THIS comedy by Shakespeare is very apt for what’s happening in the Philippines today. In this Shakespearean comedy, rumors, gossip, lying and speculations are the pervading themes that override reality. At the turn of the 15th century, real news traveled slowly but rumors traveled fast. In old medieval Europe town criers were the purveyors of news and happenings from all over, and thanks to the invention of Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 that precipitated the printing revolution, these archaic newspapers were read in the town square after which, the parchment or paper was nailed to a wall in the Town Hall or Guildhall (English), Rathaus (German) or Hôtel de Ville (French) to be perused further by a few literate citizens. Townspeople, few of who could read or write, relied on the town crier’s take on the news that was of course bloated by his biases. But before the town criers’ advent, snippets of events and happenings of highly filtered news were already being discussed in the taverns and inns from whence rumors and gossip emanate. One can just surmise how each citizen injected or detracted some important details as they journeyed from mouth to mouth. Era of fake news In a parallel universe, contemporary history mirrors the past except that we have social media to accelerate dissemination of information, news and rumors through the internet. And we have a modern phrase describing these disorders as each individual has the autonomy to add, subtract or even invent details: fake news. It therefore behooves one to acquire a modicum of intellectual honesty to separate the chaff from the grain, an attribute that is instilled in people only through education, absorption of good values and the ability to reason things out in a logical manner. But we are an imperfect species molded by our individual biases, personal experiences and emotional aptitudes. The downside is that we become skeptical of events, proffered news or even opinions presented in social media. The upside is that these induce debates, dialogues and clash of ideas. Skepticism, if not carried to extreme, has its values. Take for instance the current hot topic, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States. A senator’s US visa canceled Starting with an incongruous knee-jerk reaction from President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD), triggered by the cancellation of the US visa of his favorite ex-policeman, now Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the Deegong decided to scrap, right there and then, the VFA agreement with the US. And the s**t hits the fan. Our government talking heads have been contradicting each other all over the place on how to handle this newly minted “policy,” which is an offshoot of a presidential tantrum. Witness the Keystone Kops-like bungling of his Cabinet: “Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that no official order has been issued to formally notify the United States of the Philippines’ intention to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement.” Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo announced that Duterte had instructed Executive Secretary Medialdea to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr. to send the notice of termination to the US government. But Medialdea said he had not received any order from the President. Branding the information as fake news, Lorenzana said Locsin had not yet been ordered by the President to make such a move. “There is no inconsistency. I was quoting [the President based on] what he told me. If he has not given the instruction yet to ES (executive secretary), it does not mean the information I shared [with] media is untrue. It only means ES has not yet gotten the directive from [the President],” Panelo said. What the President wants kuno Then the ex-cathedra assertion! “…the President said he wants the VFA with the United States terminated…” The magic phrase “the President wants…” is what cloaks Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, the Deegong’s erstwhile palace gofer, and now gofer senator, with mystique. Even before as the President’s number one staff/confidant, no one dared to question or verify such alleged statements from the President. I have often mentioned in my past columns that PRRD intermittently blurts out not-so-well thought-out pronouncements without the filter or advice of his palace coterie. This VFA decision was such a one. Perhaps, his advisers are too intimidated to contradict the President or are simply ignorant or unaware of what the President has in mind. But there is Sen. Bong Go to translate. Whatever! This is not the way to run a government. Obviously there was no policy analysis to gauge its repercussions on different levels: foreign policy, defense establishments, regional security and even our decades-long filial relationship with America. Presidential declarations by definition are always official, especially when involving policy and should at least be subject to a thorough review by several experts in various fields. It is obvious that in this case, there was none. The President was simply creating policy “pa oido, oido” (off the cuff) As an afterthought, the more reasonable cabinet members have called for a deep review and thus coat the presidential faux pas with a face-saving explanation as being the result of Duterte’s long-term assessment of the sporadic transgressions on Philippine sovereignty by America — not the invalidation of the US visa of his favored senator. To get into the act, the Senate came up with a hurried “sense of the Senate” resolution to cover for its castration in its role as guardian of treaties and agreements from which the VFA, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and Mutual Defense Treaty emanate. And that circus of a hearing simply reinforced the contradictions of the cabinet on their positions vis-à-vis the President’s. True, the United States regards VFA as an executive agreement and thus not subject to US Senate approval; on the other hand, Duterte can terminate the VFA on the same basis simply as an executive agreement. But for whatever reason then, the Philippine Senate ratified this agreement in May of 1999, perhaps overlaying it with the majesty if not the force of law. Ergo, the Senate’s position, fearfully docile, just had to kowtow to the President’s. Caregiver vs caretaker A leftist insensitively disseminated a blog that went viral. That people around Duterte are now categorized in two camps: the “caregiver vs the caretakers,” alluding to the good senator, a habitué of the palace as the caregiver. The second designation reinforces the role of the more senior cabinet members as government custodians, referring to PRRD’s lingering incapacities to personally steer the ship of state. These are perhaps just pure speculations and unkind to the President. Methinks the President is still in control of the levers of power and his faculties. But his style of leadership allowing his subalterns to run around the place like headless chickens leaves something to be desired. In all this hullabaloo, the more important dramatis persona was almost forgotten. Apprised of the Deegong’s move — controversial at least for Filipino and American bureaucrats on both ends of the Pacific: “It’s fine by me. If they would like to do that, that’s fine, we’ll save a lot of money!” Ha ha ha! The Donald had the last laugh and trumped them all.
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.