First of 2 parts

As in most wars, the actual start of the conflict is often ambiguous. It is more a series of events, generating a spark that leads inevitably toward a conflagration. A case in point is World War 1. In June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country yearning to free itself from an empire. For a month, Austria-Hungary waited for Kaiser Wilhelm 2nd’s word that Germany would be on her side before declaring war — Serbia being allied to Russia, France and Great Britain. Upon Germany’s assurance, an ultimatum was issued with conditions so harsh that war became unavoidable. On August 4, Germany invaded France through neutral Belgium. Thus, the “Guns of August” began the war.

World War 2

WW 2 was quite different. The seeds of war were planted at the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 when a humiliated Germany, was forced to sign the document ending WW 1 with harsh demands for reparations and ceding territories to the victorious Allied powers represented by Great Britain, France and the United States (late comer to the war).

Historians attribute additional causes leading to war — the great depression and the consequent global economic dislocations that produced fascist charismatic leaders like Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party; the rise of Japanese militarism and expansion in the Far East; and the policy of appeasement of Hitler by Britain and France, precipitated in part by guilt and later realization that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair to Germany. Appeasement only emboldened Hitler to act more aggressively, unleashing his blitzkrieg against Poland in Sept. 1, 1939. America entered the war Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan destroyed the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

World War 3

Future historians would probably mark the year of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) as the veil concealing the start of the WW 3. On one side is the rising hegemon of the East, led by Chinese President Xi Jinping; and the West, by America — if President Donald Trump realizes it’s war. But this is no shooting war using guns and bullets or nuclear devices. This is a war of economic attrition and brinkmanship, but no less deadly. The prize is global trade dominance and leadership of the post-Covid-19 world that will set the agenda for the next generations. The country that emerges the winner is one that is best prepared for this type of conflict. China is.

Chinese preparations

For generations, China never wasted its resources on war. “The US has only enjoyed 16 years of peace in its 242-year history, making the country the most warlike nation in the history of the world” (Former US president James Earl Carter Jr.)

China has undergone tremendous stresses under shifting ideological experimentations in government and economy (“great leap forward,” “cultural revolution”) from the time of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, to the socialist breakthrough in market-economy reform of Deng Xiaoping, the “architect of modern China.” His marrying the workable elements of socialist ideology and market enterprise became the templates employed by subsequent leadership, lifting 850 million Chinese out of extreme poverty from a rate of 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015. And this “war on poverty” continues in 2019 propelling another 82 million of rural poor over the poverty line (World Bank Figures 2019).

This rapid change in China’s status followed a formula set by Deng Xiaoping, pursued by Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping; enshrining for the latter both his name and ideology as “Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics.” From 1978 “…China has pursued export-driven industrialization, liberalized the private sector, welcomed foreign investment and embraced global trade”. (International Monetary Fund-World Bank Report)

It has likewise modernized its armed forces spending $821 billion in five years dwarfed only by the US’ equivalent of $2,450.81 trillion. It has no ambition to reach parity with America as, in their mindset, any shooting war will lead to a mutually assure destruction. Under this doctrine, China instead has become assertive in the world’s affairs, claiming ancestral territorial sovereignty over lands within its nine-dash line. To date, it has developed and garrisoned these island-reefs into virtual unsinkable aircraft carriers contesting American presence in the South China (West Philippine) Sea which, since 1945, was known as “America’s lake in the Far East.”

US irresponsibly unprepared

Padoxically, America was the country best prepared to fight any type of conflict — a shooting war, which China will not oblige, or one against the pandemic. It has tremendous resources in weaponry, technology, science, global reach, experience and prestige. America assumed global leadership since WW 2 and subsequent American presidents built on it, catapulting the country to greater heights of wealth and power. Yet this “pandemic has amplified Trump’s instincts to go it alone and exposed just how unprepared Washington is to lead a global response. US missteps have undermined confidence in the capacity and competence of US governance. [But its] legitimacy flows from [its] domestic governance, provision of global public goods, and ability and willingness to muster and coordinate a global response to crises.” (Kurt Campbell and Rush Doshi, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)

Then Trump happened, dismantling in three years what his predecessor had built and nurtured. And the erosion of America’s prestige continues, as the world watches with a tinge of sadness mixed with nuanced derision.

Trump declared grandiosely that he was a wartime president, referring to the war against Covid-19 — his democrat rival Joe Biden derisively referred to him as the “president who surrendered.” Indeed, he is a wartime president except that, unbeknownst to the clueless Trump, he actually fired the first salvo of WW 3 on March 22, 2018 when he imposed tariffs of $50 billion on Chinese goods as part of his MAGA — “Make America Great Again” — economic policy reducing US trade deficits. Similar tariffs were likewise imposed on America’s allies. And now the global trade war rages.

American tragedy

To date, America’s abdication of its leadership caused 130,000 Americans to die of the pandemic; that could further be exacerbated by the daily Black Lives Matter street protests. But, then again, it must be clear by now that these are just symptoms of a systemic rot deeply embedded, just now exposed. First, America’s ideals of democracy and republicanism and the practice thereof are incongruent, creating an abomination. Second, the centuries-old decay that could no longer be contained surfaced through a nondescript yet aberrant death of a black man. Racism reared its ugly head. It is an American tragedy that both anomalies find expression in the American presidency.

Chinese narrative

Thus, China saw its own “manifest destiny” as America once did in1845 when she took upon herself the idea that she is destined to spread democracy, capitalism and even slavery, eventually compressing these concepts into the expansion of global trade as a vehicle for its values and hegemony. China’s version is now onstream, the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Thus, WW 3 is now a reality. The nations of the world may start realigning.

To be continued next week

The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
“Then I fall to my knees, shake a rattle at the skies and I’m afraid that I’ll be taken, abandoned, forsaken in her cold coffee eyes.” – A quote from the song, “She moves on” by Paul Simon, singer/songwriter

THE recent tremors affecting the central provinces of Mindanao caused by a series of seismic waves radiating to the northern and southern parts of the island, were like nature shaking a rattle, emitting sharp sounds and unnerving motions from the underground, both frightening and bewildering as to the intensity and confusion they generated.

The successive earthquakes and aftershocks were rattling the nerves not only of residents close to the epicenter but also those living along the active fault planes who were not used to strong earth movements. Some reported dizziness, anxiety, depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms after experiencing continuous shaking and periodic vibrations.

As this article was written, less frequent but perceptible tremors were felt on the affected areas although everyone is reportedly bracing for aftershocks which many hope and pray, would not turn out to be the dreaded “big one,” as some irresponsible persons are falsely posting on social media. Shake a rattle drum to this latter blokes.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), since the 1900s, Mindanao has been rocked by at least 35 earthquakes, three of which, felt at “Intensity 7” or worse, were deemed destructive: the 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake which caused a tsunami reaching up to nine meters that killed about 8,000 people including the unaccounted ones; the 1999 series of earthquakes in Agusan del Sur damaging roads, and poorly constructed schools and infrastructure; and the Sultan Kudarat earthquake in 2002, killing eight people with 41 others injured and affecting over seven thousand families in the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato (Rappler 2019). Shake a rattle of prayers for all who perished in these tragedies.

The series of earthquakes in October of this year, just weeks apart, with magnitudes of over 6 hitting many provinces, again, in Cotabato and southern parts of Davao accounted for the death toll of 22, damaging homes, school buildings and many infrastructure, shaking and sending chills to many residents who have to deal with continuing albeit smaller tremors which can be felt as far up the city of Cagayan de Oro and down the southern province of Sarangani.

Some local officials reported residents having developed “earthquake phobia” keeping watch on their clock hanging inside their tents in evacuation sites, losing sleep with anxiety awaiting when the next tremor would be coming. With frayed nerves, some would panic over even slight ground shakings.

But this is not about the temblor as much as the response of people and the country’s leaders and responsible officials. Except for the government of China which donated P22 million in aid and support for relief efforts in Mindanao, hurray for China, other foreign countries just expressed condolences and messages of sympathy to families of victims. No pledges, no assistance. Perhaps, they can’t trust our government agencies to do the job for them anymore. To them, a shake of the baby rattle.

To the initial bunch of donors who immediately come with their financial assistance such as Yorme Isko Moreno of Manila with his P5 million personal money, Mayor Vico Sotto with relief goods and P14 million coming from the people of Pasig City, Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina with 100 modular tents, movie star Angel Locsin who moved about sans fanfare for her charity work offering food and other assistance to victims in Davao and North Cotabato, to Mayor Inday Duterte for relief distribution, Cebu provincial government for disaster relief campaign and to the many nameless others who came with their relief aids, shake a rattle of joy and thankfulness for their kindness and generosity.

To our government officials and politicians goes our appeal to set aside politics, distribute the relief items according to the wishes of their donors and not allow goods to rot because of political colors as was shown in the previous administration’s handling of donated goods. To them, shake a rattle of enlightenment and peace.

In whatever disaster or crisis that befalls the country, trust Filipinos’ resiliency and coping mechanisms such as resorting to prayers and humor to come to their succor.

Social media become a natural venue for memes, practical jokes and bantering such as the ones which came after Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy reportedly claimed that he caused to stop the earthquakes so they can no longer create damage. To everyone, shake a rattle of laughter and fun while we help provide for the needs of our less fortunate brethren in Cotabato and Davao provinces.