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Rethinking Philippine education

TESTED for the first time by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a presumably representative population of 15-year-old Filipino students put the Philippines last in reading comprehension among 79 countries. They hardly fared any better in science and mathematics; they were rated second to the last at 78th place.

Cauldron of errors

The transport, accommodations, athletic facilities, press accreditation and food issues, among others that hounded the Philippines’ hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games prior to its opening date, were real enough. But the response of government officials, Netizens, much of the public, and even the press itself to that “cauldron of errors” being reported by the Philippine media also underlined the need for developing authentic media literacy programs not only for the enlightenment of the citizenry but also, and perhaps even more urgently, for the education of the so-called leaders of this country.

Journalists’ safety: The long road ahead

THE Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) launched on Nov. 22, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, a document unique to the Philippines.

Vandals and Goths

Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso, who’s more popularly known as Isko Moreno, is thinking of putting up a “Freedom Wall” on which citizens can express their frustrations, call on others to be involved in public issues, and post their demands on government agencies or private entities like the media and employers. Such a facility would help enhance the capacity of students, labors, farmers, environmentalists, journalists, human rights defenders, and other groups to bring their concerns to their countrymen and engage them in their advocacies.

Outmaneuvering themselves

It has taken on a life of its own, but it was evident that President Rodrigo Duterte’s only purpose was to stop Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo’s criticism of his so-called “war on drugs” when he dared her on Oct. 31 to take charge of it for the next six months.

Ending impunity

November 2nd this year was the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. Recognized and supported by the United Nations, it is observed annually in the hope that it will focus attention on a global problem. The harassment and killing of journalists has made the exercise of press freedom and free expression dangerous, and democratic discourse difficult if not impossible in many countries including the Philippines.

Power play

The Marcoses have been asking for closure on the public debate over their late patriarch’s martial law regime and its impact on Philippine politics, culture, and economy -- and most of all, on the Filipino people’s lives and fortunes. Many are buying into the idea of relegating that period to just another meaningless episode in history that deserves forgetting either because they can’t remember how things were during that period, or just don’t know enough about it.

No win situation

Not only the credibility of the Duterte regime is at stake in the scandal over the alleged appropriation and sale by 13 so-called “ninja cops” of illegal drugs they had confiscated during an anti-drug operation, as well as resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Oscar Albayalde’s supposedly preventing their dismissal from the service. On the block as well is whether the PNP should continue as the lead organization in that “war” -- or should have even been so designated at all.

Fact-resistant fiddler

It took him nearly four hours to make it to Malacañang from New Manila, Quezon City. He lives in Marikina, and if he had started from there it would have taken him an additional hour for a total commute time of five hours. But Duterte Spokesperson Salvador Panelo still refused to admit that there’s a transportation and traffic crisis in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Hazing and impunity

Last year he did sign into law Republic Act 11053, which criminalizes all forms of hazing. But when asked to comment on the death of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadet Darwin Dormitorio, President Rodrigo Duterte nevertheless said that hazing is impossible to stop.

Greed Unlimited

CONGRESS is supposed to control the purse strings in the Philippine system. But because the Constitution arms him with vast powers as head of a highly centralized government, it is the President who has the biggest say in how much of the national budget an office, including his own, will get each year

Heinous prisons

Philippine prisons are as abhorrent as the crimes -- rape, kidnapping and murder, among others -- some Filipinos have committed or have been accused of.

The masses as non-Messiah

How could the Filipino people have allowed the outrage that was martial rule? Why did they just stand by while “the show window of democracy in Asia” was being smashed and turned into a dictatorship? Where were they when the newspapers and television and radio stations were being padlocked?

September on their minds

The most accessible and most credible source of information for most Filipinos, broadcast media made much of September’s advent this year for the usual -- and depressingly trivial -- reasons.

Impunity and discretionary justice

The phrase “heinous crimes,” for which death is their preferred penalty, falls often from the mouths of the advocates of state-sponsored murder, whether capital punishment, or the use of extrajudicial killings against suspected drug users and pushers as well as lawyer-, student-, farmer- and worker-activists and regime critics. Include in this lot certain senators and congressmen, the police and military, some judges, and, of course, the current president of this endangered republic.

Making activists of them all

Instead of the extrajudicial killings and human rights violations that have surged in unprecedented numbers during their troubling watch, the minions of the Duterte regime are condemning activism as if it were a heinous crime whose perpetrators deserve the death penalty they so eagerly want to restore.

Rethinking Subversion

Plans are afoot to bring back the long dead Anti-Subversion Act that became LAW 62 years ago. The military, the police and the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) are asking Congress to do just that on the argument that its re-enactment -- it was repealed in 1992 during the Fidel V. Ramos presidency -- will enable the Duterte regime to defeat the New People’s Army (NPA) and destroy the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that commands it.

The politics of hate

Every tyranny has used fear and hate to take power and to keep it. Coercion and the use of force have never been enough. A gun can only kill, but fear can make entire nations tremble, and hate lead them into committing the worst of crimes.

Broken

The Philippine National Police’s complaint of sedition/inciting to sedition, cyber libel, libel, obstruction of justice, and harboring a criminal against lawyers, priests, Vice-President Leni Robredo, and several opposition candidates for senator in last May’s elections is likely to make it to the courts. If it does, it will be one more instance that critics of the Duterte regime can cite to validate their view that only an international body can check human rights abuses in the Philippines because the justice system is not working as it should.

Aping Singapore

The Parliament of Singapore passed a law against uploading and spreading false information last May. It requires online media platforms that any government ministry accuses of carrying “fake news” to correct or remove the offending material, and penalizes those responsible with 10-year prison terms and fines of up to S$1 million (about $740,000). The bad news is that the Philippine Congress could do the same thing.

The Devil we know

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. unwittingly said something at odds with what his boss, President Rodrigo Duterte, has been saying since he came to power in 2016.

Winging it

The officials of the Duterte regime contradict themselves and each other daily and almost by the hour. They have, individually and collectively, outdone and are outdoing every other administration in the incoherence, contradictions, unreason, and non sequiturs of their declarations. A reality that is arguably as alarming as the lawlessness and the extrajudicial killings that are continuing to ravage the ranks of human rights defenders, political activists, and regime critics, it is specially evident in their foreign policy discourse.

Beyond the numbers game

No one should be under the illusion that any impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo R. Duterte will by itself remove him from office. But it might help.

Giving Socialism a bad name

“Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is how the rulers of China describe their economic system. But most economists say it isn’t so much socialist as state capitalist.

In his own words

Had it not been for that “incident” near the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, the 121st anniversary of Philippine independence would have come and gone like any other holiday whose significance escapes many Filipinos.

Teachers’ plaint

Teaching is not about money but about public service, Education Secretary Leonor Briones told her constituents last week.

Combating ‘fake news’

Singapore passed early last May an anti-“fake news” law that will be implemented this month. The “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation” Act gives government the power to compel online news sites and even chat groups to remove statements “against the public interest” and to correct them. Not only individuals will be affected but also social media and news organizations like BBC and Reuters.

Blueprint for unrest

The way the Philippine Party List System has worked, since it was created by the 1987 Constitution to assure “proportional representation” in the House of Representatives and the Party List Act ( Republic Act 7941) was passed in 1994, has provoked even the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to consider asking Congress to amend the law. But it is unlikely that that body will do so -- at least not towards making it truly serve the voiceless and marginalized sectors of Philippine society.

Miseducated and disinformed

The problematic -- and for many Filipinos, depressingly predictable -- results of the May 13 senatorial elections have provoked the usual mini-debate on whether the mass of the electorate is really so stupid as to vote against their own interests. They have after all elected, among others, accused plunderers, liars, supporters of tyrannical rule, opportunists, enforcers of extrajudicial killings, and, in general, the yes-men and chorus line of the Duterte regime.

Information disorder

UNLESS there was widespread cheating and fraud on May 13, the Philippine electorate has apparently elected to the Senate enough Duterte candidates for that body to be fully under administration control.

Lawyers and lawlessness

The Philippines is one of the world’s most lawless countries. But it’s not because it has too few laws or none at all, but because it has too many that are often interpreted in favor of the powerful so as to bring about the exact opposite of their intention, are selectively implemented, or hardly enforced at all.

What Press Freedom’s For

World Press Freedom Day has always been the occasion for responsible journalists to reexamine the state of one of the fundamental needs of ethical practice. This year as in 2018, May 3rd was not so much an occasion for celebration as for alarm. As in many other parts of the world, the independent press is under siege from a government that has made it its life work to harass, restrict, threaten and silence it, and to even arrest practitioners for daring to report the truth.

Its Achilles’ heel

Why the seeming change in the Duterte regime’s response to Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea? Is it because it fears that mass opposition to its refusal to do anything to stop Chinese bullying could affect the chances of its candidates at both the national and local levels on May 13?

The Chinese connection

The public opinion surveys of the past year or so have confirmed that most Filipinos distrust China while wholeheartedly favoring the United States. Over a majority of the population are skeptical of the former’s intentions, and would like the Philippine government to do something about its occupation of the West Philippine Sea.

Reason versus Madness

Now on its 26th year in the Philippines -- March 29, 2019 marked the 25th year since the country was “wired” into it -- the global communication network known as the Internet has been rightly hailed as another milestone in providing the perennial human need for information.

What’s the DFA good for?

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is expected to promote international understanding and defend Philippine sovereignty. It is also tasked with protecting Filipinos abroad. In its dealings with other countries, it is of course assumed that the DFA will enhance and defend Philippine interests through diplomatic means. But equally important is its affirmation in word and deed of the value and need for the country to honor its international commitments to human, civil and political rights.

Parody of democracy

DEBATES between candidates for public office are among the means some media and civil society organizations are using to help voters decide who deserve their support. They’re especially useful in the Philippines, where those running for this or that post are often hardly distinguishable from each other in terms of platforms and programs, if at all they have any.

Racist — and colonial

TO BELIEVE and argue that black people are inherently violent or that all Jews are money-grubbing scoundrels is to presume that race is the determinant of certain vices and virtues. It is nothing but racism, and those who harbor that presumption qualify as racists.

Duterte and Trump

The Chinese embassy in Manila had earlier demolished Duterte spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s tale that should the government deport Chinese nationals illegally working in the Philippines, the Ambassador had threatened to do the same to Filipinos in China.

Blaming EDSA

His spokesperson Salvador Panelo insisted that it wasn’t because President Rodrigo Duterte thinks that the 1986 civilian-military mutiny at EDSA isn’t important; it’s just that he has a lot of things to do.

Contexts: The Rappler case

ASKED if he caused the February 13 arrest of Rappler CEO and editor Maria Ressa, President Rodrigo Duterte said he had nothing to do with it, and that he did not “relish picking on her.” He also said he did not know Wilfredo Keng, whose complaint that he had been libeled by the online news site led to the Ressa arrest.

Representing themselves

On July 23, 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 2 mandating public access to information held by the agencies and offices of the executive branch. The nongovernmental organizations that had been campaigning for a freedom of information (FOI) act for decades welcomed it with cautious optimism. The Executive Order (EO) encouraged the legislature and judiciary to do the same, but the FOI advocates nevertheless pointed out the need for a law that would cover all three branches of government.

Media are part of the problem

That former TV broadcaster who’s running for senator under Sara Duterte’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago party isn’t alone in denying that the Duterte regime is a threat to press freedom.

Arsenal of oppression

Not even child rights advocates have been saying that children are incapable of committing crimes. Neither has anyone said that children are angels. But in reaction to Senator Risa Hontiveros’ opposition to the bill lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte made it seem as if those two assumptions were at the heart of the resistance to that outrage.

War Zone Philippines

THE US-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) is correct: the Philippines is indeed “a war zone in disguise,” and is among the world’s deadliest countries for civilians.