FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2019 - 12:00am

Two earthshaking agreements were concluded within hours of each other just as the week ended.

In Brussels, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson managed to wrangle a deal with the European Union that could guarantee a more predictable transition for his country’s exit at the end of the month. It was literally an 11th hour deal that few thought possible.

A law passed by the British Parliament, over Johnson’s objections, required the Prime Minister to seek a delay in Brexit if no deal with the EU was won. Any further postponement of Brexit could open a political Pandora’s Box. It could actually lead to a decision to hold another referendum on the matter that could reverse the earlier decision to exit.

Parliament convenes today to consider the deal Johnson just won. The Prime Minister, it must be noted, lost every crucial vote in Parliament since he took over from Teresa May. He even lost at the High Court over his move to basically lock out his Parliament while he maneuvered for a deal with Brussels.

The British public has been deeply divided on the matter of Brexit. The European Union is just sick and tired of wasting precious time negotiating with London over the terms of Britain’s exit due on October 31. Everybody just wants this thing done with.

But Johnson can lose today’s Parliament vote. He is actually leading a minority government, having purged a large number of Conservative MPs for voting against him in previous debates. The deal he won at Brussels does not seem acceptable to the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland – so far his steadiest ally.

If Johnson loses today’s vote, the melodrama continues. Brexit will be postponed once more.

If Johnson wins today’s vote, against all odds, then the real chaos of leaving the Common Market actually begins.

Meanwhile, in Ankara, Trump’s high-level emissaries appear to have won a deal that includes a 120-hour cessation of hostilities in northeastern Syria. But there is little clarity about what this deal actually means.

Recall that Turkish forces invaded Syrian territory just hours after Trump assured his Turkish counterpart that the US military units in the area will be withdrawn. Trump’s decision was denounced across the board. The majority of Republicans at the US House of Representatives voted with the Democrats for a resolution condemning Trump’s concession.

The decision to withdraw US troops has been described as an act of betrayal of America’s staunch Kurdish allies. It was denounced as a blow against the credibility of US foreign policy. It was criticized as a move that will actually introduce a new round of instability in an already volatile region.

The invasion strengthened Russia’s role in dictating political outcomes here. As soon as Turkish troops poured across the border, Assad’s army along with Russian units began moving to meet the invasion head-on. The Kurds began negotiating with their once hated enemy Assad for a new arrangement to prevent genocide from happening.

 In the face of the political fallout from a badly considered decision, Trump wrote an amateurish letter to Turkish President Erdogan. Reports have it that the Turkish leader simply threw Trump’s letter into a bin.

Last Thursday, Trump hurriedly dispatched Vice President Mike Pence and State Secretary Mike Pompeo to Ankara to work out something with Erdogan. The result is this agreement Washington defines as a “ceasefire.” Ankara denies it is a ceasefire.

From the sketchiest reports available, it appears the Turks agreed to allow some time for the Kurds to properly withdraw from the area Ankara intends to occupy. It does not seem Turkey has any plans to pull back its forces to its side of the border.

Meanwhile, the 120-hour allowance also gives Assad’s army and their Russian allies to properly deploy to meet what they rightly describe as an invasion. Analysts expect the Russians to play an even more visible role in the fighting expected.

There will be a significant reconfiguration of alliances in this region. The net outcome will not be favorable to the US.

We will know, over the next few days, if the agreement Pence forged matters at all.

Chief Justice

As this is being written, rumors are flying thick that President Duterte had chosen the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Whoever is chosen for this vital post (I will not even repeat the rumors here) will hopefully work doubly hard to win back public esteem for the institution. The Supreme Court’s standing suffered much over the past few years. Chief Justice Renato Corona was removed for partisan reasons and Lourdes Sereno removed for sloppy recordkeeping. The Court has been increasingly perceived as politicized. Through all these, little appears to have been accomplished in terms of reducing corruption in the judiciary.

The institutional weakness of what has already been described as the weakest branch of government has been aggravated by many stories of corruption from the lowest trial courts to the Supreme Court itself. At Padre Faura, it seems a cabal of clerks and assistants form a powerful syndicate that is able to preempt the justices themselves.

I have personally reviewed documents showing how a clerk at the Supreme Court released “quotations” from a decision that does not exist. So much happens there beyond the knowledge of the eminent magistrates.

The next Chief Justice will, hopefully, prioritize putting back order and decency in a judiciary that seems to have lost standing in the eyes of our citizens. The cleanup should begin at the cloistered premises of the High Court.

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