BY GREG B. MACABENTA
The sinking of a Filipino-owned fishing boat in Philippine waters by a Chinese vessel and the way the government of President Rodrigo Duterte has handled the incident have delivered a clear message to the Filipino people.
This government would rather not ruffle relations with China, whatever the provocation might be, because it has resigned itself to being bullied and it is still hoping to extract economic benefits and loans from the gigantic neighbor.
In a statement to the media, Duterte tried to minimize the seriousness of the incident by applying his usual gangster logic: ‘Walang namang namatay, eh.” (Nobody died).
Duterte conveniently glossed over the fact that 22 of his Filipino constituents could have drowned in the high seas and that the incident was a transgression of Philippine territorial integrity.
Even a tiny ant would bite you if you step on it – but Duterte is so scared of China’s military might (and, perhaps, of economic sanctions) that he would rather rationalize China’s bullying tactics.
It’s a lapdog attitude. But nothing could have been more scandalous as ass-kissing goes than the attempt of Senate President Tito Sotto to rationalize Duterte’s un-presidential reasoning by making a TV comedy joke out of it.
Maybe, he reasoned, the Chinese boat was looking for Chinese fish in Philippine waters.
Nobody laughed. Embarrassed, Sotto sheepishly explained that he said it “tongue in cheek.” Trigger-happy social media punsters ripped Sotto’s logic as “tanga” (stupid) and “intsik” (Chinese).
It’s slimy logic like that of Duterte and Sotto, where black is rationalized as white or at least shades of gray, that brought to mind a satirical piece that I wrote back in 2005.
It was about how Philippine authorities would have handled a local version of the historic Watergate burglary that resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Note that I wrote this during the incumbency of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and those currently in the “opposition” were in positions of power. This tells us that all politicians are the same, slimy logic and all.
Here are excerpts from that satire. If you think it won’t happen in our country, it has happened and will continue to happen whoever is in power.
Watergate, Philippine style
“When Samuel Ong, the former deputy director of the NBI, revealed that he had personal knowledge of the alleged wiretap of Arroyo, why did the authorities immediately accuse him of wrong-doing?” one of them asked. “Wasn’t he, in fact, doing something right?”
He gave the example of Mark Felt, the former deputy director of the FBI, who turned out to be the “Deep Throat” who had provided damaging information to Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that brought down the Nixon presidency.
“He did the right thing, didn’t he?” the fellow continued.
“Yes, but note that he refused to reveal his identity,” said another guy at the bar. “Maybe he was scared that he would be liquidated or, at least, discredited so badly by Nixon’s torpedoes that he would lose his credibility.”
This started a discussion on how the Watergate scandal would have turned out if it had happened in the Philippines. Johnny, a frustrated fiction writer, volunteered the following scenario:
Scene One: The Spring Watergate Hotel in Makati, one of Metro Manila’s plushiest addresses and headquarters of the opposition party, which threatens to unseat the current administration in the forthcoming presidential elections.
Four operatives of the administration are caught breaking into the opposition party’s office in order to bug it. An alert security guard catches them redhanded.
In the Watergate incident, the alert security guard, Frank Wills, turned the burglars over to the cops. In our fictional Spring Watergate incident, any of the following would happen:
Option One: The burglars identify themselves as agents of the ISAFP, the NBI and the PNP, looking into reports of terrorist activities of the opposition party.
“Are you sure you’re not one of the terrorists?” one burglar-cum-agent asks the security guard.
“No, sir. No, sir. As a matter of fact, sir, I have nothing to do with this office. Diyan na kayo, sir. Tawag ako ng misses ko.”
Option Two: The alert security guard calls the PNP and turns over the burglars to them.
“Sir, I caught these four men breaking into the office of the political opposition,” says the security guard.
The head of the PNP team turns his flashlight on the four burglars and immediately snaps to attention, along with a crisp salute: “Ay, sir, excuse me, kayo pala.”
Then turning to the security guard, the head of the PNP team threatens to arrest the poor fellow for obstruction of justice.
The folks at my favorite watering hole shake their heads in dismay, realizing that alert security guards don’t stand a chance in a Philippine version of Watergate.
But, wait, they said, what about the Philippine version of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, doggedly pursuing the case?
Johnny, the frustrated fiction writer, has a corresponding scenario: Conrad de Curious and Max Solving, the star reporters of the Maharlika Times somehow manage to get information about the burglary.
By a stroke of luck, they receive a call from someone whom they refer to as Sore Throat. He is willing to provide incriminating information. But he wants to remain anonymous. De Curious and Solving break the news with a banner headline:
“Administration hoods break into opposition headquarters.”
In the Watergate incident, the exposé of Woodward and Bernstein prodded Capitol Hill to conduct an investigation that, eventually, led to Nixon’s resignation. How about the Spring Watergate affair? Any of the following situations could occur:
Situation One: Presidential Spokesman Tito Bonito declares with righteous indignation at his weekly press briefing: “This is another attempt at destabilization. The opposition will do anything to cast the administration in a bad light – even to the extent of concocting a tall tale about a burglary.”
Situation Two: House Speaker Jose de Venice dares the media to produce proof and also to identify the purported source of confidential information: “If he refuses to be identified, he has no credibility. For all we know, these media people are inventing their facts.”
Senate President Frank Drilling calls for calm. “We must not jump to conclusions. Let us hear everyone’s side. Let the media provide proof. The Senate will investigate. But only if there is a prima facie case.”
Expectedly, because Sore Throat refuses to be identified, the burglary scandal suffers the same fate as the Jose Pidal scandal. No proof. No case. No story.
Situation Three: Conrad de Curious and Max Solving are suddenly picked up in an early morning raid by military intelligence operatives who have received a tip that they are trying to destabilize the government.
Two days later, De Curious and Solving appear in a press conference to reassure everyone that they are safe and that the whole controversy was “just a misunderstanding.”
Situation Four: After the banner headline, no more is heard about De Curious and Solving.
There are conflicting reports that they have immigrated to America, taken refuge in a Catholic seminary or have joined the MILF.
Situation Five: The administration party threatens to sue De Curious and Solving for libel. The owner of Maharlika Times is also threatened with a multi-million dollar lawsuit. He hurriedly turns over ownership of his paper to financial genius Mark Jimminy Cricket, leaving De Curious and Solving jobless. No jobs. No headlines. End of story.
The folks at my favorite watering hole listen to the various situations in silence. Finally, someone speaks out.
“In the U.S., Mark Felt, who turned out to be Deep Throat, has been hailed as a hero,” said one of them. “Shouldn’t that be the case with Samuel Ong? Shouldn’t he also be hailed as a hero?”
“I guess so,” said Johnny, the frustrated fiction writer. “But, take note that in the Philippines, they only officially declare heroes when they’re dead.”