January 2015

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

PNP-police-officersOnce respected for its professionalism and dedicated service to the country, the Philippine National Police (PNP) is faced with the biggest challenge in its existence. Formed in 1991 when the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Act was enacted, it merged the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police into national law enforcement force under one command, the PNP Director General (DG) who reports to the DILG Secretary. However, the appointing authority is the President of the Philippines. A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, the DG carries the rank of a four-star general.

Currently, PNP has about 150,000 personnel, which makes the DG one of the most powerful officials in the country. Although, the PNP is under the administrative control of the DILG Secretary, the DG exercises great amount of autonomy and discretion in running the PNP.

"Hulidap" cop surrenders.

“Hulidap” cop surrenders.

Since its creation, the PNP had been beset with charges of anomalies and irregularities including allegations of protecting gambling lords, smuggling syndicates, and other criminal activities. There are also allegations of police officers involved in extortion and kidnapping for ransom, which is colloquially called “hulidap.” It was coined from “huli” (arrest) and “dap” (kidnap). Typically, a hulidap operation involves a police officer arresting someone on bogus charges and then keeping him or her for ransom.

One of the police’s most brutal methods used in extortion or to extract confessions for crimes is the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Above the law

AI-Above-The-LawLast December 4, 2014, Amnesty International (AI) released a 120-page report titled “Above the Law: Police Torture in the Philippines.” According to the report, the police use an array of torture methods, including: electric shocks; beatings; punching and kicking; striking with wooden batons or metal bars; burning skin with cigarettes; waterboarding; near-asphyxiation with plastic bags; forcing detainees to assume stress positions; stripping detainees naked and tying and pulling genitalia with a string; hanging detainees upside down; mock executions; shooting; and rape.

Recently, AI’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, was in Manila to launch the “Stop Torture” campaign. He said that although the Philippines had enacted the Anti-Torture Act five years ago, not a single official has been convicted. “The single, most important reason why there is torture in the Philippines is they [police] get away with it,” he said.

“Wheel of torture”

"Wheel of Torture"

“Wheel of Torture”

One method of torture that AI exposed was the “Wheel of Torture” game, which the police used for fun. The wheel is divided into sections like a pizza pie. Each section is labeled with the kind of torture to use. One section is labeled “20 seconds Manny Pacquiao.” If the wheel landed there, the officers would punch the detainees – mostly suspected drug traffickers — for 20 seconds. Another section is labeled “3 minutes Zombies” and another “30 seconds Duck Walk.”

The “wheel of torture” was allegedly stationed at a secret torture chamber in Binan, Laguna. According to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the secret torture chamber was not an official detention center. At the time it was exposed, about 40 prisoners were illegally detained there.

AI said the torture of suspected criminals by the police has thrived under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. Shetty accused Aquino of not doing enough to reform the PNP. According to CHR records, there were 457 torture cases reported from 2001 to the middle of 2014. In 2013 alone, there were 75 cases reported, the highest in a single year.

Attempts by AI to establish dialogue with Aquino, the DILG, and the PNP to discuss the report were ignored. However, presidential spokesman, Herminio Coloma, told the media: “The government is pursuing its efforts to prosecute those violating the anti-torture law.” The PNP also issued a statement contradicting AI’s findings and insisted that major reforms on human rights had been successfully implemented. But the truth of the matter is: there has never been a single conviction for torture, to which Shetty said, “If you don’t acknowledge the problem, there can be no solution.”

Preventive suspension

PNP Chief Alan Purisima

PNP Chief Alan Purisima

On the same day the AI report came out, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales coincidentally issued a six-month preventive suspension order against PNP Chief DG Alan Purisima over an allegedly anomalous contract the PNP had entered into with a courier service in 2011. The graft complaint against Purisima and 11 other PNP officers — including three generals — involved in the transaction stemmed from a contract with WERFAST Documentary Agency for the delivery of firearm licenses even without proper accreditation.

Initially, Purisima refused to comply and turned to his friend President Aquino for guidance. He sought a meeting with Aquino; however, Aquino told him that he had to comply with the suspension order.” Meanwhile, the search is on for the next PNP chief. Purisima is due to retire in November 2015.

With the police torture scandal and the suspension of the PNP’s top honcho, the PNP’s image may have been irreparably damaged. Indeed, it would be virtually impossible to restore its good name.

Gone were the days when the PC was looked upon as the defender of the people. But as it turned out, it’s quite the opposite – the people fear that it has become a predator preying on those they were sworn to protect. Surmise it to say, a majority of police officers are honest and incorruptible. However, many see them as a band of hoodlums in uniform.

Disbanding PNP

"Daang matuwid"

“Daang matuwid”

What is sad is that Purisima, who is one of Aquino’s trusted friends, has digressed from the “daang matuwid” (straight path) that Aquino had set to follow when he assumed the presidency. And Aquino’s initial reluctance to enforce the Ombudsman’s suspension order gave the impression that Aquino was too protective of his friends in government.

Police torture and the Purisima scandal have brought to the fore the issue of disbanding the PNP. Many are of the opinion that the PNP has outlived its usefulness and something should – nay, must! – be done about it. Either it is reformed, overhauled or disbanded. Some people even suggested that it should be surgically bisected into its original components – the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police — with some modifications to improve their performance.

But restructuring or dividing the monolithic PNP just to improve its performance wouldn’t achieve the ultimate goal, which is to stop police corruption. You can tell the police officers to follow a “daang matuwid” and rest assured it would still be “business as usual.” It takes more than sound bites to stop corruption. It takes leadership and the political will to take politics out of politics, which begs the question: Does President Aquino have what it takes to stop police corruption?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Pope-Francis-pope-mobilePope Francis’ visit to the Philippines couldn’t have come at a better time. Beset with corruption scandals, social problems, hunger, poverty, and the catastrophic destruction caused by super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, Pope Francis comes at a time when the people – particularly the poor — seek spiritual intervention to lift them from the social morass that plagues their lives.

It did not then come as a surprise that upon Pope Francis’ arrival at the Villamor Airbase, tens of thousands of Filipinos braved the rain and lined the streets for hours just to catch a glimpse of their beloved Santo Papa (Holy Father) in his Pope mobile on his way to the Apostolic Nunciature where he was billeted during his stay.

Pope Francis in Tacloban

Pope Francis in Tacloban

The following day, he flew to Tacloban City in Leyte – defying typhoon Amang – to meet the surviving families of the victims of Yolanda. And just like in Manila, the people of Tacloban braved the punishing rainstorm to demonstrate their love for “Papa Francisco” as he rode in his Pope mobile wearing a yellow raincoat, waving to the enthusiastic Leytenos.

Pope Francis with street children

Pope Francis with street children

On the third day, Pope Francis held Mass at the University of Santo Tomas. Before the Mass, he had an emotional encounter with former street children. Glyzelle Palomar, a 12-year-old taken in by a church charity, wept as she asked how God could allow children to descend into prostitution and drug addiction. “She is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer and she wasn’t even able to express it in words but in tears,” the Pope told those who were at the event.

Pope Francis holds Mass before six million devotees.

Pope Francis holds Mass before six million devotees.

On the fourth day of his visit, Pope Francis held an afternoon Mass at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta. The event drew a crowd of more than six million, a new world record for a Papal Mass. The devotees came from all over the country. They started arriving in the early hours of the day and waited standing in the rain for hours on end, which makes one wonder: How many more would have attended the Mass if it wasn’t raining?

Soaked in the rain, many of them had nothing on but clothing drenched wet and cold. Indeed, it was the ultimate display of their devotion to that one person whom they hope would deliver them from the clutches of social and moral decadence that is plaguing the country today.

Activism

Pope-Francis-First-Jesuit-PopeKnown for his compassion for the poor, the powerless, and the hopeless, Pope Francis belongs to the Society of Jesus — or Jesuits — a militant organization that is noted for its educational, missionary, and charitable works. Argentine-born, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit who was elevated to the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church. It is no surprise then that his militant discipline and activism have brought him to the forefront in the fight for social justice. Indeed, he has been making waves that no other pope before him had dared.

His trip to the Philippines was no exception. With the culture of corruption that pervades in government, Pope Francis saw an opportunity to impart his thoughts when he paid a courtesy call on President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang on January 16.

Pope Francis signs Malacanang guest book.

Pope Francis signs Malacanang guest book.

In his speech before a group of high government officials and members of the Diplomatic Corps, the Pope said: “As many voices in your nation have pointed out, it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good. In this way they will help preserve the rich human and natural resources with which God has blessed this country.”

His tone and choice of words in his speech in Malacañang was polite compared to some of his past sermons and homilies that often include fire-and-brimstone language. In one of his daily morning Masses inside his Vatican residence, he delivered a fiery sermon against corruption where he quoted a passage from the Bible where Jesus said: “Some sinners deserve to be tied to a rock and thrown into the sea.”

In another sermon, he said: “Christians who lead ‘a double life’ by giving money to the Church while stealing from the state are sinners who deserve to be punished.” He criticized Catholics who enrich themselves from graft. “Those who take kickbacks have lost their dignity and give their children dirty bread,” he said. He likened corruption to drug addiction. “We might start with a small bribe, but it’s like a drug,” he said.

The Holy Father also described people engaged in corruption as “whitewashed tombs,” saying that “they appear beautiful from the outside, but inside they are full of dead bones and putrefaction.” “A life based on corruption is varnished putrefaction,” he said.

These sermons remind me of the Philippine lawmakers who were involved in the Pork Barrel Scam, one of the worst – if not the worst — corruption scandals in the country. It’s a well-known fact that Philippine politicians are some of the most religious people… at least in appearance. They’re very generous in supporting charitable causes. But where they get the money they donate makes one wonder if they earned it legitimately.

Faux pas

President Aquino welcomes Pope Francis in Malacanang.

President Aquino welcomes Pope Francis in Malacanang.

The low point during the Papal visit was during President Aquino’s speech following Pope Francis’ speech in Malacañang. Aquino noted that the Church had “always been at the forefront of championing the rights of all, especially those of the marginalized.” But he said that he find it hard to understand why members of the clergy — once advocates for the poor, the marginalized, and the helpless — have suddenly become silent in the face of the previous administration’s abuses, which he claimed his administration is still trying to rectify to this very day.

“In these attempts at correcting the wrongs of the past, one would think that the Church would be our natural ally. In contrast to their previous silence, some members of the clergy now seem to think that the way to be true to the faith means finding something to criticize, even to the extent that one prelate admonished me to do something about my hair, as if it were a mortal sin. Is it any wonder then, that they see the glass not as half-full, or half-empty, but almost totally empty. Judgment is rendered without an appreciation of the facts,” Aquino said.

The question is: Why did Aquino chastise the Catholic clergy in front of the Holy Father, right inside his palace? And to what end? Does he expect the Pope to punish the prelate who suggested that he do something about his hair? And why did he even mention the “abuses” under former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration? What has that to do with the Pope’s pastoral visit?

I think it’s time for Aquino to grow up and stop throwing tantrums in front of his guest who happens to be the spiritual leader of the two billion Catholics that inhabit the Earth.

Aquino should be thankful that the Vicar of Christ had included the Philippines in his itinerary during his presidency, the fourth such occasion in Philippine history. That should add a feather in his cap.

And at the end of the day, as we bid the Holy Father, “Arrivederci Papa Francisco,” he will be remembered for a long time as the people’s pope, the poor’s hope.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Walang-corrupt-walang-mahirapWith only one and a half years left in his presidency, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III is still trying to convince his “bosses” — the people – that he’s on track with his promise of “Walang korap, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty) on the “daang matuwid” (straight path). And after four and a half years of his scandal-ridden administration, P-Noy has yet to deliver what he vowed to accomplish: stop corruption and eradicate poverty. But what’s happening is the reverse: corruption is on the rise and more people are getting poor… and hungry.

Poverty.16What is strange is that with the “economic boom” that P-Noy had been trumpeting with all the fanfare of a conquering Caesar, the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that 52% — or 11.4 Filipino families – rate themselves as “poor.” It matched the poverty rate in 2006. However, the population in 2006 was around 90 million and last year’s population exceeded 100 million. Although the percentage rates were the same, the 2014 population was 10 million more than in 2006.

“What has gone wrong?” This question has been asked by a lot of people but the answers were as elusive as the Loch Ness monster, which turned out to be a hoax 60 years after it was “photographed.” And just like “Nessie,” the Loch Ness monster, the country’s vibrant economic landscape that P-Noy’s spinmeisters have created was so convincing that most people wouldn’t attempt to do a reality check and ask, “If the economy was really booming, how come more people are in poverty today than before?”

Economic boom

Poverty.15Touted as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, the world’s leading credit rating agencies gave the Philippines an “investment grade” status in 2013. The Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services also upgraded the country’s credit rating a notch above “investment grade.” But here’s the rub: the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. The country’s elite – the major conglomerates and influential families – is taking the bulk of the wealth created by the economic boom. Poverty and employment rates have stagnated. And the hungry are increasing in numbers.

Corruption scandals

Enrile-Revilla-Estrada.3Projected as an anti-corruption crusader, P-Noy wasn’t coy about flaunting the reforms that he claimed to have instituted to rid the country of corruption. Yet, corruption today is worse than the previous administration. Two years ago, the biggest corruption scandal in government erupted involving lawmakers who conspired with a well-connected scammer who siphoned at least P10 billion of taxpayers’ money allocated to the Priority Development Assistance Programs (PDAF) or pork barrel. To date, three senators have been charged with plunder, a non-bailable offense, and are now detained in jail.

Then came the exposure of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was created by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) under the Office of the President. Billions were diverted from the national budget to DAP in which P-Noy has sole authority to disburse as he pleases without any congressional interference or oversight.

Indeed, DAP is patronage politics at its worst. Many call DAP P-Noy’s pork barrel and many more refer to his discretionary power in the use of DAP as “fiscal dictatorship.” But Congress wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole for obvious reason: It is the goose that lays golden eggs for the lawmakers. So why kill the goose?

Then the Supreme Court dealt P-Noy a double-whammy by ruling that PDAF and DAP were unconstitutional. P-Noy criticized the High Court’s decisions saying that they would stop his reforms to curb corruption. But Mr. President, isn’t it true that the PDAF and DAP were the corruptors, without which lawmakers would be unable to dip their hands into the people’s treasury?

Poverty vs. corruption

Corruption-in-the-Philippines.2In my article, “Rx for Poverty and Corruption” (December 9, 2005), I wrote: “A study made by Management Systems International in Washington, DC, in 2003, has concluded: ‘Corruption has direct consequences on economic and government factors, intermediaries that in turn produce poverty.’ The study produced two models. On the one hand, the ‘economic model’ postulates that corruption affects poverty by first impacting economic growth factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels. In other words, ‘Increased corruption reduces economic growth which would increase poverty.’ On the other hand, the ‘government model’ asserts that corruption affects poverty by first influencing governance factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels. In other words, ‘Increased corruption reduces governance capacity which would increase poverty.’

“Is it then fair to presume that increasing economic growth and increasing government capacity would decrease poverty? If so, in order to eradicate poverty, corruption should be dealt with in a fashion that would deter people — particularly government officials — from practicing corruption. However, the problem is: The Philippines does not have an effective deterrence to stop corruption.”

Institutionalized corruption

FOI-Rally.6So, why can’t P-Noy make real stride in fighting corruption and prosecuting corrupt government officials? There are thousands of cases gathering dust in the Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court. It seems like searching for evidence is like looking into a bottomless pit – you know it’s there but you can’t reach it. If P-Noy were really serious in fighting – nay, dismantling — institutionalized corruption, there are a few things that he could do: (1) Pass the FOI bill; (2) Remove the secrecy lid of RA 6426; and (3) Comply fully with international anti-money laundering law requirements.

Aquino-and-PovertyAnd this begs the question: Does P-Noy have the cojones to use his undiminished authority to achieve his legislative objectives, no matter how unpopular they may be? If he did, then he might still be able to redeem himself from the reversals he suffered at the hands of the Supreme Court. Indeed, it shouldn’t stop him from living up to the promises he made to his “bosses.” But for him to achieve this, he should stop playing politics and do what is right for the people, not what is beneficial to his political allies and cronies.

However, if he had given up the fight and just cruise safely – and leisurely — for the rest of his term, then he might as well accept the fact that his presidency has reached a dead-end… albeit prematurely.

Perhaps, it’s about time that P-Noy should start believing that the vibrant economic landscape his spinmeisters had painted – just like “Nessie” – is not real.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Pax-Americana.2After the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, there was only one superpower left in a unipolar world order: The United States of America. For the next two decades, America was the world’s hegemon. It kept peace in an ever-increasing turbulent world. Thus began the era of Pax Americana (American Peace).

Today, America is being challenged by two emerging superpowers: The Soviet Union’s progeny, the Russian Federation; and China, the fastest growing economy. While the two are still far behind the U.S. in terms of economic and military power, they have embarked on an ambitious path towards parity with — or superiority over — the U.S. And they are catching up, particularly in developing their nuclear power.

And what concerns the U.S. is that Eurasian and Asian powers are teaming up to confront America in a game of geopolitical brinkmanship. The Russia-China compact was sealed when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit in Moscow on March 22, 2013.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin toast their strategic partnership.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin toast their strategic partnership.

In my article, “New World Disorder” (March 26, 2013), I wrote: “Upon his ascension to the presidency, Xi’s first venture outside China was to visit his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. At their summit in Kremlin last March 22, the two leaders agreed to form a “strategic partnership” to advance their countries’ interests. They affirmed their mutual support for each country’s geostrategic and territorial interests, which include territorial disputes. With more than 20 territorial disputes that China is embroiled with various countries — including Japan, Philippines, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam — this could put Russia squarely on the paths of conflict, which could involve the United States who has mutual defense treaties with at least four of China’s adversaries.”

China Dream

"Secret" South China Sea ADIZ.

“Secret” South China Sea ADIZ.

Since then, China has become more assertive – and aggressive – in pursuing its territorial claim over 90% of the South China Sea and East China Sea. On November 24, 2013, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) covering most of the East China Sea.

Last December, Kanwa Defense Review, a Chinese-language military magazine based in Canada, reported that China had secretly set up an ADIZ over the South China Sea. The ADIZ supposedly covers the area that is demarcated by the nine-dash line, which was the basis of China’s territorial claim over the South China Sea.

Artificial islands

Artist's drawing of the military base under construction on Johnson South Reef.

Artist’s drawing of the military base under construction on Johnson South Reef.

The U.S. military believes that China is building an airbase on the Johnson South Reef in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea. China’s other reclamation projects include the Fiery Cross Atoll, Gaven Reefs, and Cuarteron Reef, which are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.

China’s construction of military bases — including air and naval bases – in the South China Sea would allow it to reach a wide swath of area bounded by the First Island Chain that runs from Japan’s southern tip through the Ryukyu string of islands, through Taiwan, through the Philippines’ islands of Luzon and Palawan, and all along the western part of Borneo. Interestingly, the First Island Chain runs parallel to the nine-dash line.

Indeed, that’s what Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” is all about. Xi dreams of the revival of imperial China that had maintained Chinese hegemony in Asia during the reign of the Ming dynasty. “The great revival of the Chinese nation is the greatest Chinese Dream,” Xi said before taking office in November 2012.

Lake Beijing

First and Second Island Chains.

First and Second Island Chains.

During the summit meeting between Xi and President Barack Obama in California last June, Xi told the media that he and Obama were meeting “to chart the future of China-US relations and draw a blueprint for this relationship.” Then he added: “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for two large countries like the United States and China.”

It is now apparent that Xi wants the U.S. completely out of the South and East China Seas. China’s next move is to control the entire Western Pacific waters along the Second Island Chain which stretches from Japan all the way to Papua New Guinea by way of the U.S. territories of Guam and Saipan. That would put China’s navy at America’s doorsteps. If that happens, that would turn the entire Western Pacific waters into Lake Beijing; thus, fulfilling Xi’s China Dream.

Imperial Russia

Vladimir Putin after Crimea annexation.

Vladimir Putin after Crimea annexation.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been trying hard to restore Russia to its old imperial glory. In 2014, he made several moves to assert his leadership over the Eurasian subcontinent that includes all of the defunct Soviet Union’s former republics and client states.

While Putin had succeeded in annexing Crimea, his efforts to bring down the pro-west Ukrainian government of President Petro Poroshenko were met with strong opposition from the U.S., European Union (EU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Putin reportedly bragged that Russia is a major nuclear power and also made threatening remarks to Poroshenko: “If I wanted, in two days I could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest.”

But little did Putin realize that such braggadocio won’t make the US and EU cower in fear. But Obama and the EU leaders had a different weapon to use against Putin – economic sanctions.

Collapse

Ruble collapsing.

Ruble collapsing.

And then the unthinkable happened: the price of oil plummeted, from $115/bbl (barrel) in June 2014 down to $53/bbl today! With oil exports comprising 70% of Russia’s total exports, it accounts for more than 50% of its budget. For the budget to stay in the black, the price of oil should be no less than $100/bbl.

The ripple effect is devastating! The Russian ruble lost 50% of its value since the Ukraine/Crimea “invasion.” The ruble is now trading at 58.7 to $1. Its value has nearly halved and capital outflows have reached $120 billion. And inflation is projected to be 8% at the beginning of 2015.

And the sanctions are working, causing innumerable damages to Russia’s financial sector, military, and others that Russia’s economy is dependent on.

With that grim outlook on Russia’s economy, Putin’s imperial ambitions suffer a huge setback. How can he go to war when the economy is in shambles?

Will Putin's generals remain loyal amidst economic collapse?

Will Putin’s generals remain loyal amidst economic collapse?

Meanwhile, Xi offered Putin billions in loans to help Russia’s economy stay afloat and save Putin’s neck from the economically depressed Russian people who are expected to ask him to step down when the food lines start forming. But Putin said that Russia would only seek China’s help as a last resort, which begs the question: Would his generals remain loyal to him come hell or high water?

At the end of the day, planet Earth is going through a tectonic social upheaval; that is, a multipolar world order in a shrinking world.

(PerryDiaz@ gmail.com)