"More breast-beating by sundry parties"
Expectedly for someone with his famously unpredictable reputation, the President threw a number of pretty remarkable bombshells throughout the week that was.
Early last week, Solicitor General Calida started the fireworks by going to the Supreme Court with a quo warranto petition to nullify the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN. Among the accusations raised by Calida: the Lopez-owned network violated its franchise by selling for-pay services to its viewership; violated the Constitution by issuing depositary receipts to foreigners; and violated securities laws by not issuing public shares on time.
Concurrently, the franchise is now also being reviewed by Congress for possible renewal beyond its March expiry. A lot of hair-pulling has been indulged in by various politicians who’re only too aware of the popular network’s hold on public sympathies, which was only confirmed when something like 80 percent of respondents told a survey that, yes, they favored renewal of the franchise.
However, if push comes to shove, less than 50 of the congressmen have actually signed on to the cause of renewal, well short of the 200-plus needed to overturn a Presidential veto. The Supreme Court continues to be dominated by Duterte appointees. As for the public, these are the same folks who still support the President by overwhelming margins. Regardless of how they feel about his treatment of the network, they will always viscerally trust the plain-spoken former mayor as someone who genuinely has their back.
The Lopezes face an uphill battle which may last until 2022. To start with, though, they might wish to explain why they pulled Duterte’s ads during the 2016 campaign, and on top of that, refused to return his money. It’s a simple explanation we’re still waiting to hear amidst all their breast-beating about press freedom. It would be so easy to mollify the President with that explanation—unless, of course, they can’t explain it after all.
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In the middle of the week, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin was instructed by the Executive Secretary, on the President’s behalf, to formally notify the US Embassy that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) would expire after a mandatory six-month notice period.
Again, more breast-beating by sundry parties. The US defense secretary called it a “wrong move.” The Australians warned of a “disastrous weakening” of the region’s defenses. Local armchair pundits predicted gloom and doom. Some of them even went so far as to insinuate that Duterte was treasonously coordinating with the Chinese to weaken the US strategy of encircling China from the seas.
But the people who know better have been saying otherwise. No less than the AFP chief of staff is confident that the Philippines can build its own self-reliant defenses, thank you. Future military alliances have been bruited about—with Russia, Japan, the UK, even China itself—the possibilities are turning out to be so many. As for US President Trump, he said he wasn’t bothered, and even thanked Duterte for helping him to save a lot of money—the same message he’s bringing to other US allies whom he now wants to share in the cost of US military presence on their soil.
I was still living abroad when the US bases here were closed down in the early nineties, but I understand that the experience was pretty traumatic for a country whose loyalties—even today—run so much more to the United States than to anybody else. But that trauma has subsided, and now the former bases have become growth poles. The lesson here is simple: Growing up also means growing away, and that’s never easy to do.
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By the end of the week, since he was already smashing so many sacred cows, Duterte went after a smaller but no less important one: the idea that development and expansion can go on without limit. In its place, he’s raising a new totem: that of environmental sustainability, which is fast becoming the mantra for the new age.
Speaking, ironically enough, at the inauguration of the Sangley Airport development project, Duterte said he will reject all future Manila Bay reclamation projects “because they will just choke the entire city of Manila.” Only government projects—including Sangley—will be entertained. Off the table are up to 25 privately sponsored projects covering 10,000 hectares, spread out from Navotas to Cavite—including four that in fact were already issued notices to proceed.
After the initial euphoria of project launches, the environmentalists are making themselves heard again. What will be the implications of dumping all that sand into Manila Bay—on animal and fish habitats, bird sanctuaries, vegetation cover, the Pasig and other waterways that empty into the bay, on sewerage and drainage system capacities? Duterte advised the affected developers they might have to wait till 2022 and a new president, which gives them enough time to beef up the sustainability side of their project proposals.
Meanwhile, down in Boracay, a whale shark was spotted last year, a nest of turtle eggs hatched, and two other egg nesteries are being monitored. All this so soon after DENR’s Cimatu completed the herculean job of cleaning up that long-abused resort. Are those whale sharks, those baby turtles worth the effort he put in? Yes indeed, and by a mile.
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Today’s readings reflect on the mystery of God’s generosity. In the first one (Jas 1: 12-18), the writer—traditionally held to be James, the “brother of Jesus” and head of the Jewish Christian community—reminds us that God is incapable of tempting us to sin. The origin of sin is actually our own desires. What we may expect instead from the “Father of lights” is “all good giving and every perfect gift”, a Divine generosity that is unchanging.
In the Gospel (Mk 8: 14-21), right after Jesus performed the miracle of the seven loaves of bread, the Pharisees started pestering Him for a sign from heaven, to test Him. Even His disciples worried they might not have enough bread in the boat they had taken. Jesus had to rebuke their lack of misunderstanding of the miracle so recently shown them: That God’s generosity, manifested through Him, is boundless. All that is asked from us is faith in Him.
Readers can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.