June 2016

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

American-EagleWith all the trouble spots around the world where the U.S. is involved one way or another, it makes one wonder: Where will the war take place? Okay, let’s try this: Take your pick? (1) Baltic States (U.S. and NATO vs. Russia), (2) Middle East (U.S. vs. ISIS), (3) Senkaku Islands (U.S. and Japan vs. China), (4) Korean Peninsula (U.S. and South Korea vs. North Korea), (5) Scarborough Shoal (U.S. and the Philippines vs. China).

Let’s take a look at each of these trouble spots.

Suwalki-Gap.41) Baltic States – With Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the civil war in Ukraine, which is actually a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, the 28-member-state North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will soon be deploying four battalions in Poland and the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The troops will be combat-ready and prepared to slow down invading Russian forces, which the NATO believes could happen if and when Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to attack and occupy the Baltic States. NATO military planners believe that Russia could easily overran Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. While four battalions of NATO troops are not sufficient to stop a Russian invasion, it would give the U.S. and her NATO allies a little time to send their troops to the Baltics. Recently, it was reported that Russia was planning to deploy – or might already have deployed – the Iskander nuclear-capable missile system to Kaliningrad to counter NATO.

Airstrikes-in-Iraq2) Middle East – Right now, war is raging in Syria and Iraq where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has gained considerable territories. Although the U.S. is providing bombing raids against ISIS infrastructure and troop movements, she has not sent combat troops to fight ISIS on the ground. However, there are about 5,000 American military advisers, including special operations personnel, whose primary role is to train the Iraqi combat personnel. But with the increasing intensity of the war, U.S. military planners would like to see American “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria. But President Barack Obama is against it. However, nobody knows what his successor – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump — would do when he steps down in January 2017.

Senkaku Islands

Senkaku Islands

3) Senkaku Islands – An unpopulated small group of five islands in the East China Sea is claimed by both Japan and China. Although Japan has administrative control over these tiny islands, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a large portion of East China Sea over the Senkakus. If China and Japan go to war over the Senkakus, the U.S. is obligated to come to the aid of Japan because of their mutual security agreement. The question is: Would China risk war with the U.S. at this time?

Kim Jong-un and his generals

Kim Jong-un and his generals

4) Korean Peninsula – Recently, North Korea test-launched two “Musudan” medium-range ballistic missiles, which were condemned by the U.S., Japan, and South Korea as a violation of U.N. resolutions. Reputed to possess nuclear warheads, North Korea had been threatening to launch nuclear ballistic missiles against the U.S. Meanwhile, the U.S. and South Korea have been negotiating for the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to South Korea to intercept incoming Musudan missiles. China is concerned that the U.S. would use THAAD as part of a broader strategy to encircle and contain China. However, many analysts believe that it’s just a matter of time before THAAD is deployed to South Korea. The question is: Would North Korea – with China’s blessing — attack South Korea in an attempt to neutralize the THAAD batteries before they become operational?

Scarborough-Shoal-aerial-view.25) Scarborough Shoal – It is anticipated that the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) would soon pass a final judgment on the case that the Philippines unilaterally brought before the PCA concerning, among other issues, the legality of China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the South China Sea under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Both the Philippines and China are signatories to UNCLOS; however, China challenged the arbitration process and declared that she will not abide by the PCA’s ruling, which makes one wonder: If China ignores the PCA’s ruling, what are the Philippines’ options and what would the U.S. do to protect her national interests?

A few days ago, the Philippines’ president-elect Rodrigo Duterte told the media that he was not keen about confronting China and had expressed doubts that the U.S. is committed to side with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal territorial disputes.

During the U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg’s courtesy visit on June 13, Duterte asked him bluntly, “Are you with us or are you not with us?” Goldberg’s response was: “Only if you are attacked.” Clearly, what Goldberg said was true because the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) says so. In other words, if Duterte decides to reclaim the Scarborough Shoal and meets Chinese resistance, Duterte would be on his own. And what weaponry does the Philippines have to fight China? Two coast guard ships and two fighter jets? Forget it.

So, whatever the outcome of the arbitration case is, Duterte is not going to war against China, which makes sense. But the Scarborough Shoal has geostrategic values to both China and the U.S.

In my column, “Tensions heat up in the SCS” (May 13, 2016), I wrote: “It is obvious that China wants to end America’s dominance in the SCS; thus, taking full control of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, economically, militarily, and politically. It will be the end of Pax Americana and the advent of Pax Sinica. And this begs the question: What would the U.S. do in the event that China went ahead with the reclamation of Scarborough Shoal?” Or, what would Obama’s successor – Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – do? That is the $64,000 question.

Worst-case scenario

U.S. aircraft carrier battle group

U.S. aircraft carrier battle group

Indeed, a new U.S. administration under Clinton or Trump would be faced with multifaceted scenarios. And the worst-case scenario would be: What if Russia attacked the Baltic States, China attacked the Senkakus and reclaimed the Scarborough Shoal, and North Korea attacked South Korea?

But going to war is like a game of poker. If the other players sense that you have a weak hand, they’d bluff you. If they think that you have a strong hand, they’d fold theirs. Obama isn’t a good player in the game of geopolitics. He has yet to beat Putin. And Chinese President Xi Jinping proved to be a good bluffer and Obama lost several islands to Xi in the Spratly archipelago. And Kim Jong-un is an all-time bluffer. He has been playing a hand with nothing but a lowball in a high stakes game.

At the end of the day, with all these trouble spots around the world, can America engage Russia, China, and North Korea all at once? The answer is yes because America is still the sole superpower in the world today. Putin admitted that recently in a televised interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN. Indeed, with 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, America can project power anywhere in the world. But the question is: Is America prepared for war?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz 

Leni-Robredo-and-Bongbong-MarcosJust as Rep. Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo was enjoying her razor-thin victory over Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the vice presidential race, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is under pressure from some quarters to disqualify Leni from taking over the vice presidency because her party — the Liberal Party — failed to submit its Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) on time. Huh?

What is SOCE all about that non-compliance could stop Leni from taking the office she had won? But wait a minute! We’re not talking about Leni alone. It would also disqualify seven senators, scores of congressmen, and thousands of local officials who ran under the Liberal party (LP) banner!

It did not then come as a surprise when the Comelec met en banc and voted by a slim 4-3 majority to approve the plea of the LP and its standard-bear Mar Roxas to extend the deadline for the submission of the SOCE to June 30. The Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said that the official explanation was not to defeat the “will of the people” in the May 9 elections. He further explained that Comelec did not bend the rules for the LP because it would also benefit other parties – Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino and Aksyon Demokratiko — who missed the filing deadline. He added: “The problem (in not extending the deadline) is it will essentially defeat the voice of the voters who voted for certain candidates but will not be allowed to assume office simply because they have no SOCEs. That is what we want to avoid.”

On the day following the Comelec ruling, Commissioner Christian Robert Lim – who was concurrently the head of Comelec’s Campaign Finance Office (CFO) — announced his resignation from the Commission. The CFO is the office in charge of receiving and evaluating the SOCEs of all the candidates. He said that the policy shift was not acceptable, insisting that the 30-day period is a “hard deadline” set by law under Section 14 of Republic Act No. 7166. He added, “To grant the request for extension would not only be unfair to other candidates and parties who complied within the prescribed period but also would be a reversal of the Commission’s own resolution on the matter.”

What the law says

SOCEWell, let’s take a look what Lim was talking about. Section 14 of Republic Act 7166 state: “Statement of Contributions and Expenditures; Effect of Failure to File Statement. – Every candidate and treasurer of the political party shall, within thirty (30) days after the day of the election, file in duplicate with the offices of the Commission the full, true and itemized statement of all contributions and expenditures in connection with the election.

“No person elected to any public offices shall enter upon the duties of his office until he has filed the statement of contributions and expenditures herein required.

“The same prohibition shall apply if the political party which nominated the winning candidate fails to file the statement required herein within the period prescribed by this Act.

“Except candidates for elective barangay office, failure to file the statements or reports in connection with electoral contributions and expenditures are required herein shall constitute an administrative offense for which the offenders shall be liable to pay an administrative fine ranging from One thousand pesos (P1,000.00) to Thirty thousand pesos (P30,000.00), in the discretion of the Commission.

“The fine shall be paid within thirty (30) days from receipt of notice of such failure; otherwise, it shall be enforceable by a writ of execution issued by the Commission against the properties of the offender.

“It shall be the duty of every city or municipal election registrar to advise in writing, by personal delivery or registered mail, within five (5) days from the date of election all candidates residing in his jurisdiction to comply with their obligation to file their statements of contributions and expenditures.

“For the commission of a second or subsequent offense under this section, the administrative fine shall be from Two thousand pesos (P2,000.00) to Sixty thousand pesos (P60,000.00), in the discretion of the Commission. In addition, the offender shall be subject to perpetual disqualification to hold public office.”

Administrative offense vs. disqualification

Perpetually-DisqualifiedWhat is interesting to note is that there are conflicting provisions in Section 14. It states that failure to file the SOCE “shall constitute an administrative offense for which the offenders shall be liable to pay an administrative fine ranging from One thousand pesos (P1,000.00) to Thirty thousand pesos (P30,000.00), in the discretion of the Commission.” If the offender fails to pay the fine within 30 days, the Comelec would issue a “writ of execution” against the offender’s properties.

There is no mention of “disqualification” except in the event that the offender committed a second or subsequent offense; the administrative fine shall be increased from P2,000 to P60,000, in the discretion of the Comelec. However, it states that the offender shall be subject to “perpetual disqualification” to hold public office.

But what might have intrigued – or confused — some people is the provision that states: “No person elected to any public offices shall enter upon the duties of his office until he has filed the statement of contributions and expenditures herein required.” And this begs the question: What if the offender files his or her SOCE before he or she is sworn into office (president and vice-president are sworn in on June 30 following the elections)? Is it sufficed to say that if the offender submits his or her SOCE before June 30 and pays the “administrative fine,” he or she can then take the oath of office?

Surmise it is to say, since vice president-elect Leni Robredo had submitted her SOCE on time and the LP had finally submitted its SOCE subject to administrative fine for late filing, there is no reason why Leni should be disqualified – and stopped — from taking her oath as Vice President on June 30.

If the Comelec had not allowed Leni Robredo and the other Liberal Party winning candidates from being sworn into office on June 30, the mass disqualification would be tantamount to a technical coup d’état. Is that the will of Filipino people?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Ronald dela Rosa (left) as a young lieutenant and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (right).

Ronald dela Rosa (left) as a young lieutenant and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (right).

In the 1880s, the United States’ western and southwestern territories had become known as the “Wild, Wild West,” where gunslingers ruled and bounty killers abounded. One of the most popular movies that memorialized the bloody history of the “West” was the 1957 movie, “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” It was so popular that several remakes were made years later, including two versions that were released almost simultaneously: “Tombstone” and “Wyatt Earp,” where the good guys – led by Wyatt Earp — fought the bad guys known as the “Cowboys.”

What’s interesting is that Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and a reputed gunslinger named John Henry “Doc” Holliday – a dentist who preferred pumping slugs than pulling teeth — went after the “Cowboys” wearing U.S. Marshall badges, which gave them implied authority to kill the bad guys. They’re sort of an earlier American version of the modern-day British screen licensed-to-kill agent, “007.”

Fast forward to May 9, 2016. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte won the presidency by a landslide. He ran on a promise to rid the country of criminals and drug dealers within six months. But he didn’t present a plan on how to fight crime and stop the flooding of drugs into the country. He merely said that he’d kill 100,000 criminals and throw their bodies into the Manila Bay to make the fish fat. He might not mean it literally, but that would send shivers down the spines of criminals.

Ronald-dela-RosaAnd to make sure that everybody in the criminal underworld gets the message, he picked his most trusted law enforcement officer and friend, Chief Superintendent Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, to be the top honcho of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Indeed, if Wyatt Earp had his Doc Holliday, Digong has his Bato dela Rosa. Wyatt Earp did not stop until all the Cowboys were killed. Duterte gave Bato six months to finish the drug dealers. And Bato said, he’s ready.

Wanted: Dead or Alive

Wanted-dead-or-aliveTo rid the country of criminals and drug lords, Duterte offered bounties for their capture, dead or alive, preferably dead. At a rally, he told his cheering followers, “If they are there in your neighborhood, feel free to call us, the police or do it yourself if you have the gun. You have my support.” “If he fights, and he fights to the death, you can kill him,” he added. He promised them monetary reward … and a medal. “I will pay, for a drug lord, five million pesos if he is dead. If he is alive, only 4.999 million,” he said, laughing.

He told around 500,000 followers during his thanksgiving party in Davao City: “Corruption must stop. I would have to ask about three generals diyan sa (Camp) Crame to resign. Do not wait for me to name you in public because I will only humiliate you.” However, he refused to name the three generals.

Digong’s KKK

Duterte's cabinet appointees.

Duterte’s cabinet appointees.

But Duterte is not only after drug dealers, corrupt generals and police officers. He’s also after corrupt government officials including Cabinet Secretaries. Yep, he’s not going to spare anybody. The question is: Does he have the political will to punish erring political allies, particularly his friends and classmates whom he appointed to cabinet positions? Which reminds me of President Aquino’s KKK (Kaibigan, Kaklase, Kabarilan), many of whom had erred but he didn’t have the courage to fire them.

Aquino loved to say, “Heads will roll” but nothing happened, which only proved that political ties are like the Gordian Knot, you cannot untie it with bare hands. But Alexander the Great knew better that he could do it with a sword and he did it. It worked. Could Duterte do it? Or should I say, “Would he do it?” Perhaps he should ask all his appointees to submit undated resignation letters that he could accept anytime at his pleasure.

Hang ‘em high

Hangmans-nooseOne of the things he’d like to accomplish during his presidency is to urge Congress to restore death penalty by hanging, which was abolish in 2006 during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency. It’s interesting to note that if the death penalty were restored, it would also restore death penalty for the crime of plunder. This would certainly make lawmakers – particularly those involved in the pork barrel scam — cringe in terror just at the thought of being hanged for plundering the people’s money. They’d probably invoke their “Christian beliefs” as pretense for objecting to the restoration of the death penalty.

Needless to say, Duterte would be faced with strong opposition from all quarters. But while the people might be ready and willing to fight — and kill — the drug dealers, it doesn’t seem like they’re as enthused with the idea of stamping out corruption, which is ingrained in every facet of the people’s lives. In essence, what took centuries to take root in our society, would probably take as much time to uproot, if not longer… if ever.

Benevolent dictator

Duterte-assault-rifle.2But while Duterte is confronted by a strong defiance to make drastic changes to the Filipinos’ way of life, he can start by enforcing strict discipline to his official family — that is, rule with an iron hand – while showing compassion for the “common tao.”

There is a term for that: benevolent dictator. However, benevolence over time can turn into abuse of power, which was the pitfall of a lot of leaders who had succumbed to the same vice – corruption — that they vowed to eradicate. As Lord Acton said more than century ago: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It was true then, it is still true today.

P50-million bounty

Duterte-and-dela-Rosa-crosshairsFaced with such a dilemma – damn if he does and damn if he doesn’t – Duterte may have to bite the bullet and do the best he could to fight corruption, regardless of who gets hurt, friend or foe alike. The irony of this is that it is harder to punish a friend than an enemy. You can always make new enemies anytime. But building friendships takes a lifetime, which makes one wonder: How many friends would Digong still has left at the end of his presidency? And how many enemies would he have hung by then? Wouldn’t that be the true measure of his promise to kill the drug lords and hang the plunderers?

But the drug lords are taking Digong’s threat seriously. Bato dela Rosa disclosed the other day during a TV interview with Karen Davila that he received information from the grapevine that the drug lords have put a P50-million bounty on the heads of Digong and himself. He said that the initial bounty they offered was only P10 million for each and there were no takers, which makes one wonder: How high would the bidding go? But right now, bounty killers have already eliminated some drug dealers. And the six-month deadline Digong gave Bato to finish the work has yet to begin.

Yep, Digong’s bounty killers are already at work. Welcome to Tombstone, Philippines.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Marcos-family-2014Had Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. won the vice presidential contest, it could have been one of the greatest – if not the greatest – political comebacks in the annals of politics. And the 30 years that passed since his father, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, was ousted and the entire Marcos family booted out of the country, it would have been a saga that historians would consider as the pinnacle of political achievement. No political dynasty in modern times had done such a spectacular comeback. If history had to be repeated, the Marcoses would have been consigned to the dustbin of history, maligned and laughed at.

But like a snail that inched its way – slowly but surely — to the top, the Marcoses cunningly calculated each movement to achieve the desired result without alarming those who have vowed “Never again!” to their comeback. Had Bongbong run for president instead of vice president, the pushback would have been so great that it would have buried his presidential ambitions for good, never to resurface again. But he must have known that and instead took a path that was safer, a run for the vice presidency.

In my article, “Who doesn’t want to be vice president?” (August 28, 2015), I wrote: “Whoever wins the vice presidency would be in a good position to run for president in 2022. Statistics show that out of the 10 presidential elections since 1946 (excluding the presidential elections during the martial law), five incumbent vice presidents ran for president in the next presidential election and won. They were: Elpidio Quirino in 1948, Carlos P. Garcia in 1953, Diosdado Macapagal in 1961, Joseph Estrada in 1998, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004. But three other incumbent vice presidents had opted not to run for president, to wit: Emmanuel Pelaez in 1965, Salvador Laurel in 1992, and Noli de Castro in 2010.

“Based on these historical data, whoever is elected vice president in 2016 would most likely win the presidency in 2022, which begs the question: Does that mean that Poe, Roxas, and Duterte don’t have a ghost of a chance of beating Binay? Not necessarily. A case in point was Aquino who – like Poe – was an incumbent senator when he ran for president in 2010. Out of a field of nine presidential candidates, which included heavyweights former Senator Manny Villar, former President Joseph Estrada, and former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Aquino beat them all with 42.08% of the vote!”

The fall of Binay

Lord-of-Makati.2There were rare exceptions as in the case of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who ran and lost in the recently concluded 2016 presidential elections. However, his loss may be attributed to a slew of corruption and plunder charges that eroded his popularity ratings during the campaign period. Within a few months, his ratings plummeted from number one position to the bottom among the five major presidential candidates.

But Binay would have been unbeatable had he kept his nose clean. But the corruption activities that he was allegedly involved with when he was mayor of Makati City were hammered in by his rivals during the campaign.

The rise of Leni

Jesse Robredo's "tsinelas leadership"

Jesse Robredo’s “tsinelas leadership”

On the vice presidential derby, Bongbong and Congresswoman Leni Robredo fought the battle neck and neck. In the end Leni outvoted Bongbong by a razor-thin margin of a little over 260,000 votes. Although Leni was relatively unknown – she had no prior national election experience – her late husband, Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Jesse Robredo, was very popular with the ordinary people. His habit of wearing rubber flip-flop slippers – or “tsinelas” — in public had earned him their respect and admiration.

Leni-Robredo-and-Jess-Robredo-imageWhile her husband’s legacy helped her win the support of the common people – masa – Leni got a big boost from the “Kaya Natin!” — a good governance grassroots movement — that Jesse founded together with Pampanga Governor Fr. Ed Panlilio and Isabela Governor Grace Padaca. However, with the defeat of Panlilio by the powerful Arroyo-Pineda political alliance and the loss of Padaca in a recount engineered by the powerful Dy family dynasty, Kaya Natin! was decimated of its leadership. Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo survived the political assault. In 2010, President Benigno Aquino III appointed him DILG Secretary. He served in that capacity until his untimely death in 2012.

Solid North

Bongbong-Marcos-and-fatherOn the other hand, there was Bongbong who is identified with his late father, whose dictatorial regime had rubbed millions of people the wrong way, causing deep wounds in their psyche.

But since the three decades that had passed since the EDSA revolution, a new breed of Filipinos – the post-martial law babies and the millennial generation – has come of voting age. And they were the sources of Bongbong’s strengths, not to mention the vaunted “Solid North” that had brought sons of Ilocandia — Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos P. Garcia, Ferdinand E. Marcos, and Fidel V. Ramos – to the presidency in the past.

With the clannishness of Ilocanos, it is not unusual to hear them proclaim their loyalty to Bongbong Marcos, the heir to the Marcos dynasty. “Marcos pa rin kami” (We’re always be for Marcos) became their rallying cry during the campaign.

A waiting game

Leni-Robredo-and-Bongbong-MarcosWith Bongbong’s Senate term coming to an end on June 30, 2016, what’s in store for him? Is he going to retire from public service or is he going to seek an appointment from his good friend, president-elect Rodrigo Duterte, so he could remain in the political limelight while he mulls over his future? At 58 years of age, he could still run a great deal of political mileage including another run for a Senate seat in 2019 and the presidency in 2022. By that time, he’d be 64 years old, which would be his last chance to reclaim the glory and power his family had held – and enjoyed — for so long.

But Bongbong going for the presidency in 2022 would be a lot more complicated – and challenging – than it was when he ran for vice president. Needless to say, Leni Robredo would most likely run for president too; thus, making their face-off a rematch but at the higher heavyweight division. But as vice president for the next six years, Leni would be “president-in-waiting” and just a heartbeat away from the presidency. Indeed, the vice presidency is the best “on-the-job training” without doing much… just waiting.

The clash between Bongbong and Leni in 2022 would set the direction of where the country is going to be in the next quarter century. Surmise it to say, Bongbong represents the country’s elite while Leni identifies with the common tao – the “tsinelas” followers of her late husband. But while Leni’s pursuit of the presidency is a given, Bongbong’s mission in life appears to be to vindicate 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.

Quo vadis, Bongbong?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)