Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for The Diplomat

If 2014 was the year when the Philippines struggled to recover from the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), what might await Philippine politics in 2015?

1. The state visit and apostolic journey of Pope Francis was a much needed spiritual boost for many people in the Philippines, the largest Catholic-dominated nation in Asia. He visited Typhoon Haiyan victims, interacted with the youth and street children, and spoke about “scandalous” poverty and corruption in front of the country’s top leaders. Will politicians heed the pope’s reminder to “reject every form of corruption that diverts resources from the poor”? The pope spent only five days in the Philippines but he has already made a huge impact on local politics.

2. Once Pope Francis leaves the Philippines, it will signal the unofficial start of campaigning for the 2016 presidential election. There will be intense bickering among politicians in the next few months. The ruling coalition is expected to consolidate its ranks and election machinery while aggressively marginalizing the political opposition. But while President Benigno Aquino III continues to be popular, he is constitutionally barred from running again and his allies are trailing behind opposition leader and Vice President Jejomar Binay in pre-election surveys.

3. The dispute with China over the conflicting territorial and maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is still the main agenda that the Philippines will continue to raise in the Asia-Pacific region. The Philippines has filed a case in the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal against the ownership claims of China. This will further inspire Filipinos to mobilize against what they see as China’s bully behavior in the region.

4. The next six months is crucial to implement the roadmap for peace which the government has drafted in cooperation with the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The initial challenge is to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress without it being diluted; and to convince legal scholars and critics that it does not violate the 1987 Constitution. If Aquino succeeds in establishing the Bangsamoro transition authority before the end of his term next year, it will be a major legacy of his administration.

Another initiative that Aquino can pursue is the resumption of the stalled peace talks with communist rebels.

5. The economic experience of the Philippines will be under global scrutiny as it prepares to host the annual summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Aquino earlier announced that the theme of this year’s APEC gathering is “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World”.

“As the clamor for progress that leaves no one behind resounds the world over, the Philippines has the opportunity to set a global example of inclusivity this year,” Aquino said. But while he is proud of the country’s strong economic fundamentals, critics will probably remind APEC participants about the failure of the economy under Aquino to solve poverty and deep inequality in society.

The last time Manila hosted the APEC summit was in 1996.

The planned economic integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN 2015) will be another major event, but whether or not it will figure prominently in the country’s politics remains to be seen.

6. Disaster recovery will be a priority for both the national and local governments. Aquino cannot allow the slow pace of rehabilitation in the Haiyan-affected towns to continue if he wants to get a better assessment of his administration. His leadership will be defined by the success or failure of his disaster recovery program in Samar and Leyte. As for local politicians in other disaster-hit towns, they risk losing public support if they appear ineffective in distributing relief and making aid money useful in reviving the local economy.

These 12 months are a period of preparation for the Philippines’ big year in 2016, when the country is due to vote in a new president. It is a year in which the current government will seek to take bold steps to leave a positive and lasting legacy while the opposition tries to present itself as a credible alternative. Because of this, 2015 promises to be an exciting year for Philippine politics.

Manny Pacquiao: Boxer, Legislator, Basketball Playing Coach

Written for The Diplomat

World eight-division boxing champion Manny Pacquiao stunned many when he joined Philippine politics in 2007. But after two terms in Congress, his fans have already accepted that their boxing icon can still manage to fight and win in the ring while occasionally serving in government as legislator. This month, Pacquiao decided to once again reinvent his public image when he agreed to be drafted as playing coach in one of the teams competing in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Asia’s first professional basketball league.

There were those who thought it was a mere publicity stunt but Pacquiao actually appeared on his first game as playing coach for the Kia Sorento team last October 19. Wearing jersey No. 17, Pacquiao played a total of six minutes and 46 seconds in the first quarter, he didn’t score a single point, and he committed two turnovers. But his team won the game. At 35 years old, Pacquiao became the oldest rookie to play in the league.

Pacquiao claimed that playing basketball is his cross-training activity which helps his footwork and balancing. He is currently preparing for his next boxing fight against the undefeated American boxer Chris Algieri, which is scheduled next month in Macau.

Pacquiao’s fans are divided over whether the boxing champ made the right decision to join the basketball league in the middle of his training for the fight. His promoter certainly wanted him to refrain from playing basketball, fearing possible injury.

Basketball is the most popular sports in the Philippines but some writers advised Pacquiao that if he wanted to express support for Philippine basketball he should play an exhibition game rather than join the PBA. Jude Roque, for one, is not convinced that the idea of Pacquiao serving as basketball playing coach will benefit the boxing icon: “After pursuing careers as politician, TV host, recording artist and pastor among others, this new ambition of his is just absolutely ridiculous. For him to play in the PBA is surely preposterous. For him to coach in the PBA is just as ludicrous. And for him to do both? Outrageous!”

Roque warned that Pacquiao will not get VIP treatment on the basketball floor: “In an actual PBA game, he won’t be treated like an icon or legend. He will be treated like a PBA player. Our national hero deserves better than being the subject of ridicule and lampoon by the entire sporting world.”

Bob Guerrero is another sports analyst who is not happy that Pacquiao was able to enter the country’s premier basketball league ahead of other deserving players and coaches. “What Pacquiao has done is basically using his fame, wealth, connections, and star value to jump the line and get ahead of all of these players and coaches who have dedicated their lives to the game. I wonder what all those players undrafted by the PBA feel about him making it while they miss out.”

Then there’s the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the country’s leading newspaper, which published an editorial urging Pacquiao to acknowledge his limitations. After pointing out that Pacquiao’s performance as legislator is “hardly stellar,” the editorial also took the boxing champ to task for his controversial political choices. “Pacquiao’s rise to prominence has been largely marked by the worst in traditional politics. In the company of patrons, warlords and hangers-on, he took the trail blazed by those who invoke popularity as the sole qualification for public office.”

Indeed, Pacquiao should review his priorities. He is still a living hero to millions of Filipinos and fans around the world but he should question the wisdom of carrying too many identities and responsibilities. Pacquiao is not obliged to do everything his advisers and business consultants wanted him to accomplish. Right now, Pacquiao should concentrate on his coming bout with Algieri. And while he deals with his tax evasion case, his constituents also expect him to fulfill his duties as public servant.

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