Monthly Archives: June 2012

P-Noy and human rights

By Romel Regalado Bagares

Reuters posted recently a story assessing President Benigno Aquino III’s human rights record two years after he was elected into office on a promise of clean government and concern for human rights. The focus is on the gains or the lack of it achieved by the Aquino administration in the prosecution of the November 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre.  Click here to read the story, which also carries a quote from me.

Human Rights Watch also issued a report on the Aquino administration’s handling of the human rights situation in the country, and the verdict is not so nice, to say the least.

Photo credits: Human Rights Watch

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Filed under Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Impunity, P-NOY, Philippines

Taken for a ride, yet again

by Romel Regalado Bagares

A little more than a week ago, local and international news agencies were abuzz with reports about US Defense Secretary Leo Panetta’s announcement of a new “pivot” policy – a shift in American defense posture – one that would mean the redeployment of  60 percent of naval assets to the Asia-Pacific region by the year 2020.

Then as if on cue, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, flew to Manila a few days after Panetta’s announcement for talks with his Philippine military counterparts.

At a press briefing in Manila, Dempsey said the shift would feature “three “‘mores” in US naval operations in the region —more attention, more engagement and more quality.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Del Rosario, reacting to Dempsey’s pronouncements, happily affirmed that the new American defense policy environment would mean Filipinos are to expect more port calls in the Philippines of American navy ships.

As Mr. Panetta was winding up his Asian trip,  President Benigno Aquino III met with President Obama  at the White House and the two leaders would subsequently announce greater cooperation in various areas, notably in common security concerns in the West Philippine Sea.

In addition, Obama promised increased military assistance to help the Philippines build a “credible minimum defense,” including a US$ 30 million grant this year – which is nearly double what it gave its former colony since the latter terminated the presence of US bases at Clark and Subic in 1991 – and a second decommissioned coastguard cutter for the Philippine Navy.

Despite loud denials from the Americans, the “pivot” is seen as an answer to the growing ambitions of China in the region, which threatens US access to international sea lanes crucial to its long-term economic and military interests.

Unprecedented tension between China and the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal in May this year seemed to have provided a perfect excuse for the US to reassert its presence in the region.

Indeed, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying before the US Congress, warned against a  China increasingly asserting its dominance in the South China Sea with no qualms about violating the maritime jurisdictions of its neighbors in its quest for minerals and other raw materials its expanded economy needs.

No doubt, the Philippines occupies a strategic place in this major shift in US global defense posture.  Already, the country has proven to be an indispensable element in its global war against terror, with many parts of its archipelago providing  excellent training grounds for its newly-organized highly mobile, quick deployment units under a controversial  Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Since May, a slew of US navy ships have called port in the Philippines, and following President Aquino’s US trip, more are expected to arrive, along with more US troops who will be fielded to the country on a rotation basis, purportedly for training and joint exercises with their Filipino counterparts.

We’ve been dubbed, since the Bush years, as a “major non-NATO ally” and three years ago –in the words of President Obama – as the “coordinator” for the US in the ASEAN region.

But do the Americans match their sweet words to the Philippines with equal deeds to help us develop “credible minimum defense”?

At first glance, it does seem like it: the Philippines is supposedly now the largest benefactor of the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Financing budget, receiving $11 million in 2005, $12 million in 2006,  $13 million in 2007 and $30 million this year.

However, we’re not even on the list of the top ten beneficiaries of US defense assistance three years after 9/11, according to data from the US Center for Public Integrity:  (figures have been rounded-off): Israel (US$9 billion), Egypt (US$6 billion), Pakistan (US$4.6 billion), Jordan (US$2.6 billion), Afghanistan (US$2.6 billion), Colombia (US$2 billion), Turkey (US$1.3 billion), Peru (US$446 million), Bolivia (US$320.6 million) and Poland (US$ 313 million).

The Asian country nearest to us who is on the list is Pakistan. Compared to what Pakistan is getting from the US, our share of foreign military financing is peanuts.

Over the last few years, the US has given more than $ 7 billion to Pakistan in direct assistance – that is, in funds to purchase weapons, supplies and equipment, purportedly to help it fight the Taliban. With all that money, it is a wonder how Osama Bin Laden was able to elude Pakistani intelligence, as he was able to live a comfortable existence in a walled off mansion in Abbottabad for many years right under their noses.

Compare that to American military aid to the Philippines, which comes in the form of financing; that is, no money actually reaches Philippine coffers. Funds are directly paid to American firms contracted by the US government to supply mostly refurbished equipment to the Philippine military, like Vietnam-war era helicopters, trucks and patrol boats. Recently, the US has agreed to hand down to us two decommissioned Coastguard cutter but stripped of most of its armaments. The first delivery, which the Philippine Navy renamed BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, was the same vessel that chanced  upon Chinese fishing vessels poaching mostly endangered marine species at Panatag Shoal.

Philippine Navy top brass, on the eve of President Aquino’s US visit, pleaded with US authorities to deliver to us the second Coastguard cutter without removing its armaments.  But the plea from a major non-NATO ally and coordinator for the ASEAN fell on their deaf ears, even if it only concerns two 40-year old ships that have already seen better days.

So, what credible minimum defense capability for the Philippines is the United States talking about? We’ve gotten a raw deal before and we’re getting more of the same treatment from the Americans, who obviously want to keep us in relationship of dependency so that we will always be at their beck and call.

It is no wonder that despite years of American military aid to the Philippines, our armed forces remains the most poorly-equipped in the Asian region. Barya-barya lang at mga pinaglumaan na ang bigay nila sa atin. After all these years, we’re still being treated by the US as its toady and not as its equal.

On the same week Mr. Panetta announced a “pivot” in US defense policy, CNN broke the news that the US government
has decided to cut aid to a Pakistani version of “Sesame Street” because of charges of corruption. The price tag: US$ 20 million.

The Americans like us very much because they get so much from us for so little in return.

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Filed under China, Scarborough Shoal, UNCLOS, US Pivot, Use of Force

Prof. Roque to lecture on Scarborough Shoal dispute in D.C.

Prof. Harry L. Roque Jr.,  has been invited to give two  lectures on the Scarborough Shoal controversy in Washington D.C.

The first, on  June 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm, is sponsored by  by the Council on Foreign Relations while the second,  on June 14, 2012, at 3 pm, is under the auspices of  the Heritage Foundation. Both lectures are open to the public.

For a preview of what he has to say in these lectures, check out here his  latest opinion piece on the controversy, entitled Chinese Shadow Play.

Meanwhile a report on a recent lecture he delivered last week under the auspices of the Ortigas Foundation may be found here.

After that, he will spend two weeks lecturing at the Academy on  Human Rights and Humanitarian Law  of the American University Washington Law School.

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Filed under International Law, ITLOS, Scarborough Shoal, Uncategorized, UNCLOS

The Next Chief Justice

By Romel Regalado Bagares

Forty four days after it commenced the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Coronado Corona, the Senate handed down a guilty verdict on a 20-3 vote, marking for the very first time in the history of our Republic that its highest magistrate was removed from office through an impeachment.

Under the leadership of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the Upper House stayed the course through the many distractions occasioned by the trial and showed to Filipinos that the constitutional design for its institutions can indeed work – and how.

An overwhelming majority of senators, crossing party lines, agreed that Attorney Corona had indeed violated the public trust when he failed to declare in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN) some US$ 2.4 million in four dollar accounts and another P80 million in five peso accounts.

As the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) – the constitutional body tasked to nominate to the President candidates to judicial vacancies – begins its deliberations to look for a Mr. Corona’s replacement, many informed sectors of society are asking whether President Benigno Aquino III will be appointing as the next Chief Justice someone affiliated with The Firm.

Just as quickly, media were awash with items defending the record of The Firm –and its former partner, Attorney Corona’s arch enemy at the High Court, Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, perhaps one of the more intellectual occupants of the High Court in recent years, and now its  most senior magistrate.

In fact, one of the arguments put forward by supporters of Attorney Corona to the general public was that his conviction would mean the return of the Firm into the high places, by way of Carpio’s ascension in the former’s stead to the post of Chief Magistrate.

Attorney Corona’s supporters wished to remind people that until recently, the Firm was up there in the corridors of power, until it had a falling out with the Arroyo administration in the last few years of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s reign of political terror.

There too was the yarn on Hacienda Luisita – stated for the record by Attorney Corona himself on the witness stand at his impeachment trial – that President Aquino wanted him removed from his office in retaliation for the Supreme Court’s ruling awarding much of the Cojuangco-controlled Hacienda Luisita to farmers.

Another tact was to link the outcome of Transportation and Communication Secretary Mar Roxas’s election protest against Vice President Jejomar Binay now pending before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal – which happens to be chaired by the Chief Justice – to a guilty verdict in the impeachment trial.

If Corona lost, so the argument went, Mr. Roxas, who is represented by The Firm in the protest proceedings, is sure to win his protest against the Vice President, because that would mean President Aquino, who supports his party mate’s electoral protest, will now be able to appoint as Chief Justice Mr. Carpio. Presumably, Carpio will take it from there and maneuver the proceedings in the PET to Mr. Roxas’s satisfaction, or that at least, is how the argument went.

But Vice President Binay’s allies in the Senate were unconvinced, as all of them voted to convict Attorney Corona. If some pundits were to be believed, they weren’t looking farther than 2013, when the midterm elections takes place. In other words, they were paying more attention to what the public was saying about the disgraced Chief Justice here and now than to an event that is still far into the horizon.

For its part, Malacanang has repeatedly stated that President Aquino is open to appointing a court outsider to the Office of the Chief Justice.

President Aquino now has an opportune chance to prove all his critics wrong and he would do well not to waste it. Already, his two most recent appointments to the High Court were seen as uninspired by many observers who wanted heavy weights, or at least, appointees of the intellectual and moral caliber of his very first appointee, Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

By tradition, Associate Justice Carpio has the edge over other potential candidates. And he is not without his supporters outside of his former Firm, who say that the President will do better to follow this time the rule of tradition in the High Court.

But “tradition” this time around carries with it a darker meaning, given the current political configurations. It would mean putting into the post of Chief Justice someone who carries a lot of political baggage with him that it could wear down President Aquino himself.

But the day he appoints a Chief Justice who has no ties to any of the political parties is the day we will have moved farther towards a polity where what counts most of all is not political or familial ties but the public interest. With one stroke, he will have silenced his critics on all three issues: Hacienda Luisita, Mar Roxas, and the Firm.

Of course, judicial independence should not solely be defined by the lack of any political leanings or connections on the part of a magistrate. Instead, our notion of judicial independence must be founded on the conviction that judges owe fidelity to no one else but the norms of justice.

In the words of the late Dutch jurist and philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, our courts’ proper functioning must be measured according to how they’re able to meet the demands of “public justice. ”

It is of the kind not dictated by private interests or political affiliation or political patronage but by genuine regard for what properly and rightfully belongs to the different spheres in society.

Where we are right now, this all sounds like utopia.

But come to think of it, we’ve already done the unimaginable: impeach, try and hold guilty of violating the public trust a sitting Chief Justice. From there, our next bold step into the future should be a little easier.*

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This essay first appeared in my weekly column for the Iloilo City-based The News Day.

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Filed under Impeachment, Supreme Court

Philippine and Chinese Analysts on the Scarborough Shoal Dispute

Prof. Harry Roque and I were recently interviewed by Caixin Media, a path-breaking, Beijing-based bi-lingual publication,  on the Scarborough Schoal Dispute between the Philippines and China.  We didn’t know how the interviews would be presented. It turns out the magazine also got on board two Chinese discussants, who were separately interviewed.

They were Zhang Jianjing,  managing editor of China Reform, Caixin’s monthly magazine featuring extensive commentary and analysis on political and economic issues and Huang Shan, chief of Caixin’s international desk.

First, a note on Caixin Media:

Caixin Media is recognized for fearless investigative journalism as well as comprehensive coverage of business and finance in China. It was hailed internationally as “one of China’s more outspoken media organizations.” At the end of last year, Caixin was awarded the 2011 Shorenstein Journalism Award by Stanford University, the first Asian winner in the award’s history. Caixin editor-in-chief Hu Shuli was named one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Influential People in 2011, while managing editor Wang Shuo was named as one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders earlier this year.

It’s editor-in-chief, Hu Shuli, was profiled in the New Yorker in 2008.

Here’s the link to the running discussion, as presented by the magazine.

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Filed under International Law, ITLOS, Scarborough Shoal, UNCLOS