June 2015

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

China-vs-USIn less than two years, China had reclaimed 2,000 acres in seven tiny reefs in the Spratly archipelago and soon she would start constructing buildings and fortifications. One of these reclaimed reefs is Fiery Cross Reef where satellite images show what appear to be a runway and a harbor. Once completed and put to use, it would be China’s first overseas military base, which is 1,400 miles away from mainland China and less than 200 miles from the Philippines’ Palawan Island. And once the base is operational, it would project Chinese power beyond the First Island Chain all the away to the Second Island Chain at the doorstep of America.

Twelve senators vote to reject retention of U.S. bases in the Philippines.

Twelve senators vote to reject retention of U.S. bases in the Philippines.

But there’s a “wild card” in this geopolitical chess game that plays a crucial role in stopping China from penetrating the First Island Chain, which provides a natural defense line against Chinese expansion. This “wild card” is the Philippines, which has a noisy and troublesome nationalist/leftist coalition that has been trying to abrogate the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Together with their allies in the Senate, they can be a formidable force, enough to make Uncle Sam uncomfortable. This reminds American policy-makers of the time when the Philippine Senate rejected the retention of the U.S. bases in 1991. The following year the U.S. flag was lowered for the last time at the Subic Naval Base.

Mutual Defense Treaty

VFABut what I find strange is that the nationalist/leftist coalition never questioned the validity of the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which obliges the U.S. to come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of foreign invasion. What they’re saying is it’s okay for American forces to come in and defend the Philippines from foreign invaders but it’s not okay for them to come in to protect the country from threats to her security. Indeed, it is tantamount to saying: “Hey, Uncle Sam, you are not welcome here but we expect you to defend our country if we’re invaded.”

Why don’t they just say, “Let’s abrogate the Mutual Defense Treaty; we’ll defend Inang Bayan ourselves to the last drop of our blood!” Defend her with what? With a navy with no warships and an air force with no warplanes, how can the country defend her sovereignty?

First and Second Island Chains

First and Second Island Chains

Unfortunately, as it stands today, the Philippines is the weakest link in the First Island Chain. If the Philippines falls under Chinese control, it would break the line of defense against Chinese imperialism. The Bashi Strait between Taiwan and Northern Luzon and the Sulu Sea between Mindanao and Sabah would be wide open to Chinese penetration into the Second Island Chain.

With the anticipated passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the Philippine Congress, the United States has started scaling back her counter-insurgency operations in Mindanao including the disbanding of the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF-P). She can then redirect her forces to non-insurgency related programs such as maritime surveillance in the South China Sea. With China aggressively building artificial island outposts in the Spratly archipelago, maritime surveillance would be a key element in containing Chinese expansion.

Amboys vs. Manchurians

Sen. Grace Poe and Vice President Jejomar Binay

Sen. Grace Poe and Vice President Jejomar Binay

It is for this reason that the Philippines’ presidential election in 2016 will be one of the most important elections in the country’s history. Right now, there are presidential contenders who are identified with either the U.S. or China. For the sake of argument, let me drop a few names. On the American side are the “Amboys” – short for “American boys” – and on the Chinese side are the “Manchurian candidates.”

At the head of the pack of “Manchurians” is Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, whose position on the South China Sea is definitely pro-Beijing. He wants to forgo with the arbitration that the Aquino administration is pursuing at the United Nations and instead prefers to negotiate bilaterally with China. But here is the stinger: China has a precondition that the Philippines must admit and acknowledge China’s sovereignty over the disputed territories before bilateral talks could begin. But who in his right mind would accept this precondition… unless he is at the beck and call of Beijing? Other aspirants who are perceived as “Manchurians” include Senators Francis “Chiz” Escudero and former Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.

The perceived “Amboys” are Sen. Grace Poe and former presidential candidate Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro Jr., a cousin of President Aquino. The two would be the perfect “Amboy” tandem. It would either be Grace-Gibo or Gibo-Grace tandem or they can be called the “Gigi Duo.” But what would happen to Chiz whom Grace had insisted she’d like to be teamed up with? Well, this is politics and what works today might not work tomorrow. As the old adage goes, “There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent self-interest.”

SWS-survey-June -2015In the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, Binay’s popularity rating dropped from 36% in March to 34% in June while Grace’s 21% in December and 31% in March hit the roof at 42% in June! The question is: Can Binay regain his lead? He said he’s not giving up. With a huge personal fund and the contributions from wealthy Filipino businessmen and taipans, he is ahead in the money game against Grace who admitted that she didn’t have the money and organization to run a national campaign. However, with a strong showing in the popularity surveys, she should be able to attract lots of campaign donors. Yes, the stakes are high and money from special interest groups would certainly flow into both candidates’ war chests.

High stakes

Philippine Supreme Court

Philippine Supreme Court

But the biggest stake in the 2016 election is that the next president will be appointing 11 new associate justices to replace 11 of the 15-member Supreme Court, who will be retiring due to mandatory age requirement. With the appointment of the new justices, the next president would be able to shape the “political” leaning of the high court by appointing justices who share his or her “vision” for the country. Is it fair to presume that Grace represents the future leaders of Filipinos who will chart a new direction that will bring true change and progress? Is it fair to say that Binay represents the dynastic and corrupt politicians who enrich themselves in office at the expense of the people’s well-being? Is it then fair to infer that their appointees to the high court could mirror their own core beliefs? If so, could you imagine whom would a “Manchurian candidate” appoint if he or she had won the presidential election? And to think that the 11 appointees to the high court will be around long after the appointing president has left office, it makes their appointment one of the most – if not the most– important decisions of the next president.

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping

Indeed, the stakes are so high that the 2016 presidential election would seem like a proxy war between the U.S. and China, the outcome of which would have far-reaching geopolitical consequences in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. It could tip the balance of power in favor of China, who might emerge as the new superpower in the region. As Chinese President Xi Jinping has been telling people, the Pacific is so vast that it can accommodate two superpowers. Does Xi have in mind the creation of bipolar “co-prosperity spheres of influence” between the U.S. and China? Or is it going to be winner takes all?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Grace with parents Susan Roces and Fernando Poe Jr.

Grace with parents Susan Roces and Fernando Poe Jr.

Little did Grace Poe realize that two years after she entered politics, she’d be joining an elite league of politicians: the presidentiables. And whether she’s willing to run for the nation’s top job, there is no turning back for her – she’d be in the limelight of public scrutiny for a long time to come.

Mary Grace Sonora Poe-Llamanzares was a relatively obscure housewife who took up residency in the United States upon completing a degree in political science in 1991 from Boston College where she took postgraduate studies. She moved to Fairfax, Virginia after her graduation where she led a quiet life with her family. In 1995, she worked as a preschool teacher for three years at a Montessori School. Afterwards she took several other jobs including product manager with a local company specializing in scientific equipment.

Then in 2003, her whole life changed when her father, the admired movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. — popularly known as “FPJ” — decided to run for president of the Philippines. Grace returned to the Philippines to help in her dad’s campaign to unseat then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Arroyo narrowly won reelection amidst allegations of electoral fraud.

Grace visits FPJ's grave

Grace visits FPJ’s grave

After the election, Grace returned to the U.S. But it must have been fate that brought her back home when FPJ had a fatal stroke on December 14, 2004. It was then that Grace and her family decided to return to the Philippines for good in order to be with her widowed mother, the popular movie star Susan Roces. The following year Grace was made Vice President and Treasurer of her dad’s film production company, FPJ Productions.

Grace started getting involved in politics amidst allegations that FPJ was cheated in the 2004 presidential election. In the 2010 presidential election, Grace became a convenor of Kontra Daya, a poll watchdog organized to prevent electoral fraud.

President Aquino swears in Sen. Grace Poe

President Aquino swears in Sen. Grace Poe

In the 2013 senatorial elections, Aquino included Grace as an independent guest candidate in the administration’s senatorial slate. She wasn’t doing well in the early days of the campaign season. But she surprised everybody when she finished with the most votes of any single candidate! Her star began to cast a bright shadow across the nation.

Foundling

It was then that circumstances about her birth came to light. According to an ABS-CBN News report, a woman named Sayong Militar found the infant Grace on September 3, 1968 in Jaro, Iloilo, abandoned in the holy water font of the Jaro Cathedral.

Grace and son Brian visit Sayong Militar

Grace and son Brian visit Sayong Militar

Sayong took and cared for baby Grace. But she decided to pass Grace to her friend Tessie Ledesma Valencia, an unmarried, childless heiress of a wealthy sugar baron from Bacolod City. Valencia was also a good friend of the movie stars Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces who eventually adopted Grace after efforts to search for her biological parents failed.

Marcos progeny

Marcos and Rosemarie Sonora

Marcos and Rosemarie Sonora

But the mystery of Grace’s birth reached the apex of power. Rumor has it that Grace was the daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos from an affair with movie star Rosemarie Sonora. The fact that Rosemarie was a sister of Susan Roces helped fuel the gossip that she was the love child of Marcos and Rosemarie.

But Grace said that her mother Susan Roces had denied the story. When Grace was asked if she would consider taking a DNA test to disprove that Marcos was her biological father, Grace said, “I’d rather not and I just hope that the people will accept the truth that I am stating.” That was then.

Recently, ABS-CBN News reported that Rose Militar Cordova, a daughter of Sayong Militar revealed during an interview that she remembers the day her uncle Edgardo Militar – Sayong’s brother-in-law — brought the baby to their house in Jaro. Rose was 12 years old at the time.

Rose’s story was supported by Edgardo’s daughters, Imelda Militar Hofilena who is now living in Canada, and Zilda Militar Demaala, who is based in Guam. They said their father brought the infant home straight from the cathedral. After three days, Edgardo – who worked at a cockpit – realized that he couldn’t provide a good life for the baby and decided to turn the child over to his brother Emiliano and wife Sayong, who was earlier identified as the person who found the baby. And as mentioned earlier, the baby was passed on to Tessie Ledesma Valencia and eventually adopted by FPJ and Susan Roces.

Biological father

Jaime Cardinal Sin, then Archbishop of Jaro, baptizes baby Grace, held by Sayong Militar. Tessie Ledesma Valencia was among the godmothers. At far right is Edgardo Militar, whom some say is Grace's biological father. (Source: ABS-CBN News)

Jaime Cardinal Sin, then Archbishop of Jaro, baptizes baby Grace, held by Sayong Militar. Tessie Ledesma Valencia was among the godmothers. At far right is Edgardo Militar, whom some say is Grace’s biological father. (Source: ABS-CBN News)

Rose’s story is further supported by the fact that Edgardo’s name appears in Grace’s “certificate of foundling” as the person who found baby Grace. But Grace, who is aware of this fact, said she was made to believe that Edgardo merely processed the certificate but was not present at the cathedral when the baby was found. However, during a recent visit to Jaro, Grace said that at least two persons told her that Edgardo was her biological father.

But when Rose was asked if Edgardo – who passed away over 30 years ago – or one of the Militar men was indeed Grace’s biological father, she said she honestly does not know. And neither did Sayong, who is now 89 years and living in Canada. They also don’t know anything about Grace’s biological mother either.

Biological mother

Grace reunites with Sofia Mijares.

Grace reunites with Sofia Mijares.

While Grace’s biological mother may never be known, Sofia Mijares, a former househelp of FPJ, told GMA News that Edgardo told her that he was Grace’s father. He also told her that the biological mother was a student of De Paul College, a Catholic school near the Jaro Cathedral. Frightened of the consequences, the young college student left her baby inside the Jaro Cathedral where Edgardo was to pick her up.

Recently, Edgardo’s granddaughter Victoria Militar said that according to Edgardo, he only found the infant inside the cathedral and gave her to Sayong because he couldn’t afford to care for her. However, Victoria also said that Edgardo had Grace baptized as “Maria Gracia Natividad Militar.” Is it then fair to presume that Edgardo giving the baby the surname “Militar” is tantamount to admission that he was the biological father?

Sayong Militar (seated, middle) and Edgardo Militar's daughter Imelda Militar Hofilena (seated, right).

Sayong Militar (seated, middle) and Edgardo Militar’s daughter Imelda Militar Hofilena (seated, right).

But to put a closure to this speculation about Grace’s biological father, Edgardo’s daughter Zilda offered to travel to the Philippines from Guam to take a DNA test to prove — or disprove — if Grace was a Militar by birth. Likewise, her sister Imelda was willing to take the test too if it would help Grace. Grace welcomed the offer, saying: “Whatever will shed light on the truth. I’m willing to take that test.” Yes, as the old adage goes: “Veritas vos liberabit” – the truth shall set you free.

At the end of the day, should Grace decide to run for president, she may have to take a DNA test to prove once and for all that she is indeed a “natural-born Filipino,” which is a constitutional requirement for President and Vice President. With Grace gaining popularity in recent surveys, her winning – or losing — the presidency could come down to one issue: a question of parentage.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Bismarck

Bismarck

One of the most – if not the most — celebrated unsinkable battleships in the history of warfare was the behemoth Bismarck of World War II fame. It finally sank on May 27, 1941 during a battle in the North Atlantic. But despite the massive shelling — more than 2,800 shells fired at her, with over 400 hits! – the British Fleet couldn’t sink the Bismarck. The British resorted to using torpedoes and had some luck. But Bismarck remained afloat. However, with the Germans running out of ammunition, they decided to scuttle the Bismarck with explosives. The British claimed that if the Germans didn’t sink the Bismarck, they would eventually have done it themselves.

Magdalo survey April 14-16, 2015.

Magdalo survey April 14-16, 2015.

The sinking of the Bismarck reminds me of Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, who for the past seven months had been hit, salvo after salvo, by his political enemies. Yet, his popularity ratings remain high. He was impregnable… unsinkable! But for how much longer? It would be interesting to know what the next Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey would show? Will he survive it?

Plunder galore!

Makati City Hall parking building.

Makati City Hall parking building.

Recently, the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee released a 46-page report on the alleged overpricing in the construction of the Makati City Hall parking building involving Binay and others. Signed by 10 of the 17 members of the subcommittee, it recommended the filing of plunder charges against Binay, his son Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr., several city officials, executives of the building contractor, the owner of the architectural firm that designed the building, and the two alleged bagmen of Binay. The report said that Binay should be charged for the “grand conspiracy to milk the construction of the building for every peso that it could yield through massive unmitigated overpricing.”

The full Senate would have to vote on the report to make it an official Senate committee report. However, because the report includes the filing of plunder charges against Binay and other government officials, the subcommittee could submit the report to the Ombudsman for consideration.

The plunder charges would hit Binay like a torpedo. It would put his presidential ambitions on the chopping block. And because plunder is a non-bailable offense, he’d be arrested and put in detention. And just like the Bismarck, Binay would be left with little or no leeway to avoid sinking into oblivion.

Court of Appeals freezes 242 Binay bank accounts.

Court of Appeals freezes 242 Binay bank accounts.

And to make matters worse, the Court of Appeals (CA) issued an order freezing 242 bank accounts belonging to Binay, his family, and his alleged “dummies.” This left him with few options, one of which is to drop out of the race.

Dropping out

Way of the samurai.

Way of the samurai.

Under these circumstances, dropping out of the race would be the honorable thing to do. He doesn’t have to do it like the Japanese do. He can do it on television, teary-eyed, with head high, and sincerely tell the people that he’s quitting the race for the good of the country. That would be convincing enough. He might even earn some respect. Not that anybody would believe him; it’s just the way Pinoys do it, unlike the Japanese where the strict code of the bushido demands honor over life. That would truly be convincing. Could you imagine if Pinoys would do it the way of the samurai? We’ll run out of corrupt politicians!

If Binay leaves the political arena, the whole dynamic of the 2016 presidential elections will change. First, there will be a wild scramble to fill the void. Secondly, there will be a realignment of the political parties where hordes of balimbings (turncoats) will be jockeying for positions. Who are going to be the presidential contenders? Who are going to be their running mates? And this is where it’s going to be entertainingly interesting.

Poe-Roxas tandem

Aquino recruiting Grace.

Aquino recruiting Grace.

Right now, there are two presidential wannabes who are probably on top of the heap – Mar Roxas and Grace Poe. With Binay still in the race, the Liberal Party (LP) of President Aquino had been trying to recruit Grace to be Roxas’ running mate. But she said she’s not interested, although there were some members of the LP who wanted her to be the standard bearer in a Poe-Roxas tandem.

But now that the prospect of Binay dropping out of the race is a possibility, the move to draft Grace as the LP’s presidential or vice presidential candidate is losing momentum among LP leaders. They surmised that they don’t need her any more because Roxas would have a fighting chance if Binay were not in the race. The LP stalwarts and big donors can now get behind Roxas, thinking that with Binay out of the race… soon, Roxas could beat Grace. Wrong!

With the grim possibility of Roxas defeated for the second time – the first time was in 2010 when he lost the vice presidency to Binay – Aquino is faced with a dilemma: pick Roxas as the LP standard bearer and lose the election or drop Roxas and pick Grace who’d most likely to win. But dropping Roxas would be brutally unkind.

One way to solve Aquino’s dilemma – at least halfway – is to offer Roxas the vice presidential slot in a Poe-Roxas tandem and convince him that that’s the only way he’d get elected. Indeed, unless he improves his ratings, Roxas doesn’t have an iota of a chance to win the presidency.

Say Chiz, Grace

Political triangle: Poe, Roxas, and Escudero.

Political triangle: Poe, Roxas, and Escudero.

The question is: Would Roxas accept a downgrade for the second time for the sake of LP victory in the 2016 elections? Well, with his anemic showings in all the surveys, he might just as well be thankful that he’s included in the LP ticket. But the overriding question is: Would Grace accept Roxas as her running mate? She knew Roxas sank in 2010 when he ran as Aquino’s running mate. Would he sink again as her running mate?

At a meeting with President Aquino in Malacanang, Grace told the president “she would not do anything without Chiz Escudero.” In other words, should Grace run for President, she would prefer Chiz to be her vice presidential running mate. Wham! That must have hit Aquino like a sledgehammer! He might have to throw Roxas under the bus and adopt Grace and Chiz to be the LP’s standard bearers.

Indeed, sinking the “unsinkable” Binay could be a Herculean undertaking but not impossible. But floating a sinker like Roxas might require a miracle. Such is politics in the land of sunken hopes.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)