The conflict in Mindanao from the perspective of Malthusian theory

There’s a joke that Muslims here like to tell, to which Muslims and Christians alike laugh at. It’s this- Muslim men could have as many as four wives max and still be legit by standards of their religion and law. Beyond that, however, they said they’d have become Christians. I hurt my stomach the first time I was told this. I couldn’t stop laughing.

In a way, this joke summarizes the complicated relationship between Muslims and Christians in the region particularly as you move further south where it’s more visible. If certain Muslims have taken arms to defend their sociopolitical and cultural survival in a country of 80-90% Catholic largely mainstreamed into the globalized economy and with that it’s sociopolitical and cultural ethic and, for some other groups, to defend at whatever cost the dictates of their conscience, there is or was, following the rule in physics, also the corresponding movement from Christians in the region- the Ilaga.

The Ilaga, the most notorious among the Christian vigilante groups, was reported to have been organized by seven local Christian politicians (“Magnificent Seven”) who were bent upon preserving their respective power and expanding them further by infiltrating and dominating areas traditionally controlled by Muslims. It was reported also that the Ilaga was supported by some influential Christian capitalists and logging magnates. The Ilaga group was the most feared to many Muslims primarily because of what its members did to their victims, like carving out ears, slashing nipples, plucking out eyes, and marking bodies with cross.

Yasmin Busran-Lao, Human Development, Economic and Social Costs, and Spillovers of Conflict: The Case of the Province of Lanao del Sur, background paper submitted to the Human Development Network Foundation, Inc. for the Philippine Human Development Report 2005

That dark period in the region’s history is apparently an experience that people here Muslim and Christian alike do not want to forget hence is passed on to younger generations in the form of stories which in turn may explain why there is still such vigilance, in their unconscious, between the two (which only a few have truly transcended the ones who are free to “cross over” invisible yet palpable boundaries such that we hear for instance Muslims protecting their Christian neighbors when armed fellow Muslims raid villages). Such stories were given as part of the orientation I had about the region. I was not yet five days old in the area. I was, what? can you spell that out please, because, for the life of me, I haven’t heard the word until then (I guess the reason is, I was schooled abroad).

Nothing apparently is what it seems. To truly understand the situation in Mindanao, ML or not, one must approach the subject with humility and in the calm or neutral spirit of scientific inquiry ie. if one is a Muslim, to be ready to accept that Muslims or certain Muslims are culpable and if one is a Christian, to be ready to accept that Christians or certain Christians have also had a hand, and, for both, in accepting that, to be open to the fact of our shared humanity which is that there is only one earth, one Philippines. How the planet, the country should be divided up for each and every human being should be done through intelligent and peaceful means (otherwise we have not really transformed from our ape past). Then again the rhetoric of ‘One Philippines’ need to be unpacked.

In one of the community discussions, somebody mentioned about population growth and population control as a related issue. Oh? I said in surprise. But it was obvious although not readily perceived. Filipino Catholics make up 80-90% of the country’s total population, and what is the total population? 100M. This means Catholics, whatever the ethnicity, greatly outnumber Muslims whatever their ethnicity. Such is true in the region. In other words, the droves of non-Muslims in continuous migration to Mindanao in search for land and greener pasture just by their sheer number easily overpower the original settlers hence easily impose their politics and culture on the “new land.” Now, population control. Catholics/Christians, since they make up much of the population, should share the bulk of the responsibility for birth control (the most rational, strategic, and intelligent means to population control (hence adequate space and quality of life for all)). That is equity. But the funny thing is, they are the ones, the Church leaders at least, who cite religious teaching as justification for disallowing Catholics to openly subscribe to a civic responsibility.

Without any checks, population would theoretically grow at an exponential rate, rapidly exceeding its ability to produce resources to support itself (Thomas Malthus).

I remember another joke about the root cause of this world’s problems, which is that, if it’s not economic, it must be sex. This brings us back to the joke about the wife taking.

In the new year, out with the skeletons

New year new role for Congress. This most venerable of public bodies has happily taken to it’s new role as high court of sorts digging into and wanting to dig into cases from the sensational to the mundane never mind if these are the jurisdiction of proper courts whether it’s the Supreme Court or lower courts across the regions. What do the honorables hope to prove? That they’re A.T.T.Ys for nothing?

Fine. Let’s get back to the one topic – EJKs, War on Drugs, and Oplan Tokhang whatever – Congress can’t seem to extricate itself out of despite mounting legislation it’s supposed to attend to with urgency.

President Duterte’s war on drugs is not a stand-alone declaration but is linked to a global effort to address the world’s continuing illicit drug problem which according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has “significant impact on peace, security and development” and “appears to be the nexus between organized crime and terrorism.” Nor is it a one-off operation. Indeed when President Duterte tells us that he will carry on the “war” until the end of his term he is merely stating a fact in international pacts that have taken effect decades before. And, ‘EJKs’ or extrajudicial killings may seem to have exploded right in our faces only during President Duterte’s time but this is not so. If we remember in the time of former President BSA III, national dailies were already reporting “mysterious” killings by “riders in tandem”. The difference between then and now is that President Duterte explicitly made war on drugs a national policy. In the previous administration, media and the public didn’t know shit why people were randomly shot at in the streets. The public now is being kept abreast at least.

This post is not to take sides on the EJKs controversy because it is a moot point. There simply are no EJKs in war. The “EJKs” that we’re hearing about are, technically and for want of a better term, casualties of such a war. Nonetheless everyone has been duly warned and whoever has ears and heard the message and is part of that enemy ring has had plenty of time to reflect and decide- life or death? But no one among them are coming forward, no? Buti pa ang mga Communista na nagdesisyong bumaba at maging miyembro uli ng lipunan. So be it. Their decision it goes without saying carries the implicit consequence of innocent lives getting caught in the crossfire. This is like when friendly forces have to make the difficult decision to invade a country knowing that while their objective is to end an oppressive regime innocent lives will be part of casualties. But at the end of the day invading friendly forces cannot be faulted. That choice had been made for them in the first place by the enemy. It’s why we don’t want war if possible. It’s beyond hard, for all involved. And this war at home should not have been declared if our communities are free of drug lords, peddlers, backers, protectors, users; or, despite their presence if they had turned themselves in. But was there ever a drug lord who’d do that? So be it.

The objective of this post rather is to reiterate key facts and nuances of the world’s illicit drug problem in order to better understand why the administration is insistent on solving it and why it’s imperative for Congress and Philippine civil society to craft a strategic and integrated response to the problem.

The latest World Drug Report published by UNODC is for 2016 but in here I’m using the one for 2015  based on 2011-2013 data. Overall, for the period,

there has been little change in the overall global situation regarding the production, use and health consequences of illicit drugs. It is estimated that a total of 246 million people, or 1 out of 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, used an illicit drug in 2013. That represents an increase of 3 million over the previous year but, because of the increase in the global population, illicit drug use has in fact remained stable. Notwithstanding national and regional variations in trends in drug use, the limited data available indicate that the use of opiates (heroin and opium) has remained stable at the global level. Mainly as a result of trends in the Americas and Europe, cocaine use has declined overall, while the use of cannabis and the non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids have continued to rise. Trends in ATS use vary from region to region, and some subregions such as South-East Asia have reported an increase in methamphetamine use.

Flows of illicit drugs across the world

The production of cannabis resin continues to be confined to a few countries in North Africa, the Middle East and South-West Asia, whereas cannabis herb is produced inmost of the countries in the world. South America continues to account for practically all global cultivation of coca bush, and South-West Asia (Afghanistan) and South-East Asia (mainly the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar) continue to account for the vast majority of illicit opium poppy cultivation. Although the manufacture of ATS is difficult to assess, there are reports of ATS manufacture in all regions worldwide.

global flows of methampethamine

global flows of cocaine

global flows of opiates

There is also evidence that organized criminal groups, which in the past may have limited their trafficking activities to one drug type, are diversifying. For example, groups that previously focused on heroin trafficking appear to be increasingly engaging in trafficking in cannabis resin and methamphetamine. The “dark net”, the anonymous online marketplace used for the illegal sale of a wide range of products, including drugs, is a prime example of the constantly changing situation, and it has profound implications for both law enforcement and drug trafficking.

main transit countries in illicit drug trade

The growing importance of Africa as a transit area for Afghan heroin bound for Europe and other regions has been reflected in increasing seizures of heroin reported in recent years in some African countries, particularly in East Africa. Recent seizures also suggest that it may have become more common for large shipments of Afghan heroin to be smuggled across the Indian Ocean into East and Southern Africa. Moreover, Africa continues to be used as a trans-shipment area for smuggling cocaine across the Atlantic into Europe, and Eastern Europe is emerging as a transit area and as a destination.

West Africa appears to have become an established source of the methamphetamine smuggled into East and South-East Asia via Southern Africa or Europe, with new trafficking routes linking previously unconnected regional methamphetamine markets. The established market for methamphetamine in East and South-East Asia continues to grow, while there are also indications of increasing methamphetamine use in parts of North America and Europe. In 2013, Australia, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea also reported the seizure of crystalline methamphetamine perceived to have originated in Mexico.

As opiates originating in Myanmar may be unable to meet the demand in South-East Asia, the so-called “southern route” could be increasing in importance as a conduit for smuggling Afghan heroin southwards from Afghanistan through Pakistan or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Trafficking networks using the Balkan route to smuggle Afghan heroin into Europe may be experimenting with a new route, leading through the Caucasus, and there are indications of heroin being trafficked from Iraq rather than from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the past few years, a growing number of NPS (new psychoactive substances) have been sold on illicit drug markets. In the United States, the annual prevalence of cannabis use among twelfth-grade students remained stable between 2011 and 2013 and declined only slightly in 2014 while synthetic cannabinoid (“spice”) use almost halved in the period 2011 to 2014. The perceived harmfulness of synthetic cannabinoids among secondary school students (twelfth grade) increased between 2012, the first year of measurement, and 2014, which may have contributed to the decline in use.

Data from a recent qualitative study suggest that use of both herbal cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids may not be uncommon. Users may choose one or the other depending on the situation, for example preferring synthetic cannabinoids when trying to avoid a positive drug test result.

For some time, the market for “ecstasy” has been on the decline in several European countries and mephedrone and other NPS may have been serving as a substitute for “ecstasy”. Despite a possible decline in the overall demand for mephedrone in the United Kingdom, high levels of use have been observed among some segments of the population. Mephedrone use appears to be particularly common in London dance clubs. Similarly, another survey of visitors to nightclubs in Rome in 2013 found that NPS were being used in addition to drugs such as cocaine.

According to EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction), there has been a decline in the injecting of illicit drugs in Europe, but there have been recent reports of the injecting of NPS, particularly synthetic cathinones.325Use data for NPS at the substance level are still limited. Among the reasons for this are that there is a large number of different NPS available on the market, and some of them are sold under street names that could imply a variety of different substances. For instance, the term “spice”, often used in reference to the use of synthetic cannabinoids, does not relate to a specific substance and could instead refer to a large variety of substances.

Up to December 2014, a total of 541 NPS had been reported to the UNODC early warning advisory. In 2014, 450 substances were reported, an increase from the 430 substances reported in 2013. In 2014, synthetic cannabinoids continued to account for the majority of NPS reported (39 per cent), followed by phenethylamines (18 per cent) and synthetic cathinones (15 per cent).

Preferred mode of transport

The frequency of use of different modes of transportation used by drug traffickers has not changed a great deal over the past decade. Accounting for nearly half the reported individual seizures in the 2009-2014 period, trafficking by road and rail is the most common mode of transportation used by traffickers globally, along with trafficking by air. Trafficking by air has become more frequent, but quantities intercepted remain comparatively small.

mode of transportation of illicit drugs

The average size of drug shipments intercepted on road and rail increased substantially from 68 kg between 2006 and 2008 to 107 kg between 2009 and 2014. maritime trafficking remains the least common mode of transportation in terms of individual seizure cases, but maritime seizures tend to be comparatively very large. For example, parcel post was the most commonly detected method of drug importation at the Australian borders in 2013, yet just three maritime seizure cases accounted for 74 percent of the total weight of heroin intercepted that year in the country. This confirms that interdiction of maritime shipments has potentially the greatest impact on the total quantities of drugs smuggled, as well as on trafficking flows and the availability of illicit drugs at the global level.

Gender differences in usage

To what extent are women into drugs? They’re in it big time, but on the other hand their treatment-seeking behavior is a dismal low.

women's use of illicit drugs and treatment seeking behavior

Women encounter significant systemic, structural, social, cultural and personal barriers in accessing substance abuse treatment. At the structural level, the most significant obstacles include lack of child care and punitive attitudes to parenting and pregnant women with substance abuse problems. This makes women fear losing custody of their children or having to relinquish their children as a condition of treatment, and prevents them from seeking treatment in residential settings. Treatment programmes may also be located far from where women live and may have inflexible admission requirements and schedules that may not suit the needs of women. Moreover, women with children may still need to secure child care to participate in outpatient treatment programmes as they may not have enough money to pay for child-care costs, transportation or treatment itself. Although men may be referred for treatment by their family, an employer or the criminal justice system, treatment history among women is more associated with and triggered by other problems, such as a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, or sex work, and could be referred by the social services system, mental health facilities or self-initiated, rather than solely due to substance abuse. In many societies, substance use both in general and among women is heavily stigmatized and cultural norms may make it difficult for women to acknowledge such a problem or leave their homes and families to undergo treatment.

Women are twice as likely as men to use tranquillizers, but both have roughly equal levels of use of prescription opioids.

gender differences use of illicit drugs

Women’s greater use of tranquilizers may be explained by findings showing 

women with substance-use disorders tend to have a history of overresponsibility in their families of origin and have experienced more disruptions and report more interpersonal conflicts in the family than their male counterparts, particularly issues related to parenting and exposure to childhood and adult trauma. Women with substance-use disorders may come from families where one or more family members is also drug dependent and may have suffered victimization and injury. Many women identify relationship problems as a cause for their substance use. In addition, psychiatric co-morbidities, especially mood and anxiety disorders, are reported to be higher among women and these disorders typically predate the onset of substance-use problems.

PWID affected with HIV

Approximately 40 per cent of the estimated global total number of PWID (people who inject drugs) living with HIV reside in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, mostly in the Russian Federation and Ukraine. East and South-East Asia contribute a further 20 per cent to the global total number of PWID living with HIV, although both the prevalence of injecting drug use and the prevalence of HIV among PWID are below their respective global averages. It is the large population aged 15-64 residing in this region that translates into the relatively large number of PWID living with HIV. South-West Asia, the region with the highest prevalence of HIV among PWID, contributes 12 per cent to the total global number of PWID living with HIV, with a large proportion of these residing in Pakistan. Four countries, the Russian Federation, China, Pakistan and the United States (in descending order), when combined account for nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of the total global estimated number of PWID living with HIV.

In many countries, women who inject drugs are more vulnerable to HIV infection than their male counterparts and that the prevalence of HIV is higher among women who inject drugs than among their male counterparts. The transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C and the occurrence of drug overdoses are only some of the risk factors that lead to the level of mortality among people who inject drugs being nearly 15 times higher than would normally be expected among people of comparable age and gender in the general population.

prevalence of hiv among pwid

Drug dependency treatment services

Treatment of drug dependence need to be provided through a continuum of care service and may be in the form of pharmacological, psychosocial, and social rehabilitation and after-care services. Based on the report,

there is a greater level of pharmacological and psychosocial services and interventions in Europe than in other regions, particularly Western and Central Europe, where higher levels of opioid substitution also reflect the fact that opioids are the major substance for which drug users receive treatment in the region. In other regions, Governments may not yet be ready to address drug dependence with pharmacologically-assisted treatment, leading to limited coverage of such programmes.

global extent drug dependency pharmacological treatment services

global drug dependency psychosocial treatment services

In Africa, the fact that counselling is more available than other types of intervention could be due to cannabis being the most common substance for which drug users receive treatment. However, most drug treatment services in the region are provided in specialized psychiatric hospitals, which may explain why there is a considerable number of interventions in the treatment of psychiatric comorbidities in Africa, although the lack of other types of intervention in Africa may also indicate limited responses to treatment needs in general.

global drug dependency socialrehab aftercare treatment services

Not only are available services for the treatment of drug use disorders and dependence limited in most countries, there is an overall lack of provision of a continuum of care in interventions to address drug use disorders and drug dependence adequately among those in need of these interventions.

Countries who reported having alternative development strategies in place

countries with alternative development 2010-2013

Alternative development is one of the three pillars (the other two being, crop eradication and interdiction ie. law enforcement measures) in the international community’s “balanced approach” toward drug control which has been a key supply reduction strategy for several decades. Emerging in the late 1980s from the more narrowly focused crop substitution initiatives of the 1970s and the integrated rural development approach of the 1980s, the concept of alternative development has been implemented around the world for over 40 years. Alternative development is not generally an objective in itself but rather a means to an end: it is aimed at contributing to an enabling environment for longterm rural development without illicit crop cultivation.

impact of alternative development on illicit drug trade

(The UN) General Assembly defined alternative development as a “process to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of plants containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances through specifically designed rural development measures in the context of sustained national growth and sustainable development efforts in countries taking action against drugs, recognizing the particular sociocultural characteristics of the target communities and groups, within the framework of a comprehensive and permanent solution to the problem of illicit drugs”. While this definition is used at the international level, different definitions reflecting new strategies and approaches toward alternative development have been developed by a wide variety of implementing countries, donors and practitioners. Alternative development is a concept in constant flux.
Alternative development is sometimes described as “conventional rural development applied to a drug-producing area”, “development in a drugs environment” or “development-oriented drug control”. This does not mean that the purpose of alternative development is limited to purely counter-narcotics objectives. National strategies may vary, but the specific purpose of alternative development in its present, broader meaning is to contribute to economic development (especially in rural areas) in order to target the underlying factors and root causes of illicit drug economies.

To better frame the drug problem thus design a responsive preventive strategy and interventions, we need to know and understand the factors that increase a person’s vulnerability to drug use:

factors increasing vulnerability to drug use

There is no single cause of drug use and addiction. Vulnerability to drug use is due to a variety of factors, whether stemming from the individual or from developmental contexts. The interplay between these factors ultimately either increases or attenuates an individual’s vulnerability to substance use. This is why there is no “silver bullet” remedy for prevention, although multi-causality also offers many starting points for preventive activity (that could take place in various) settings significant to the target group — family, school, workplace, community, media and leisure settings.
Groups with a higher risk, such as children with a substance dependent parent, should be approached in a different manner to population groups in which the majority does not tend to use psychoactive substances, such as school pupils. Prevention programming takes this into account by providing strategies for the population at large (universal prevention), for groups that are particularly at risk (selective prevention) and for individuals that are particularly at risk (indicated prevention, which also includes individuals that might have started experimenting and are therefore at particular risk of progressing to disorders).

The developmental notion of drug use behaviour implies that prevention should incorporate not only drug-specific components, but also skills that help individuals to deal effectively with the challenges of each phase of life, such as relationship skills for adolescents or parenting skills for parents. In fact, drug prevention is aimed at supporting the safe and healthy development of children and youth, but may also include, when relevant, additional aspects specifically related to drugs around the age of drug use

(A) broader strategy of “alternative development” (was) developed at the international level by UNFDAC in the second half of the 1980s, which sought to improve the integration of regional development assistance with law enforcement initiatives, while promoting the appropriate coordination and sequencing of those interventions. Flexible law enforcement in countering illicit cultivation — with law enforcement interventions being carefully timed in order to be supportive of the development effort, and undertaken once the basic conditions for acceptable alternative living standards had been achieved — was considered to be an integral and fundamental part of alternative development. Alternative development interventions sought to have a more sustainable impact by creating local organizations and farmers’ associations to facilitate the production, distribution and marketing of products.

The 2006 Afghan National Drug Control Strategy made a specific reference to alternative livelihoods as the main approach to addressing illicit cultivation. Meanwhile, other strategies, such as the approaches adopted by the European Union, Colombia and Peru, continue to use the concept of alternative development to address underlying drivers of illicit cultivation (for example, marginalization and poverty) in a way that is very similar to the alternative livelihoods approach.

Alternative development continues to be relevant as long as drug crops are grown illicitly and development and security challenges that are specific to areas where drugs are cultivated remain. However, it offers no quick-fix solution to the supply side of the illicit drug economy as a stand-alone strategy. Previous evaluations of alternative development have already shown that success is very situation specific and that there are few, if any, practices that can be plugged into a template. As was noted in the Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2005, “there is no manual or definitive guidelines for alternative development”. However, with the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Alternative Development, a set of general guidelines that contain good practices for planning and implementing alternative development now exist.

Donor contributions to alternative development

Over the past four decades, alternative development has largely been funded by external donors, including countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in North America, Europe and Oceania, and non-OECD countries such as China, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Saudi Arabia and Thailand. In recent years, there has been a trend towards more project funding by countries that were traditionally recipients of such assistance, such as Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Colombia, Peru and Thailand.

international assistance to alternative development

According to the OECD International Development Statistics, in the period from 1998, when the Political Declaration and its associated Action Plan on International Cooperation on the Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development were adopted by the General Assembly, to 2013, global commitments by OECD countries for providing alternative development in developing countries amounted in total to, on average, $219 million per year (as expressed in 2012 dollars), of which 89 percent was for agriculture-related alternative development and 11 per cent was for non-agriculture related alternative development activities such as income opportunities in other sectors, social and physical infrastructure and nonagricultural training and capacity-building.

And we thought our greatest problem were the numerous shoes of Imelda Marcos! But I do understand the need for our 70 year-old President to belt it out on the karaoke sometimes. Ma-buang ka talaga just trying tonvisualize the global transit points in the illicit drug trade.

But, seriously, Congress need to discuss the drug problem as it is happening and evolving in this country, and understanding that, craft a national drug control/management strategy. National and local governments should develop financing strategies to generate funds for it’s implementation. These strategies should align with current national strategies on urban development, housing, employment (eg. OFW support, counselling services), poverty alleviation (eg. 4Ps, agricultural development), and yes, early childhood care and development as well as adolescent and youth development and parenting education.

See, when the President told his critics in the Church to shut up and instead help him solve the problem he really means it. Drug abuse is a developmental issue and the Church with it’s Basic Ecclessial Communities (BEC) strategy and capacity to counsel, provide spiritual refuge, etc. has a big role to play in prevention. Ironically, it’s media and people around the President who don’t get the point of his remarks. They go away from press conferences to coin terminologies such as EJKs and Tokhang which are redactions of the real problem and then sell these to the public as “the truth and nothing but the truth”. Media has not been part of the solution.

Of course, those who know better could always take the road favored by the lazy which is what Congress is doing now: suspects are cornered, media are called in, and when cameras start to roll, they yak at the suspects making sure to throw in humungous terminologies the (illiterate) suspects believed were names of past honorables, all on cue for the camera, until it’s time to call it a day, a week, a month, a year. At the close of the year, SALNs will read PHP12M or so richer. Goodness! Are these actors paid per show? Out in the real world, citizens, in offices, factories, schools, stores, farms, etc., are at their jobs 12 hours a day every day in order to remit taxes to their government. Meanwhile, the problem is still out there waiting for it’s next victim. Everybody’s so good at staying within the scope of their roles that this thing goes like clockwork, a script rehashed year after year, one decade after another.

Quirks, no longer

The sustained anti-corruption protests by South Koreans which led to the impeachment of their President and the arrest of her childhood friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil “the woman behind it all” and more recently of Choi’s daughter abroad in Denmark put Filipinos to shame.

In 2013, Filipinos listened in utter horror as media rolled out investigative reports on the PHP10B pork barrel scam by Janet Napoles “the woman behind it all” with members of Congress as accomplices. Filipinos knew about under-the-table dealings even before, but it was the first time that the depth and extent of corruption by public officials was reported to the nation. The people however only managed to rouse themselves to a one-day protest which looked more like a picnic at the Park.

One wonders if the Filipino people are not the zombies shipped on the “train to Busan”- how was it that we were not moved by such massive corruption of our money by persons whom we trusted and put into positions? by that woman who is not even a public official? by that daughter who published a photo of her smug self inside her PHP80M Ritz Carlton hotel apartment wallowing in a bathtub of money-slash-the-people’s-money? The burial of a former soldier-President in a soldier’s allotted grave is of no consequence compared to this infamy. Until now, there has been no systematic and sustained trial of those implicated in the corruption. Why?

Anyway. This post is actually about the capacity of leaders, taking on as example, because it is more recent and closer to home, the South Korean President.

There is no lack of research written about what qualities befit a good leader whether in the public or private realm. Forbes for instance argues for the Top 10 Qualities That Make A Great Leader. The Harvard Business Review explains: Why We Keep Hiring Narcissistic CEOs; Why People Are Drawn To Narcissists Like Donald Trump; Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, The Inevitable Cons. And so forth. But, why, indeed, do we have leaders who disappoint?

The Park and Choi scandal, according to Park Yoon-bae in his article Let Checks and Balances Work for The Korea Times, is a classic example of corrupt political leadership that collects funds from conglomerates in return for business favors. Judging from what she has done so far to deal with the scandal, Park apparently lacks moral and political integrity that is required for the chief executive.

Let’s unpack “lacks moral and political integrity”. Over the years, S Korea media have noted Park’s queer behavior in times of national crises, viz: (1) Photos suggest Park had beauty surgery amid Sewol tragedy; (2) Park spent 90 minutes hair styling when 315 students were trapped in sinking ferry; (3) Suspicions re-emerge over ‘7 missing hours’. We are also provided glimpses of Park in her private persona: (1) ‘Toilet sensitive’ President Park; (2) President Park, a ‘Hikikomori’; (3) Soap opera: South Korean President Park Geun-hye ‘used TV character as pseudonym’ at detox clinic. Last but not least, on her tragic family history Park Geun-hye and the friendship behind S Korea’s presidential crisis.

Stepping outside the perspective of politics and into that of medical science, the above information would lead us to these theories: (1) still deeply traumatized by the assassination of her parents, first her mother, and after them her own experience of violence she has difficulty trusting or allowing anybody apart from her childhood friend into her private sphere; (2) her entry into politics afterward has her conflicted over how she is part of the system that had taken away both her parents. Religion or symbolism somehow alleviated that inner turmoil; (3) the shadow of her larger-than-life father, so-called Rasputin and the father of modern S Korea, still looms over her causing her to freeze in inaction or helplessness, like a child, deeply fearful to be seen or judged as less than perfect; (3) the oversight role her father had suddenly vacated is displaced onto her stronger-willed childhood friend who apparently took advantage of her friend’s emotional and mental state.

What I’m saying here is, Park’s capacity to lead ie. health in light of extraordinary personal circumstances had been perhaps initially perceived by the people as idiosyncracies. After all, she is her father’s daughter. Don’t we accord larger-than-life personalities a wider berth? Time, however, has revealed the quirks as “defects” for want of a better word, and the people after repeatedly experiencing the effects of such have been awakened and are now looking at events as they really are and not as what they wished them, or her, to be.

This is the twist in most every corruption drama and the question now is, who is more liable for what happened? Park? Choi? The system? The voters? A headache really. But, definitely Park’s history of leadership says that she was and is in no condition to take on her shoulders the burdens of State and a nation. She may be in need of care herself. I’m truly amazed that she has stayed this “strong” at least in the public eye although in cases like this something – the weakest link – will always give. And it did. But funnily enough it wasn’t her although she could now be quoting Montaigne (who quoted Aristotle):

‘O my friends, there is no friend.’

‘Separate the people from the problem’

No bad people just people quote

Maybe it’s my zodiac sign, but this ability – separating people from the problem – is one of my key strengths. The downside is there’s potential for the unscrupulous to abuse you and for you to be so objective you come off as cold hearted or ruthless even. The upside is you get to remain friends or at least on speaking and negotiating terms with people you’ve fought with (like exes!) or don’t necessary agree with. Like my former employer, the Board Chair. We are on polar opposite of the professional achievement scale. This in the boardroom meant we each need to put in greater effort in order to agree on some things. Outside, though, when there’s no pressure from our positions and we’re just being our selves, we talk about farming – seeds, fertilizers, GMO, struggles of IP upland farmers – lengthily as if we’re long time neighbors. Colleagues were both surprised and happy witnessing this- they believed we were ireconciliable.

The idea came to me one day as I was mulling over how I could reach out and engage the Board more meaningfully. They’re farmers so where else to start but there? And I’m not unknowledgeable either about farming. On the subject we were more or less equal although he definitely has upper hand in the art of actual farming which for a change he had pride and confidence discussing. The positive response on that communication level served as my gauge that all was not lost; that there was still a window thrown open for continous understanding of each other and negotiation. I guess what I want to point out here is, as long as we don’t take absolutism as our stand, not judge people rather extend to them the benefit of the doubt, and make collaboration as the means and end of engagement, there’d be a fighting chance that unity in diversity will happen.

Assassins, lords of the rings, taxpayers: three’s a crowd

It’s not too surprising that on Women’s Equality Day, BBC featured a Filipino woman assassin for the Philippine Government’s war on drugs. The concept of woman as killer clearly is antithesis to the more widely held image of women as peacemakers and nurturers. It makes people wonder about what motivates a woman to fight. For those who’ve watched Kill Bill and such like it is apparent that fighting is the personal means by which the woman decides to move away from victimhood. Another factor to look at is policy, such as the cautious acceptance of women combatants in the military as compared to insurgent groups where men appear more accepting of women actively fighting alongside them. These reveal the contradictory views hence treatment of women in conflict situations and subsequent impact of these on women’s motivations and decisions to fight or not; of the complexity of women’s role in human security.

Now this, a female assassin who allegedly accepts PHP20,000 for each kill. Is that the cost of human life (or, death) these days? Twenty thousand pesos. It doesn’t even buy a second hand car (although if she kills 20 she could). In this case apparently financial status is a factor although may not be the primary reason considering that there are plenty of rich and poor women who had not even thought about killing as a diversion or an income source. For conflict researchers, such presents gap areas for further study to inform policy as for instance identifying what would get women out of insurgency (negative participation) into counterinsurgency work (positive contribution).

On the other hand, if the lords of the drug rings have in them the teeniest of remorse and horror at the deaths of their employ on the ground, they would’ve waved the white flag months ago. For Catholics, remember the 40-day plague? Terrible pestilence befell the Egyptians until the Pharaoh would free the Israelites. But the Pharaoh relented only when the plague reached his doorstep, in the death of his only son and heir. What kind of God would send such horrible suffering? we ask. Beats me but in the Bible the Israelites (slaves in Egypt at the time) were said to be God’s chosen people, His favorite, and He will do everything to take good care of His people. (This sadly continues to fuel the tension in that part of the world.) Now, during that long ago plague in Egypt if a household is to be spared the life of it’s firstborn, it should smear lamb’s blood on the door. We’re seeing a similar but equally terrible drama playing out in this drug war (not just here but worldwide). But look, the lords, whoever and wherever they are, remain unmoved.

Back to the woman assassin. The BBC’s feature has unwittingly revealed an aspect of the campaign that has not been discussed: where did the PHP20,000 fee come from? Where else but T-A-X-E-S. Meaning, it’s taxpayers who are ultimately funding the war. Yet funny how people and business go about their days as if they have nothing to do with it! Congress’ role in behalf of the people is provide (or not) constitutional legitimacy to the campaign. It remains conspicously and mysteriously silent however. It’s continued silence is taken as a yes. Yes to reallocation of taxes to finance the war. Happy national heroes day everyone!

VAT Exemptions: choices, choices, choices

What is this about taking back from senior citizens and people with disabilities VAT exemption they currently enjoy in order to “compensate the lowering of corporate and income taxes”?

The matter highlights once again the sore point that is this country’s senior citizens and other vulnerable sectors. Except for the one percent who owns much of this country’s wealth and are themselves senior citizens hence also enjoy the current exemption, alongside those who have saved up funds, the sector is one of the poorest.

Seniors are summarily limited in experiencing the benefits of being alive in the twenty-first century. The mass of senior citizens rely, if there is, on pension from government (bracketed according to their salaries from worlds ago such that it’s not surprising that they receive, what, around two thousand pesos monthly- what would that buy?), or intermittent allowances from family or relatives. They rely on family’s kindness for shelter over their bodies, medical, nursing and dental needs, leisure, etc. War veterans are now too frail to follow up on the amounts promised them by government.

Old age in this country presents a very insecure and scary place to be. Tragic, too, because the best spots around the country are developed not for Filipino retirees but for foreign retirees. I’d always thought that when I’m a very old woman, I’d not want to rely on kindness (because kindness is variable). That would be the ultimate loss of dignity. I’d check into a house for the elderly until it’s time to go. This means I need to have saved on that yesterday and systems and institutions have been put up and running well.

But therein lies the problem. Social protection and welfare services for this age group are almost nonexistent. Yet senior citizens are the most active members of our communities- as volunteers, mentors, caregivers, etc. They are eager to remain relevant. In the first world nations, state policies for seniors include continuing training and education, employment (they still can! but on flexi work arrangements), legal assistance, and the like, even regular fun events. Basically, supporting old people in order that they continue living a life of dignity and fulfillment. Here, it’s kanya kanya (mind your own business), bahala ka din sa buhay mo (it’s your goddamn life I don’t care), mamatay ka na lang kaya (why don’t you drop dead already?).

Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan is the counterargument to this prevailing attitude. Therein is the reason this country’s going from crisis to crisis, always beginning to sow but seemingly unable to reap the fruits.

We don’t honor our elders. We are a Catholic majority but live most unCatholic like. We’ve turned back on ourselves and each other. Kapamilya and kapuso are reduced to mean superficial affiliations with rival TV networks instead of their positive humanistic Filipino values of looking out for family and loved ones, especially now in this debate, the more frail members of the nation.

We are not a people who live gratitude. We actually would dip into public coffers earmarked for welfare and use it for personal gain. We actually would sacrifice the lambs for corporate interests. We are third world not only with management of our economy but also in our ways toward the vulnerable in society. We dress up in the costliest of couture but we’re actually cave age-like where it matters.

The irony of it all is that the Philippine Tax Code (section 109) exempts from VAT the following:

(S) sale, importation or lease of passenger or cargo vessels and aircraft including engine, equipment and spare parts thereof for domestic and international transport operation.

But nobody in Congress or the DOF has offered to reverse that one instead to compensate the lowering of corporate taxes (although no sane economist would advise to actually put in law a blanket lowering of corporate tax at a time of robust global markets and technological innovations, it’s suicide if not downright foolish). No. It had to be the senior citizens.

war veteran vs war machine

Respect vs Empathy

Respect on its own is cold and inert, insufficient to overcome the bad tendencies that lead human beings to tyrannize over one another.

For a society to remain stable and committed to democratic principles, it needs more than detached moral principles: it has to cultivate certain emotions and teach people to enter empathetically into others’ lives.

Martha Nussbaum

Four challenges from President Duterte’s SONA

President Duterte, in his first SONA, mentioned four things I’d like to further write about here.

First, land banking. He said it was his practice as Mayor of Davao City to buy land that would be developed as relocation sites for the City’s slum dwellers. He said he talks to private owners of the lots his team has eyed to bargain for a fair price. Now, that is the Mayor we want for all Philippine cities! Land banking or the purchase of land for future use is a must for cities and municipalities. Farsighted cities see the need to secure prime strategic locations ahead of private buyers. Cities do this because, acting in the public’s best interest, Mayors and their planners wouldn’t, for instance, build a PUV terminal a hundred kilometers away from the CBD. In Baguio City, the lack of such a terminal has caused much disorder in it’s core but still City Hall continues to sit on it. Apparently, City Hall lacked the foresight to buy land well before the need arose because right now no vacant lot lies close to the CBD for such an infrastructure unless City Hall can persuade GSIS to sell or lease it’s idle property near the Victory Liner terminal. So, land banking. Real estate developers maintain units to do this work. City Halls should too.

Second, human trafficking. The President said he regard human trafficking at the same level of importance as the campaign against drugs. Great that he reiterated that. In the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), heavily-tinted vans from outside the region carrying trafficked persons mostly young people though there are children (as young as grade schoolers) as well enter Baguio City and regional towns to deliver “goods” – one could call them harems for hire – to clients who ordered for them. Think the ease in which Zalora delivers ordered packages to buyers around the country because that is how easy it is now to transport trafficked persons. When they are in the areas that’s when the bugaws tell their “goods” to have medical check ups. Some are already sick with HIV or STDs. Their records are logged in local files and so show up as local data. This is the story behind why CAR health records on HIV-AIDS and STDs are questionably high. It’s a strategy, really, of traffickers to avoid detection. Try to visualize the intricate spatial networks or should I say trade routes of human flesh from within and across the country’s regions and from this country to the world. It is similar to a drug trafficking network map. In fact, exposure of drug trafficking nodes should also expose that of human trafficking. The two go together. Just as the business of illegal drugs ensnare and involve children and young people so does the human trafficking trade. Children and young people are placed in the front lines (like, child soldiers in warfare). With enough brainwashing and fear tactics to control them, they do just that. What do we have here? Stolen and broken childhoods. Massacre of innocents.

Civil society organizations – international and local – have excellent community-based anti-human trafficking programs as well as researches and evaluations on the subject which present partnership opportunities to government. There are already such partnerships forged although these are mainly at the local level and not as widespread as desired. For the greatest impact, this needs to be consolidated at the national level toward a national strategic action against human trafficking.

Third,  the power of technology. The President, speaking about cutting back transaction time (hence costs!) in government agencies, mentioned gamitin mo ang computer (make use of the computer) more than a few times. If I understood that correctly, he meant that government offices ought to harness the power of technology. In this my observation is, most offices whether public or private put it in their budgets to buy the latest top-of-the-line computers – PCs, laptops – which only end up being used like they were typewriters! It’s like you own a Ferrari but for some reason work it like it was a donkey. A total waste of investment. Let’s take the ATM as a computer program model. It’s programmed capabilities and direct user interface increasingly done on touch screen is a breakthrough innovation that has de-clogged the volume of transactions over bank counters at the same time exponentially increased financial transactions outside the banks and beyond banking hours This redounds to overall profit for the sector. But, in order for programmers to build such an infrastructure or software package they need to have a clear picture of users’ needs and wants spelled-out in SMART i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bounded terms. To be able to give them that information though, agencies need to know and understand their clientele’s needs and wants in SMART terms. Technology can’t be one-sided. One of the thing that pisses people off is when the person behind the counter types at a speed of one word per hour. A five-minute transaction drags on to one hour. You want to tell the person, “hand me the goddamned keyboard why don’t you!” My point is, maybe these kind of users work faster with touch screens or voice-activated programs? Gamitin mo ang computer.

Lastly, disciplining the Filipino. The President said if he ever comes across complaints against public officials sleeping on their jobs, he’d personally go confront the official. Parents have learned that if they’re lax or inconsistent, their children would think and grow to believe that anything goes. One needs early on to instill understanding that if reasonable rules are willfully disregarded, there are consequences to face. Filipinos abroad have learned that early enough. They follow rules even without reminders. With Filipinos here, it is imperative to come onto them strongly in order to get the desired result. Why this difference? Our political and social milieu here has for quite some time shaped us to believe that we can do anything we like. We park wherever and however we like. We throw our garbage wherever we like. We spit wherever we like. We urinate wherever we like. Simple things that redound to our own personal welfare and yet. But then again nobody cared. Not community officials. Not law enforcers. Not property owners. So I’ll do what I goddamn like! My world’s a playpen! This time though the message is, the higher ups are watching you. Yes, you, Barangay Captains. You Mayors. You who are supposed to do your jobs. This time the State is saying it cares. It cares that our communities are safe, clean, and healthy places to live in. It cares that public officials do their work toward that. And if kicking ass now is the effective means to get people moving until following rules and caring about their communities become a habit, I support the President.