Much has been made of the latest worldwide threat assessment report by the US intelligence community, which—according to CNN—singled out President Duterte as “one of the leaders in Southeast Asia who pose a threat to democracy and human rights in the region”.
It was a comment that gladdened the hearts of Duterte’s critics, such as Senator Trillanes, who called it a “warning.” The senator must have been overjoyed that his recent barnstorming tour of the US to incite the natives against Duterte paid off so early.
But is this in fact what the American spooks had to say? Here’s the actual text from the report, prepared by former US Senator and now Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats:
“Democracy and human rights in many Southeast Asian countries will remain fragile in 2018 as autocratic tendencies deepen in some regimes and rampant corruption and cronyism undermine democratic values. Countries in the region will struggle to preserve foreign policy autonomy in the face of Chinese economic and diplomatic coercion.”
“In the Philippines, President Duterte will continue to wage his signature campaign against drugs, corruption, and crime. Duterte has suggested he could suspend the Constitution, declare a “revolutionary government,” and impose nationwide martial law. His declaration of martial law in Mindanao, responding to the ISIS-inspired siege of Marawi City, has been extended through the end of 2018.”
It’s clear that the sober language above has nothing at all to do with the sensationalist interpretation of CNN, the news-TV pioneer which many may remember as the brainchild of ultra-liberal tycoon Ted Turner (ex-husband of “Hanoi Jane” Fonda) that now helps lead the leftist-liberal American mainstream media against upstart right-wingers like Fox News.
We hope this evident mis-reportage by CNN on a senior US official like Coats will be corrected in due course by the US Embassy here. If it isn’t, then we’ll have to start wondering why the mis-reportage was so conveniently timed together with renewed attacks on Duterte by Human Rights Watch and various UN rapporteurs; the start of a “preliminary assessment” by the International Criminal Court into our human rights situation; and the continued attacks by anti-China groups here and abroad on Duterte’s foreign policies.
A different kind of threat is now hogging the headlines, this time the threat to our environment in various well-known tourism resorts.
It started with the iconic Boracay island, where DENR inspectors discovered that out of 150 beachfront establishment inspected, only 20 had bothered to connect their sewer lines to the island’s sewerage system. Many of the rest were simply dumping their waste products directly into the island’s pristine waters.
According to a former Boracay resort owner, former Agriculture Secretary Orly Sacay, a large number of mostly smaller resort owners get away with environmental non-compliance because they’re related to local officials (Boracay is part of the Aklan town of Malay). Orly has since transferred his resort to Coron, Palawan.
A furious President Duterte gave the island residents six months to comply with environmental rules or else he will close down the island. DENR’s regional director complained that “it is as if there is no government in Boracay,” adding that “if the local government unit will not participate or cooperate, I will ask the police to do it with us.”
We crowd-sourced ideas from online friends, leading to the following recommended policy package:
Immediately charge and/or close down blatant violators, e.g. establishments whose sewer lines do not connect to the island’s sewer system. These violators number over 100, which should be large enough to put the fear of God into others.
Create a Boracay Sustainable Development Council, including local government officials and businessmen as well as national agencies concerned, first by Presidential executive order and then by enabling legislation.
Come up with a three-year sustainable development plan that includes strict sanction policies and mechanisms.
One of the more interesting solutions suggested is for the different resort islands of the Visayas to barge their solid waste to a centrally located mass-burn plant that will burn the waste and produce electricity in the process.
The furor over Boracay has been infectious. Local officials of Siargao are starting to meet about their own prospects. And DENR Secretary Cimatu has already put the resort destinations of Panglao and the Puerto Princesa underground river within his cross-hairs.
One has to wonder if the problems in Boracay might have been handled better, or prevented earlier, if the island was being managed by a State of Western Visayas rather than from far-away Manila. After all, tourism is by definition a larger and more pressing concern for the local economies involved rather than the entire country.
That’s something that may be worth chewing on in the ongoing debate over shifting to federalism.
Proponents of a divorce law took one step closer to their goal after a House committee voted to send to plenary a substitute bill that integrates various bills seeking to introduce divorce into our country.
If this bill ever makes it into law, we would no longer have the distinction of being the only state in the world—outside the Vatican City—to outlaw divorce. We would no longer be able to claim that we are as popish as the Pope, notwithstanding the rampant male philandering, spousal abuse and neglect, and terminally unhappy marriages that we’ve come to take for granted in our oh-so-nominally Catholic country.
We can expect the usual resistance from Catholic conservatives who will attack the divorce bill as a threat to the Filipino family and morality. It’s a point of view that mistakenly conflates the religious sacrament of marriage with the secular institution of civil marital union—the latter simply being a contract that both parties ought to be able to terminate, just like any other contract, when both parties want out.
The Church does in fact allow annulment of marriages where one or more grounds for “free and informed consent” to marriage of husband and wife are found to be absent, based on the findings of a duly constituted diocesan marriage tribunal. Such cases presumably can’t be described as marriages “that God hath put together,” thereby allowing “man to put [them] asunder.”
Perhaps if the proponents of civil divorce try to mirror in their bill the rigorousness applied by the Church to its annulment process, we can avoid yet another church-state disagreement and find some way to a compromise, if not outright collaboration.
Let me close by greeting this fine and upstanding newspaper, the Manila Standard, a happy 31st anniversary!
Readers can write me at [email protected]