Monday, March 26, 2012


“To do nothing,” as Oscar Wilde said, “is the most difficult thing in the world.”

Apparently not to Philippine President Noynoy Aquino, whose “doing nothing” attitude or “noynoying” has inspired the newest word in the local political vocabulary. “Noynoying” has in fact caught fire, the social media picked it up, there’s already a Facebook page and Twitter is buzzing.
Philippine President Noynoy Aquino in his familiar doing nothing
pose. Click link
to view "Noynoying" -- It's more fun in the Philippines.
Students and workers on the streets protesting against fuel price hikes, rising unemployment, the shrinking value of workers’ wages, unaffordable education and the many other problems that beset the nation, are doing their best in imitating the President for his “doing nothing” postures in the face of all these problems.

Obviously, the President’s handlers are annoyed. They responded by plastering the front pages of the daily newspapers with photos of the President working in his office at Malacañang. Others also protested that “noynoying” is so unkind and unbefitting to the office of the presidency. Well, these gripes came from laggards in the government, too.

But this President has the reputation for being a slacker, a couch potato who would rather enjoy wasting time on computer games even when he was just a senator in Congress during sessions. One Filipino columnist wrote that if the President remains focused in impeaching Chief Justice Corona to the exclusion of other more important matters, he may be wrongly accused of being autistic. One of the many signs of autism being the preoccupation with a single television program or a computer toy or game.

For the record, President Noynoy Aquino has done nothing to halt the increase in the price of fuel that drivers and transport workers have decided to take the streets to make known to the President that they’re hurting and he’s not doing anything to help them. Wages of workers have stayed at low levels keeping the lives of ordinary folks at standstill, and the President is not doing anything to consider increasing the minimum wage.

The military has reinforced Hacienda Luisita with more troops at government’s expense to protect the Cojuangco family’s prized possession, yet the President is not doing anything to protect the farm workers from being harassed and brutalized. Military abuses of human rights continue, the whereabouts of many activists who have been missing are still unknown and may never be known, and extra-judicial killings remain unprosecuted. The President’s response? Do nothing.

Going to college is getting more and more expensive, making it unrealistic for poor families to send their children for higher education. What has the President done, so far? Nothing.

Or all the protesters could be wrong. Perhaps, the President’s doing nothing is exactly his strongest suit. It could mean that he’s just being quiet, letting the storm pass, the anger to wane and the heart rate to slow down. In other words, he could be taking stock of all the issues facing the nation and trying to gain perspective, and that really means, doing nothing.
Who said President Noynoy Aquino wasn't doing anything?
There is an Italian expression that best describes this type of attitude: Il dolce far niente. It means the sweetness of doing nothing.

It could be Noynoy’s mindset, an attitude ingrained in his very nature. It’s his way of living freely and enjoying the best life could offer, whether driving a sports car, going to the range to do practise shooting or going out with his classmates from Ateneo (the KKK group—Kaklase, Kaibigan at Kabarilan). So like the Romans, Noynoy has taken this activity of doing nothing to the level of an art form. To him, this is the essence of living. He’s living “noynoying” to the fullest.

It is therefore annoying to President Noynoy Aquino that he should be singled out and criticized for doing nothing.

In the first place, he never wanted to be president. Maybe the Senate should waste no more time in convicting the Chief Justice, so the Supreme Court with a new Chief Justice could reverse the Hacienda Luisita decision or at least pay the Cojuangcos 100 billion pesos in compensation, and allow the election appeal of Noynoy’s running mate Mar Roxas to succeed. With Roxas as the new vice president, Noynoy could now resign, pass the mantle to his new VP and spend more time in doing nothing.

This is what doing nothing can do to the mind. It drives you to a catatonic state, to think of unthinkable things. Noynoy Aquino should have realized it earlier, that leaving the presidency and running away with Grace Lee was the best thing in life. After all, when all the dust has settled, he still has the Hacienda and all the time in the world to roam around with his Porsche or horse the whole afternoon and at night to go home to his trophy wife to make babies who will grow up like him.

With one or two kids on his lap and wife by his side, he can then say to all his critics, “Is this doing nothing?”

Monday, March 19, 2012

La coup-curacha

A storm is gathering as some disgruntled officers of the Philippine military are about to attempt to seize the government in the event of a constitutional crisis in the aftermath of the Corona impeachment trial. That’s according to some media reports. What are the chances of a military takeover? Improbable as an American coup d’état.
A contingent of Philippine marines marching at their navy headquarters in Manila.
Agence France-Presse file photo.
There are at least nine “assaults” on the modern Philippine presidency since the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, including the puerile 1986 Manila Hotel siege where Arturo Tolentino, Marcos’s running-mate in the February snap election that led to his ouster by EDSA I people power revolution, was sworn as acting president by no less than former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, the current head counsel of Renato Corona’s defence team. But that event quietly fizzled out as the Aquino presidency was reinforced by the loyalty of General Fidel Ramos, then Armed Forces chief, and the support of the United States.

RAM Movement

The other attempts were all undertaken by the military to directly take control of the government under Cory Aquino in 1987 and 1989, and against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2003 and 2006. For the first time in Philippine history, these putsches were instigated by reformist military officers organized under the umbrella of Reform the Armed Forces (RAM) Movement led by Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan during the Aquino period and by the Magdalo faction during Arroyo’s term. Col. Honasan’s RAM helped install Mrs. Aquino as president in the bloodless revolution in 1986 but became disgruntled by the way she ran the country.

Two of the six failed coup attempts in 1987 and 1989 were aimed in unseating President Cory Aquino. Col. Honasan, the leader of these coups went into hiding in 1989 after being charged with rebellion for leading the most serious coup against the government. The official casualty list included 99 people dead, including 50 civilians, and 750 wounded. Under orders from President George H.W. Bush, the United States military supported the Aquino government in allowing the use of U.S. airpower from the USS Midway and USS Enterprise aircraft carriers and F-5 fighters from Clark Air Base in the Philippines in shooting down the military rebels if necessary.

Col. Honasan eventually came out from hiding in 1992 after accepting amnesty from General Fidel Ramos, who succeeded Cory Aquino for the presidency. Honasan entered politics and was elected senator in 1995, and now joins his colleagues in the Senate as jurors in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona.
Former coup leaders Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan (left) and Antonio Trillanes IV
(2nd from right) with fellow Philippine senators Tito Sotto and Ferdinand Marcos
Jr. Photo courtesy of No Drugs. Click link to view video on "Gregorio Honasan,"
Another leader of the 1986 EDSA I People Power Revolution, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the defence chief during that time and now President of the Senate, was also arrested for his involvement in the 1989 coup led by Col. Honasan, Enrile’s former military aide. Prior to the coup, Enrile was Cory Aquino’s defence secretary, but he resigned after becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the Aquino government. Enrile was among seven people indicted for “rebellion with murder” in connection with the bloody 1989 coup attempt, charges which were eventually thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Although President Joseph Estrada was ousted from the presidency in 2001 in a bloodless coup, the military did not take a direct role but simply withdrew its allegiance to the unpopular president and threw its support to the EDSA II People Power that forced Estrada to step down. This was reminiscent of Juan Ponce Enrile’s deserting Ferdinand Marcos during EDSA I as the latter’s defence chief when he joined the reformist military officers and the throng of people that drove Marcos out of the country. Former President Fidel Ramos, a former general himself and other high-ranking officers of the military were rumored to have played a direct hand in the military’s reneging their allegiance to President Estrada.

Oakwood mutiny

During her term as president, Gloria Arroyo was besieged by two military coups. The first was in 2003 when a group of soldiers and their officers code-named Magdalo staged a military rebellion popularly known as the Oakwood mutiny. Oakwood was a luxury apartment complex in Makati City and was booby-trapped and seized for 20 hours by 300 rebel soldiers demanding the resignation of Arroyo and the institution of badly-needed reforms in the military.
Oakwood mutineers, 2003. Photo courtesy of Mr. Hepe .
The Oakwood mutiny lasted for 20 hours and ended in the surrender of the rebel soldiers under a deal that would release the soldiers and only imprison the so-called ringleaders, the junior officers. This mutiny was unlike the previous coups staged by the military. It consisted of a new generation of military radicals different from the old RAM under Honasan which by now had become a political group known as Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (Revolutionary Nationalist Alliance).

Magdalo was headed by Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduates from the Class 1990s and beyond and most of the mutiny leaders were honour cadets in their class. Army Capt. Gerardo Gambala, who was the main leader of the mutiny, was the valedictorian of PMA Class 1995. Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes, a young naval officer, was a very articulate spokesman of Magdalo at that time. Most of the Magdalo leaders were not only prominent in their class but belonged to poor families who managed to send them to the military academy because of government scholarships. The Magdalo group was further rumored to have initiated secret negotiations with the leftist elements, notably the CPP-NPA, in forming an alliance to seize the government.

Two more aborted coups against the Arroyo administration in February 2006 failed to gather support from top military brass and from the people as the anniversary of EDSA I was celebrated. Some have dubbed the failed coup as a “walk-in-the-park” tactic hoping the military rebels would be able to generate people power support.

Trillanes, who was one of the leaders of the Oakwood tyranny, ran for senator and won while in prison. As Ramos did for Honasan, Noynoy Aquino, three months in his presidency, granted amnesty to Trillanes along with 300 other mutineers in an attempt to expand his influence in the Senate. Senator Trillanes is now serving his term as senator and is considered an ally of Noynoy Aquino, especially in the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona.

Military not trained to rule

The leaders of all the failed military putsches against the Philippine government were all trained by the PMA, a military training school modeled after the United States Military Academy with officers from the Philippine Scouts and regular United States Army as instructors and members of the general staff. It was no wonder that officers produced by the PMA were similarly imbued with the tradition of professionalism of American soldiers. Many American observers are unanimous in their opinion that an American coup d’état is next to impossible because of the culture of the military. Civilian control of the military is too deeply ingrained in the armed forces. Therefore, the notion of a cabal of U.S. military officers colluding to overthrow the government is almost unthinkable. The professional ethic within the military is firmly committed to the principle that they don't rule.
Philippine Military Academy cadets in Pass in Review Ceremony. Photo courtesy
of TrafikMedia. Click link to view "Should the military intervene in politics?"
In addition to their training like American military officers, the Philippine military does not have a revolutionary nationalist heritage. It was organized as a direct result of American colonization and used as an auxiliary force to support U.S. occupation troops. Since the granting of Philippine independence in 1946, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has maintained very close links to the U.S. military through assistance and training programs, and heavy military aid from the U.S. government in exchange for the current Balikatan exercises between the two countries on Philippine soil and waters.

The right-wing media which spread the absurd theory that the Left had made an alliance with the Magdalo group of military rebels during the aborted Oakwood mutiny in 2003 have resurrected this old yarn that the same alliance is plotting a coup against the Aquino government. Some military officers are blaming some “leftist personalities” in the Aquino administration who are planning to grab power as part of the communist infiltration of the government.

It was Senator Antonio Trillanes, a leader of the Oakwood mutiny, who made the exposé of a coup plot against President Aquino.

On his part, President Aquino said some groups were planning to oust him because of his fight against graft and corruption from the “old system,” alluding to retired military officers close to former President Gloria Arroyo who is currently in prison for election fraud and corruption.

Jose Ma. Sison, alleged founder and leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is also reported to have slipped into the country and is reported to be discussing the formation of a coalition government with Noynoy Aquino.

Idle chatter part of destabilization
All this idle chatter about a military coup against President Aquino sounds more like part of a destabilization campaign by the government and the military. As with all the previous attempts in the past, a new putsch will certainly fail. Noynoy Aquino will reward the top brass of the military for their efforts in quelling another mutiny, in exchange for their undivided loyalty. Perhaps some junior officers will capitalize on this incident and emulate the feats of Honasan and Trillanes in joining Congress.

Even if the acquittal of Chief Justice Corona could trigger a constitutional crisis, it is still not enough to stir a military takeover. What should really worry President Noynoy Aquino is the great possibility of a huge transport strike and massive demonstrations against the crippling cost of diesel fuel, similar to the late 1960s that led to the proclamation of martial law. Should Noynoy’s advisers bungle this situation, as they are wont to do, it could spark widespread unrest.

President Noynoy Aquino should not fear an alliance between the Left and the military rebels, an impossible phenomenon to occur in the Philippines, although it’s been the norm in other countries. All the Aquino administration should worry is that his government will fall from its weight, for its failure to improve the lives of the poor, and for doing nothing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Double standard makes truth a casualty

Our family dog, a Golden Retriever, is easy to love. He’s very amiable even to strangers, a gentle disposition that sometimes is not very good for a dog that doesn’t show any form of hostility to other animals, to people or his peers. We can ignore his barking because it is all sound and fury and nothing more. True, he chases squirrels in our backyard but not because he dislikes them. The poor squirrel always has to scurry up the trees to escape our dog’s atypical wrath, if only the squirrel knew our dog merely wanted to play.
Onegin, our family dog sits in the backyard while contemplating on the double
standard tendency by society. Click link to view "George Carlin America was
founded on a double standard,"
Most, if not all, dogs (or other domesticated animals) are unlike humans. People are not always true to themselves, with their emotions or thoughts. Because their brains are wired differently, we often think human beings are superior. Arguably so, but that’s not for us to debate. The important observation we can make of dogs is that they treat other dogs or humans equally, not so with people who can always disguise or mask their true intentions, which makes human interaction a much more tricky relationship.

People look at others through their bifocal lenses. They always talk about ideas, such as what they can do and what others can’t, from a split perspective. This dual tendency toward others and their behaviour or thoughts, depending on where we stand in society, is generally the cause of the double standard or worse, duplicity in the way we treat others. This is self-evident in our political and moral views, in the little groups where we belong, and the great divide between the far-advanced West and the East that has lagged behind for many decades due to colonization in the past and now to the globalization of the economy.

In our own familiar organizations, whether in the community, profession or school where we went to, we tend to elevate people to a certain status because they’re simply popular or perhaps because of their success. We often do this to the detriment of others whom we relegate to the margins because their struggles have been unheard of.

A double standard of acceptance usually works on the metrics of likeability. If you’re less likeable, then you’re likely to be ignored no matter how sensible your ideas or suggestions are. Someone will be more liked if he regularly fraternizes with other members of the group and shares his personal opinions which you don’t necessarily agree to because either they are expressed in a bungling manner or are totally inane and useless. But again, that could be your own standard as opposed to what’s held by others.
An example of double standard. Bill Reilly argues that Viagra should be covered
by health care, but not birth control. Photo courtesy of Jean Farr.
Being duplicitous or having a set of double standards in treating others doesn’t just stick to us Filipinos because of our thick skin. This is true to the whole of North America (meaning the United States and Canada) in its attitude towards other countries, particularly those of Islamic religious persuasion.

Take the recent caustic sentiments raised by GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum toward the Obama administration. Romney has repeatedly criticized U.S. President Obama for apologizing to the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq for some intolerable behaviour by members of the U.S. military. If elected, Romney said he would never be apologetic, because to him that is a sign of weakness, without even putting Obama’s apology in its right context. The same goes with Santorum who said he will bomb Iran if he were the U.S. President, revealing clearly that he is against nuclear proliferation especially if it falls on Moslem hands. Such rhetoric ignores the sensitive feelings of those at the receiving end. But this is the way the most powerful country in the world always argues; it talks down to other countries despite the reality that geopolitics today are best handled through peaceful diplomacy, not through sabre rattling.

Harold Hongju Koh, dean of Yale Law School, in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2007 best summed up this American warrior mentality and duplicity in treating both allies and enemies, when he said:

“[W]e now fail to tell the full truth about our human rights conduct, or that of our allies in the War on Terror. Increasingly, we avoid application of universal standards: whether the rules against torture and cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions. But the United States cannot lead the world with moral authority unless we hold ourselves to the same high standards that we demand from others. The U.S. has put its own human rights practices center stage by promoting double standards for our allies, and arguing in favor of “law-free zones” (like Guantanamo), “law-free practices” (like extraordinary rendition), “law-free persons” (who are dubbed “enemy combatants”), and “law-free” courts, (like the system of military commissions, which have failed to deliver credible justice and are currently being challenged in our courts for the recent stripping of the writ of habeas corpus). Through these misguided policies, the administration has shifted the world's focus from the grotesque human rights abuses of the terrorists to America's own human rights misconduct, leaving other, equally pressing issues elsewhere ignored or unaddressed.”
Cartoon depicting West's double standard re nuclear proliferation. By boris. rasin.
The ongoing impeachment trial of the Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice is the most recent example of how this practice of double standard works. Right after the articles of impeachment were sent to the Senate, Philippine President Noynoy Aquino and his cabal of close advisers from his student days in Ateneo immediately went on a media frenzy with only one purpose in mind – to influence the public debate on whether to impeach Renato Corona.

Noynoy would speak in public gatherings demonizing the Chief Justice as the remaining stumbling block to his platform of cleaning the government of graft and corruption. His advisers would do the same thing, from his presidential spokesman to his Secretary of Justice, and even to allied senator-judges who will try Corona in the Senate. Columnists in the local media who are perceived to be close to Noynoy Aquino would write pompous opinions almost daily on why Corona should go, even calling for people power demonstration like EDSA I if the Senate should acquit the Chief Justice.

The prosecution panel has rested its case against Corona. Before the defence could start to present its side of the argument, the Chief Justice was also making rounds explaining in public forums why he was targeted by Noynoy for impeachment. The media began publishing stories on the family feud between Corona and his wife with the wife’s clan regarding their family inheritance, which is not particularly germane to the impeachment hearing but toxic in portraying the personal character of the Chief Justice and his wife.

Noynoy’s allies would condemn the Chief Justice for acting like a politician, admonishing him that it was inappropriate for him to talk about a pending legal matter before the public square. The Corona prosecution brigade had become suddenly afflicted with amnesia forgetting that they started talking about the impeachment issue before the public arena, with President Noynoy Aquino being the most vocal drumbeater.

This clearly illustrates that what is good for Noynoy Aquino is not the same for others. It’s wrong when others do or say what he does or say. Noynoy as President is entitled to his own moral standards. When two of his cabinet members were implicated in alleged irregularities, Noynoy Aquino was reminded by critics of his “daang matuwid” (straight path) policy on corruption. Yet, Noynoy came to the defence of his officials who were his close friends during their college years, thus sweeping the allegations under the rag.

One Filipino columnist wrote about Corona: “The question is not merely: Is this the person you want to continue to become chief justice? The question is: How in hell did this creature become chief justice in the first place?”

Harsh words for the Chief Justice of the land, as if one is talking about a heinous criminal. But then who’s talking – one who staunchly defended Ferdinand Marcos when he was a young and upcoming writer plucked from obscurity to promote the ideals of the New Society. Now, he’s become the great defender of people power and President Noynoy Aquino even if the latter is suborning Congress to rubber stamp anything he wants, never mind if it destroys the constitutional foundations of the country which his own mother helped restore.

Another columnist wrote: “How many dirty justices, judges and lawyers are there?” As if all members of the legal profession are dirty and corrupt. Yet he turns a blind eye to the sinister plot of Noynoy’s cabal of legal advisers who was responsible in contriving the impeachment of the Chief Justice so their President can ventilate his own personal vendetta.

Does it still matter anymore, whether one is a lawyer or a plain citizen, to have your day in court? That everyone is entitled to due process, to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty?

It’s almost certain that Corona would be found guilty by the Senate. President Noynoy Aquino has made it clear and known to all that this is what he wants at the end of the trial.

Double standard or duplicity is the new golden rule. Or maybe, it’s not. Since the first man walked on this earth, it has always been that whoever has power lays down the rule. That rule is only good for the one who has power, not for everyone else. Human societies are built in such a way that those in control will always have the ability to disguise or mask the nature of the truth, or its real meaning. Whether deliberately by deception or distortion of the language used, the truth becomes a casualty and the moral standards attached to human behaviour will always be based upon their usefulness to those who have the power.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Whitewashing the truth

Plato said that “those who tell the stories also hold the power,” something that historical revisionists understand fully well. This is particularly true to those who would like to portray an illusion of a great presidency as in the case of Ferdinand Marcos and his almost twenty years of authoritarian rule. His immediate survivors who are now entrusted to keep the Marcos legacy alive like his wife Imelda and children Imee and Ferdinand Jr. are all in cahoots with historical revisionists who saw nothing despicably wrong with the iron-clad rule of Ferdinand Sr. from 1969 to 1986.

The same can be said for those who, on one hand, continue to glorify the outcome and moral impact of EDSA I on government and its leaders, and on the other, those who would like to demonize the military and the Church in installing Cory Aquino to an accidental position of president of the Republic after Marcos was driven out. Videos lampooning EDSA I and discrediting its achievements are circulating on YouTube and the Internet. But at the same time, the moderate media or so-called “yellow media” have become the anointed protectors of the legacy of EDSA I and they would not hesitate to inspire or instigate another public uproar should it be necessary to preserve that legacy or support a popular government even if it ignores the rule of law.

Both are clear examples of historical revisionism that attempt to erase the culpability of the martial law years under Marcos and the succeeding presidencies starting from Cory Aquino to her son Noynoy Aquino for government complicity in violating human rights and for instilling a culture of impunity.
Filipinos protest against military abuses of human rights, extrajudicial killings and
 disappearances. Photo by Magic Liwanag. Click link to view "Ending the culture of
impunity in the Philippines,"
Martial law spawned corrupt system

G. Eugene Martin, U.S. Institute of Peace Executive Director of the Philippine Facilitation Project, in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs in 2007, pointed to the legacy of the Ferdinand Marcos regime as one palpable cause for the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of civil society activists. According to Martin, martial law created a corrupt system where soldiers, police, judges and prosecutors became principals of offences like extralegal arrest, detention, incarceration, disappearances and salvaging, are all permitted or allowed.

This is very evident in the military’s reliance on Proclamation No. 2054 of President Marcos despite the lifting of martial law on January 27, 1981 and the succession of democratically elected presidents after EDSA I which were supposed to obliterate the repressive laws of the martial law period. It is the same objective under that Proclamation “to prevent or suppress lawless violence, insurrection, rebellion and subversion” that prompts the military to continue launching pre-emptive strikes against alleged communists and their sympathizers, and terroristic enemies of the state. All this violence against the people is therefore considered justified, as the Marcos regime used it as a rationale for its repressive measures, under the aegis of preserving the Constitution as the supreme law of the land at all times.

So when Cory Aquino assumed the presidency in 1986, her pardon of the top military brass and its officers for complicity in the commission of crimes and offences against the people during the Marcos era prevented any criminal prosecution and those responsible were never brought to justice. This coddling of the military and the police by succeeding presidents did not only provide immunity for violators but also made military and police abuses of human rights the norm, instead of protecting civil society.

Thus, to the military and the police who are entrusted to protect the rights of civil society, extrajudicial killings and disappearances are justified and necessary to protect the state and preserve peace and order. That human rights might by necessity although unintentionally be trampled upon. This is the official line and is therefore what is reported in the media, the story that is being taught to our present generation of young people in schools. It all started with the Marcos era and the spate of violence and killings continues to be condoned as legitimate under the present government of Noynoy Aquino.

Extra-judicial killings and disappearances

Thus, proponents of historical revisionism have succeeded in demonizing the civil society instead of protecting it. The 2007 report by Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights, on extrajudicial killings and disappearances is a case in point.

Alston in his report identified two root causes of these killings: (1) vilification, labelling or guilt by association, i.e., the characterization of most groups on the left of the political spectrum as front organizations for armed groups whose aim is to destroy democracy making them as legitimate targets for military/police action, and (2) the government’s counter-insurgency strategy which has facilitated the killings of activists and others who oppose the government.

Alston’s report could very well be the official and most accurate narrative, an objective historical account of the underlying causes of violence perpetrated against the people by the military, the police and other agents of the government. However, the Philippine government denies this. There are no crimes of extrajudicial killings and disappearances, and that is the official line of the government. The government, therefore, has rewritten the history of violence against the people by continuously and flatly denying that crimes were committed despite independent third party findings of facts.

In 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created the Melo Commission to investigate the killings of militant activists and some members of the press. While concluding that most of the killings were instigated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Melo Commission however found no proof to blame the government and the military. Instead, the Commission reiterated the dubious statements made by Task Force Usig of the Philippine National Police that the rise in the killings of activists and media personnel was due to the “purge” of the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Here we can see a clear effort by the government to whitewash the crimes committed by its military and to pin the responsibility for the killings of innocent civil society activists to the communist insurgency.

The Melo Commission Report and the statements made by Task Force Usig, including their suspicious statistics on atrocities committed by the military and by alleged underground groups, form part of the official history of political violence in the Philippines. Third party and independent investigations such as the Alston Report and the testimonies of experts on extrajudicial killings and disappearances from international human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, are considered by the government as mere observations not grounded on facts.

The U.S. State Department Report has also highlighted the fact that Philippine security forces have been responsible for serious human rights abuses, a report that is glossed over by the government. Even an observation from a friendly country and former colonial master failed to muster any clout, thus reducing it to an insignificant footnote to the official historical narrative of the government.

Deception and denial

Historical revisionists thus effectively use their twin techniques of deception and denial. Deception, by falsifying information, lying and obscuring the truth in order to manipulate information or opinion. Denial, by claiming facts are untrue, blame shifting, censorship, distraction and media manipulation. These are all self-evident in the government’s historical record of political violence against the people as contained in the Melo Commission Report and in all proclamations of the previous and present governments with regard to Oplan Bantay Laya and Oplan Bayanihan, both counter-insurgency programs of the government.
Holocaust memorial in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Dubgael. Click link to view "What is a crime
 against humanity?"
During the Nuremberg trials of the war crimes committed by Nazi regime, the prosecutors were faced with the problem of how to respond to the Holocaust and other grave crimes. At that time, a traditional understanding of war crimes did not include crimes committed by a power on its own citizens. So, a new charter was drafted not only to cover traditional war crimes and crimes against peace, but also crimes against humanity.

The Tokyo trials that followed Nuremberg also tried the leaders of the Japanese empire with these crimes against humanity, together with crimes against peace and war crimes. With the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, the Rome Statute has significantly broadened the definition of crimes against humanity from its original legal definition.

According to the Rome Statute, crimes against humanity are particularly odious offences that constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy or a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority.

One would therefore suspect that the Arroyo and Aquino governments are rewriting the history of political violence in the Philippines in order to avoid being brought before the ICC and be tried for crimes against humanity. Perhaps, the consolation to President Noynoy Aquino is that he still has the opportunity not to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors. However, if the signs are clear that Noynoy Aquino might have already chosen to continue painting a rosy picture of the history of violence against the people, thus denying and deceiving the truth, genuine history will not be so kind in remembering the grave political consequences of the illusions his government has attempted to nourish.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Brave new world coming?

Ryan Braun, one of Major League Baseball’s brightest young stars, has recently won his appeal on his drug test, making him the sport’s first player to win an appeal after a positive drug test. Braun who plays for the Milwaukee Brewers and the 2011 most valuable player of the National League now escapes a 50-game suspension.

In addition to being a first-round draft pick in 2005, Braun was rookie of the year in 2007. He has made the All-Star team four times and has helped guide the Brewers to the playoffs twice.

Not too long ago, the case against Lance Armstrong has also been closed by U.S. federal prosecutors, thus ensuring the American cyclist’s legacy as a seven-time Tour de France champion. Armstrong has steadfastly denied doping during his unparalleled career, but the possibility of criminal charges threatened to stain not only his accomplishments as the world’s most famous cyclist, but his cancer charity work as well.
Steroids and Athletes. Photo courtesy of Livusafe.
The redemption of these two sports superstars from some of the world’s comprehensive systems of monitoring performance-enhancing drugs reveals either that the system is still nowhere to perfection it has claimed or the prospect of enhancing humans, particularly in the field of sports, is improving and making the future look even more daunting.

It’s in sports that record-breaking performance of athletes is being heavily screened, and so far, this is the only human activity open to testing for use of performance enhancing drugs. Of course, we have heard of experimentation on animals but the haste in transferring success from laboratories to human applications can be very intimidating. From the genetically-modified mighty mice, we now have athletes built like bulls with huge haunches and necks wider than their heads. To clone a gene appears easier now that all the biology is here and it’s no longer a mystery that all the performance characteristics of the muscle could be changed or modulated.

This kind of development becomes scarier if we juxtapose the advances in the enhancement of human capability with the military. Who would believe that the supernatural powers of comic-book superheroes of the past like Superman and Wonder Woman could exist or are in the process of engineering?

Melding man and machine

Joel Garreau, a former reporter and editor at the Washington Post, wrote in his book Radical Evolution that the U.S. Army, together with the University of California at Berkeley, has developed a prototype exoskeleton suit that allows a soldier to carry 180 pounds as if it were only 4.4 pounds. Imagine this exoskeleton suit enabling soldiers to leap tall buildings in a single jump.

The U.S. Department of Defence is known to have a program under its Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that would create a “metabolically-dominant soldier” using technology and biology to meld man and machine and transcend the limits of the human body. DARPA is in the business of creating better humans. It has a track record – pioneering the Internet and e-mail and funding the computer mouse. Who would doubt if DARPA could eventually create human beings who are unstoppable, soldiers who can’t be slowed down in combat by pain, wounds or bleeding? Or the kind of “24/7” soldier who can easily navigate, communicate and make good decisions for a week without sleep? Perhaps there are American prototype soldiers already in combat who are being tested for their enhanced endurance and capabilities.
Supersoldiers of the 2020s will be a little bit Iron Man with HULC and XOS
exoskeletons. They will have some wall crawling (Spiderman-like) capability
from the Z-Man program (attachable pads with magnets and microsplines).
Photo courtesy of the NextBigFuture. Click link to view "How to Build the
Perfect Soldier,"
The boundary between fantasy and reality is being shattered by technology’s horrendous evolution. There are no limits to what science can break ground. Whereas before the aim of technologies was outward – toward controlling our environment – now the whole technology is aimed towards ourselves. In merging technology with “our own minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our progeny and perhaps our souls,” Garreau says, technology has focused in changing humans in what could be a kind of engineered evolution – “one that we direct for ourselves.”

The technological changes before us could be the biggest thing since the discovery of how to make fire, yet society is not minding them at all. They haven’t inspired a social upheaval of some kind like the Arab Spring that has been ousting despotic leaders one after another through people uprising with the help of social media. The media are not even reporting these changes with alarming disbelief. People are instead glued on the GOP presidential primaries, Republican Party loyalists figuring out the most electable wannabe between Romney and Santorum.

Or in a laid-back society like the Philippines with an advanced technology but with a backward culture and values system, people would rather follow the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court and the dating pattern of President Noynoy Aquino. No upheaval of seismic proportion over there, too.

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat”

Garreau argues in his book that history seems to react always late, that change in culture and social values doesn’t arrive as rapidly as innovation. Through several decades of technological upheaval from nuclear warheads to mainframe computers, from synthetic psychedelics to birth control pills, from automobiles to the Internet and cell phones, culture and values have lagged technology. And now that the cultural revolution which has been long overdue is about to emerge, Garreau likens this awakening to a scene in the movie Jaws where Roy Scheider finally saw the shark in the water and exclaimed, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

According to Garreau, we need to adjust our attitudes toward this great human transformation in our midst, as astounding that might seem.

Garreau writes: “It’s about what parents will do when offered ways to increase their child’s SAT score by 200 points. It’s about what athletes will do when encouraged by big-buck leagues to put together medical pit crews. What fat people will do when offered a gadget that will monitor and alter their metabolisms. What the aging will do when offered memory enhancers. What fading baby boomers will do when it becomes obvious that Viagra and Botox are just the beginning of the sex-appeal industry. Imagine that technology allows us to transcend seemingly impossible physical and mental barriers, not only for ourselves but, exponentially for our clients, for our children. What happens as we muck around with the most fundamental aspects of our identity? What if the only thing that is truly irreversible is taxes? This is the transcendence of human nature we’re talking about here. What wisdom does transhuman power demand?”

Perhaps we are already witnessing the evolution of a brave new world as parodied by Aldous Huxley in his novel of the same title which he wrote in 1931. In his novel, Huxley anticipated developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combined to change society. It was a utopian vision of a future society which became the basis of futurology.

Partly, the technologies today could also remind us of the dystopian novel and science fiction, We, by the Russian author, Yevgeny Zamyatin, published in English in 1924.We is set in the future where the main character, D-503 lives in the One State, an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass allowing the secret police to inform on and supervise the public more easily, almost like the Panopticon, a prison design concept developed by Jeremy Bentham.

D-503 at the end of the novel is subjected to the “Great Operation,” similar to a lobotomy that was mandated for the whole population of the One State. The operation involves the removal of the imagination by striking a region of the brain with x-rays.

False symbols for human happiness

Both novels, Brave New World and We, represent false symbols for any regime of universal happiness, where society and its inhabitants are the creations of some sort of paradise-engineering. Both were satirical pieces of fiction, but have been criticized as ill-conceived futurology. In the Brave New World in particular, Huxley conceived of transhumans being able to get rid of mental pain through biotechnology, through a drug-assisted biological paradise.

Who would think that the science fiction we were reading a century ago could be much closer to reality even before the 21st century hardly begun? Can this Cambrian explosion of intelligence which Garreau ascribed to today’s technologies represent the coming of post-humanity? What and where could be the social impact of all the changes brought about by this upheaval?

If people are capable of being enhanced, the ultimate question is whether those or the rest of us who fell farther behind could still hold a common human nature with them. Or is this just the way the history of human evolution unfolds?

In Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, the President’s Council on Bioethics has raised several questions about the use of drugs and techniques such as anabolic steroids and antidepressant as enhancement technologies in making ourselves better than well, to put it in psychiatrist Peter Kramer’s memorable phrase. Which of the biomedical interventions for the sake of superior performance, for example, are consistent with our full development as human beings? Or in a philosophical way, what do these interventions tell us about the nature of human activity and the meaning of human identity?

Virtually every question raised by new medical technologies opens a Pandora’s Box of bioethical dilemmas.

Bill McKibben in Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age cautions that we have  reached a point of diminishing returns on new developments, which means that it’s time to say “Enough.” It’s bringing us to “the moment when we stand precariously on the sharp ridge between the human past and the post human future.”

We need to slow down, as McKibben believes is necessary, because the new biotechnologies are taking away our limited opportunity to define our lives that has been left by technology’s disenchantment of the universe we live in.