Sunday, December 30, 2007


I have seen for myself the evidence, in your own handwriting, that must have convicted you. The original of a letter you wrote in 1893, in your own elegant hand, presented at Trial in 1896, but hidden for nearly a hundred years in a Spanish monastery. Words you wrote from the depths of your heart in dark Dapitan, proclaiming, defending and glorying in the Shipwreck of your Faith! A veritable handwritten confession to Capital Apostasy that merited, in the eyes of the Court, no less than execution and death. But how and why such stunning and definitive evidence came before the honorable Court transcends all other mysteries surrounding the events leading up to December 30. Why that evidence was then hidden away by the Jesuits is for me the most telling sign of a guilty and uneasy conscience on their part. In shame and guilt, they just had to HIDE the murder weapon. It would seem that your "friends" and "mentors" tried to bend you to their will one last time, but in failing to do so, succumbed themselves to the essential vanity and venality of absolute power: the power over the right to life, and not just liberty or the pursuit of happiness. They failed to win your surrender by dangling the possibility of a Catholic marriage to Josephine, insisting you "retract" to win such permission. They did not know about the Miscarriage, it seems... But never, never had these Men in Skirts suffered such a bitter intellectual and moral defeat as at your hands with, "Nego supositum!" Three hundred years of Jesuit pride of place in the Archipelago were not to be upended by one willful and self-aggrandizing indio, who somehow managed to master the Castillian language and refute three centuries of Spanish colonial education policy.

Pablo Pastells convicted you after realizing how you had toyed with him and refuted the dogmatism he thought still prevailed in the world. They had no choice. Here was an utterly religious man of science who denied their version of Catholicism. The Jesuits silently pronounced the first of what has become a famous annual imperative (or expletive): Fuego!

Your family knew the truth, which is why in 1911, when you had become, by American ingenuity and genuine admiration of your fellow countrymen, the National Hero, your sisters refused the Jesuit Order the high honor of officiating at your final funerary rites. The honor was bestowed on the Masonic Temple of Tondo, in honor of many fallen revolutionary heroes, for your transfer from digs at the old Paco Chinese Cemetery to the present lonely Monument by the Sea at the Luneta.

There of course, to this day, you are guarded day and night, lest you get out and cause more trouble.
Martyrdom becomes you.

In some ways, Pepe, you had to die. Just like Jesus Christ before you, and Ninoy Aquino and Benazir Bhutto...

Your literature broke the hypnotic spell of the Spanish Taliban, the stifling hand that for centuries endeavored by official fiat and conscious policy to deprive the indios of the knowledge of the world, of language and tradition, of history and religion. You proved that morality is not the same as religion. You stole the light of language and lit a prairie fire with it that singed the Spanish to their balls and their armpits. As the inventor of Damaso and Ibarra, of Maria Clara, Dona de Espadana, Basilio, Simoun, Padre Florentino, and dozens of other memorable characters with Shakespearean vitality and variety, you have yourself become immortal as part of our imagination and history. Your thoughts and words, your literature, are already there, suffusing our hearts and minds even before we know it.

I think I know why the Americans chose you. They sensed a creative kindred spirit, like Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin in you, though I prefer an analogy to Miguel de Cervantes cum Mark Twain. Too bad neither Andres Bonifacio nor Emilio Aguinaldo amounted to George Washington.

But you Sir, belong to the Aristocracy of all humanity. Even America sensed that immediately. You would be right at home in the 21st Century. And of course, here at Philippine Commentary, you most certainly are.

Here, you are loved and cherished, not worshipped.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Killed By Neo-Taliban Al Qaeda

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has been claimed by Al Qaeda (via The Belmont Club and Bill Roggio in The Long War Journal) -- this after she had taken an an openly pro-Western stand since returning to Pakistan saying she would permit U.S. troops to hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory and allow international investigation of nuclear proliferator, A. Q. Khan.

Al Qaeda's central command is taking credit for today's successful assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A senior al Qaeda military leader in Afghanistan has contacted Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist for the Asia Times and Adnkronos International with close connections to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and bragged about killing Bhutto.

"We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen," Mustafa Abu al Yazid, al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, told Mr. Shazad. The attack was reportedly ordered at the highest levels of al Qaeda.

"It is believed that the decision to kill Bhutto, who is the leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was made by al-Qaeda No. 2, the Egyptian doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri in October," Mr. Shazad also reported. "Death squads were allegedly constituted for the mission and ultimately one cell comprising a defunct Lashkar-i-Jhangvi’s Punjabi volunteer succeeded in killing Bhutto."

Andrew MacCarthy minces no words in exposing the face of the real enemy in Pakistan, where the Global Jihad threatens to become a nuclear power, strangely enough, on the strength of what some of our local "jihadists" might praise as "People Power" while managing to denigrate Democracy itself.

At the NRO Symposium on the assassination, Victor Davis Hanson is sobering, as usual:
Pakistan is a nuclear dictatorship, with a thin Westernized elite sitting atop a vast medieval Islamist badlands that it cannot control. Today’s events show that the very notion of a pro-Western politician coming to power legitimately is unlikely for the immediate future.

Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee, among others, have suggested that it’s about time to consider incursions into Pakistan to strike al-Qaeda. That would be like putting a needle into a doughboy: The problem is not a particular region, or a particular Pakistani figure, but Pakistan itself, founded as an Islamic state, and by nature prone to extremism. It is the most anti-American country in the region and we should accept that and move on.

Our relations were always based on the flawed idea its Islamic and autocratic essence made it a good bulwark against communist Russia and socialist India. But the world has changed, and we should too. It is long past time to smile and curtail aid — and quit arming it with weapons that are more likely to be used against our friend India as bin Laden.

I would imagine once most of the “reform” candidates are killed or cowered, the emboldened terrorist animals will turn on their government feeders — even as the Pakistani street somehow blames us.
The assassination is having an immediate effect on US electoral politics going into the crucial primary season.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ho Ho Ho Merry Christrmas Everybody!

Comes a Merry Christmas once again
To Philippine Commentary.
Because of you, dear Reader.
Even those who disagree,
(From whom we learn the most.)

And so this toast of thanks and hope
For another blessed year in your tender company.

Merry Christmas one and all!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Technology and Innovation, Not the Church of Gore

f all the alternatives to OIL and the burning of fossil fuels as the principal source of the human race's energy, I thought at first that nuclear energy would emerge as the best option. But a Grand Solar Plan in the January 2008 Scientific American could give even Nuclear Fusion advocates a run for their Carbon Tax dollars.
  • A massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy by 2050.
  • A vast area of photovoltaic cells would have to be erected in the Southwest. Excess daytime energy would be stored as compressed air in underground caverns to be tapped during nighttime hours.
  • Large solar concentrator power plants would be built as well.
  • A new direct-current power transmission backbone would deliver solar electricity across the country.
  • But $420 billion in subsidies from 2011 to 2050 would be required to fund the infrastructure and make it cost-competitive.
As the article makes clear, this concrete and eminently doable plan (at least on paper) would supply the energy for about 344 million rechargeable electric powered vehicles, using about 30,000 square miles of sunlit land area, which is comparable to that taken up by coal-fired power plants and the coal mines that service them.

I'm sure that America will do something big like this, since it is not really much more ambitious than the Interstate Highway system built after World War II, or the telecommunications infrastructure rolled out over the last 30 years.

Once a clear, "can-do" proposal like this is seen by the American people, it is the sort of thing that will galvanize them into action much more than Al Gore's millenarianian church with carbon-tax collection plates. It is the kind of vastly ambitious but practical and no-nonsense project that the people and government of the United States have proven in the past that they are capable and eager for.

We shall see who actually solves the world's energy and environmental problems--the prophets of doom or the engines of technology and innovation that represent the leading edge of human adaptation. Survival of the smartest. Ideological resentment and Gore's America-bashing will look mighty foolish the day they turn on that new solar-powered DC-Electrical Backbone and people "plug in" instead of "fill up" while the rest of the world's environmental Cassandras attend conferences and issue manifestos.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Makes a Survey Scientific?

There are two kinds of public opinion poll or survey: the statistically SCIENTIFIC poll and the statistically ENTERTAINING poll. To explain the difference requires a number of preliminary considerations...

First the following important distinction. Public opinion surveys can be divided quite neatly into two kinds--(1) those surveys that make definite predictions about how some FUTURE event will turn out, and (2) those that don't. In both types of survey, typically 1200 randomly selected respondents are asked to fill in a multiple choice questionnaire, but as the following representative examples will show, only the first type of surveys lead to testable predictions of the survey results and pollsters interpretation of them. The second type of survey does not make testable predictions about future events but only produces "snapshots" of how the respondents answer some arbitrary survey question. These questions are often commissioned by clients of the survey outfits and scientifically polled and analysed by them, but which are never tested by some independent objective EVENT that will either verify or confirm the scientific validity of the survey, its relevance, materiality or utility.

An example of the first kind of public opinion survey are the periodic voter preference surveys conducted by both survey outfits in the run-up to national elections. Based upon the series of random samples that the pollsters ask to see how the candidates are doing with the voters before the elections, trends may be discerned and pollsters can predict how the elections will actually turn out. Thus the scientific integrity of the survey is tested on all critical technical aspects by the actual results of the elections such as (1) the question design; (2) the random sample data acquisition procedure; (3) the data analysis, interpretation and prediction of likely winners and losers. Generally speaking, the work of SWS and Pulse Asia on this type of survey has been outstanding and world class. In almost all cases their predictions of how elections eventually turn out have been within the bounds of expected statistical variation based on their typical respondent sample sizes and resulting margin of error. In my judgment the voter preference surveys trending upcoming elections in the Philippines conducted by SWS and Pulse are statistically SCIENTIFIC.

Another very good example of statistically SCIENTIFIC polls are consumer product preference surveys conducted by marketing research outfits on behalf of clients who are launching new products or new packaging of old products and who are testing various alternatives and options. These surveys are also validated by how well they do against actual results after product launch.

What about the second type of public opinion polls that don't make testable predictions and are only statistically ENTERTAINING? Which surveys of SWS and Pulse Asia involve questions to respondents that don't lead to trends and predictions and therefore are never tested by some independent, objective and decisive event?

In the case of SWS the most famous of these are the SELF-RATED POVERTY and HUNGER surveys, which make for great big banner headlines about every three months screaming that hunger is at "peak record levels" and poverty incidence is causing little girls to commit suicide. But of course none of these numbers can ever be challenged or tested in any effective or automatic way like voter preference surveys which have the elections to keep them credible. In the case of Pulse Asia, the recent example is the survey on who is the most corrupt President (cleverly and craftily designed and commissioned by Senator Serge Osmena) which turned up Mrs. Arroyo as being even more corrupt than Ferdinand Marcos.

Although this second category of surveys are scientifically conducted, they are not proper scientific statistical surveys, in my humble opinion, because they do not present a TESTABLE HYPOTHESIS that the subsequently collected data is supposed to affirm or deny. They may be professionally conducted by SWS and Pulse, but any conclusions, predicitons or interpretations of such data are merely STATISTICALLY ENTERTAINING since there is no future even to test their validity.

Objective, independent testability of a survey's results, predictions and analysis are what make it SCIENTIFIC.

Although science can be ENTERTAINING, don't be fooled when SWS or Pulse conducts and reports on the second type of survey. They are just paying the bills, not advancing science. In this sense, Public Opinion Polling as such really IS a genre of Journalism--it is a mix of hard data (news), opinion and editorializing by the pollsters designers and commissioners (views) and entertainment based on fun with numbers and questionnaires.

Over at the Philippine Daily Innuendo, which through the years has largely practiced and promoted the use of surveys as a genre of propaganda and innumeracy, there is at least John Nery (Newsstand blog) a PDI senior editor who has done a good deal to correct the situation by taking the trouble to understand Statistics 101 and actually attempt to apply it to real surveys. I hope he will continue to encourage his colleagues in journalism to study math and statistics too. Please note that John Nery's Five Rules of Thumb for understanding surveys refers ONLY to election surveys.

Surveys that are tested may be trusted. Those that are not tested by some external event like an election are really NOT scientific surveys at all, but they do trade upon the reputation of the pollster. Such surveys do have some validity in the sense that they are the result of random sampling techniques. However, I think that survey questions which will not be put to the test in a real objective event have mainly JOURNALISTIC and not scientific value.

Manuel L. Quezon III turns in a thoughtful lamentation on the matter of alleged public apathy and indifference starting with some choice quotes from Ninoy Aquino. I say alleged because he may really be referring to the apparent inability of the fiercely anti-GMA opposition to scare up even the shadow of an Edsa Dos style regime change. Having used that trick to get into power, GMA sees any attempt at flattery-by-imitation a mile away and nips it in the bud.
Despite one devastating scandal and controversy after another hounding the President, the magical combination of civil society outrage, military withdrawal of support and a judiciary willing to savage the Constitution has so far eluded the Edsa-envious and the scattered Opposition. Compared to Erap's kanto boy plunder of jueteng, GMA is possibly guilty of big league crimes like political murders and enforced disappearances, suppression of human rights and Press Freedom. No less than UN Human Rights Rapporteur Philip Alston has turned in a largely negative Final Report on her administration on the extrajudicial killings issue. The President countered brilliantly by getting King Juan Carlos of Spain to give her a Gold Medal for Human Rights, trading largely on her abolition of the death penalty in 2006.

So far, the Public has tolerated Arroyo, who is entering eight years in power, even if Pulse Asia says they think she is their most corrupt leader of the last five. But her enemies have simply never gotten it together like Erap's enemies once did. Having survived so much already, GMA seems to have turned into pure teflon-on-steel, untouchable and immutable, treating all opposition news, views and rebellions as political noise to be ignored or suppressed. Or ruthlessly exploited for political and propaganda advantage as in the Manila Peninsula incident when Trillanes and the Mass Media played a lethal Game of Chicken with the Authorities, but blinked.

How has GMA gotten away with so much and for so long
? It may have to do with the problem of the alternative. Consider that the "Civilian Component" of the Manila Peninsula Rebellion of Sonny Trillanes, such as it was, included the likes of Linggoy Alcuaz, Mentong Laurel, Dodong Nemenzo, Bishop Julio Labayen, Tito Guingona. Together with the CPP national united front organization Kapisanan ng Makabayaang Ekonomista, these same individuals had been calling for the immediate resignation of the President, Veep, Senate President and House Speaker to make way for a transition government to be headed by Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Not even snap elections, the bums! Puno reportedly issued a statement saying he is "neutral" on the proposed Treason, instead of roundly denouncing it as another illegal Regime Change a la Davide 2001. But Puno should set his sights higher--on Geneva and the international justice scene. Those human rights Rules of Court under his watch are absolutely brilliant. Writ of amparo and habeas data by Puno should trump even Davide's judicial coup d'etat on Erap and the Separation of Powers.

There is another reason I say "alleged public apathy" -- I don't think the Filipino people have been sitting around just taking it from their Failed Ruling Classes -- past, present and future. They've been busy as OFWs (what the Sour Grapers call "toilet bowl cleaners of the world") raking in and sending home the over ONE BILLION DOLLARS A MONTH which is the rising tide raising all boats in this God-forsaken archipelago. We are care-givers to humanity and the world. We are not indolent apathetics. And as we send back and return the fruits of our labor to our families and children, whom we have not at all abandoned or forgotten, as the Sour Grapers grouse, the spell is broken, the voices of political correctness and social authority lose their omniscience, lose their ability to abash us. The solutions to our own problems lie in our own hands, and not of saviors, or leaders with vain ideologies.

MLQ3 renews a favorite pitch of his (and mine) for "a common political vocabulary"--which I locate in the Constitution, and urge upon him and other utilitarians the greater appreciation for the Social Contract tradition of interpreting constitutions, citizen's and institution's rights, duties and privileges.

MLQ3 ends with a quote from Inday Varona Espina's recent essay in Graphic Magazine
“The young agree about hell lying in wait. But they think the solution lies elsewhere: Collective tinkering with a wheezing vehicle, the dismantling of roadblocks and a more discerning choice of routes. These acts require sober dialogue, not the hissy fits coming from all shades of the political spectrum these days.” So we must ask ourselves, how well do we understand the engine we intend to tinker with?
I really like the dark, quirky, unpredictable column pieces that Ms. Inday Varona Espina has produced over the years as The Scarred Cat. But that was mainly before she became chairman of National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and editor of Philippine Graphic Magazine. (By the way, I once shared a double bunk bed with her predecessor, Luis Mauricio, editor of the same venerable publication in September, 1972, when Ferdinand Marcos arrested us both along with about a hundred others including Ninoy Aquino and Chino Roces from both the Mass Media and the Political Opposition, on the night Martial Law came down.)

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has a ways to go in order to become Ferdinand Marcos, in my book, which also says on Page One: Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Freedom!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Is Global Warming the New Y2K Bug Without a Deadline?

PLANETARY EMERGENCY Since CNN has been showing large chunks of the polar ice caps slipping noiselessly but ominously into the sea, many are quite convinced that the world will end not in fire or ice, but in another Flood. In fact some think we are already in the midst of a planetary emergency because of catastrophic man-made Global Warming, even if more polar bears die from hunters than drowning. But is the price of further human progress the end of the world? Have we made war on the Earth itself, as Al Gore suggests and are locked in a relationship of Mutually Assured Destruction? Can a tax save the earth from the laws of economics and thermodynamics, as well as close the Gap between the Rich and the Poor? Do the rich nations of the world owe pollution reparations to the poor nations, and do poor nations have an equal right to pollute the atmosphere, at least for a while until they have both sinned the same amount against Gaia? Is green the new yellow journalism? Is global warming the new Y2K Bug without a deadline?

Update: Contrarians at Bali More than 100 scientists led by physicist Freeman Dyson and veterans of the IPCC itself have signed an open letter (full text) to UN's Ban Kie Moon urging adaptation instead of futile attempts to "fight" climate change with sin taxes.

Upon hearing he had won the Nobel Peace Prize last October, former US Vice President Al Gore said that, "We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level."

A TAX TO SAVE THE POLLUTION SINNERS OF THE WORLD Gore repeated this basic theme in his 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture in Oslo and Bali this past week. He proposes a grand and sweeping solution to global warming in clarion call speeches that have energized a global environmental movement to "fight" climate change...with taxation that will also by the way, close the Gap between the Rich and Poor. Gore is way beyond just the US Presidency.
AL GORE (Nobel Lecture): "This week, I will urge the delegates in Bali to adopt a bold mandate for a treaty that establishes a universal global cap on emissions and uses the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions...

We also need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.

And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon -- with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis."

Here also is the Nobel Lecture of R.K. Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this year's co-winner with Gore for work on global warming, summing up the scientific data and the general consensus that it is "anthropogenic" or man made--but not necessarily how to deal with it.

According to Al Gore, the way out of this Global Warming problem is by imposing a new global sin tax based on the amount of carbon dioxide pollution a given activity represents, shifting the tax burden "from employment to pollution." For example, if I take a vacation that involves jet travel, I ought to be taxed according to my share of the damage done to the environment as a result of my flights, with the tax proceeds being used for environmental remediation. Of course, the assumption is that the governments or institutions that end up with my sin tax can effectively undertake remedial efforts or channel the taxes in such a way as to offset at least the amount of damage I've caused, and not just fund bureaucracy and regulators' polluting vacations!

It's not a new idea. Taxation is the economic mainspring of Gore's "organizing principle for human civilization". Yale University Professor of Economics, William Nordhaus (pdf) has analyzed Gore's proposals and concludes that they would result in $12 trillion of climate mitigation -- at cost of $34 trillion in taxes.

BEFORE BALI WAS KYOTO Writing in the Wall Street Journal University of Buckingham's Prof. Julian Morris points out some interesting facts about the Kyoto Protocol:
Even if the Kyoto Protocol were fully implemented — not just by the EU, but by all of the more than 160 signatories — and its restrictions kept in place until 2100, its effect on the climate would barely be discernible. It would merely delay the projected warming by less than a decade over the course of the next century. Meanwhile, the economic cost has been estimated at between 0.1% and 3% of gross world product. Even at the lower end, that is an enormous price to pay for essentially no benefit.
Ron Bailey of ReasonOnline in a dispatch from Bali :
RON BAILEY: "In his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, Gore argued, "We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization." Man-made global warming is an economic and technical problem of the sort that humanity has solved many times. For example, forests are expanding in rich countries because they have well-developed private property rights. Also in rich countries, regulations have helped once polluted rivers and lakes to become clean and have drastically cut air pollution. One of the keys to solving environmental problems is economic growth and wealth. Economists have identified various income thresholds at which various air and water pollutants begin to decline, with many indicators improving once GDP per capita in a country reaches around $8,000 per year. So keep in mind that anything that unduly retards economic growth also retards ultimate environmental clean-up, including global warming.

In any case, global warming is not the result of environmental sin; it is the result of human progress creating another commons problem. We do not need to "lift global consciousness"; we need to find a cheap, low-carbon source of energy. I have no doubt that man-made global warming is an economic and technical problem that an inventive humanity will solve over the course of the 21st century."
Regular readers of Philippine Commentary may recall my previous postings on
Garrett Hardin's famous article in the peer-reviewed journal Science (1968) on The Tragedy of the Commons which is particularly relevant to Global Warming--a problem that involves the global commons. Here the sense of the word "tragedy" is that of Alfred North Whitehead: "The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things."

An important conclusion about problems involving public commons is that there is no "technical solution" to the basic problem. It's like the game of tic-tac-toe. There is no way to win once all players become familiar with the game. Keeping the "commons" publicly accessible inexorably leads to the destruction of the commons. The only solution is to turn such commons into private property. I don't know how we do that to the global commons.

I am also not sure yet how Gore's ideas fit into this framework. If the new CO2 tax he is proposing is likened to a sin tax, we only have to look at the continued prevalence of gambling, drinking and smoking to wonder if this is the right way to go. On the other hand, if it spurs the development of new technologies that don't have the problem of discharging CO2 into the atmosphere, could a case not be made for such taxes being beneficial?

Not if they degrade human living standards or retard economic development, since the more immediate needs of food, shelter and clothing cannot easily be sacrificed for the dubious benefit of seeing a graph move in the right direction at the IPCC headquarters in the UN.

BEING LIKE THE COCONUT TREE...There is an entirely Filipino way of looking at this, which may be more universal than the parable referred to implies. Perhaps the right way to deal with global warming is to accept the fact that it may be the inevitable product of the Laws of Thermodynamics, that it is unavoidable unless we want to shun the elementary and tangible benefits of industrializaon and modernizing human societies and communities. In which case, we would want to put more of our efforts into ADAPTATION to a warmer, wetter world. Maybe it means giving up large coastal areas over the course of the next few centuries. Maybe it means living in and conquering the undersea territories of the earth--about two thirds of it waiting to be recovered. Maybe it means bending to the weather and rising to the technological challenge, instead of flagellating ourselves for inventing refrigerators and jet airplanes and lengthening the human life span and building air conditioned cities.

I'm with those who say science and technology ought to lead the way on this one, not the politicians or the prophets of doom of the environmental religion.

Something to keep an eye on too is the possibility that all the planets are warming and that something happening with the sun is responsible for global warming on earth and not human activities. The polar ice caps on MARS have reportedly been shrinking too, over the century since we've been imagining water channels built by Martians there have drained them to supply vast civilizations of err, Rednecks.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Right to Life Has Priority Over the Right to Know

To hear some Journalists talk (MP3) they are the true and authentic heroes of the Information Age. Can some Senators and politicians do anything but nod their heads in avid obsequiousness? Well, we can be fairly certain that the Mass Media can win virtually any public argument involving Press Freedom since they famously use barrels of ink (and oodles of bandwidth) in the daily exercise of their Constitutional right to sell news, views and entertainment to us, the Public, whose insatiable Right to Know they claim to serve. But what I know is the Right to Life has just priority over the Right to Know, and when Media men and women become the Message, journalists become public personalities and may as well run for public office, as they are largely lost to the profession once they effectively deny the official fiction of neutrality and objectivity. The inability of most of the Mass Media to state unambiguous rules of engagement vis-a-vis "the yellow line" is a most dangerous ambiguity--what one newspaper called "the insufferable conceit of the Press. "

Freedom of Speech is truly the governing principle of the Free Market of Ideas and the entire subjective experience of the citizenry in a pluralistic and open democratic society. The right to speak necessarily implies the right to be heard, as well as the right to hear what others are saying. Thus the Public's Right to Know is the Public's right to get news, views and entertainment, as well as education, the arts, history and knowledge of every sort, that would be frustrated without the ability of some to provide information to others, oftentimes for a fee disguised in the beguilements of advertising or the price of tuition.

Information is a prime commodity in a world where most forms of wealth including the business infrastructure itself are a form of intellectual property. Thus the buying, selling, trading and commercialization of news, views, entertainment, education, and all other forms of information is an integral part of our civilization.

A newspaper, radio, television station is a commercial enterprise which manufactures and packages news, views and entertainment, or some other form of information desired by the Public. Free enterprise includes the concept of a Free Press. The Public's Right to Know is really the Public's right to maintain a free marketplace for those Ideas called news, views and entertainment, and the rights to buy, sell, trade, make and disseminate them.

Professional journalism, at least on the news gathering side, can be seen as an organized form of data acquisition and dissemination in which the News Reporter is duty-bound to accurately record and report the facts of a story (who, what, when, where, why, how) and in controversial issues to get all sides.

In order to accomplish this feat of getting accurate information from sometimes tightlipped, busy or hostile sources, it has been traditional for news reporters, as such, to be objective, neutral, or at least accessible to all in order to gain access and not be seen as biased or unreliable. In this way, the newspaper, tv or radio station that becomes the outlet for such information gathered by reporters can build up a good reputation and become "credible" to the Public. Product loyalty is built up by the Mass Media at least partially on the credibility of its news even though no one has ever lost money underestimating the Buying Public's intelligence or overestimating its undying preference for the entertaining.

Yesterday, what we witnessed in the Philippine Senate was a remarkable event in which the Mass Media have become a big part of the Message...

The Senate hearing on the Nov. 29 Manila Peninsula incident chaired by Senators Chiz Escudero and Gringo Honasan was attended by well known Media Personalities who have definitely become a part of the National News. Malaya's Ellen Tordesillas and Jake Macasaet; NHK's Manila correspondent Charlene Deogracias; Ms. dela Pena Reyes of GMA-7; PDI's Gil Cabacungan; ABSCBN's Maria Ressa; National Press Club's Roy Mabasa; Ruben Canoy of Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas; Mr. Tony Lopez of the Manila Overseas Press Club. They are as much Public Personalities as the First Gentleman, or any Senator.

As usual invited Executive Dept. officials, police and military officials were no-shows at the hearing but the pusillanimous Senate has done nothing to compel their attendance to cooperate with the Congress in aid of legislation.

The hearing gave mass media personalities a nationally televised soapbox to air their grievances about the incident. There seems to be especial umbrage taken by some of the Journalists upon being arrested by lowly SPO1s instead of Metrocom Colonels and above, as in the time of the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos. That was before they even invented plastic tie locs, but the MOPC's Tony Lopez was wrong to claim that more journalists were arrested at the Manila Pen than during Marcos' martial law. There is simply no comparison, susmaryosep!

Even before the hearing itself started, Vergel O. Santos of Business World and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, said on ANC that Press Freedom of Speech and the right of the public to know should have the highest priority in the hierarchy of our democratic rights and freedoms. Compared to what I wonder?

Isn't the true priority self-evident in the traditional formula naming the triumvirate of our most essential Rights as those to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Surely there is no Liberty or Freedom to be exercised, even by a Journalist, if he or she should happen to lose their life for refusing to heed reasonable orders by lawful authority to clear a crime scene or potential battle ground.

Asked by Sen. Dick Gordon whether she she was maybe getting in the way of police at the Manila Pen and endangering not only her life but that of others, Malaya's Ellen Tordesillas did her best Lil Bo Peep act claiming there was no way she could possibly be in the way of a tank and several APCs worth of SWAT Teams trying to arrest several armed Magdalo rebels with uncertain intentions or capabilities. Why did she have to respect the Police's yellow line when she was already inside the line before it was set up, she asked plaintively. If there was going to be any action, she claimed she would only be recording, not getting in the way of the massacre and bloodbath.

Meanwhile the MOPC's Tony Lopez intoned the argument that safety is the journalist's lookout, insisting to Senator Dick Gordon that even if a few reporters or camera men had been killed at the Manila Pen, that the Media would accept such losses as part of the profession or vocation they have chosen. But it is an argument that is disingenuous. It can only be made because no one was killed in this incident. But I bet he would have been singing an entirely new song if there were any fatalities on that day. It's a little self-serving to proclaim a willingness to die while covering the beat and Tony was clearly having fun with the whole thing, especially after Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan stroked his ego by opining how senatorial was his testimony.

What strikes me as paradoxical is how journalists can claim to be willing to accept getting killed in a crossfire, but will complain for being arrested and "processed" by the cops for a few hours. What did they expect, after they refused to clear out despite several ultimatums from the authorities. Rebellion charges are being brought against Trillanes, Lim and several others as a result of that incident. I think the journalists who refused to clear out, came dangerously close to obstruction of justice, or at aleast, interfering with the police.

I find it particularly charming for Tony Lopez to suggest that he wouldn't mind journalists getting killed, as long as it isn't intentional. As if it were only their lives that might be endangered by their presence. What about the law enforcers themselves who have to deal with a potentially deadly situation while having to deal with civilians who may have no idea what is going on and are in fact only trying to find out. Surely, between the work of the police and the work of the journalists both Democracy and Common Sense agree as to who ought to please just get out of the way until the smoke clears.

The Right to Know surely does not abrogate the Rule of Law because it simply does not trump the Right to Life.

Not all Mass Media agree with Ellen and Tony about this lexical priority of rights, as Maria Ressa of ABSCBN News at least has declared that "No news reporter would be willing to die for a story." But I think Maria Ressa wants to claim for broadcast television the same Press Freedom that print media journalists like Ellen and Tony are used to.

Are all Mass Media created equal? Apparently not. Today's Senate hearing delved in some detail into the very real distinction between Print Media (such as newspapers and magazines on the one hand), and broadcast media on the other (such as television and radio).

Because the airwaves used by both TV and Radio (actually the electromagnetic frequency spectrum) are considered to be part of the national patrimony, like its lands, seas and rivers, a Congressional Franchise is required to operate radio or tv stations. As found in a typical franchise of this kind the broadcasters are being granted a privilege "to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain for commercial purposes and in the public interest, radio and/or television broadcasting stations in the Philippines..."
SEC. 5. Right of Government. - A special right is hereby reserved to the President of the Philippines, in times of war, rebellion, public peril, calamity, emergency, disaster or disturbance of peace and order, to temporarily take over and operate the stations or facilities of the grantee, to temporarily suspend the operation of any station or facility in the interest of public safety, security and public welfare, or to authorize the temporary use and operation thereof by any agency of the government, upon due compensation to the grantee, for the use of said stations or facilities during the period when they shall be so operated.
Now, I do agree with Tony Lopez that this is an anachronism that has been rendered obsolete by technology. There should be no distinction made in Law among the various forms of the Mass Media. Newspapers ought to be treated the same as broadcasters and subject to the same equal and equitable protections and restrictions.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Long Live Sancho Panza!

Raul Panganlangan calls the Filipinos "A Nation of Sancho Panzas" while equating Antonio Trillanes to Don Quixote, with a straight face! --
We crucify the Don Quixotes and sanctify the Sancho Panzas ever craving for the petty dukeships we covet. We deride Quixotes’s Dulcinea because she was not real and was a mere figment of his fertile imagination. We mock the dreamers whose dreams we had the power to give -- and then blame them that we didn’t. We treat revolutions and coup attempts as if we had absolutely nothing to do with them.
The reality in this case, of course, was that "we" the Public had absolutely nothing to do with Trillanes' artless attempt to tilt at windmills at the Manila Pen. Our covetous craving for petty dukeships had little to do with it, as even Teddy Casino and the Left could not make head or tail of the short-lived putsch. The Manila Pen was a farce that some are trying to aggrandize into some Battle between Good and Evil, or the perpetual struggle between the idealistic and the pragmatic. Or the Battle for Press Freedom.

Manuel L. Quezon III continues the bashing of Sancho Panza in the words of Leon Ma. Guerrero and accuses the Spanish government of indolently engaging in the "hazy security of nostalgia" while giving President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo a gold medal for abolishing the death penalty, thereby exalting her entire human rights record. The inconvenient fact is that Arroyo did abolish the death penalty, a quintessentially liberal accomplishment left uncherished by her erstwhile admirers in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Here is how PDI editorial sour graped at the Spanish fly in the ointment:
For abolishing the death penalty, the King of Spain toasted the President as a champion of human rights. He described the Philippines under her regime as being “at the forefront of liberties and the defense of human rights with the abolition of the death penalty, a gesture which gave us satisfaction.” A gesture, the King added, that was “applauded by the international community.”

Quick. Give the Spanish King a copy of Alston’s final report.

President Arroyo has shrewdly used no less than the Spanish King Juan Carlos to trump the hand of United Nations rapporteur Philip Alston and not even PDI can out-innuendo the international press covering Europe and the Spanish royal family. They can't change the subject right now. Malacanang Palace is giving tit-for-tat on the extrajudicial killings issue perhaps because it senses the Bum's Rush from the Left and it's allies. Given the boost she got from the Manila Pen incident, Pres. Arroyo has pressed her advantage on the international stage not only in Espana and Brittania but also in Kuwait, by now saving the life of OFW Marilou Ranario spared at Arroyo's last minute plea by the Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

PDI readers have certainly gotten a bad impression of Sancho Panza this past week. But in a recent Guardian essay, Professor of Literature at Yale University, Harold Bloom says of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes:
The heroism of Don Quixote is by no means constant: he is perfectly capable of flight, abandoning poor Sancho to be beaten up by an entire village. Sancho, as Kafka remarked, is a free man, but Don Quixote is metaphysically and psychologically bound by his dedication to knight errantry. We can celebrate the knight's endless valour, but not his literalisation of the romance of chivalry. I would rather be Falstaff or Sancho than a version of Hamlet or Don Quixote, because growing old and ill teaches me that being matters more than knowing. The knight and Hamlet are reckless beyond belief; Falstaff and Sancho have some awareness of discretion in matters of valour.
Which is really more than can be said for Antonio Trillanes, who tossed his cookies out the window of the Manila Pen. But of larger significance to me is the propagation by Pangalangan and Quezon of a certain interpretation of the West's canonical novel, Don Quixote, which I call the Impossible Dream idealism. This complements and appeals as consolation to the perverse Filipino taste for defeatism and victimhood expressed in the continuing official holidays commemorating surrenders, defeats, betrayals, and of course, Rizal's execution and death on December 30. Here is Harold Bloom again, after reminding us that in the novel, Don Quixote "dies" to become again Quijano the Good, whom Sancho Panza wishes would begin the Quest anew, and gives us the definition and interpretation of it,
"Perhaps the Quixotic can be accurately defined as the literary mode of an absolute reality, not as impossible dream but rather as a persuasive awakening into mortality...This curious blend of the sublime and the bathetic does not come again until Kafka, another pupil of Cervantes, would compose stories like "The Hunter Gracchus" and "A Country Doctor". To Kafka, Don Quixote was Sancho Panza's demon or genius, projected by the shrewd Sancho into a book of adventure unto death. In Kafka's marvellous interpretation, the authentic object of the knight's quest is Sancho Panza himself, who as an auditor refuses to believe Don Quixote's account of the cave. So I circle back to my question: Does the knight believe his own story? It makes little sense to answer either "yes" or "no", so the question must be wrong. We cannot know what Don Quixote and Hamlet believe, since they do not share in our limitations."
The Press ought to aspire to be more like Sancho Panza to all our would-be Don Quixotes, not less!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Oblivious Human Shields and the Right to Be In Harm's Way

he recently famous statement of ABSCBN's Maria Ressa notwithstanding that "No reporter is willing to die for a news story," Senator Sonny Trillanes did cynically use an apparently all-too-willing, or oblivious, Mass Media and various civilian and military supporters, as human shields in a press conference that suddenly turned into another spectacular standoff this time at the Manila Peninsula Hotel a week ago. This is no way to be a Senator. And there are better ways of taking advantage of the the Mass Media than involving them in Regime Change stunts that are doomed to fail and gets everybody into plastic tie-locs and serious trouble with the Law.

Commodore Rex Robles of the Feliciano Commission investigating the 2004 Oakwood Mutiny, accuses Trillanes of strengthening the hand and hold of President Arroyo on the helm of power by jumping off a political cliff with Gen. Danilo Lim in front of the frankly amazed cameras and befuddled reporters at the Manila Peninsula Hotel last week, who would later be arrested for their perspicacity.

Speaking of which, the Mass Media managed to make itself a big part of the News with ample help from the Police. Of course, both sides claim they were just trying to do their jobs in a strange and unpredictable situation, after all, no one knew what Trillanes and his Magdalo cohort were up to or capable of. After the police authorities had asked for everyone to clear out of the hotel, some fifty media people decided to stay and await events, which quickly began to envelop them. Mercifully, surrender from Trillanes and Lim came swiftly as soon as the acrid smell of teargas from the first floor wafted upstairs and live television showed a battle tank with machine guns blazing away at an expensive glass facade as APC's disgorged SWAT teams entering the hotel.

Just between us girls, I think the Media was playing a Game of Chicken with the Cops, who were not however, suckered into a long, protracted stand-off and decided to call everybody's bluff by showing up in a tank with a battalion of special forces to produce a quite welcome stand-down.

But in our society, can the police reasonably expect cooperation from the Media in crisis situations like hostagings, stand offs, kidnappings, etc.? There could easily have been a blood bath at the Manila Pen. but my favorite newspaper, PDI of course, even defends the Freedom of the Press to put journalists in harm's way --
Journalists do not ask for -- and do not need -- special privileges in coverage; they just need a free, unrestricted environment in which they can effectively carry out their principal function of informing the public about what is happening in the country and the world...The media organizations should make their own rules, and individual media persons should make their own decisions, on whether to stay in a potentially dangerous or even fatal place.
Much as we might want to oblige, that country and that world that are the target of journalism are not themselves "free, unrestricted environments"--nor are situations like the stand-off at the Manila Pen last week. After all, the Police could also say, with even more justification that they too, need a "free unrestricted environment" to carry out the tasks of maintaining peace and order, securing the public safety and arresting criminals caught in the act of direct contempt and rebellion. Surely such things as public order and safety, law and order, and national security have priority over the purported right of the public to know, and certainly over the right of the Press to know! Such lack of priority for this right to know lies in the broad and general nature of the right itself and what it actually encompasses.

It is not as if the right of the public to know is limited to what Trillanes and Lim were up on Thursday morning last week. The public also has a right to know what telecomm load or SIM card to buy, what Kris Aquino is struggling with in her colorful life this week, which minor starlet is plugging some aging Lothario, who died, who's hiring, and all the rest of the ocean of "knowledge" that flows as ceaseless messages through the Media. Yet, precious as this right obviously is, it cannot have the highest possible priority.

I agree with constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas' recent remark that journalists do NOT have more freedom than ordinary citizens, even if their professions necessarily expose them to greater hazards to the exercise of those common freedoms.

But there is a curious and self-serving line of reasoning that goes like this... First, the right of the public to know is accorded the highest priority in our constellation of rights because it is believed that an informed public is the best antidote to a corrupt or incompetent government; second, as agents of information to the Public, journalists therefore have the right to a "free, unrestricted environment" in which to do their job "of informing the public about what is happening in the country and the world." In other words, since the public's right to know has the highest possible priority, the right of the Press to Know so it can tell the Public about it, (for a fee of course), should also have the highest priority.

But the biggest fault in all this still lies with with Sonny Trillanes. He refuses to grow up and be a Senator and insists on making an utter fool of himself at every opportunity instead. This time, it looks like he's gotten not only his military buddies in trouble, but "the civilian component" of his support as well.

Rebellion charges have been filed against the following for the Manila Pen stand-off are:
Sen. Antonio Trillanes, Gen. Danilo Lim, former Vice-President Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr., Infanta (Quezon) Bishop Julio Labayen, Rev. Father Robert P. Reyes, Capt. Gary C. Alejano, Capt. Segundino P. Orfiano, Jr., Navy LTSG Manuel D.G. Cabochan, LTSG James A. Layug, LTJG Arturo Pascua, Jr., Lt. Eugene G. Peralta, Lt. Andy G. Torrato, 1Lt. Billy S. Pascua, 1Lt. Jonnel Sangalang, ENS Armand Pontejos, Jose Virgilio "JV" L. Bautista, Argee Guevarra, former University of the Philippines president Francisco Nemenzo, Julius J. Mesa, Cezari Yassir T. Gonzales, Corporal Clecarte D. Dahan, Private First Class (PFC) Juanito Jilbury, PFC Emmanuel C. Tirador, PFC German M. Linde, Myrna H. Buendia, Dominador E. Rull, Jr., Romeo C. Solis, Roel J. Gadon, Rommel R. Loreto, Julian L. Advincula, Francisco N. Bosi, Leodor G. dela Cruz, Sonny B. Madarang, Francisco C. Peñaflor, actress/scriptwriter Elizabeth Siguion-Reyna and the senator’s brother, Antonio III.
The presence has been noted on the above list of Myrna H. Buendia, said by Police Chief Avelino "Sonny" Razon to be a "common law wife" of Jose Maria Sison, and mother to his illegitimate child, as well as a ranking member of the CPP-NPA. What she was doing at the Manila Pen has become one of the side issues in the whole affair, with Gabriela Party List Rep. Liza Maza calling for Ms. Buendia's immediate release. A far more prominent Leftist personality also on the list is former UP president Francisco "Dodong" Nemenzo, who however, defends his presence at the Manila Pen as a form of "academic research." Into what? Experimental Regime Change Techniques?

Among the Catholic clergy, most noteworthy were Infanta bishop emeritus Julio Labayen (from the most NPA infested corner of Quezon province); and Father Robert Reyes (whom I thought was safely in China doing missionary work among the Red Guard instead o running around fomenting protests, hunger strikes and other uhmm, performance art). Both have lately been involved with Tito Guingona and the Kapisanan ng Makabayang Ekonomista (KME) in calls for the formation of a "transition government" run by a Junta headed by Chief Justice Reynato Puno. The latter's lukewarm "declining to accept" the offer and protestations of neutrality and non-involvement in the proposal seemed to me a less than a definitive rejection of the hare-brained and patently anti-constitutional scheme.

"Was the police planning a bloodbath at the Pen?" Neal Cruz naughtily asks after the Mass Media became a major part of the news event at the Manila Pen last Thursday:
"Did they perhaps think that with Trillanes, Lim et al. dead, the threat to the Arroyo administration would be gone? No, sir, it won’t. It would have aroused other soldiers to anger and the desire to get rid of the tyranny of the Arroyo administration would increase and more and bigger mutinies would follow again and again until one of them succeeds. So they should thank the journalists for being there and prevented a bloodbath."
Neal is being convoluted but he wants us to be grateful to the brave and dedicated media men for having prevented a bloodbath! The public should be grateful. Trillanes, Lim and the Magdalo Guy-in-a-Wig should be grateful. And even the government should be grateful -- that by preventing a bloodbath, the media also prevented a military uprising. By preventing the anger of soldiers from being aroused, more and bigger mutinies have been prevented thanks to the media, don't you see?

The Manila Standard's Emil Jurado thinks it was obstruction of justice.

I think everybody got lucky and should thank God because this could easily have turned into a blood bath. It's silly for Neal Cruz to claim credit for the media as having prevented it. There is no doubt of course that a sizeable number of reporters, camera men, and civilian and military supporters of Sonny Trillanes and Danilo Lim could have been subjects of a bloodbath as Neil Cruz grimly suggests. Of course, "BLOODBATH" is a melodramatic ratcheting up even in speculation, from OVERKILL--which was the headline description a few days ago.

Both of these labels fly in the face of the fact that no one was actually killed or hurt. The tactic used by police forces to effect the arrests of Trillanes, Lim and their supporters actually worked like a charm. Carpers in the Press cannot take that away from Razon and the PNP with epithets like "bloodbath" and "overkill" or worse, violation of Press Freedom.