’s precinct count optical scan machines he was quickly machine-elected.
But not even TIME has cared to revisit the myth it has created, if only to tell its readers that the myth has totally disintegrated and the Western project has collapsed. Hopefully, after today, the world press—from Australia to Japan to Canada, to Latin America, to the Middle East, to Europe, to all of Africa, to the rest of Asia and the US–will try to catch up and correct its terrible omissions and mistakes.