September 2015

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Pope-Francis-and-Obama-arrivalPresident Barack Obama must be elated that in a matter of days, he had played host to two of the world’s most powerful leaders. Arriving within days of each other, Pope Francis, the spiritual leader and symbolic head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and President Xi Jinping, the supreme leader of China’s 1.3 billion people, crisscrossed the U.S. in a mission of goodwill.

Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. was his first. He was also the first Pope to address a joint session of Congress, an occasion that was significant only because he touched on a sensitive issue that has been rocking America’s political establishment – immigration. He reminded his audience that we should not be fearful of foreigners. “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” he said. “I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.” Being the son of immigrants, his comments were a testament to his family’s search for a better life. His father’s family left Italy in 1929 to escape the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. They found it in Argentina.

Born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the eldest of five children of Mario José Bergoglio and his wife Regina María Sívori, who is a daughter of Italian immigrants. Little did they know that their son Jorge would someday become Pope.

Pope-Francis-before-US-CongressAfter Pope Francis’ address to Congress, Speaker John Boehner – who was once an altar boy – invited him to have dinner with him and other congressional leaders. The Pope politely declined the invitation, saying that he has a date with the homeless; he would be serving them meals at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, DC.

Ground Zero

Pope-Francis-at-Ground-Zero-Memorial.2After his meeting with Obama at the White House, where they discussed climate change, Pope Francis left for New York City where a hectic schedule awaited him. He addressed the United Nations General Assembly and then went to the Ground Zero Memorial where he prayed for the victims of 9/11. In a few words of wisdom, he encapsulated the events of 9/11 into the human psyche, saying: “This place of death became a place of life too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.”

Trade violations

Barack-Obama-and-Xi-Jinping-White-House-9-25-15Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping – called “Xi Dada” or “Big Daddy Xi” by his people – was busy meeting business people across the U.S. On his first stop in Seattle, Washington State, Xi impressed the media when it was announced that China was buying 300 commercial airplanes from Boeing worth $38 billion. However, the deal includes a plan to build a 737 completion center in China that generated protests from Boeing’s labor union. The planned completion center — installing interiors, painting, and delivering the planes – would mean closing the plants in Renton, North Carolina and at the Boeing Field in Everett, Washington, and moving the jobs to China. Trade experts believe that the controversial deal violates the Agreement on Trade in Civil Aircraft, which is a “side agreement” among member-countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

No compromise

Disputed-islands.14Speaking at a joint press conference with Xi on September 25, Obama reiterated concerns about China’s reclamation, construction, and militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea (SCS), Xi responded in no uncertain terms: “Islands in the South China Sea, since ancient times, are China’s territory. We have the right to uphold our own territorial sovereignty and lawful and legitimate maritime rights and interests.” He added, “Relevant construction activity that China is undertaking in the Nansha Islands [Spratly Islands] does not target or impact any country and there is no intention to militarize.”

With those words, Xi made it crystal clear that the SCS is Chinese property and that it’s not negotiable. With a “no compromise” stand on territorial ownership of the SCS, Xi appears to be telling Obama, “If you go to war against us, we will annihilate America.” He made his point clear last September 3 when in celebrating the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, Xi paraded China’s military might that included seven new types of offensive missiles, two of which were labeled in plain English, “Carrier Killer” and “Guam Killer.”

Raising the ante

Jin-class-submarineOn September 24 – on the eve of the Obama-Xi summit meeting at the White House – it was reported in the news that China is launching a new ballistic missile submarine that could potentially target any part of the U.S. by the end of 2015. Further, the report said, “The Jin-class submarines will be armed with the new JL-2 ballistic missile. This missile has a range of 4,000 nautical miles, which would allow the submarine target Hawaii, Alaska, and portions of the west coast of the US from the waters off of East Asia.”

And instead of softening his hard-line stand on the South China Sea disputes — which is a common courtesy in the world of high-level diplomacy – Xi raised the ante on the eve of his state visit when Chinese authorities arrested an American citizen, Phan Phan-Gillis, for spying. She was part of a business delegation from Houston when she was detained six months ago. Her husband, Jeff Gillis, told the New York Times, “It is the most stupid politics in the world to arrest a U.S. citizen the week that Xi Jinping is coming to the United States for a state visit on political charges of spying.”

Good vs. evil

Pope-Francis-and-Xi-JinpingIt is evident that Pope Francis and Xi Jinping’s visits to America have made contrasting impressions on the American people. On one hand, Papa Francisco had a profound impact on America as Americans of various religious beliefs and political persuasions had embraced the Pope’s message of peace and love. Indeed, Papa Francisco’s visit had brought together a people beset with seemingly insurmountable problems facing them: from immigration to the sanctity of life, from the plight of the poor to social justice.

On the other hand, Xi Dada brought a message of mixed signals that created an atmosphere of mistrust and belligerence. Instead of bridging the gap that separates the world’s leading democracy and communist China’s godless society that values authoritarian elitism at the expense of human rights, Xi’s visit demonstrated that world peace is like a star – you see it glow in your eyes but far too distant to reach. It’s just a dream but Papa Francisco had made us believe that peace can be achieved through faith while Xi Dada tried to convince the world that universal peace can only be achieved with the economic, cultural, and existential destruction of America.

But as history has manifested it too often, in the end good shall prevail over evil.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Fiery Cross Reef reclamation

Fiery Cross Reef reclamation

With all the hoopla following the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States on April 28, 2014 in Manila, one would expect American military forces to be deployed to at least eight strategic locations to protect the Philippines from external forces intruding into her territory.

But 16 months have passed and not a single American troop has landed on Philippine soil. Meanwhile, China began reclaiming seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago – all within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – and building artificial islands on them. And, on these “islands,” the Chinese are constructing military structures including a runway and harbor on Fiery Cross Reef that can accommodate China’s biggest bombers and large warships.

Ballistic missiles.

Ballistic missiles.

And from these “unsinkable aircraft carriers,” China can then send her warplanes or ballistic missiles to any region in the Philippines. With no missile defense shield, the Philippines is indefensible. This would be a situation that would compel the Philippines to invoke the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). But the question is: How long would it take for the U.S. to mobilize an expeditionary force to liberate the Philippines in the event that it was invaded? With her military forces thinly spread out all over the world, can the U.S. spare enough manpower and military assets to liberate the Philippines?

During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, his Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger devised a step-by-step guide to serve the military and policy makers who are planning to send U.S. troops to war. The Weinberger Doctrine was developed to avoid the pitfalls of the Vietnam War that ended in ignominious defeat for the U.S. The stigma of losing the war devastated America, which made her hesitant to go to war again… until Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, sent American troops to Saudi Arabia on August 2, 1990 to prepare for the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi invasion. On January 17, 1991, the American forces attacked Iraq. The Gulf War, as it was called, ended on February 28, 1991 when the Iraqi forces fled.

Powell Doctrine

Vice President Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell.

The following year, Gen. Colin Powell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, updated the Weinberger Doctrine, based on the lessons learned from the Gulf War. The modified Powell Doctrine contains eight steps, to wit:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

If the Philippines invoked the MDT to repel foreign invasion, the American decision-makers have to go through each step of the Powell Doctrine before deciding to send troops and weaponry to the Philippines.

An oft-repeated question from leftist and nationalist groups in the Philippines is: “Why is it that the U.S. would defend Japan and South Korea but wouldn’t defend the Philippines in the event of a foreign invasion?” The answer to this question is in step one of the Powell Doctrine: “Is a vital national security interest threatened?” The answer is “No.”

Tripping the wire

Subic Bay

Subic Bay

However, it would have been a different situation if there were American bases in the Philippines, which was the case before the Philippine Senate evicted the bases in 1992. The presence of American forces on Philippine soil would serve as a “tripwire,” which could trigger immediate reaction from American troops stationed in the Philippines.

A case in point is Japan and South Korea where 50,000 and 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed, respectively. There are American airbases in both countries. The U.S. also deploys a carrier battle group to a forward operating base in Yokosuka, Japan. If war breaks out, there is no need to go through the Powell Doctrine because American forces are already there.

EDCA would have provided the “tripwire” mechanism. With at least eight strategic locations spread throughout the Philippines, a foreign invader wouldn’t dare come near the country, lest she would trip the wire that would alert U.S. forces. But where are the American forces that EDCA was supposed to provide?

Sad to say, EDCA is not yet operational. Several petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of EDCA. But instead of tackling the complaint due to the urgency of the matter, the Supreme Court hasn’t done anything yet, which makes one wonder if the high court couldn’t muster a majority to rule in favor of EDCA?

Alignment with a superpower

US-vs-ChinaSome people say that the Philippines should start rearming. That’s fine and she should – nay, must! But no matter how much the country spends on rearmament, she wouldn’t be able to match China’s firepower.

There is only one way to defend Philippine territory and that is to align militarily with a superpower. Now, of course, the Philippines has a choice between the U.S. and China, the only two superpowers that have security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. But given the “special” relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. as opposed to her adversarial relationship with China, it is in the best interest of the Philippines to align with the U.S. Otherwise, the risk of the Philippines becoming a vassal or client state of China is very high. And this is where the Supreme Court should hinge her arguments in ruling on the constitutionality of EDCA.

Mutual Defense Treaty

US-Philippine-flagsIf the high court fails to act on EDCA favorably, then EDCA is dead in the water. Without EDCA, the MDT would be nothing more than a piece of worthless paper. If the Philippines were invaded by a foreign power, the U.S. would not be obligated to defend the country automatically. No, sir! First of all, there is the Powell Doctrine, which has to be applied. And, secondly, Article IV of the MDT states that an attack on either party will be acted upon in accordance with their constitutional processes and that any armed attack on either party will be brought to the attention of the United Nations for immediate action. Once the United Nations has issued such orders all hostile actions between the signatories of this treaty and opposing parties will be terminated.

But how can the U.N. intervene when China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and as such has veto power? And with no warships and no warplanes — and no Uncle Sam to help her — how can the Philippines protect her sovereignty and territorial integrity from foreign aggression?

And this is where military alliances matter.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Stock-market-collapsePlanet Earth has shrunk so much that more than seven billion people’s lives are intertwined and their countries’ economies are inter-dependent with one another. If one country goes down, it pulls down many others, too. It did not then come as a surprise that when China’s stock market crashed, it was like a huge meteor falling in the middle of the Pacific Ocean causing a giant tsunami that reached the shores of more than 100 countries around the Pacific Rim. But the extent of the damage goes far beyond the Pacific Rim. The tremor was also felt in Europe, Central Asia, Middle East, Africa, and countries around the Atlantic Ocean. In other words, the whole world was shaken.

Yuan-vs-dollarBut compounding the economic fallout of China’s stock market, China deliberately devalued her yuan; thus, igniting an economic war that could hurt the U.S. dollar, the Euro, and other financial instruments. By devaluing the yuan, China’s export products became more competitive and attractive. On the other hand, it made the U.S. dollar stronger; thus, her export prices go up, making them more expensive and less competitive.

Last August 24, as the Americans were sleeping soundly in the middle of the night, China’s stock market crashed. It was called “Black Monday” because the market lost more than 40% since it peaked last June. It was reminiscent of the U.S. stock market’s crash in 1929, which ushered in the Great Depression. Needless to say, the U.S. would retaliate to China’s devaluation of the yuan. And who knows what China is going to do next?

One of the most effective weapons of an economic war is sanction. The U.S. used it against Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and lately, Russia. When Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, the U.S. and her European Union (EU) allies imposed a series of debilitating sanctions against Russia. As a result the country fell into recession.

Politics of oil

Politics-of-OilWith the plummeting price of crude oil and the ruble in freefall – economists said that the ruble could plunge to 80 to the dollar — Russia has to tap her “sovereign reserve funds” to make up for the budget deficit. With 70% of her budget coming from oil exports, the price of crude oil falling — from $110/bbl (per barrel) to around $40/bbl — is battering the economy. Some experts in the industry believe that the oil’s fall was due to a “conspiracy” between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia – the first and second top oil producers — to glut the oil market and bring down the price of oil; thus, hurting the world’s third top oil producer, Russia, who just a year ago was the first top oil producer.

“Sweetheart deal”

Xi-JInping-and-Putin-shaking-handsBut Russia’s bane is China’s boon. As the world’s biggest consumer of oil and gas, the plummeting prices of crude oil had an unintended consequence – it helped China economically in a big way. It didn’t take long before China and Russia agreed on a huge gas deal. In May 2014, they signed a $400-billion preliminary agreement to supply China with Siberian gas in the next 30 years. But at what price? Although it was never disclosed what the price was going to be, it must be a good deal for China because she had been negotiating with Russia for many years but couldn’t agree on the price. With Russia hurting for export revenue, China must have gotten a “sweetheart deal.”

But recently, the deal turned sour; the final signing of the contract was delayed indefinitely because of China’s declining demand for gas, which stems from China’s economic downturn.

Shattered dream

Xi-Jinping-Chinese-DreamNow, the cat is out of the bag – China’s economy is cooling off. Her growth rate is down to 7%, way below the two-digit GDP only a few years back. And with the sudden devaluation of the yuan and a mysterious – and ominous — explosion of a warehouse full of toxic chemicals, the future doesn’t bode well for the superstitious Chinese. Is China in panic? The signs are there. For President Xi Jinping, this scenario would shatter his “Chinese Dream” of economic prosperity and strong military.

And for all these to happen just a few weeks prior to his first state visit to the U.S. in mid-September, it would certainly weaken his image as a strong world leader. Indeed, Xi’s visit couldn’t have come at a worse time, which begs the question: Can he afford to leave Beijing at a time of uncertainty at home? It makes one wonder if Xi’s political rivals would take advantage of his absence and do something stupid?

Economic espionage

Chinese cyber espionage

Chinese cyber espionage

It was reported in the news that the Obama administration is preparing to issue sanctions in retaliation to the wave of cyber-economic espionage by Chinese hackers, who are believed to “have stolen everything from nuclear power plant designs to search engine source code to confidential negotiating positions of energy companies.” [Source: Washington Post]

It was also reported that officials from national security agencies and the Treasury Department are eager to push ahead with sanctions against China. These sanctions would be the first use of Obama’s executive order last April, which established the “authority to freeze financial and property assets of, and bar commercial transactions with, individuals and entities overseas who engage in destructive attacks or commercial espionage in cyberspace.”

If the sanctions were issued prior to Xi’s state visit, that would put the U.S. in a strong negotiating position to force China to curb her hacking activities. With a 53% surge in economic espionage cases in the past year, there is urgency to bring this issue up for discussion at the highest level of authority. And what would be a better time to do it than when Xi and Obama are meeting face to face on U.S. territory?

One minute to midnight

Doomsday Clock

Doomsday Clock

With the U.S. waging an economic war against China and Russia at the same time, there is a great deal of anticipation what the outcome would be. In my opinion, the U.S. is ahead but Russia and China are getting bolder and more aggressive. And this can be attributed to America’s ability to deal with any situation in a manner that serves the greater good. Russia and China on the other hand have authoritarian regimes and ruled by dictators. And as history tells us, dictators stay in power by repressing the free will of the people. Their survival is guaranteed only if their economy is robust. And to keep them entrenched in power, they rely on a corrupt bureaucracy and, more importantly, a corrupt military. But when their economy begins to falter, watch out because they won’t be around too long. Unlike America, they don’t have rule of law. They have rule of the jungle; it’s survival of the meanest.

It did not then come as a surprise when rumors started to circulate that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s days might be numbered. Well, it may be too soon to predict their departure from power, but unless they can turn their country’s economy around, the sword of Damocles would always be hanging over their heads… ready to strike them down.

With so many conflicts happening in the world right now, there are talks that the Doomsday Clock is just a minute away to midnight; that is, World War III. Wrong! We’re now in the middle of World War III — an economic war — and it’s rocking the world.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Bongbong-Marcos.7Ever since Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. was elected to the Senate in 2010, a lot of people have been wondering if he’d pursue a higher office when his term ends in 2016. Being the only male offspring of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, a dictator who ruled the Philippines for two decades, Bongbong is presumed to have an eye on the presidency for a variety of reasons. Foremost would be to follow in his father’s footsteps and regain the “glorious” years of the Marcos era.

On February 25, 1986, Marcos talked to U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt to seek advice form the White House. Laxalt, after consultation with the White House, advised him to “cut and cut cleanly.” Felt abandoned by the White House, the Marcoses fled Malacanang. They were picked up by a U.S. helicopter and transported to Clark Air Force Base where they boarded a C-130 plane bound for Hawaii. They lived in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii until Marcos’ death on September 28, 1989. A few years later, the surviving members of the Marcos family went back to the Philippines.

Political comeback

Imelda campaigning for a congressional seat.

Imelda campaigning for a congressional seat.

In 1992, Imelda ran for president but lost. In 1995, she ran for Congress and won as representative of Leyte, her province. It signaled the Marcoses’ political comeback.

Today, Imelda Marcos is a member of Congress representing her husband’s old congressional district in Ilocos Norte. Their daughter Imee Marcos is now the Governor of Ilocos Norte and Bongbong is a Senator.

It’s always been Imelda’s dream to see her only son become president of the Philippines. She made it known when Bongbong was elected to the Senate in 2010. Due for re-election in 2016, Bongbong has to decide whether to run for re-election to the Senate or for a higher office, which would either be President or Vice President.

He was inspired by a strong pro-Marcos sentiment, particularly among the young people who are now saying, “Marcos kami.” Although he has a strong following in the social media, he is lagging behind in the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia polls.

Buoyed by his social media supporters urging him to run for president, he tackled the number one issue against him if he ran for president; that is, questions about his father’s brutal dictatorship.

No apology

Bongbong-Marcos-and-fatherDuring an interview with ANC’s Headstart last August 26, Bongbong responded to questions on whether he would apologize for the “corruption and human rights abuses” during his father’s presidency if he decides to run for president or vice president? His response was terse: “What am I to say sorry about?” Then he added, “Will I say sorry for the thousands and thousands of kilometers [of roads] that were built? Will I say sorry for the agricultural policy that brought us to self-sufficiency in rice? Will I say sorry for the power generation? Will I say sorry for the highest literacy rate in Asia? What am I to say sorry about?”

Bongbong had been defending his father’s record since he was elected to the Senate. He said “recent political history” looked favorably on his father’s legacy. “Being a Marcos is not a political liability but is even an advantage.” He added that there was a “constant refrain” that goes: “It was better during Marcos’ time, life was more comfortable; the government helped us. There were many programs and projects. Since he was replaced, we no longer experienced that. We hope that comes back.” [Translated from Tagalog]

However, with all the hoopla about Bongbong’s defense of his father, he emphasized that he’s still thinking whether to run for president or vice president. He’s still exploring possible tandem with either Binay or Duterte. But he pointed out that whatever he decides, he’s not leaving the Nacionalista Party (NP), which raises the question: If the NP endorsed Poe as its standard bearer, is Bongbong willing to be Grace’s vice presidential running mate?

Ilocano Vote

Marcos-pa-rinRegardless whether Bongbong runs for either office, he is counting on the “Ilocano Vote,” which he differentiated from the “Solid North” that supported his father’s political ambitions. While the “Solid North” is a geographical designation of Northern Luzon, which has a large number of Ilocanos, the “Ilocano Vote” is everywhere, from the Ilocano stronghold of Northern Luzon to Southern Mindanao including Palawan where one of the major languages spoken is Ilocano. And don’t discount the Filipino diaspora that is dominated by Ilocanos, particularly in Hawaii and the agricultural farmlands of California.

With the clannishness of Ilocanos, it is not unusual to hear Ilocanos proclaim their loyalty to Marcos Sr. with the words, “Marcos pa rin kami” (We’re always be for Marcos). The question is: Would Bongbong be able to get the support his father got from Ilocanos?

One of the strengths of Marcos Sr. was his oratorical prowess in the use of the Ilocano language. Would Bongbong be able to communicate with Ilocanos in their native language? If there was one element that unifies the Ilocanos, it is because they spoke only one Ilocano language regardless of where they are. Marcos Sr. mastered his eloquence of the Ilocano language. Can Marcos Jr. do the same?

Popularity ratings

Bongbong-Marcos-pa-rinIf Bongbong is going to run for president or vice president, he should make an aggressive effort to improve his popularity ratings. In the June 2015 Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys, Bongbong got 3% (ranked ninth) in the presidential survey and 1% (ranked 13th) in the vice presidential survey. In the June 2015 Pulse Asia survey, Bongbong got 9% (ranked fifth) in the “preferred vice president” category and none in the “preferred president” category.

The polls were taken 11 months prior to the May 2016 elections, which gives Bongbong enough time to catch up; however, he has to work aggressively to improve his rank in the polls.

Given the controversy that he created when he defended his father’s martial law regime, Bongbong is probably betting that a large number of post-martial law babies are now of voting age. With no experience of the harsh years of martial law, Bongbong could easily sway these young voters by crystallizing the positive achievements of his father, and burying the negatives in an avalanche of positive things. But there are still a large number of those who saw the brutalities of the martial law era and would most likely vote against Bongbong.

Bongbong likened his father to the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, saying that his father could have done a lot more if he remained longer in power. Does it seem like Bongbong is going to follow in his father’s footsteps and continue his “unfinished” work?

Surmise it to say, if Bongbong wins, it would be a vindication of his father. If he loses, then it will give the people a glimpse of how history will treat Ferdinand E. Marcos. It has been said, “Time heals all wounds.” But the wounds are deep and it might be too soon for healing… if it ever will.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Binay-and-De-LimaRecently, there was an altercation between Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Vice President Jejomar Binay’s camp over the Supreme Court’s decision to grant bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. De Lima believes that the high court’s ruling has set the Philippine justice system back to that of a “banana republic.” But Binay’s camp defended the Supreme Court, saying, “Yes, we’re banana republic, but not due to the Supreme Court,” which begs the question: What exactly is a banana republic?

Banana-republicWikipedia defines it as follows: “Banana republic is a political science term for a politically unstable country, whose economy is largely dependent on exporting a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas. It typically has stratified social classes, including a large, impoverished working class and a ruling plutocracy of business, political, and military elites. This politico-economic oligarchy controls the primary-sector productions to exploit the country’s economy.” Does this definition fit the Philippines? Sad to say, it does – every word of it.

Yes, Binay was right — the Philippines is a banana republic. But he should know that he’s part of the plutocracy that rules the country. Yes, he lives it… He breathes it… and he savors it. Indeed, you might say, he was cunningly lucky to have crossed the great divide that separated the impoverished – where he came — from the rich – what he is now. He’s adept at the game of political musical chairs: a game of “survival of the cheatest.” And to win, a politician must not only learn the tricks of the trade; he must be very good at it.

Balimbing

Balimbing

Balimbing

A key part of the game is learning the art of turncoatism. In the Filipino vernacular, a “political turncoat” is called balimbing or star fruit, whose cross-section is shaped like a five-sided star. Thus, a person who changes political color is called a “balimbing.” And this goes back to the time when the indios – that’s what the Philippine natives were then called — were struggling to free themselves from Spain’s colonial rule.

Bonifacio and Aguinaldo

Bonifacio and Aguinaldo

In my article, “Balimbing Republic” (July 8, 2005), I wrote: “During the 1896 revolution, there were already balimbings in the ranks of the Magdalo faction of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and the Magdiwang faction of Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio. Members of Magdalo would switch to Magdiwang and vice versa. After the execution of Andres Bonifacio by the Aguinaldo forces, most of the leaders of Magdiwang joined the Magdalo, mainly for self-preservation.

“During the commonwealth government that began in 1934, there were two political parties, the Federalista Party favoring statehood and the Nacionalista Party favoring independence. After the independence from the United States on July 4, 1946, the Liberal Party was born from remnants of the Nacionalista Party. The biggest ‘balimbing’ at that time was former Nacionalista stalwart Manuel Roxas who changed his party affiliation to the Liberal Party and was elected President in 1946.

Cory Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos

Cory Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos

“When Cory Aquino took over the presidency after the EDSA revolution in 1986, hundreds of former Marcos loyalists crossed over to the Aquino camp. In 1987, the Philippine constitution was changed extending the presidential term to six years with no reelection. Cory won the presidency under the new Constitution. In 1992, her protector and EDSA hero, Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, won a presidential term for himself. Again, hundreds of opposition party leaders switched to Ramos’ party. After Ramos, Joseph Estrada was elected and the same thing happened, balimbings defected to Estrada’s party. When Estrada was deposed in 2001 (EDSA II) due to the jueteng scandals, Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo — with the help of Estrada’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Angelo Reyes, who switched his loyalty to Arroyo — took over the presidency. Estrada was jailed on charges of plunder. Overnight, loyalties changed.

“When she ran for re-election in 2004, Fernando Poe, Jr., a movie superstar ran against Arroyo. Poe was ahead in the early part of the campaign, which caused a bandwagon effect with the opposition leaders. However, Arroyo came from behind and defeated Poe in the election. Poe immediately filed charges of cheating against Arroyo. But Poe died of heart attack and Poe’s widow, Susan Roces, withdrew the charges.

“Election-cheating is common. There is a joke that says: ‘In the Philippines, there are no losers, only the winner and those who were cheated.’ He who cheats better, wins; and party-switching is part of the political process.

“With a government full of balimbings, it makes you wonder if the government really changes when a new President is elected. It’s all the same banana, or more aptly, the same balimbings running the show regardless of who was elected President.”

Switching colors

Roxas, Binay, and Poe

Roxas, Binay, and Poe

The presidential election in 2016 is no different; perhaps it’s even worse. Today, political parties openly entice members from other parties to switch colors. And if you happen to be a popular actor, comedian or entertainer, party leaders would dangle all kinds of goodies to recruit you.

A case in point is the two declared candidates for president, Jojo Binay and Mar Roxas, who don’t have a running mate yet. The two have been trying hard to convince Sen. Grace Poe – Fernando Poe Jr.’s daughter — to be their vice presidential running mate. But Poe is not inclined to play second fiddle to anyone, not with her high popularity ratings. Although she hasn’t declared her candidacy yet, she already has a running mate in mind – her friend and mentor Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero. Rumors began to circulate that they’re already recruiting personalities from different political parties to fill their senatorial slate. But Poe denied the rumor.

Corruption, bribery, and votes

Vote-buyingWith the 2016 presidential election fast approaching, political realignments — “balimbingan” — are beginning to change the political landscape of the country. “Newbies,” like Poe, are gaining popularity. But don’t take the “oldies” – like Binay — for granted. They know how to win – by hook or by crook. Just the other day, Binay, in one of his campaign sorties, advised the voters to accept “bribe money” from the politicians, saying, “The money belongs to the people anyway, as it comes from the funds of the government.” Was he referring to the P200 million in pork barrel funds he received two years ago? If so, is he merely returning the money he may have stolen from the government in exchange for their votes?

Sad to say, with the allegations that Binay had accumulated billions of pesos skimmed from city projects that spanned over three decades when he, his wife, and son took turns as mayor of Makati City, Binay would presumably have plenty of “bribe money” to buy votes for his presidential run next year. That must be the kind of “banana republic” that Binay has in mind.

At the end of the day, while the balimbings thrive in Binay’s banana republic, there is still hope that an honest candidate would emerge to bring fresh ideas in government and truly make an effort to deliver the downtrodden from the abyss of poverty.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)