Editor-in-Chief

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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Ignoring the warning signals

The

fall of foreign direct investments to the Philippines can

best

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

 things considered.

 The

 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.

 Even

 the tourism industry is still relatively stable. But any and

 all of these positives can collapse in an instant and the

 Duterte

 administration will have no one to blame but

 itself.

 The

 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

 sweat.

 Foreigners,

 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

term.

 The

 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.

 The

 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.

 Figures

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.

That’s

 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.

 The

 real problem is actually Mr. Duterte himself. He never

 abandoned his mindset of thinking like a city mayor instead

of a president of a

 country.

His

 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.

 His

 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

 elsewhere.

 We all

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

tricks.

 The

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.

 Those

same mouthpieces want the public to believe that the falling

 investments are a temporary glitch and that the economy

 remains strong.

 It’s

 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

it.

Mr.

 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.

They

 are the reason the Philippines now feels like a sinking

 ship.

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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.
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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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This one’s for Mike

A friend of mine was shot to death last week.
He was not just shot to death. The better word would be murdered, or even assassinated.
My friend’s name is Michael ‘Mike’ Marasigan, and we worked together at Business World almost three decades ago when I came in as a desk assistant and he was the chief of reporters.
Mike was with his brother Christopher, who was also killed. The two of them were in Mike’s SUV driving along San Juan when two men riding in tandem in a motorcycle stopped them and pumped 34 bullets into the pair.
It was a little past 6:00 pm and witnesses said the motorcycle had no plate number. It was also learned that someone had been casing Mike’s residence in the days preceding the killing.
In other words, it was a planned murder, not some random act of violence as had been suggested. The killer definitely used a semi-automatic pistol considering the number of shots fired. He also made sure that Mike would not survive as six bullets found their mark, two in the neck and four in the body.
As of this writing, there are still no leads as to who masterminded the killing, and who actually fired the shots.
I am writing about this case for several reasons.
I had been interviewed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer and I repeat what I said to their reporter: Mike had no known enemies. He was one of the nicest guys around. Amiable is the word PDI used to describe him, and it is quite fitting.
An undersecretary who works in Malacanang called me up the day after the killing to ask about Mike. This usec is also in charge of investigating media killings since he was a former reporter. He worked under me in two newspapers and was quite serious in saying that they would do everything to get to the bottom of the crime. I know he will.
The National Bureau of Investigation has taken charge of the investigation, and I am not surprised that the case will be difficult to solve. Indeed, Mike was an honest-to-goodness Mr. Nice Guy, one who was quick to laugh and ready to help anyone in need.
He was also a successful businessman, having put up a video production house as well as a public relations practice. Right after retiring from Business World a decade or so ago, he went into producing films about the country’s tourism spots.
His most high profile PR client was Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez.
With this background, what reason would anyone have to kill him?
At his wake earlier this week, a mutual friend asked me the same question. In talking to other Business World alumni, our shared shock was due to our long-held belief that we were insulated from the violence that sometimes exists in local media. After all, we were not tabloid or radio journalists constantly spoiling for a fight. We were pros who did our job such that no one could question anything we ever wrote.
We were business journalists, for God’s sake.
I am saddened since I will not be present for Mike’s memorial service where friends are asked to tell their Mike Marasigan stories, of which I have plenty. But I know that Mike will understand because I am closing this newspaper on the day he makes his final exit.
During our time together, we did what we had to do. Work always came first. Then we would go out and have drinks, and boy could Mike drink.
The last time I saw him was a few months ago when we had a party for a balikbayan reporter from BW. After everyone had gone home, as mall group of us stayed behind to drink some more.
We talked about the good old days under the Locsins. But we did not only delve in the past. Mike and I may have been in our 60s already, but we still had many things we wanted to do, to accomplish. We still had a lot of living to do. And every so often, we would have such reunions where we could eat, drink, and be very merry.
We ended on a high note in the wee hours of the morning that time knowing that there would always be a next time. We would still drink ice cold beer or single malt whiskeys that he now favored.
Now, he will no longer have the chance. A paid assassin made sure of that.

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They did it again

The Philippine National Police – and by virtue of the principle of command responsibility, President Rodrigo Duterte – did it again. The PNP committed what appears to be nothing less than cold-blooded murder. In fact, what happened to Ozamis City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr., his wife, son and nine associates was not simple murder, but a massacre.
It does not matter if the now deceased mayor was a mafia-style drug lord, which is what the Duterte government is saying in so many words. Because Parojinog was guilty as sin, he and his clan had forfeited their right to live. This is now the logic that has become prevalent within the PNP, and we all have a right be afraid of what comes next.
Using that logic, in the early morning hours of Sunday, this week, ostensibly to serve a warrant, the PNP killed everyone in the household of the Ozamis mayor.
The first obvious question: why was a warrant being served at 3:00 in the morning?
Standard procedure, is it? I think not.
I have never been involved in law enforcement in any way, shape or form, but I’d like to think that I still have some common sense. Granting for the sake of argument that Mayor Pajorinog and his group had indeed fired at the policemen serving the warrant, wasn’t the reaction of the cops a severe case of overkill?
Not only were they a larger force with superior firearms – a grenade was hurled at the house of the mayor, which almost certainly caused some of the fatalities – but the advantage was completely theirs. They had the place surrounded, after all.
The PNP team could have used tear gas, or they could have waited until morning by which time the mayor and everyone inside the house would have realized that they had no choice but to surrender.
All news reports state that not a single cop was killed or injured by the supposed shooting coming from inside the mayor’s house. So was there really a need to eliminate everyone inside?
Let me state that I do not know any of the victims of the heinous crime committed at the start of this week by the very force that has a sworn duty to protect and to serve. I wasn’t even aware of the existence of the late mayor and his cohorts. All I know is what I’ve read in the papers, and heard and seen on TV as well as online news.
Like everyone, I have too many questions about what happened, and I doubt if those questions will ever be answered.
There is a bothersome trend that has emerged with this week’s killing of the Ozamis mayor. He was the third mayor who had been tagged by the president as narcopoliticians to be shot to death by the PNP.
Previously, Datu Saudi Ampatuan mayor Samsudin Dimaukom died in a shootout with the police. But the worst of the killings of Mindanao mayors accused of being involved in the illegal drug trade has to be the case of Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa, who was already detained in a prison when he was executed gangland style by a PNP team.
That team, quite incidentally, was suspended but was recently reinstated by the PNP brass, supposedly because of the country’s shortage of cops.
So what is the ordinary citizen supposed to make of all this?
Literally thousands of Filipinos have been killed in the name of President Duterte’s war on drugs, yet the drug menace has not been eradicated. If anything, it’s only gotten worse, as proven by the massive shabu haul that came out this week. Reportedly, more than 600 kilos of shabu worth some P6.4 billion had come in from China by passing through legitimate channels.
The shipment passed through the Bureau of Customs, leading some lawmakers to conclude that corrupt customs personnel were in cahoots with the drug lords.
That wholesale importation of shabu may have been unearthed by the government, but doesn’t it prove that the drug lords remain as active as ever? Why else would they dare to bring in illegal drugs if they were not certain that they could distribute the same, and continue to earn billions?
In the weeks and months to come, more local government officials suspected of being involved in the narcotics trade are likely to be killed. No longer will anyone be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
As long as the president points to anyone as being a narcopolitician, his or her days are numbered. This is known as Duterte’s Law.

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Digong said, Joma said

One of the oddest exchanges of words we’ve seen in the last week was between President Rodrigo ‘Digong’ Duterte and Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria ‘Joma’ Sison.
The pair have known each other for many decades. As young men, Duterte was a student under then Professor Sison in the ‘60s.
The two gents exchanged accusations that the other was seriously sick. Mr. Duterte was more specific when he said that Joma had colon cancer, while Joma retorted that it was the president who was gravely ill. Of what, he did not specify.
Mr.Duterte, the communist leader pointed out, had yet to explain his one-week absence from the public eye last month. It was not the first time that the president disappeared either. He had done so on at least two previous occasions, but last month was the longest period he had been absent.
Digong is 72, while Joma is 78. No spring chickens they, but both are still relatively sharp mentally, although between the two it is the younger Duterte who has had mental lapses in recent months. Now and then, he rambles when giving speeches, jumping from topic to topic just like US President Donald Trump.
The once warm relations between the two Filipino leaders has cooled off recently after the president scrapped – again – the peace talks between the Left and the national government.
It’s difficult to point out which side is at fault. In fact, it now seems that a final peace agreement between the two sides will never take place in this lifetime. This is a shame since Mr. Duterte has had the closest ties to the underground Left among all Philippine presidents, yet even he has not been able to settle the rift that divides the two sides.
In resorting to an all-out war policy, Mr. Duterte has made sure that the communist rebellion – one of the oldest if not THE oldest in the world -- will continue for a few more years, if not decades. The president is following in the footsteps of another chief executive, a populist who could have ended the six decades’ old rebellion. This was deposed president and now Manila mayor Erap Estrada. Despite referring to himself as maka-masa, Erap called for total war against the Left as well as the Muslim rebellion in the south, resulting in thousands of needless deaths.
One other president who stood an excellent chance of ending not only the communist but also the Muslim rebellion to put up an independent homeland in Mindanao was Fernando Poe Jr., but he was cheated out of the presidency by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
But that’s another story.
Messrs. Duterte and Sison are never going to forge a permanent and lasting peace between the national government and the underground Left even if they wanted to because the situation on the ground has become too complex. Too much illicit money is involved, and the operatives on the ground will not give up the millions that they earn each month that easily.
For the government, this means essentially the Armed Forces of the Philippines, of which Mr. Duterte is the titular commander in chief. The AFP would lose billions in “aid” from the US, and other friendly states, which now includes China and Russia.
The billions of pesos budgeted for the AFP would be slashed, which means the kickbacks for the procurement of equipment, arms, etc. would be lost to the bean counters within the armed forces.
It’s pretty easy to see who in the AFP earns millions. They’re the ones who retire with a lot more in assets than they should have, but whom even the mighty Commission on Audit is wary of investigating.
The leftists who are actually businessmen are even harder to identify. The leaders of the underground usually retire to their farms with secret golden parachutes. Others, like Joma, even end up as what the late Doroy Valencia called “steak commandos,” waging war against the established order from the comfort of their foreign homes. They also receive pensions from their host governments, incidentally.
For his part, Mr. Duterte has realized that he has to turn the AFP and to a lesser extent the Philippine National Police leadership into his new best friends, at least for as long as he is president. Without the AFP and the PNP's backing, Mr. Duterte’s hold on the presidency will be too precarious, and he knows it.
So now we can expect to have more public exchanges, more insults and put downs, between Messrs. Duterte and Sison. By their actions, neither of the two truly wants peace.

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