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In case you missed my newsletter last week, here it is: Oh, Taal: This week’s outlook
Not too long ago, President Rodrigo Duterte’s alter egos would dismiss his rants against groups and institutions as nothing but “golpe de gulat” – his penchant for shock-and-awe statements that should not alarm the public. In 2017, for instance, his economic managers tried to temper his rejection of aid from the European Union (EU) following the EU’s criticism of the Philippines’ drug war, saying in many words that he did not mean it.
Lo and behold, a year later, the government formally rejected P380 million in aid from the EU.
Golpe de gulat thrives under this dispensation, and the first two weeks of 2020 reminded us of this again. It is its weapon of choice against the business elite that has perpetuated past regimes. It is its most effective tool in telling them that their time is up, that the future belongs to a new oligarchy.
Let’s cite the most recent instances.
- ABS-CBN. On Friday, January 17, from out of left field, a plan of Solicitor General Jose Calida to bring ABS-CBN to the Supreme Court was leaked to the pro-government Manila Times newspaper. Calida apparently wants ABS-CBN’s franchise revoked via the High Tribunal, using as basis, the Lopezes’ alleged violation of the franchise’s terms and conditions. (Read about Sal Panelo’s legal acrobatics here). Now sit for a second and let’s try to grasp what the government is doing: it is contemplating relief from the judiciary over a franchise that is already expiring in Congress in two months. If you’re a lawyer or a businessman and won’t wince at the thought, then I think you have no business staying in your profession. As one veteran corporate lawyer told us, not even Ferdinand Marcos was this multi-tasking!
- WATER CONCESSIONAIRES. Duterte himself said he will do a Marcos, and more. Also last Friday, in the latest of the Ayala-MVP water saga, Duterte said Manila Water and Maynilad have no choice but to accept the new contracts the government is drafting for them, or “one night, I will simply arrest them all.” Panelo said his principal was bluffing. Pray tell, what presidential bluff has not turned into reality in this country?
- LRT 1. In the same January 17 speech, Duterte targeted another government contract with the Ayalas and Manny V. Pangilinan, this time the one they have with the Light Railway Authority for LRT 1 and LRT1 extension. Why have they dipped their fingers into everything, is the President’s beef. The master communicator that he is, Duterte is catering to our own angst against big business – their monopoly and their inefficiencies – and to our baser instincts of wanting to give them comeuppance. He pulls us down to our parochial and vested interests, so that we’re unable to see the big picture and make sense of these increments of institutional decay.
- DMCI. What better proof of this mastery than his barking order to the Consujis to pay up for a DMCI-owned condominium in Davao City that was damaged by an earthquake in October 2019? The company readily said they were ready to pay 150% of the purchase price paid by the buyers of the unit. Ronald Mendoza, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, wrote in a Facebook post: “I don’t agree with this approach – particularly when it comes to fixing long-term problems – but you have to see why people like him…. In truth, weak and unfair institutions produce strongmen. And strongmen tend to keep those institutions that way.”
Note that this move to review all government contracts with the private sector was institutionalized on April 1, 2019 – at the height of the water crisis – during the Duterte Cabinet’s 36th meeting.
All the signs are there: an old authoritarian playbook rolling out in the guise of a campaign for public interest, against corruption, and against the elite. When one acquiesces to abusive power, one tells power it can do more. That’s what the Yale historian Timothy Snyder wrote in one of the most popular readings in the last two years, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.
Some of the lessons he enumerated are worth remembering.
MUST REMEMBER ON TYRANNY
Lesson 1: Do not obey in advance. “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.”
Lesson 2: Defend institutions. “It is institutions that help us to preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of ‘our institutions’ unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So choose an institution you care about – a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union – and take its side.”
Lesson 10: Believe in truth. “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”
Lesson 17: Listen for dangerous words. “Be alert to the use of the words extremism and terrorism. Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.”
THIS WEEK’S OUTLOOK
Taal Volcano enters its second week of unrest. As of Monday noon, January 20, Alert Level 4 remained, with experts saying that based on data, a hazardous eruption remains possible “within hours to days.”
It’s tennis season this week as the Australian Open began Monday – amid smoke fears from the bushfires – with Naomi Osaka making a winning start to defend her title.
The World Economic Forum is happening in Davos from Tuesday, January 21, to Friday, January 24. US President Donald Trump is speaking there on Tuesday, while Greta Thunberg is in a panel on climate change on the same day.
Also on Tuesday, the prosecution will start presenting its case against Trump at his impeachment trial.
A Senate committee in the Philippines will be holding a hearing on Tuesday on concerns over Chinese ownership of the national power grid. The new Philippine National Police chief, Lieutenant General Archie Gamboa, will deliver his acceptance speech also on the same day.
On Wednesday, January 22, a House committee will hold a hearing on ride-sharing companies. A Senate committee in the afternoon will tackle issues of indigenous peoples related to the Kaliwa Dam project and closure of Lumad schools.
On Thursday, January 23, the International Court of Justice is expected to rule on emergency measures in the Myanmar Rohingya genocide case.
It’s Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 25.
Kung hei fat choy! And have a meaningful week ahead. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. – Rappler.com