Editorial cartoon, October 2, 2014Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:10 am | Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
We stand in CentralPhilippine Daily Inquirer 2:08 am | Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
The stirring images of prodemocracy protesters weathering tear gas and pepper spray fired by riot police on Sunday in Hong Kong tug at the heart of Filipinos of a certain generation. Those images are a potent reminder of that season of protest, in the thousand days between the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in August 1983 and the glorious triumph of People Power in February 1986, when Filipinos in search of democracy took, repeatedly, to the streets.
If for this reason alone, we stand in solidarity with the brave students and other citizens of Hong Kong, who are fighting to claim something that was not only promised to them but is in fact their birthright: the right to vote for leaders of their own choosing.
But there are other images from the so-called Occupy Central protest (Central being the principal district on Hong Kong island) that are proving unforgettable. The umbrella has become the accidental symbol of the protests, used not only to provide shelter against the rain but also as a defense against pepper spray. Images of city streets filled with crowds abloom with umbrellas of many colors are eye-catching. As the South China Morning Post described the protests that took place on Tuesday night: “Holding high the umbrellas they used to fend off riot police, protesters sang songs and chanted slogans in the rain. Roads in Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok were transformed into seas of umbrellas.” (How sharply those images contrast with the poignant AP photograph of a lone man blocking a line of tanks in Beijing shortly after the brutal crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in June 1989, a crackdown in which hundreds of young pro-democracy demonstrators were killed.)
Perhaps most impressive, however, have been reports of order and discipline on the part of the protesters, mainly students under the rather loose command of student organizations such as the Federation of Students and Occupy Central. There are anecdotes about protesters bringing their books and studying during lulls, and demonstrators recycling their trash and keeping street corners clean.
This conduct is exemplary in the basic sense—it is a good example of how to conduct a mass-based civil disobedience campaign—and an even better reason to stand with the protesters. They are fighting in a nonviolent way, to force a government to keep its promises of greater democracy.
As in the Philippine experience of the mid-1980s, there is no assurance that the Hong Kong protesters will get what they want. Beijing’s decision to limit the list of qualified candidates for chief executive of China’s high-profile Special Administrative Region in the next election, the principal cause of the protests, seems irrevocable. The protesters’ general demand for greater democracy will inevitably put a strain on the “one country, two systems” framework that governs the administration of Hong Kong, one of the world’s main financial hubs.
Beijing, which marked yesterday the anniversary of the Communist Party’s foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, has an extra reason to handle the situation very carefully. Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province that must one day be reunited with the mainland, has been studiously watching the developments in Hong Kong. A diplomatic statement from the Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-jeou, still took a clear position on the protests. “We fully understand and support Hong Kong’s demand for universal suffrage.”
A Taiwanese activist who went to Hong Kong to join the protests told the BBC: “We strongly care about Hong Kong because we really cherish our freedom and democracy. We’re worried that today’s Hong Kong will be tomorrow’s Taiwan.”
As important as the future of democracy in Hong Kong is, there are other, greater stakes in the successful resolution of the Occupy Central protests. For that reason, above all, we stand with the gallant citizens of Hong Kong.
QuestionsBy Peter Wallace | Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:07 am | Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
- Why is foreign investment so low? It’s the lowest compared to our neighbors, yet we have as much or more to offer.
- How are we going to attract foreign investment when excessive bureaucracy makes starting a business a nightmare? When do we bring business registration down from 35 days to 35 hours—in reality?
- Will Congress be able to take to a plebiscite opening up the economy through a change in the Constitution, which is needed if foreign investment is truly to grow and for the Philippines to be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal?
- How can MSMEs play a larger role in the economy? Will the entry of foreign companies during the Asean integration drive them to resiliency, or oblivion?
- Why are local governments allowed to implement ordinances that impact materially on the nation? Cotabato and Manila come immediately to mind. And why doesn’t the government impose the national law (e.g., the Mining Act of 1995) that could easily quell these senseless issuances by local government units?
- Why are taxes on mining being suggested at a rate that would lead to no investment in mining? Relatedly, why are they being reviewed at all when the current rates are already high compared to other mining countries?
- Why is business overly concentrated in Metro Manila? What should be done to spread economic activities to other parts of the country? Will it be done?
- What is really being done to create, and not just promise, jobs? There’s been negligible improvement—2.799 million jobless in 2010, 2.764 million today.
- How can we move forward if we forgive and forget the past?
- Why isn’t Imelda in jail?
- If government officials are expected to have the highest ideals among the citizenry, why are we electing people whose reputations are marred, or have nothing going for them except popularity?
- How can popularity be replaced by sound platforms and leadership capabilities when it comes to electing public officials?
- If not Vice President Jejomar Binay, is it Secretary Mar Roxas? If not, who?
- Why do people want to run for public office when the salary is so low?
- Why are criminals allowed to be in public office?
- Why are soon-to-be jailed politicians all sick? Are hospitals the new prison cells? Does the country have an adequate supply of wheelchairs?
- How are we going to incarcerate politicians when all the accusations thrown at them are regarded as “politically motivated”?
- Will the government be able to achieve at least one major conviction by the end of 2016?
- Why are the most effective leaders in the country also the most underrated and unrecognized?
- How come nobody is a loser in the Philippines, be it in elections, in bidding for contracts, etc.?
- Why is “justice” more efficient (relatively) for the rich and famous, and incredibly slow for the majority?
- Why can’t the Supreme Court accept that issuing temporary restraining orders (TROs) is not its role? Why isn’t it more discretionary in what it accepts? Deciding constitutional and precedent-setting cases swiftly is.
- Why do some lawyers challenge everything, with no concern as to the impact on the economy and society?
- Why is there a Commission on Appointments, in three coequal, INDEPENDENT branches?
- Why hasn’t the Church installed adherence to the eighth commandment in its people? Theft at all levels is far too common.
- Why is the President so slow to sign a bill as significant as the proposed Freedom of Information Act? The measure has been languishing in Congress for more than 20 years.
- How can we attract good people into the government when every action can bring them to court by some disgruntled person?
- Why isn’t there enough focus on agriculture when real, inclusive growth hinges on it? About two-thirds of the population is dependent on it.
- How can the private sector be encouraged to go into agriculture-related ventures?
- Why do we need a National Food Authority to trade rice? What’s wrong with a monitored open market?
- Why are Filipinos so patient when they’re so poorly treated? It takes an hour to catch a train when it should be five minutes, a trip anywhere takes four to eight times longer than it should, selfish people block an intersection… The list is endless. Patience is a desirable characteristic only up to a point.
- Why are there no parks in the cities? Real parks, not pockets.
- Why is taking care of the environment not being given sufficient attention?
- With the Philippines considered as one of the most vulnerable countries to disasters, is the government doing enough to safeguard its people and economy from these expected disasters?
- Why are short-term solutions often prioritized over long-term ones?
- What significance does the antiplanking bill, antiselfie bill, etc. have on national development? Why should they be enacted into law? Why do we even have to waste public funds for such mundane things?
- If diplomacy won’t work on China and China ignores a decision from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, what will be the government’s next action?
- What action will the government take to reclaim the muddied reputation of the police force?
- Why are Filipinos so obsessed with basketball when there are other sports, such as football and badminton, where Filipinos can have a competitive advantage and a greater chance of winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal?
I’m sure you can all think of more questions. But what we now need is answers, real, practical, doable—and done answers. We could have a country to be truly proud of.
Political ferment in Hong KongBy Randy David | Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:05 am | Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
When the British government returned Hong Kong to China in July 1997—the “handover,” as it was then called—what was transferred was not just a piece of land, but the political administration of the people living there. Land is inert, but people are not. They have memory, identity, aspirations—and, hopefully, the will to act on the basis of these. It is important to keep this in mind in any attempt to understand what is happening in Hong Kong today.
When we speak of Hong Kong today, we refer to an area that includes not just Hong Kong Island, but also Kowloon Peninsula and the so-called New Territories, which are contiguous to the Chinese mainland. Britain acquired these lands in three separate treaties: Hong Kong in 1842, Kowloon in 1860, and the New Territories in 1898.
Britain claims that Hong Kong and Kowloon were ceded in perpetuity. So, technically, only the New Territories which were acquired under a 99-year lease should have been returned in 1997. But, since it had become difficult to disaggregate the development of these areas—not to mention the fact that China had consistently protested the onerous nature of these treaties—it was thought more practical to treat them as one. This issue, of course, was at the center of the complex formal negotiation that would define the political status of Hong Kong after the handover.
The British tried to extend their presence in Hong Kong beyond 1997, but the Chinese refused to compromise. Not even the strong-willed Margaret Thatcher could change the mind of the pragmatic Deng Xiaoping on this issue. Deng maintained that, even as Britain administered Hong Kong, China never relinquished its sovereignty over the territory, stating that the Chinese government could seize Hong Kong anytime if it wanted to.
China equated sovereignty with ownership, giving a totally different meaning to this political concept. The British, of course, did not merely “administer” Hong Kong. They also made and enforced the laws that had become the basis of civic and political order in the colony. That is sovereignty. In the negotiations, Britain offered to relinquish sovereignty in exchange for a form of British administration after the handover. China insisted that sovereignty and administration could not be separated.
Throughout these off-and-on talks, China staunchly refused to recognize the Hong Kong people’s right to be heard, seeing in this no more than a British ploy to bring in a “three-legged stool” into the negotiations. China warned that it would not hesitate to unilaterally act on Hong Kong’s sovereignty if there was any delay in the implementation of the 1997 handover. Britain warned that the uncertainty over Hong Kong’s future could trigger an economic meltdown. The impasse in the negotiation ended when the two powers came together in December 1984 to sign a joint declaration clarifying the future of Hong Kong. The declaration called for the writing of a Basic Law to be drafted by a committee consisting of members to be drawn from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong.
The drafting went through a long consultative process, and was almost derailed by the Tiananmen protests that began on June 4, 1989. Some members of the drafting committee were removed after they expressed views sympathetic to the Tiananmen students. The violent suppression of the Tiananmen uprising further heightened uncertainty in Hong Kong, unleashing a wave of outmigration of people and capital that reached its peak in 1992. All in all, about a million people left Hong Kong before the handover.
Of the provisions in the Basic Law, the most contentious were those dealing with the political system of Hong Kong once it became a Special Autonomous Region (SAR) under China. It is these same issues that now appear to be at the center of the protest demonstrations that have rocked Hong Kong in the last four days.
All protest movements are dynamic: The more they grow and become inclusive, the more their demands become diffused. This is what happens when politics shades into ethics. That is what we hear today in Hong Kong in the ringing clamor for a “true democracy.” It is not pure coincidence that the protest is unfolding on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen incident. It echoes the emancipatory themes of Tiananmen as well as, indeed, of the Arab Spring. It is fueled by the same pure energy of the young. It takes risks, is unafraid, and is carried forward by the momentum of its own inventiveness. And here one finds the source both of its strength and vulnerability.
Today’s protest movements are the modern bearers of Marx’s idea of popular self-determination. But, unlike the revolutionary movements of an earlier era, they do not have the advantage of operating under a ready-made identity like the proletariat. Rather, they must construct their political subjectivity from the many identities they integrate in the course of the struggle. This is an achievement, not a given. What is it for Hong Kong’s current movement? Is it the idea of a democratic Hong Kong that is not only autonomous but also free? If that is the case, then they must be prepared to withstand brutal suppression. The world will cheer them on, but in the end they will have to fight alone.
Where they have succeeded in toppling regimes, modern political movements have rarely been able to build the governments of their own choosing. More organized forces took over the fruit of their efforts. Gramsci was correct: “The decisive element in every situation is the permanently organized and long prepared force which can be put into the field when it is judged that a situation is favorable.”
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Recto in a time of disenchantmentBy Rex D. Lores | Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:04 am | Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
The unhappy state of affairs in the Senate has stirred nostalgia for an era when senators with the strength of character and moral fiber of Claro M. Recto walked its elaborate halls. Recto, whose 54th death anniversary is marked today (Oct. 2), was one of the towering minds who graced the Senate when it was the nation’s predominant deliberative council.
Deliberative, it should be stressed, because the Senate was meant to be an assembly of the thinking class. Nations, after all, live and prosper by ideas—for ideas define our ideals and identity, as well as the structure of our national life and values.
As we witness today the decline of standards in our public life, Recto’s ideas and ideals become more compelling and relevant to Filipinos who cherish exceptional competence, integrity and wisdom in our political leaders.
A true nationalist, Recto was one of the last of the great dissenters in the Senate. His advocacies sprang from deeply held convictions. He cared as much about issues of social and economic policy as he did about the Philippines’ sovereignty and its place in the family of nations.
Thriving in an era when character and intellect were a politician’s most precious assets, Recto entered colonial politics in 1919. He was first elected to the Senate in 1931 and, evolving as a transformative figure, he became the voice of an inchoate nation. He presided over the birth of our first Constitution, which framed the Filipino’s quest for political independence and wrote finis to almost four centuries of servile experience.
He chafed at that experience, and repudiated it by personifying the single-mindedness of a generation to fashion a nation out of its desperate hopes and dreams. The greatest repository of those dreams was a Senate inhabited by men of learning, culture, vision and honor. Elected mainly on the basis of character, achievement and intellect, they nourished our self-esteem and virtues as a people.
Profoundly conscious of their mandate to protect and advance the national interest, Recto and his worthy peers constantly sought to cultivate public trust. They understood that consensual government required leaders imbued with a strong sense of duty, restraint, and sacrifice.
Without these qualities, the rule of law cannot prevail. Recto warned that the enemies of the state were not only the mailed fist of the invader or the corruption of imperialism but the “criminal assaults of its very sworn defenders and protectors.”
Even in his time, he confronted the dilemma that haunts us today: How can our democracy advance when the principal institutions of government—the executive, judicial and legislative branches—undermine constitutional precepts because of politics?
Recto responded by mounting a lifelong vigil against the abuses of power, and he refused to be intimidated by the Church, Malacañang, or the White House. In 1952, denouncing President Elpidio Quirino for continuing to exercise emergency powers, Recto was adamant that “…If the men entrusted with the enforcement of the Constitution are the first to violate it, to ignore it, and to evade it, if the men who have taken public office, swearing on the Constitution, are the first to … avoid its injunctions, and disobey its mandates, then no Constitution can work.”
Today’s yearning for the likes of this statesman is a rebuke to a tarnished institution. The halls of the Senate no longer reverberate with vigorous debates that help chart our destiny. In place of soaring orations that can move us as a people, we hear from the session floor the banter of the marketplace and alibis that mock us.
The Senate was once a forum that conveyed the genius and nobility of our race. And it did so through the power of language and ideas, the most potent weapons of parliamentarians. For elegant language not only brings concepts to life but also elevates the national discourse in form and substance.
The majestic power of language has been abandoned by a concerted rise of what Recto described in 1960 as “caricatures of [a] foreign model with its known characteristics—patronage, division of spoils, political bossism, and partisan treatment of vital national issues.”
And so the Senate’s decline to an unprecedented level of depravity has come to pass. Lacking in vision and statecraft, it has indicted itself by mediocrity, by disintegrating claims about its integrity, and by mounting evidence of plunder among its own ranks.
Gazing on this sordid scene, Recto would likely lament, as he indeed lamented in 1958: “It is melancholy to feel that our rulers and leaders can no longer be depended upon. They are a lost and confused lot; their conscience is laden with guilt and their minds with avarice, and their heads are devoid of compunction. They are the social cancer in this reign of greed.”
In the rippling echoes of this truth, a nation deeply mired in conflict and corruption can only weep.
Rex D. Lores is a member of the Philippine Futuristics Society.