FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

By now, everyone knows of Edward Snowden, the 30-year-old geek who blew the whistle on a massive surveillance program run by the American government. Later he revealed US intelligence tapped into the emails and phones of world leaders attending a summit in London. Although unsurprising, that is deeply embarrassing for Washington.

Snowden worked for a firm that subcontracted for the National Security Administration. A few weeks ago, he flew to Hong Kong. From there, he granted an interview for The Guardian, a respected British newspaper. In that interview, he described a sophisticated computer program that allows the American government to monitor internet and phone traffic in the millions.

From a quiet life sitting before the keyboard, Snowden catapulted to international celebrity status. Opinion about him is polarized. Some see him as a heroic defender of the right to privacy of citizens in an age where it is technology possible for governments to snoop on them. Others see him as a traitor, compromising his own government’s efforts to combat terrorism and keeping citizens safe.

To be sure, Washington is not pleased with this particular geek. He was promptly charged with espionage for betraying state secrets and his passport was revoked. In chasing after Snowden, however, US authorities began tripping all over, producing one diplomatic fiasco after another and ending up at the mercy of other powers with their respective axes to grind.

Washington presented Hong Kong with a request to extradite Snowden, even as Hong Kong citizens marched in the streets asking their government to protect the whistleblower. The street marches sent an implicit message to Beijing, itself obsessed with internet surveillance.

Authorities in Hong Kong eventually decided the Americans lacked paperwork and allowed Snowden to leave. By the time they made their announcement on the matter, the whistleblower was aboard an Aeroflot plane to Moscow. Beijing, to be sure, wanted to be rid of this problematic case, with all the complex symbolisms enmeshed in it, as soon as possible.

Even as he left Chinese territory, Snowden dropped another bombshell. He revealed that the Americans had the capability to tap into Chinese phones. Beijing, which maintains comprehensive digital surveillance of its citizens, did not quite know how to react to that piece of information.

Washington, although it had no extradition treaty with Russia, nevertheless demanded Snowden be handed over. That provided a heaven-sent opportunity for President Vladimir Putin to hand the Americans that slap in the face he had long wanted to give. Putin declared Snowden a “free man” and allowed him to depart for a third country.

We can only speculate where Snowden will turn up next. He could end up in Iceland, which has become a haven for internet freedom, or in Ecuador. The tiny Latin American country provided Wikileaks founder Julian Assange asylum in its London embassy after the British threatened to extradite the man to the US. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy for over a year now.

Suddenly, Washington appeared vulnerable as it chased, Keystone Cops-style, a lowly whistleblower while all the other major powers seized every opportunity to so publicly humiliate the superpower. Meanwhile, internet activist groups like Wikileaks and Anonymous lend the fugitive techie every support they can, awaiting more revelations from the man.

Snowden, wherever he ends up over the next few days, will be a walking, talking source of embarrassment for Washington, which hectored other countries about respecting the rights of their citizens.


The imperious Arnel Casanova, head of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), has become somewhat of a YouTube celebrity himself. There is a video clip of him leading a small army of BCDA security guards, in full battle gear, trying to prevent the paving of McKinley Parkway leading to the spanking new SM Aura mall.

Casanova was claiming the mall was unauthorized by his office. It turns out, the area was under the jurisdiction of Taguig, and not the BCDA (although Casanova insists otherwise, the land on which the mall stands was donated to the city many years ago). SM Aura was saved from further harassment by a court order, managing to open with a splash.

This government executive has accumulated a pretty impressive record for bringing grief instead of support for investors touched by his authority, personifying what could be the reason the economy now registers a net investment outflow.

Casanova is the same person who, against the drift of reason, escalated the standstill at Camp John Hay into a standoff.

First, he wanted to nullify a live contract granting a 50-year lease of a portion of the former US military facility to the Camp John Hay Development Corporation (CJHDC). Four times the investor tried making lease payments, four times the payments were rejected by Casanova. Then he denounced the CJHDC for being remiss on payments.

The Baguio courts have stepped in, ordering the BCDA to submit to arbitration with the private investor. There has been no indication the BCDA will do that. Recently, when Robert Sobrepena of the CJHDC was about to leave for a business trip, Casanova managed to get the DOJ to prevent him from boarding the plane even if Sobrepena was not the subject of a hold-departure order.

As a consequence of Casanova’s unreasonable attitude towards the private developer, all the plans for evolving the facility into an important tourist destination are on hold while the lease runs and no party profits. Opportunity costs for both government and the CJHDC simply mount.

Maybe Casanova should review the new literature on the role of modern government as “enabler” of enterprise. He might yet manage to make investments happen.













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