12 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

Selective justice 

Elizabeth Angsioco

It appears that this administration’s passionate pursuit of justice is selective. In other words, “may tinitingnan at mayroong tinititigan” as we say locally.

Take the case of the Marcoses.

Despite well-documented gross abuses during Martial Law in terms of thousands of human rights violations , torture, and killings; despite the riches here and abroad that the Marcoses impossibly amassed based on their earnings as public officials; despite the millions of dollars worth of valuables recovered from them; despite the many court cases faced by the family a number of which were settled ‘amicably’; despite the findings that Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the soldier faked his medals; despite the fact that the dictator was ousted by the sovereign Filipino people through the peaceful Edsa revolt, this administration chose allow FM’s burial in the hallowed grounds of the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Despite the public uproar created by such decision, this administration, using the people’s Armed and Police forces, accorded the dictator’s remains with the 21-gun salute, and like a thief in the night, furtively went on with the interment.

Despite the fact that there is a legitimately proclaimed sitting Vice President, President Rodrigo Duterte, because of his alliance with the Marcoses, still chose to introduce Bongbong as the ‘possible VP’. The introduction may have been because of an ongoing electoral protest by Marcos against Robredo lodged with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). Could not the President exercise some prudence and wait for the PET’s decision?

It is no secret that despite having a different vice presidential candidate during the election period, Duterte’s true preference to win was BBM. His calling the young Marcos as probable VP in the middle of election protest case plus his position on the LNMB issue gave credence to talks that he may in fact be preparing the way for an eventual Marcos victory in the PET.

People’s protests against the Marcoses is understandable given the way the president has been openly favoring the Marcoses. The Filipinos’ long struggle against dictatorship and plunder under FM is set aside in the interest of friendship.

More disturbing is the perception that the president himself is bolstering the possibilities of the Marcoses’ return to Malacañang.

If such perception is true, the president may be doing an injustice to the victims of Martial law and those who fought against the Marcos dictatorship.

Now, take the case of the war against drugs.

Duterte won on an anti-drugs campaign. He said he would be relentless and ruthless against drug pushers and drug lords. He said he would kill those associated with the drug menace. He warned that this war would be bloody and told people to not vote for him if they were not ready.

Indeed, in the first six months of his presidency, the Filipino people have witnessed how ruthless and remorseless this administration is against those associated with drugs. To date, more than 5,500 mostly poor and small-time suspected drug users and/or pushers have been mercilessly killed. I underscore the word SUSPECTED because all those killed did not have any chance to defend themselves in the court of law. Their right to due process has been totally violated.

More than half of those killed were gunned down by members of the Philippine National Police. Most were accused of engaging in gunfight against the uniformed men, even those already handcuffed, in custody, and in jail. A number of those killed have earlier surrendered and released.

It is very noticeable that while poor suspected users and pushers are killed, the drug lords like Peter Go are at large, or in the case of Kerwin Espinosa and one of his suppliers, are under protective custody of PNP officials. There is injustice in the treatment of poor and rich drug personalities.

There is no doubt that because of Duterte’s war on drugs, syndicates are trying harder to cover their tracks. It is very possible that a good number of those killed were murdered by these syndicates. However, recent developments and some cases have pointed to the involvement of some PNP officials in narco politics.

No less than PNP Chief Bato dela Rosa said that Supt. Marvin Marcos is involved in drugs. Marcos was also implicated by Kerwin Espinosa whose father was killed by Marcos’ team while in jail. Like many others, the late Mayor Espinosa was said to be armed and had fired on the police first. Even before any investigation was done, the president already said that he believed the police’s story.

Chief Bato relieved Marcos but was ordered by President Duterte himself to have the Superintendent reinstated. The president had to own up because Gen. Bato said that someone higher ordered him to do as he did, and Senator Leila de Lima divulged to media that it was Secretary Bong Go was the one who called Bato on Marcos’ behalf.

The thing is, the National Bureau of Investigation released its findings that Mayor Espinosa was not armed in jail and that his case was a rub-out. In response and in true Duterte fashion, the president said that he will not allow the police to go to jail.

This is another clear indication of selective justice. If the country cannot expect the president to implement our laws, especially when law enforcement themselves violate what they should implement, who, then, can people turn to for real justice?

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The worst kind of presidential corruption

By Tyler Cowen

Lots of people are worried about corruption and conflicts of interest in a Donald Trump administration. Those are grim words, but imprecise ones. To understand what the biggest problems would probably be, some broader perspective is required.

Presidential corruption is hardly a new theme in American history. Many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, engaged in rampant land speculation. That didn’t work out so badly. Their commercial motives gave them reason to favor independence from Britain and later to finance the building of infrastructure for a growing nation. A more insidious instance of conflict of interest stemmed from the extensive slaveholding of many politicians, which surely made them less eager to embrace abolition. So corruption can have favorable or unfavorable consequences.

Which is likely to be the case with Trump?

Many of the concerns about him start with his refusal to disclose much about his income, asset holdings and business interests. Even if he does not put his commercial interests before the national good, it will be harder for him to act with full legitimacy and credibility because he’s left so much to wonder about when it comes to his motives.

The upshot is that the possibility of conflict of interest will impose the biggest problems for those areas where a president’s legitimacy and credibility are most important, and also where the president has the most unilateral power. Those factors point to foreign policy as the most significant trouble area.

On most domestic issues, the US president faces checks and balances, meaning Congress and the courts could assert control if needed. Furthermore, presidents with lasting influence are those who pass policies that are reaffirmed or extended by subsequent administrations, and that also limits the dangers from bad domestic policy.

Standard political economy suggests that the worst forms of corruption usually are decentralized. If you have to pay off 13 different bureaucrats to get a project through, the chance that one of them will hold you up, or that the aggregate of the bribes is simply too costly, is pretty high. Conversely, a single payment at the top can be a way to grease the wheels for big projects, some of which may be beneficial for the nation as a whole (imagine simply passing cash to a president for him to fix the country’s airports).

Or consider the value of domestic property as a potential source of conflict of interest. If Trump really put the value of his hotel properties before the national interest, that might encourage a lot of policies to foster urban growth, travel, and tourism. Those policies might not spread their benefits efficiently, but they are hardly the worst outcome imaginable. A lot of the most scathing critiques of Trump refer to his proposed climate-change policies, but those seemed common to most of the other Republican candidates, and they are not a result of Trump’s particular asset holdings.

Note that congressmen currently hold stock and other asset portfolios and they are not required to put them into blind trusts. Maybe that’s not the best system, but it has not brought national ruin, and it is not responsible for most of the ailments facing our legislative branch, such as polarization and gridlock.

But when it comes to foreign policy, all of these factors change for the worse, in part because the president has so much unilateral power. It’s hard for a president with perceived conflicts of interest to make credible commitments to allies because the allies can’t be confident that a president will stick to a proposed agreement or course of action. The result is an unraveling of alliances, a decline in international trust and possibly dangerous rearmament and nuclear proliferation. It’s hard for a subsequent president to reverse those losses.

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US politics >>

President-elect says he sees no reason why the US should continuing abiding by One China policy unless a bargain is reached with Beijing involving trade

Donald Trump has doubled down on his approach to China, criticising Beijing over the South China Sea and relations with North Korea.

Donald Trump has doubled down on his approach to China, criticising Beijing over the South China Sea and relations with North Korea. Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese government has warned Donald Trump it is “seriously concerned” after the US president-elect indicated he might jettison a four-decade understanding with Beijing unless its leaders were prepared to strike a new “deal” with his administration.

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, the president-elect said he saw no reason why the US should continuing abiding by the “One China” policy – under which Washington does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state – unless Beijing was prepared to enter into some kind of bargain.

“I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘One China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” Trump told the channel.

Washington’s acceptance of the “One China” principle – according to which Taiwan is officially regarded as part of the same single Chinese nation as the mainland – has been a crucial part of the foundation of US-China relations since ties between the two countries were re-established by Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong in 1972.

Trump’s comments drew an angry riposte from Beijing. Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told reporters that bilateral ties and “the sound and steady growth of China-US relations” would be “out of the question” were Trump to turn away from the “One China” policy.

“We urge the incoming US administration and its leaders to fully recognise the sensitivity of the Taiwan question … [and] to properly deal with Taiwan-related matters in a prudent manner so as not to disrupt or damage the overall interests of the bilateral relationship,” Geng said, describing the “One China” principle as the “political bedrock” of ties between the two countries.

The question of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province that should one day be reunified with the mainland, was one of China’s “core interests”, the spokesman pointed out.

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Party chairman hails result after Social Democrats win 46% of vote, far ahead of second-placed Liberals on 20%

Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Social Democrats, arrives at party headquarters in Bucharest.

Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Social Democrats, arrives at party headquarters in Bucharest. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

Romania’s left-leaning Social Democrats have easily won parliamentary elections a year after a major anti-corruption drive forced the last socialist prime minister from power.

Election authorities said that with 99% of the votes from Sunday’s ballotcounted, the Social Democratic party had won 46% and the centre-right Liberals were second with around 20%.

Speaking on Sunday after exit polls showed similar results, the chairman of the Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea, said: “There should be no doubt who won the elections. Romanians want to feel at home in their own country and I want Romania to be a good home for all Romanians.”

Dragnea got a two-year suspended prison sentence in April for election fraud for inflating voter numbers in a July 2012 referendum to impeach the then president, Traian Basescu.

Under a 2001 law, Dragnea is not allowed to be appointed prime minister because of the conviction, and last week he said the party would not try to change the law.

However, he told Romania TV on Monday that he had not ruled himself out as a future leader.

President Klaus Iohannis has said he will not nominate a prime minister who has been convicted or who is the subject of a corruption investigation.

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Russia has preyed on other nations before, but never one so strong as the United States of America. Trump and his party are helping the process along

President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin, seen at the Kremlin in Moscow. Photograph: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS

At the beginning of the 18th century, Poland was one of the largest states in Europe, a sovereign, multi-ethnic republic. By the end of the century it had vanished from the map, absorbed by the expanding empires of Russia, Prussia and Austria.

Poland was brought down not by invading armies, but by the weaknesses of its political system, which could be paralyzed by a single noble’s veto and thus easily compromised by outside powers offering bribes. By the end, Catherine the Great of Russia had even taken the king of Poland as a lover.

Three centuries have passed, but Poland’s experience carries uncomfortable lessons for the US in 2016.

Last week, Barack Obama ordered the CIA to review evidence that Russia was behind a series of cyber-attacks that compromised Hillary Clinton’s campaign and may have helped Donald Trump win the presidency. There is also a strong consensus that Trump’s businesses and advisers have extensive connections to the Russian government.

In short, the Kremlin appears to have directly interfered with an American election in order to boost a presidential candidate with a Russia-friendly foreign policy.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Vladimir Putin would want to interfere in US politics to advance Russia’s foreign policy goals – from curtailing Nato to ending sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine and preserving Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. And as many critics of US foreign policy have noted, Washington has its own long history of meddling in foreign elections, including in Russia and its closest neighbors. Maybe the turnabout is fair play.

But what should surprise and disturb all Americans is that our political institutions, and above all the Republican party, are so vulnerable to Russian interference. The Republican party, traditionally associated with a hawkish stance toward Moscow, threw its support behind a presidential candidate who openly called on Russia to hack his opponent’s campaign.

According to CIA sources who spoke anonymously to the Washington Post, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told Obama and leading Democrats that he would regard any effort to release evidence of Russian interference before the election as partisan. In other words, he put his own party’s interest in electing Trump and gutting the welfare state ahead of the national interest.

Neither he, nor House speaker Paul Ryan, nor any other leading Republican seems the slightest bit apologetic about the Republican party’s all but open alliance with Putin.

Before 2016, it would have been unthinkable that Russia, or any foreign power, could exert this kind of influence on the US political process. That’s because no national politician before Trump would ever have been comfortable aligning so shamelessly with a rival government.

Trump has obliterated this norm, along with so many others, and his party has gone along with him. The Republican’s contempt for the democratic process and the national interest have created an opening Putin never could have created himself.

Besides the Republican party, America’s weakness can be seen in what appears to be an escalating war between our domestic intelligence agency, the FBI and our foreign intelligence agency, the CIA. The FBI released damaging information about Hillary Clinton shortly before the election, which may have swung the outcome in key states and allowed for the election of Trump on a law and order platform. Meanwhile, the CIA is belatedly undermining Trump by releasing information about his foreign ties. This is not the sign of a healthy democracy.

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