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Wilderness

I’m sure Senator Sonny Angara has fielded a healthy share of intimidation for his principled stone walling on the TRAIN (tax reform for acceleration and inclusion). As a high 6th placer in the 2013 Senatorial elections, I’d be surprised if he were fazed by any of them. He is, in fact, widely admired for the composure he has displayed standing in front of a train.

Last Monday, however, was a different story. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD), himself, hardly veiled his threat of certain electoral defeat if Sen. Sonny were to not report the TRAIN out of his ways and means committee. 

When the President waves his fist in your face, you are forgiven if your composure disintegrates. So did Sen. Sonny buckle? So far, it looks as if he has resolved to continue the crusade. He says he will resign if his colleagues vote him down. No, he will not step down voluntarily. His posture, after all, is fueled by a strong conviction that even with all its positive reforms, the TRAIN is still a net burden to the poor. 

Particularly troublesome to him – as well as to a host of Senators – are the taxes on oil and transportation which are expected to drive up the prices of basic commodities. There may have been millions of reasons why the TRAIN zoomed past the House of Representatives. But for Sen. Sonny, there are also millions of reasons why he waits to be convinced – 16 million, to be exact, who voted him into office.

Sen. Sonny is not a voice in the wilderness. Rather, he is the solitary hero who speaks up for those who have no voice. The archetype abounds in history and literature: Kurosawa’s seven samurai; the 300 Spartans; brave Horatius, the captain of the gate. Sen. Bongbong Marcos was the last Senate’s lonely warrior in his quest to forge a better Bangsamoro Basic Law. 

A-pealing for freedom. The Bells of Balangiga have always been a sore point in the relations between the US and the Philippines, its staunchest ally in South East Asia.

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One of them was used to signal the attack on the American garrison in Balangiga during the 1901 Filipino American War. Bolo wielding guerillas slaughtered  around 45 and wounded 22. In retaliation, the Americans levelled entire towns, massacring thousands: all who were above 10 years old, man, woman or child, military or civilian, were to be murdered. The marching orders were to turn Samar into a howling wilderness. As a final act of dominance, the US army brought the bells home to Wyoming. 

War booty. The Laws of war recognize the principle of claiming ownership over what is used in the field of battle. As alarm for the siege, the bells are arguably protagonists. But while they may be memorials to fallen comrades, they are also emblems of a bygone time when offensive wars and occupation were recognized as legitimate instruments of foreign policy. That is no longer true today. And one no longer speaks of atrocities of war. War itself is the atrocity – inflicted by the strong on the weak.

PRRD was correct to raise this in his SONA. The statement of US Ambassador Sung Kim on the continuing effort to see the bells returned is also very comforting. This is still a long shot, though, as the return of trophies of war needs prior US Congressional approval. But we are hopeful as the US Military Academy at Westpoint returned the San Pedro Bell to Bauang Church, La Union last 2016. And the US Naval Academy returned a 15th century Buddhist Bell to Okinawa last 1991.

Cautionary tale. Once you have unleashed the wind, then must you abide by their blowing, whatever they may tear down. This is the adage that comes to mind in the curious case of Atty. Mandy Anderson, Chief of Staff to BOC Commissioner Nick Faeldon.

She will go down in history as the sophomore lawyer who called the Speaker an imbecile. But while what she did was courageous, it was also incredibly injudicious. After all, she is a public official. Though merely a consultant, she performs the functions of the all important Head Executive Assistant of the Commissioner. In the BOC, virtually all transactions are centralized in that office.  

Blurred lines. What does one say to a public servant who believes that Freedom of Expression guarantees her the liberty to call people names? I can think of a few reasons why that’s a bad idea: the Speaker represents the people while she does not; any number of provisions from the code of conduct of public officials and of lawyers proscribe such behavior. If in disagreement with a policy, the responsible course of action would be to comment on the policy, not on the personality – specially on social media where the lines between what are public and private are hopelessly blurred. Argumentum ad hominem never won any debates.

The latest reports have her continuing to impute dastardly motivations on the Speaker as subtext for her emotional outburst or “hugot.” She has crossed the rubicon. If she was ready to call out the Speaker anyway, she should have done so when the alleged offending action happened. Now, rather than being seen as a public service of outing the questionable use of power, it ends up being an attempt to justify boorish behavior. 

Comm. Faeldon plays the gentleman in standing up for his staff. But the gaffe may have made continued service at the office of the Commissioner untenable. As Sen. President Juan Ponce Enrile reminded all in the earlier case of President PNoy Aquino’s Asst Secretary of Communications (she who had something to say about Vietnamese wine and men): always be on your best behavior as your actions reflect on the institution. 

In the end, in this fight between Ateneans – the principle of in pari delicto applies. To be sure, the conduct of her older school mates are likewise open to critique.  We hope she doesn’t begrudge our decision to select her for unsolicited advice. Because we bother to do so only for those we feel can still be redeemed.

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