MY grandson Maximillian has been fascinated of late by wars and history. When not absorbed in “Mine Craft,” the internet video game that has occupied the waking hours of his peers (he is seven years old), questions about his country’s wars intrigue him. He has never been ambiguous about his identity. Despite his 50-percent Filipino blood, New Yorker by birth but now a (temporary) resident of Manila — he clings to his stateside ways, his accent (doesn’t speak Tagalog), his demeanor and his fierce sense of individualism. Just like most Americans. I also have another grandson, Javier, who may not speak the local dialect, asserts his Filipino pedigree, but is learning to speak Chinese — as the Philippines, I believe, will someday be a province of China.

Max’s queries are roused by documentaries on Cable TV and Netflix — which I welcome, rather than that he be engrossed in “Paw Patrol” or spend hours video-gaming. These are about wars and conflicts his country has been involved in; which gave me a reason to research on the topics. And the data is appalling. I will not tell Max these facts, just yet; he will learn about these in his own good time.

9/11 — New York
The dastardly act of pure terrorism perpetrated by Al Qaida in the 9/11 Twin Towers attack introduced into the world’s stage a new instrument of public display of atrocity and unmitigated horror that was meant to inflict numbing fear never before seen since perhaps the era of the Spanish Inquisition of 1478. The perverted nature of the deed left a great nation bewildered and shocked into an understandable demand for collective revenge — something really out of character of a civilized people, but totally within the purview of its equally traumatized leadership. Thus, President “Dubya” Bush may have been left with no choice as he discerned the desire of a wounded people and embarked on a war of retribution. His righteous indignation reflecting the people’s anger was justified, but his subsequent methods, faulty.

The attacks that day resulted in 3,000 fatalities; it forever distorted the perception of any country’s safety and security, amidst threats from a band of fanatics capable of elevating such conflicts to another level. And the panic that ensued that day awakened the dormant and unspoken fear and pent-up biases brought about by ignorance of cultural and religious nuances. It was convenient for Bush and the American political-military clique to lay the blame on countries in the Middle East and easier still to sell to the American people that it was Islam, and no dichotomy was countenanced between the greater majority of the peaceful Muslims and extremists. What was being peddled was that al-Qaida, with predominantly Islamic adherents out to sow terror, were the perpetrators using Afghanistan as their base under the protection of the Taliban. Despite the fact that the majority of the 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, an ally of America, whose despotic princes are personal family friends of the Bush political dynasty, that country was spared.

War on terror
Bush, the 43rd US President, barely needed a pretext to exact revenge. Aside from Afghanistan’s Taliban, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was a convenient villain; and perhaps to finish what Bush the 41st US President left undone during the “Desert Storm.“ Quickly hammering out the “coalition of the willing,” the US-led multi-national forces invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus, a reprise of what was once a similar blight on medieval Christian Europe — a modern-day Crusade appeared to bring about the downfall of not only a regime, and the Muslims themselves were convinced, justifiable or not, that it was a war with religious undertones. A clash of civilizations. America had to hype the danger of Iraq possessing nuclear weapons (a hoax we now know). A regime change was set in motion. With the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, America has surrendered the moral high ground.

But let us briefly examine the consequences of 9/11 that killed 3,000 Americans and other nationalities. President Trump admitted that the US has spent almost $7 trillion since. But American leadership never admitted that the death toll within that period was approximately 500,000 to 800,000 souls.

More deadly, the Global War on Terror, the linchpin of Dubya Bush’s foreign policy initiatives of retribution, produced a convoluted mindset in conflict resolution which subsequent American presidents have continued to apply with disastrous results.

Extraordinary rendition
To skirt US laws, suspects are snatched and brought to secret facilities, carried out by the US government as an extrajudicial practice, to be interrogated and tortured. The sites of these interrogations are in third-party countries, not in American soil. This preserves the fiction of American justice and adherence to the rule of law. Some successes resulted in the eventual capture and killing of Osama Bin Ladin — the mastermind of 9/11 and founder of al-Qaida. In all these cases, the much-revered moral concept of the the end justifying the means is reduced to mere petty verbiage.

Global assassination campaign
As an offshoot of these protracted wars and the desire to eliminate the ghost-like leadership of al-Qaida, IS and the insurgency that mushroomed in their aftermath, the use of advanced and sophisticated drone technologies was promoted. “The worst terrorist campaign in the world right now by far is the one that is being orchestrated in Washington — the global assassination campaign,” says Noam Chomsky, the eminent US theoretical linguist, philosopher, social critic and political activist. This has permitted the murder of America’s enemies, sanctioned by government, into an impersonal endeavor, detaching the act of killing and all the moral baggage it carries with it into simple acts of technicalities.

Drone strikes are deadly as the unmanned combat aerial vehicles are employed even in heavily populated civilian areas among whom the terrorist leadership purposely hide. The drone operators are safely snuggled with their video consoles perhaps a thousand kilometers from the targets, thus lessening the number of American lives lost. On the other hand, the collateral damage produced by this type of warfare is substantial. The United Nations Human Rights Council has declared that such strikes may have violated international humanitarian laws as civilian casualties are immensely disproportional to the targeted terrorist lives. According to the same study “…during one five-month period of the operation… nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”

Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs reports that more than 801,000 people have died as a direct result of the fighting, 335,000 of whom have been civilians. The US is currently conducting counter-terror activities in 76 countries, or about 39 percent of the world’s nations vastly expanding its mission across the globe.

The US Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

It seems to me that after 9/11, American leadership has inexorably plunged the country into state terrorism. Chomsky may have been right after all when he proclaimed that “the United States is the world’s biggest terrorist.”
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.