Train to nowhere

The Duterte administration says the recently-passed Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (AKA Train) law should do the Filipino people a world of good.
At first glance, it may accomplish something that taxpayers will welcome since it relieves them of the burden of excessively high income taxes. What the government does not talk about is the sudden rise in the prices of many goods and services that will result because of Duterte’s Train.
One personal example may well be a sign of what consumers can expect in the next few weeks and months. In this case, however, it was felt by yours truly a few days after the bill was signed into law, the effects of which should not have taken effect until this first quarter of 2018.
As I am sometimes wont to do, I had a fastfood dinner in that odd period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Like most everybody else, I had gotten tired of too much of the grand (AKA unhealthy) food served everywhere during the holiday season.
One particular good-for-two meals that my partner and I sometimes order is from KFC. It went for about P250 or $5 throughout most of 2017. So what happened last week?
That very same meal was now selling for something like P320.
We were not only surprised, but stunned. That was a whopping increase, where usually most such places would hike their retail prices by a tolerable five percent per year, on the average.
She pointed out to the staff that the increase was pretty dramatic, and the reply she got was a stunner. It was because of that Train law, she was told.
My partner wanted to argue that the Train law would not affect prices until the first quarter of 2018 at the earliest, but she decided not to spoil the holiday mood. I could only shake my head in disgust.
What the fastfood joint did was not unexpected. A lot of companies big and small like to commit these little crimes against consumers if they think they can get away with it. Their argument goes something like this: Since everybody has a lot more money during the Christmas season, it’s perfectly all right to jack up their prices.
Yes, most employees would have gotten their legally-mandated 13th month pay, but this was a little too much. And the signing of the Train law gave them the perfect opportunity to pull a fast one over consumers.
This was just the beginning, of course. The government did say that the prices of certain goods will definitely go up because of the Train law. What the government appears unable to do is to prevent the big players from victimizing the lowly and generally powerless consumers.
One news story this week said that the Department of Energy was making sure that those big, bad oil companies would not jack up their prices this early, seeing that they were still selling stocks that they had prior to the signing of the Train law.
Why such a step needed to be done speaks volumes of private companies who enjoy nothing more than to profiteer from a new law.
Eventually, gas and diesel prices will have to go up. Or should I say skyrocket?
The transport industry is already preparing to ask for an increase in the fares paid by the riding public, and their request is sure to be granted.
Very incidentally, the prices of cars are among those that will increase dramatically in the coming weeks. The only good thing – if you can call it that – is that the increases will be higher for the more expensive vehicles. So it would be better for a consumer to buy one of those small cars rather than an SUV, which is infinitely safer.
I don’t know how the administration will justify the coming higher prices of nearly everything, which will automatically have an inflationary effect and dampen the country’s economic growth.
We all know that old saying that the only certainties in life are taxes and death. This Train tax, however, will prove to be extremely painful, and could just hasten the demise of the millions of Filipinos who are still struggling to make end meet.
This tax is supposed to be inclusive?
No it most certainly is not. It will only prove to be a backbreaking burden that the majority of Filipinos will have no choice but to bear.
Thanks for nothing, Mr. Duterte.


A jewel in this year’s MMFF

I have to admit that I have never been a fan of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), which was launched more than four decades ago and which leaves moviegoers no choice but to watch locally made movies beginning every Christmas Day up to Jan. 7 the following year.
The festival supposedly gives awards for well made films, but the only important thing is the gate receipts of each entry.
Year in and year out, it seems that cinephiles are “treated” to the usual movies like the Enteng Kabisote, Panday (sans FPJ), and Shake, Rattle and Roll series. The few good films that do not find a large enough audience are dropped by the movie theaters like proverbial hot potatoes.
This was proven yet again this year when Ang Larawan (The Portrait) was axed after only one day. Good thing I got to watch this instant classic, based on a story by the late National Artist Nick Joaquin. As of this writing, 15 theaters of the SM malls have opted to replace the musical with more low end fare like the newest Panday film.
I can’t say enough of Ang Larawan. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Based on Nick Joaquin’s Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino and translated into the national language by another late national artist, Rolando Tinio, it is as good as it gets.
The only other recent local film that matches up with it is Luna, the well-made movie about Gen. Antonio Luna that is so good that I had to buy a copy. I plan to do the same with Ang Larawan. If it’s ever shown in the US, please watch it. You will not be sorry, I promise.
It’s far from perfect, but the movie has so many strengths that those imperfections can be ignored. Maestro Ryan Cayabyab composed the music and his is in fine form.
As for the stars, a few are noted stage thespians, but the rest are artists of TV and film, with one lead star – Rachel Alejandro – better known as a singer, but who acts like a veteran pro.
Chairman of the MMFF Board of Judges this year is Rep. Karlo Nograles, fresh off his successful steering of the national budget in Congress.
Why this young lawmaker as a filmfest judge?
I’ve met him a few times and he comes across as a renaissance man with a variety of interests, not the least of which is art.
He told me that in his view, the Filipino film industry “has made great strides in polishing some of our graphics,” particularly fantasy films. I have to agree. Not only in fantasy films, but also in historical ones like the abovementioned Luna, and another one coming soon about the boy-general Gregorio del Pilar. A short feature in the making of the latter film shows that technically, our movemakers have what it takes to create visually stunning works that take us back to another time or place.
Last year, indie films made a splash in the MMFF. This year, Nograles said he saw the effort of the big producers to strike a balance between indie and commercial films.
Happily, the lawmaker agrees with me that “focus should be on making more quality films rather than pandering to what the market seems to want.”
The possible senatorial bet in the coming mid-term elections is aware of one of the weaknesses of the industry. Good stories normally do not get fundings from big outfits who focus on the marketability of the “artistas” rather than the story, he said.
For now, this filmfest reverts back to the same crowd-drawing formula that made huge money in the previous years, according to Nograles.
We’ll see this as the current template for future MMFFs, he added.
Let’s see if the big producers are willing to stick their necks out once in a while and go for quality rather than commercial success. Let’s face it. Our indie films have made waves abroad, but our star-studded movies only cater to the local market. Shame, huh?
There are other issues, of course. In my book, the greatest living Filipino director is the now retired Mike de Leon. He was supposedly planning on coming out of retirement to direct on entry for the MMFF, but backed out because he had issues with corruption. He probably means the unequal treatment of quality films as against commercial movies.
He may be right, considering what happened to Ang Larawan.


What have they done to our childhood heroes?

Every so often, I feel like writing less serious matters for my column. This is one of those times.
I’m at an age when a lot of my peers are retired. Some are even dead. But I continue to work for the simple reason that I enjoy what I’m doing. But being a newsman does have its downers. For one, most of what’s considered newsworthy these days is actually bad news. Awful even.
So I relax by watching a lot of movies and TV shows. Being a resident of Makati, I get to watch as many movies as my eyes can take. All free by virtue of my being a senior citizen.
I love fantasy, horror and sci-fi movies. I am especially nuts over the superhero films that have been coming out in the last decade or so. As a kid, I spent a good part of my allowance buying comic books. As a pre-teen, I enjoyed DC Comics, specifically Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern. Wonder Woman too.
But as I grew older, I discovered Marvel comics, and I was hooked. I began collecting the biggies, from SpiderMan to the Fantastic Four to The Avengers, to Daredevil, et al.
At its peak, my collection was in the hundreds, with 90 percent being Marvel and 10 percent DC. If I had taken extra good care of them, they would be worth millions. Yes, millions. But a flash flood in our Pasay home destroyed by collection. That still qualifies as one of the saddest days of my life.
Not too long ago, a young friend who happens to be some kind of techie offered to download for me all the comics of my youth, and then some. So yes, I have my lost collection back, but in digital format. And no, it’s not quite the same.
Anyway, very recently – as in the last three weeks – two superhero movies were shown in the theaters, and I was among the first to watch both. The first was Thor Ragnarok, which I enjoyed immensely. Then there was Justice League, which I really wanted to enjoy, but halfway through the movie I felt cheated.
I had seen Wonder Woman a few months ago, and that was a terrific movie, as most people would agree.
My problem with Justice League? I could not recognize my two favorite DC heroes, Batman and Superman. Their onscreen personas had changed, and not for the better.
First, let’s take Superman. I never did like the change in the costume. Sure, the old Man of Steel wore what looked like his underwear over his tights. But that’s how he was drawn from the start.
And it’s not just the cosmetic change that I did not agree with. In the old days, Supes stood for “truth, justice, and the American way.” He was the American Boy Scout who could fly. He was almost perfect, but for his one weakness, kryptonite.
The Christopher Reeve version of Superman got it perfectly right. But now, we have a brooding guy who sometimes feels sorry or angry at himself for being an alien on planet Earth.
Thumbs down to this not very super Superman.
Then there’s Batman. I don’t know if his late creator Bob Kane would even recognize this version. For one, the original Batman hates guns and doesn’t kill people. For reasons I cannot fathom, the suits at Warner Brothers decided that this caped crusader should be a cold-blooded, trigger happy killer.
Two thumbs down for that, ladies and gentlemen.
Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always believed that superheroes do not only possess all kinds of powers, but they should also be worthy of emulation. They should be the best of the best. Now, what we have are angst-ridden men and women who do not make good role models.
I still enjoy most Marvel movies, even the ones done by Fox and Sony. Most of the time, good conquers evil.
This may not be true for real life, but that’s exactly my point. “Mere” movies should still deliver positive messages.
There may not be real life men and women who possess super strength, super speed and magic hammers. But there is one super powered country, and that’s the US of A. As such, the US should show the world that, as SpiderMan says, with great power comes great responsibility.
What I’d like to see in real life is for the superpower that is the US to flex its muscle and use its strength to make the world a better place. Is that too much to ask?


A deadly assault on the judiciary

He’s committed a lot of mistakes in the course of his presidency, but Rodrigo Duterte’s assault on the independence of the judiciary must be considered the worst, one that can have the direst of consequences if he does not stop.
Mr. Duterte and his minions in Congress seem hell bent on removing Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. It began with an impeachment complaint filed by an obscure lawyer before the House of Representatives, a complaint that many legal minds consider weak, if not fatally flawed.
This week, Malacanang showed the president’s true colors when it called for CJ Sereno to resign.
One columnist said it best. The palace has crossed a red line.
One reason cited by political analysts is that CJ Sereno will be a stumbling block to Mr. Duterte’s plan to install Bongbong Marcos as vice president as she will head the electoral tribunal to determine if the former senator and son of the late dictator has a valid case against incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo.
Aside from this, CJ Sereno has proven herself to be completely independent. She will not kowtow to Mr. Duterte as she knows full well that she is a co-equal to the president.
Mr. Duterte is the head of the executive department. CJ Sereno is the head of the judiciary. The legislative branch is headed by Senate President Koko Pimentel, who is little more than a puppet of the president.
If the impeachment of CJ Sereno pushes through, then the odds will be stacked against her since both the Senate President and the Speaker of the House will do anything to please their boss. If Mr. Duterte tells them to jump from the tallest building in the land, they will both ask him what attire they should wear.
Once Bongbong Marcos is installed as VP, Mr. Duterte can rightfully claim that he can now resign, seeing that his addiction to the dangerous drug fentanyl has already fried his brains.
What happens next is too ugly to think about. Of course, the majority of the people will never accept another Marcos presidency. There will be no more peaceful Edsa revolts. Instead, we can expect the communist underground to grow to unheard of levels. Ditto with the Muslim insurgency.
Worst of all, the armed forces, the academe, the business community, and civil society in general will also refuse to accept the former do-nothing senator as chief executive.
Unthinkable as it seems, a civil war is not an improbability.
I may be painting the bleakest possible scenario, but who knew before he was elected president that Mr. Duterte would wage a supposed drug war that only targets the poor? In so doing, he closed his eyes to abuses committed in the name of his drug war by the Philippine National Police.
How many EJKs have been committed by the PNP since Mr. Duterte assumed the presidency? The acceptable figure seems to be somewhere in the vicinity of 12,000.
As he was allowing mass murder to be committed by the police, the same president also appointed non-qualified, incompetent, and corrupt men and women to his official family.
We all know the saying: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Mr. Duterte acts no differently from the late dictator Marcos, who became ruler of the Philippines because the legislative and judicial branches of government gave in to all his demands when martial law was declared.
As dictator, Marcos became the richest man in Asia. The wealth he stole is in the billions of dollars, and only a small fraction has been recovered by the government.
Now the Marcoses would have the Filipino people believe that the billions that they still have stashed away in various foreign countries is only there for safekeeping. And Mr. Duterte supports this impossibly audacious claim, to whitewash the sins of the Marcos family and to set the stage for the son and namesake of the despised dictator to assume the presidency.
The march towards civil war can still be stopped. All that’s needed is for a few good men – and women, in particular – to block the dangerous path that Rodrigo Duterte is now taking.
The legislative branch of government may be a lost cause, at least for now. But not the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary must be maintained at all cost to prevent another dictator from ruling and destroying the Philippines.
It starts with making sure that Ms. Sereno is not removed as chief justice.


Preparing the red carpet for Trump

Residents of Metro Manila have been feeling it since last week. By it I mean the extreme preparations for the Asean Summit to be held in Manila as well as Bulacan and Pampanga in the middle of this month.
Every time the Philippines takes its turn to host the annual summit, Metro Manila is placed on lockdown. Most economic activities in the metropolis grind to a halt because the main arteries are closed to vehicular traffic. Schools are suspended, as are government offices. Private companies may stay open, but allowances are made for employees who may not be able to make it to work due to the impossible traffic situation.
This year, preparations are even more intense, probably because one Donald Trump is attending the meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.
That’s right. The president of the good old USA will be setting foot on Philippine soil for the first time ever, although his two sons did come to Manila some years back when a real estate project of Century Properties partnered with Mr. Trump’s empire.
Although they have spoken over the phone on one or two occasions, the US and Philippine presidents will be meeting face-to-face for the first time. Their past talks seemed pleasant enough with Mr. Trump praising Mr. Duterte’s tough stance on illegal drugs.
The two leaders actually have a lot in common. Both are in their 70s and do not follow the usual model of national leaders. They like to speak their minds even if what they say is politically incorrect, to put it mildly. Oh, and they also have a huge dislike for media, at least media that does not kowtow to their wishes.
One difference though. Mr. Trump is a dedicated tweeter while Mr. Duterte probably has no clue as to what Twitter is.
At this stage in their presidencies, it would seem that the American leader is in greater danger of being impeached or forced to resign because of the ongoing investigation on the Russia dealings of people very close to him. His popularity has also sunk to an all-time low and could drop even further, to the point that his own Republican Party may eventually have little choice but to disown him.
This is where the contrast is strongest. Despite his tacit approval of the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Philippine National Police against suspected drug pushers and users, Mr. Duterte remains not only popular with the Filipino people, his political stranglehold on Congress is practically airtight. At this stage, impeaching Mr. Duterte is impossible for all intents and purposes.
Yet between the two, it is the Philippine president who may not complete his term.
Mr. Duterte himself has stated on several occasions that he does not see himself serving his full 6-year term. He says he is old and tired and was actually forced to run for president by numerous parties, unlike Mr. Trump who has always had his eye on the US presidency since becoming one of the biggest property developers not only in the US but in other countries as well.
The tight Asean summit schedule means that there will be little time for Messrs. Duterte and Trump to have a lengthy and meaning conversation on topics of mutual interest, but they should have a pleasant enough tete-a-tete.
They are almost certain to talk about North Korea and ISIS. Mr. Duterte will again agree with Mr. Trump that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a madman. The US prez will congratulate his Pinoy counterpart for the total victory of the Armed Forces of the Philippines over the ISIS-allied Maute Group in Marawi.
With Mr. Trump as US president, bilateral relations with the Philippines should go back to normal. It is no secret that Mr. Duterte was not too fond of previous US president Barack Obama, who had expressed displeasure at the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines, what with the EJKs occurring with deadly regularity.
A few months ago, there was an invitation extended to the Filipino leader to visit the White House. That visit was originally scheduled for November, this year. With President Trump visiting the Philippines – albeit for an Asean function -- and meeting host President Duterte, that invite may be extended again, and this time accepted and finalized. Very likely, the Philippine president will head for the US sometime next year for a state visit.
But this will be entirely dependent on both gents remaining presidents of their respective countries.


The next big thing?

There’s a saying, If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Anyone who bought shares of stock in Microsoft, Apple, or even Disney when shares were offered to the public in their early days quite literally became millionaires overnight. All with the purchase of a few thousand dollars, or even hundreds, worth of stock at the opening gate.
Lately, there has been much brouhaha over bitcoin, which is billed as a cryptocurrency. Another word for it would be ecommerce currency. Up to now, there are a good many non-believers in bitcoin, which some consider a scam.
At first glance, bitcoin does seem to good to be true. In a matter of a few years – much less than a full decade – its value rose from a few cents to seven or eight thousand dollars per coin.
The biggest concern is that bitcoin may have grown too fast, too soon. As such, it could be a bubble that will burst bigtime, and this will mean huge losses for those who have invested their life savings on the online currency.
Now comes a new company called bitqyck.
At first blush, I thought bitqyck was nothing more than a clone of bitcoin. With the overwhelming success of bitcoin, it was only a matter of time when competitors would come in to get a slice of the evergrowing pie.
A person whom I have the highest respect for was the one who told me about bitqyck. “Just check it out,” he said, and that I did a few days ago.
A FilAm executive had up and quit his job and tied his fortunes with bitqyck, my California-based source told me. That executive, Ron Aquino, was heading to the Philippines to launch bitqyck operations here.
All I had to do was attend a two-hour briefing to learn the essentials of bitqyck, which I did over the weekend.
If I was thinking that here was another bitcoin wannabe, my partner had another take. She told me that bitqyck was just another multi-level marketing company, or MLM.
Now MLMs can be legit, or they can be scams. It all depends on the products or services being presented to the public. Products like cosmetics (Avon, etc), jewellery, apparel, and cookware are sold via MLM companies. Some have existed for decades and are still going strong.
Others, unfortunately, are little more than fly-by-night operations. Also known as Ponzi schemes, these rackets have been around for more than a century. It was named after an immigrant who started the get-rich-quick scheme in the East Coast. Such schemes depends on the greed of some people. They know there’s something fishy about the scheme, but they take part just the same.
Anyway, my partner and I attended the briefing which seemed interesting enough.
It was when we sat down with Ron Aquino that everything became clearer.
I’ve been a business journalist for more than three decades now, and I have seen flsh-in-the-pan companies entice men and women to join in hopes of finding a nice business to place their time, money and effort in. The interview with Ron made me think hard about the company he is setting up in Manila.
Bitqyck is based in Texas and thus far, I like what I see.
Yes, there is another saying that may be quite fitting for bitqyck. There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. No matter how many times I hear it or read it, the truth of the saying always rings true.
Some decades ago, computers were an idea whose time had come. More recently, the internet is a bright idea whose time has come. Ditto with Facebook.
I’ve witnessed the shift from brick and mortar stores to online shopping, which just a decade ago seemed too farfetched to succeed. See, I had always believed that no one would buy clothes or shoes or appliances without first touching what he or she wanted to buy.
How wrong I was.
As far as I’ve picked up from that talk with Ron, bitqyck has all the makings of not just a mere company, but a way of life whose time may be now.
Their website and the presentation I attended says bitqyck is “the convergence of e-commerce, the blockchain, US-based bitqycryptocurrency, and direct-to-consumer marketing.”
Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?
Incidentally, I am not endorsing bitqyck for the truly odd reason that there is really nothing to endorse. You do not buy the cryptocurrency like bitcoin. You do not shell out any money to be part of bitqyck, in fact.
I will write more about bitqyck in a succeeding column. Like I implied, I am not easily impressed by any new company or concept that enters the market. But my curiosity has been sufficiently piqued that I plan to spend some more time for what may possibly be the next big thing.


Marawi siege ends

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor-in-Chief
MANILA – Victory, at last.
After almost five months, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) finally ended the siege of the Islamic City of Marawi in Mindanao this week by taking out Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon.
Maute was head of the ISIS-allied Maute group which took over large parts of the city, while Hapilon led a faction of the Abu Sayyaf group which joined the Maute group at the height of the seige.
On Wednesday, October 18, the government through Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno announced that “Marawi City is now militant-free and is ready for rehabilitation.”
The government allotted P5 billion for the repair and rehabilitation of Marawi this year, to be followed by P10 billion next year.
President Duterte declared that Marawi City had been liberated from the terrorist group in Tuesday, October 17, the day after the AFP confirmed the deaths of Maute and Hapilon. Photos of the two showed that they had been struck by fatal shots to the head.
As a damper to the news, however, it was learned that leaders of IS Ranao, the ISIS-affiliated group that fought alongside the Maute group, had managed to escapt to the countryside.
Hapilon was the more wanted of the two leaders, carrying a bounty of $5 million from the US for his capture, dead or alive. The Philippine government also offered P10 million for his head.
Reports said that Hapilon offered “millions” to the AFP leadership to allow him to escape, but this offer was ignored.
Omar Maute, on the other hand, was one of two sibling who led the group named after their family, which had been politically active prior to the siege, His brother Abdullah was killed by government forces last month. The parents of the Maute brothers were earlier arrested for the financial support they gave the sons, and the couple is presently detained in Manila.
Analysts say that the end of the fighting marks the beginning of a long process of rehabilitation which may take years to complete. Aside from the P5 billion set aside this year and twice that amount next year, more funds will be needed do to the massive damage to the infrastructure of the city.
President Duterte proposed the issuance of “Marawi bonds” worth P30 billion to further finance the reconstruction. The bonds will be offered to the general public and will have higher interest rates than bank deposits. They will be guaranteed by the national government, which all but erases any risks to the buyers.

Ignoring the warning signals


fall of foreign direct investments to the Philippines can


 be described as precipitous. Yet, it was not surprising, all

 things considered.


 inflow of FDIs is only one measure of how well a country’s

 economy is going, but it does not solely measure the state

 of a nation. For

 now, it would appear that the Philippine economy is doing

 well. The construction boom continues, car sales

 are shooting through the roof, and the business process

 outsourcing industry is

 still doing well.


 the tourism industry is still relatively stable. But any and

 all of these positives can collapse in an instant and the


 administration will have no one to blame but



 sharp drop in FDIs can be interpreted to mean that the big

 players no longer see the Philippines in the same light as

 they did during the

 previous administration. Back then, the Philippines was

 considered as one of

 the best places to invest in. Foreign and local investors

 were placing their

funds in the stock market and directly to businesses such as

 real estate,

 manufacturing, transportation, and assorted services knowing

 full well that

 they would earn decent profits with no



 in particular, demand economic and political stability

 before they place their funds outside their home bases, and

 here is where the

 Philippine government, specifically the Duterte

 administration which remains in

 power until 2022, can expect trouble in the near



 Marawi crisis which lasted much longer than anyone expected

 showed that the Philippines could be targeted by ISIS with

 ease. The Maute

 group may be close to being destroyed by the Armed Forces of

 the Philippines,

 but the resilience they showed during the crisis could

 inspire other groups

 enamored with ISIS to challenge the national government

 anywhere, anytime.


 unabated extrajudicial killings of drug suspects has also

 given the country a negative image worldwide, and no amount

 of denials by Mr.

 Duterte and his minions can erase the truth. Innocent

 civilians are being

killed in the name of the president’s war on drugs, and

 the last straw may have

 been when two minors were killed by policemen recently.


will be debated, but the generally accepted figure is more

 than 10,000 mostly poor drug suspects have been killed by

 the Philippine

 National Police extrajudicially.


 about the size of a small town. And since the EJKs are

 ongoing, by the time Mr. Duterte steps down, the figure will

likely balloon to

 the point that the number of victims will be equivalent to

 the population of a

 big city.


 real problem is actually Mr. Duterte himself. He never

 abandoned his mindset of thinking like a city mayor instead

of a president of a



 successes as administrator of Davao City are well known. He

 was able to clean up the city because he took an extreme

hardline stance

 against criminality. There were constant rumors of Mr.

 Duterte personally

 killing criminals, and depending on when and who he is

 speaking with, the

 president himself claims to have shot to death a number of

hardened crooks.


 declaration of martial law in all of Mindanao and recent

 threat to place the entire country under his one-man rule

was one more reason

 that foreign investors have opted to take their funds


 We all

know the saying: You can’t teach an old dog new



president can talk the talk all he wants, and he has enough

sycophants surrounding him to tell him all is well.

Unfortunately for him, his administration’s flaws and weaknesses have now been laid

bare for all the world

 to see.

 A few

 days ago, the results of a new survey showed that his

 popularity had taken a sudden dive. As expected, Malacanang

 spin doctors said

 there was nothing wrong with this, and that there was no

need to worry.


same mouthpieces want the public to believe that the falling

 investments are a temporary glitch and that the economy

 remains strong.


 not. In the weeks and months to come, the shaky state of the

 economy will become clearer to all as the prices of goods

 and services rise and

 the growth will sputter. Perhaps not to a halt, but enough

 to cause a steady rise

 in unemployment and the instability that goes with



 Duterte will not care because he knows that he cannot be

 removed from office. He cannot be impeached because

impeachment proceedings

begin at the House of Representatives, the majority of whom

 have pledged their

 loyalty to him.


 are the reason the Philippines now feels like a sinking



What is he thinking?


President Rodrigo Duterte likes cracking jokes, many of which fail to hit the mark. There are also times when he says something not intended as a joke, but which elicit laughter anyway.
This week, he came up with a biggie.
It is well known that like US President Donald Trump, Mr. Duterte has no love lost for media. He only appreciates media organizations which treat him like an emperor, which is why print and broadcast media organizations which have an independent streak are on his hit list.
The president hates ABS-CBN and he abhors the Philippine Daily Inquirer, among others. When he meant to snap at ABS headman Gabby Lopez earlier this week, he cursed actor Gabby Concepcion instead.
For those who may not know who Gabby Concepcion is, the guy is an actor who was big in the 80s. He married superstar Sharon Cuneta and the two had one daughter, KJ Concepcion who occasionally dabbles in acting.
Unfortunately, the political bug hit Gabby Concepcion after he split from his first wife, and he took the daughter of a local politico as his partner. He then ran for mayor, but his stardom was not enough to convince voters to give him a try.
In this regard, he is not unlike Richard Gomez who has run multiple times for a variety of elective posts, losing each time.
The moral lesson here is that good looks will not be enough to get elected mayor, governor, or senator. And don’t think of Joseph Estrada who has been mayor, senator, president, and mayor again. The man called Erap was never a matinee idol.
But I digress. For whatever reason, Gabby Concepcion was again in the news courtesy of Mr. Duterte. All this is well and good, I suppose, since Gabby Concepcion has never been able to regain his popularity after returning to the Philippines after a lengthy spell in the US. His movie roles have been sparse, as well as his TV roles. What he’s become mildly successful at is as endorser of a few consumer products such as bottled water.
Then came Mr.Duterte’s verbal error.
It was an unintentional joke heard all over the archipelago, so much so that  hashtags quuckly appeared on Facebook, to wit: #Standwith Gabby Concepcion, and #JusticeforGabbyConcepcion.
This is only the beginning. Soon, I expect videos to appear demanding that the former matinee idol be allowed to post bail despite committing plunder, or begging former wife Sharon Cuneta to give him a second chance, or asking either the opposition Liberal Party or administration PDP-Laban to include him in their Senate slates in the next elections.
A lot of silliness will crop up because of Mr. Duterte’s possibly honest mistake. I say possibly because it is not impossible to think that the president really had the actor in mind. Maybe he asked Gabby Concepcion to endorse him when he ran for president, and he declined? Who knows?
So I really wanted to ask, What was he thinking? But instead, I need to ask, What is he thinking?
From his actions, it would appear that the chief executive is not thinking clearly anymore. He says things off the top of his head which make little sense, and for whatever reason he has developed a habit of calling for press conferences in the wee hours of the early morning.
His words and his actions are disturbing, to say the least. It’s a good thing that the Philippines is still a developing country because it would be unthinkable for a president of a developed nation to say many of the things Mr. Duterte says.
Mr. Trump may say something stupid such as calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Rocket Man, and the consequences could be most dire. The insult is being used by the communist state to say that the US has, in effect, declared war on them.
For Mr. Duterte, there may be no consequences at all. 
Recall that only last week, he openly admitted lying about the supposed bank records of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. This he did when interviewed over government television.
Nothing happened, or course. He lied last week, then lambasted an aging actor this week. What more can he do, I cannot say. What a lot of people are saying is that the president who previously admitted to regularly taking the dangerous drug fentanyl is no floating the idea that his daughter, the current mayor of Davao City, can succeed him when his term ends.
More inspired nonsense, huh?
But no, he is not insane. The fact that he refuses to sign a waiver so that his bank accounts can be revealed to the public shows that Mr. Duterte is still of sound mind, one that has a lot of secrets.

Too good to be true?

At the risk of sounding banal, I have to repeat the old saying: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Too good to be true, that is.
This week, President Rodrigo Duterte said something that almost turned me into a Dutertard. The chief executive claimed that he had spoken to an unidentified member of the Marcos camp, and the family of the late dictator had promised to return their ill-gotten wealth.
As my favorite actor Keanu Reeves likes to say in nearly all of his movies, I also told myself: Whoa.
Could this be real? Had Mr. Duterte enlightened the Marcoses to realize the error of their ways? Had he convinced them to surrender what they took from the nation’s coffers so that they may finally clean their soiled reputations in the history books?
No. Not quite.
To backtrack, I was browsing through Facebook as I am wont to do every morning. One of my friends posted a one-liner about Duterte saying the Marcoses would return their ill-gotten wealth. To my friend, I stated: Fake news?
I was so convinced that it was so implausible that I didn’t think more of it. That greedy family would in my mind never ever return the wealth that turned their patriarch into one of the biggest thieves of all time. Not my judgment, but this is according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Or as Filipinos would say, this would only happen “pagputi ng uwak,” or when the crows or blackbirds turn white.
Later in the day, I browsed through my favorite news sites, the ones I still find as being generally honest and fair. Lo and behold, it was true. Sort of. The president did, in fact, say that the Marcoses were now willing to return their wealth, including “a few gold bars.”
Listening to the president speak, it became clear that while he may indeed have spoken to one of the Marcoses, the promise to return their ill-gotten wealth was so full of vague conditions as to be little more than double talk, or gobbledygook as some wordsmiths would call it.
What the Marcos spokesperson said was that whatever the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) could find, they would return.
Such malarkey.
The late dictator had stolen billions of pesos, or even dollars, that the few hundred millions that the PCGG had recovered over the last three decades was a proverbial drop in the bucket.
While no one truly knows the full extent of the greed and thievery of Ferdinand Marcos, simply seeing the current lifestyles of his immediate family is proof that vast amounts remain in their pockets, beyond the reach of the government in general, and the PCGG, in particular.
It is known that at the height of martial law, the bulk of the country’s gold reserves was flown out of the country. Where that gold went is a secret only the Marcos family knows. It may be stashed away in Switzerland, or it may be in several banks in countries that are completely inaccessible.
Indeed, Marcos and his family have managed to commit the perfect crime. They were able to rob the country blind and get away with it, and still have his mortal remains buried in a heroes cemetery. Moreover, his wife, son and one of two daughters have been elected to government positions again and again.
Worst of all, Marcos institutionalized corruption in high places such that today, anyone who enters government service has the choice of making illicit money and have a good chance of keeping all of it when he exits the government. More often than not, the elected or appointed government officials will succumb to the temptation of earning dirty money.
No wonder the Philippines has become a narco-state, as President Duterte says it is.
Perhaps the Marcoses really will return some of their ill-gotten wealth, which they are now claiming they only kept “for safekeeping” in the event the dictator was kicked out of the country and the Philippine economy were to take a tailspin.
This new line may or may not work with the electorate. Their old line that the dictator’s vast unexplained wealth was because he had found the fabled Yamashita’s treasure had few takers. Perhaps the more gullible among our countrymen will believe their yarn that they were just acting as mere guardians of the country’s wealth.
Such bull. Don’t believe the Marcoses when they say they will return anything to the government and the people. Just as crows and blackbirds will forever remain black, the family of the ousted dictator will never return the bulk of their ill-gotten, unexplained wealth. To do so would be to undo the perfect crime their old man got away with.

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