AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

AsiaGlobal Voices is a curated feed of summaries of opinion articles, columns and editorials published in local languages in media from across Asia.

The publication of AsiaGlobal Voices summaries does not indicate any endorsement by the Asia Global Institute or AsiaGlobal Online of the opinions expressed in them.
A Depressing State-of-the-Nation Address – then Olympic Gold-Medal Joy
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
A Depressing State-of-the-Nation Address – then Olympic Gold-Medal Joy

Jan Carlo Punongbayan, PhD candidate and teaching fellow at the School of Economics of the University of the Philippines, in Rappler (July 27, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Presidential Communications Operations Office)

A Depressing State-of-the-Nation Address – then Olympic Gold-Medal Joy

As poor as President Rodrigo Duterte's Covid-19 response has been, so was his last state-of-the-nation address (SONA). A sensible president would have started the speech with the pandemic, the most important issue facing the country. But two hours in, Duterte had still not discussed it. He covered benefits and pensions for soldiers and police, the fight against drugs, and his battle with oligarchs and communists. Same, same.

He did not pay much attention to our economic crisis. He did not mention that the economy is collapsing and that we are again the “sick man of Asia”. He did not mention that nearly 4 million are unemployed. He did not mention that inflation is still above 4 percent. He did not mention that millions are hungry. Instead, he boasted about statistics from before the pandemic such as the drop in the unemployment rate, the increase in government revenue, and improved credit ratings. In the minds of Duterte and his economic managers, our timeline is divided into pre- and post-pandemic. They know their record is dismal. They have nothing to be proud of.

Is it obvious that Duterte does not care about the suffering of Filipinos? The address was empty, with no focus – as if the pandemic and economic crisis have passed.

But there will probably still be a pandemic in 2022, or even longer. So if we want the country to get better, let us all vote right in May next year . 

As depressing as Duterte's last SONA was, the mood rebounded with news of the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal won by Hidilyn Diaz at Tokyo. I cried, to be honest. Faith in humanity was restored. Hidilyn carried not only the barbell, but also the people in a way that Duterte failed to do.

In the 2022 Election, Choose an Education President
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
In the 2022 Election, Choose an Education President

Feliece Yeban, professor of human rights education at Philippine Normal University, in Rappler (July 18, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Nigel Goodman)

In the 2022 Election, Choose an Education President

The World Bank (WB) report on the dismal state of Philippine education triggered Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones to demand a public apology from the WB for shaming the country. In the absence of national performance metrics data that say otherwise, it is more prudent to take the World Bank report on Philippine education as an opportunity to examine what we need to improve and use lessons and insights from it to frame our expectations of the next president come 2022. We badly need an education president!

The world is talking about the emergence of Society 5.0, or the Imagination Society, where digital transformation and innovation in science and technology combine with the creativity and values of people to solve societal problems, promote wellbeing, and achieve economic development. This emerging society and economy require a pool of human capital with different skill sets that are future-proof, disruption-ready, and innovation-oriented.

The election season is about to start. Candidates must be able to offer concrete education programs that will transition the country’s education system to something that will focus on developing the country’s human capital for Philippine Society 5.0.

The emergency remote learning that the country implemented due to the Covid-19 pandemic gave us a glimpse into the education revolution that is already underway in many parts of the world. We need school leaders who are imaginative and creative, with enough understanding of the new mindset required to transition our system to be future-ready, data-driven, and innovation-oriented. We cannot afford to have school leaders who will do more of the same things.

But first things first, in 2022, we should choose an education president. Everything else will flow from there. We cannot afford to miss the ongoing education revolution.

Never Again Should We Have An Oligarchs' President
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Never Again Should We Have An Oligarchs' President

Rigoberto Tiglao, columnist and former presidential spokesman, press secretary and chief of staff, in The Manila Times (June 30, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: International Rice Research Institute)

Never Again Should We Have An Oligarchs' President

The death of former president Benigno Aquino III is an occasion for us to learn from history. There were four attributes of his administration that were seriously detrimental to us as a nation.

First, Aquino had a tight hold on media, whose influence on people's minds was even stronger than during Ferdinand Marcos's strongman rule because of its expertise in clothing lies as truths. This was not because this media believed in Aquino, but because they not only were owned by oligarchs who saw Aquino as their own but were managed by Yellow cultists who saw him as the son of their saint.

Second, the Philippine Catholic Church had been Aquino's prime defender and supporter. Never again should we have a president that the Catholic Church fanatically supports. This is the only country in the world where the Catholic Church insists on being a kingmaker that meddles in politics. That should be ended if we are to usher in a modern state.

Third, the US solidly backed the Aquino presidency. US strategists after all love unquestioning puppets, as they are most easily fooled. The big reason the US supported Aquino so much is that exactly at the start of his presidency in 2010, the Obama administration launched its so-called "Pivot to Asia" program, a thinly veiled campaign to reassert its hegemony in Asia, contain the rise of its adversary China, and drive a wedge between it and Southeast Asia.

And fourth, Aquino was the quintessential oligarchs' president. Aquino was even so much the elite's puppet that he adopted a belligerent stance against China to force it to give up its claims so the enterprise of three of the biggest oligarchs could continue its extraction of hydrocarbons there. Never again should we have an oligarchs' president.

The President Must Welcome Full Investigation For Crimes Against Humanity
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
The President Must Welcome Full Investigation For Crimes Against Humanity

Mel Sta. Maria, Dean of the Far Eastern University (FEU) Institute of Law, in Rappler (June 17, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Greger Ravik)

The President Must Welcome Full Investigation For Crimes Against Humanity

The report of the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda “that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder was committed” in the conduct of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, prompting her to finally ask the ICC to conduct a full investigation, is news in many parts of the world.

If ever it proceeds, President Duterte and all those named in the request for full investigation will be given due process. As the president’s followers would say, “You have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide.”

President Duterte must welcome this full investigation not only for the sake of his own name but for the country. Because if he is truly innocent, he will be rightfully vindicated and the country’s tarnished reputation corrected. He should not evade the process utilizing technical grounds. The investigation is good for the country.

There is a saying that justice must be done though the heavens fall. The case of a Philippine president as the subject of a request by an international prosecutor for full investigation for crimes against humanity is historic. Whether or not you are for it, let us all monitor this unprecedented development.

How Many More Body Bags Can We Take?
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
How Many More Body Bags Can We Take?

Beatrice Louise Gabon Santillan, 18-year-old high-school senior, in Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 25, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Robinson Niñal/Presidential Communications Operations Office)

How Many More Body Bags Can We Take?

After my mom had fully recovered from Covid-19, I thought the storm had passed. It turned out the worst was yet to come. On the night of Jan. 18, Covid-19 took the life of my beloved grandmother.

From the moment I saw my grandmother in a body bag carried by a vehicle meant for water deliveries with no memorial service, I knew that more could have been done to save her, and that so many others have undergone the same loss due to our country’s poor health care system and governance. It became clear to me that many people did not have a fighting chance to begin with. I realized that there is a bigger issue at hand.

The other viruses our nation is facing include an administration that is not proactive in dealing with the pandemic, politicians that “help” Filipinos but are really just documenting their actions to kickstart their campaign for the 2022 elections, and individuals who were given priority status in hospitals while other patients died out in the cold. The system has been broken for so long. This pandemic just shed even more light on its complete dilapidation. The leaders we placed into power have not done us any good, nor do they plan to. Their empty promises and selfish actions have only managed to push our nation further into decay.

People often tell me that I am young, and that I have much to understand about the system and how it is virtually impossible to change, but I beg to disagree. I am eligible to vote in the upcoming elections. Although casting my ballot will create merely the smallest change, if at all, it is a good place to start.

Manila Can Be Part of the Solution in Myanmar
Thursday, April 8, 2021
Manila Can Be Part of the Solution in Myanmar

Walden Bello, academic, social worker and member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines from 2007 to 2015, in Philippine Daily Inquirer (April 8, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: King Rodriguez/Presidential Communications Operations Office)

Manila Can Be Part of the Solution in Myanmar

Every day since the February 1 military coup, ‍the people have been taking to the streets in protest in all parts of Myanmar. Over 400 people have been killed by police and soldiers firing indiscriminately on crowds of protestors, or murdered randomly in dragnets carried out by day or under cover of darkness.

The Myanmar coup has placed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the spot. In a region where the lives of 650 million people are indissolubly linked politically and economically, the old principle of “non-intervention in the internal affairs” of other member countries that has long governed inter-state relations is anachronistic. The governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have recognized this in their historic call for a regional summit on recent developments in Myanmar.

Manila has not yet joined this call, which is really disappointing and ironic given that the democratic political system we have owes its existence to a people’s uprising in 1986.

Apparently, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is still hesitant to fully break with its previous policy of refraining from any criticism of the Myanmar government, even of the latter’s inhuman policy of genocide toward the Rohingya people.

Myanmar is at a crossroads. The coup was not a show of strength. It was an act of desperation. A decade of liberalization had given the people a taste of what full freedom would be after decades of stifling military rule, and they will not give up their dream. The Philippine government likewise is at a crossroads in its diplomacy toward Myanmar. It can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Let it be the latter.

The Tragedy in Myanmar: Where Is It Heading?
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
The Tragedy in Myanmar: Where Is It Heading?

Roberto R Romulo, Chairman, Philippine Foundation for Global Concerns, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines (1992-1995), in his column Filipino Worldview in The Philippine Star (March 12, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prachatai)

The Tragedy in Myanmar: Where Is It Heading?

The desired end game of the Myanmar military coup would be a sham election where the junta’s party wins and strongman Min Aung Hlaing is made president. What the general did not expect was the determined opposition of the brave Burmese people. The junta has increasingly been violent and brutal in suppressing protests.

The US and other countries have imposed sanctions aimed at denying junta members access to their personal fortune deposited overseas and to prohibit doing business with the military-owned companies. Although China has stayed neutral and is watching developments before it commits itself, it has said that it is not happy with what has transpired.

All ASEAN came out with is a bland statement urging “all parties” to refrain from instigating violence and to seek a peaceful solution. Aside from falling on deaf ears in the junta, this was also not well received by the protesters.

The key is the heroism of the Burmese people opposing the junta. They want no less than a regime change. That can only happen two ways: either the world, including ASEAN and with China playing a key role, acts more purposefully to force the junta to back down, or senior government and military officials arise and side with the people.

We must keep supporting the Burmese people to stand fast and we must get our government to act and rouse ASEAN to action, which to date has reinforced the belief that it has been inutile when it comes to human rights and oppression. Taking the unprecedented, but legal expulsion of Burma from ASEAN would give a dramatic message to the junta and to the people, and swing the balance in favor of the latter. They could, of course, always be readmitted subsequently.

No To Misogynists: What We Women Can Do
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
No To Misogynists: What We Women Can Do

Solita Collas-Monsod, broadcaster, economist, writer and minister of economic planning of the Philippines (1986-1989), in her Get Real column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (March 6, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: AlanMotus/UN Women)

No To Misogynists: What We Women Can Do

Let us look at how President Rodrigo Duterte affected the pace of advancement of women. Let us look at his speeches and actions toward women. In this age of information and communication technology, where every little word or action is recorded, you have a damning picture of a man who thinks of women as lower class, or that deserve less equal treatment than men, or just objectifies them.

Let us talk about his remarks in the past four or five years. The worst in my opinion is when he talked to the graduating class of the Philippine Military Academy and made what his spokesperson called “mischievous” remarks about rape. A joke? About rape? To the military? In a commencement address?

As if that were not bad enough, his remarks about women not belonging in the political arena strongly call to mind what the dictator Ferdinand Marcos said, referring to Cory Aquino, that women belonged in the bedroom. The man is in a time warp. He is an anachronism.

The worst of all, though, is his ability to make up any story that he wants about the women he fears or hates the most. Look at the untruths he has spread about Vice President Leni Robredo, Senator Leila de Lima, former chief justice Meilou Sereno, and journalist Maria Ressa – untruths that his underlings took as gospel and fight to present as gospel.

Women have complained bitterly about this treatment. We have talked the talk. Now we have an opportunity to walk the walk. Will we take it? Or are we Filipino women content to accept those who lie, cheat, are misogynists and anachronisms, and cheapen their office and their country with their bad manners and worse conduct as leaders? No? Then start working on next year’s elections.

President Duterte’s Drug War is a Failure
Friday, March 5, 2021
President Duterte’s Drug War is a Failure

Ramon T Tulfo, TV host, radio broadcaster and columnist, in The Manila Times (March 4, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: VOCAL-NY)

President Duterte’s Drug War is a Failure

President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs is an utter failure. The president made wrong choices of officials. The appointments give credence to the truism that close relatives or friends make lousy subordinates or business partners. Had they carried Mr Duterte’s marching orders to rid the country of the drug menace by catching or eliminating the big fish, there would have been no need to eliminate the small fry or pushers in the streets. The big fish have not been caught and are laughing all the way to the bank.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra seems to go against the Duterte administration’s mindset when he told the United Nations Human Rights Council that more than half of thousands of anti-drug operations under the present administration failed to comply with rules of engagement and protocol. That statement was shocking but true.

Had Guevarra been appointed justice secretary earlier, he could have guided the President in the war on drugs. The Philippines would not have become a pariah in the free world had he appointed Guevarra in the early part of his administration.

Duterte was too preoccupied with his job as president to notice the vulgar ways of the police in exterminating heinous criminals. The president should have realized that what was once good and accepted in Davao City where he was mayor can no longer be applied in the whole country.

But all is not lost. The president can still appoint people in key positions who were not his friends when he was mayor of Davao.

Everything Must Be Done To Facilitate the Vaccine Rollout
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Everything Must Be Done To Facilitate the Vaccine Rollout

Alex Magno, political scientist, in his First Person column in The Philippine Star (February 16, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Minette Rimando/ILO)

Everything Must Be Done To Facilitate the Vaccine Rollout

The first doses the country is receiving from the COVAX facility are due to arrive. A small rollout of our vaccination program has been rehearsed and is ready to execute.

However, according to a government survey, only three in ten residents of the National Capital Region are ready and willing to accept inoculation. Vaccine hesitancy may be the largest hurdle confronting our effort to achieve herd immunity in some form.

There are many reasons for the high degree of vaccine hesitancy. One major reason is anxiety about the economic costs of dealing with possible side effects. Recall that when we began testing in scale, some infected persons sought to avoid testing because if they were found positive, they could lose work days. A few even escaped from isolation facilities and needed to be tracked down by law enforcement agencies.

The national government, local governments and private enterprises have agreed to procure the vaccines and make them available for free. If we charged real costs for buying and deploying the vaccines, too many will seek to avoid inoculation. On top of providing the vaccines for free, it now appears some coverage for contingent costs needs to assured. Everything must be done to ensure a soft landing for the vaccination program.

The fewer hurdles, physical and financial, to accessing the vaccines, the better. Those in charge of the vaccine rollout should not want in creativity to assure access to the vaccines will be as painless as possible. The vaccination program can be trickier than it seems at first glance. We are working with a limited cold chain and we have never before had to inoculate so many people in so short a time. Expect some mishaps here and there. What is important is that we perfect the system as we go along.

A Populist Revolt in the Stock Market
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
A Populist Revolt in the Stock Market

Randy David, sociologist and journalist, in his Public Lives column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (January 31, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Stephan Mosel)

A Populist Revolt in the Stock Market

It has been a crazy week in Wall Street, where the entire financial services industry of the United States, including the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, is located. The place has become the epicenter of a populist revolt being waged by small “amateur” retail investors against those they perceive to be the grand manipulators of the financial markets – hedge fund managers, brokerage firms, gigantic investment houses, and their enablers in the mainstream media.

These insurrectionists of the stock market are mobilizing an army that is driven not mainly by profit but by a passionate resentment against the rapacious few that make money at the expense of everyone else. Their most hated targets are the so-called “short-sellers” – professional investors that make their money from driving down the value of certain stocks by dumping them and then buying them back at a lower price.

Mostly young people who have basically known no other reality but that of the digital world, the stock markets’ new warriors are leveraging their mastery of the internet to challenge the power of the entrenched financial oligarchy. It is easy to mock this development as nothing but the fanciful protest of a digital generation that is out to remake the global order using the virtual weapons at their disposal. 

I am not so sure. If one can imagine a global anarchist movement rising up against entrenched hierarchies – brought together and empowered by an online communication system, and able to operate synchronously across time zones, geographic boundaries, and functional domains – it’s not difficult to see in this stock market revolt a portent of something more encompassing and radical than the “reset” of the capitalist system that the Davos thinkers have in mind.

The US Capitol Siege: Lessons From An Embattled Democracy
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
The US Capitol Siege: Lessons From An Embattled Democracy

Leila de Lima, lawyer, human-rights activist and Senator in police detention since 2017, in Rappler (January 18, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Blink O’fanaye)

The US Capitol Siege: Lessons From An Embattled Democracy

For those who idealized the United States, including Americans themselves who truly believed that America is the greatest nation in the world, the events of January 6 were shockingly unimaginable.

For those who see through the facade of “America the Great” and see the brewing discontent underneath that has gone unaddressed for decades and even centuries, this is but the culmination of the hypocrisy behind American domestic and foreign policies. But this is more than a case of a nation getting its comeuppance. The truth is that every nation – no matter how prosperous or destitute it is – would be built upon the different experiences of different peoples. In the case of the United States, for every millionaire, there are a million who do not have the same economic and social security.

I, for one, am rooting for the United States as always. It may not be as united or as great as it projects itself to be, but it is nonetheless closer to greatness than authoritarian regimes for one simple reason: it has created a space for people to be able to live with dignity. That it is not yet perfect, or not as inclusive as it could be at the moment, is no reason to throw away the ideals it fights and stands for: Democracy, Rule of Law, and Human Rights. In fact, it is more reason to keep striving for improvement and inclusiveness.

I will not make the mistake of counting the United States out. If there is a democratic country that has the capacity to restore balance and become truly great in the truest sense of the word, in the face of so many challenges both within and without, it would be the United States. And the free world would be in a better place for it.

Trumpism: A second American Civil War?
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Trumpism: A second American Civil War?

Richard Heydarian, political scientist, in his Horizons column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (January 12, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Trumpism: A second American Civil War?

“America, the rock against which fascism crashed in the last century, may have begun to slide,” former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright cautioned a few years back. But despite its political troubles, America’s formal democratic institutions have remained largely intact. This is not a Weimar Republic.

Yet, one cannot fully discount the prospect of a “second civil war” in a country with a long history of civil strife; not to mention, notorious levels of gun violence and heavily armed far-right militia groups, who recently descended on Washington, DC. And when combined with toxic partisanship, where up to 40 percent of the electorate sees the other side as downright “evil”, you get a particularly precarious situation.

For the past four years, outgoing President Donald Trump has been largely described as a “populist”. His liberal critics, however, have gone so far as to portray him as a fascist. The circumstances of Trump’s rise to power are telling. For years, he skillfully established a cult of personality combined with his unique brand of “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) nationalism. But the element of para-military violence was largely missing. Nor did Trump employ the kind of state-sponsored violence seen in post-Weimar Germany or its Italian counterpart. Courts and the opposition-controlled Congress also remained functional.

However, the violent assault on the Capitol, the ultimate symbol of American democracy, has raised serious questions as to whether Trump is just another “populist”. Perhaps a better way to understand what is happening is to refer to a much older concept: demagoguery. Demagogues like Trump do not go gently into the night. They fight back, often at the expense of the whole nation.

America is a flagship democracy; the world has a direct stake in hoping that ultimately the better angels of America’s nature prevail.

The President as Whistleblower: How will the Vaccine Probe End?
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
The President as Whistleblower: How will the Vaccine Probe End?

Satur C Ocampo, activist and politician, in his At Ground Level column in The Philippine Star (January 2, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Simeon Celi/Presidential Communications Operations Office)

The President as Whistleblower: How will the Vaccine Probe End?

Did President Rodrigo Duterte blow the whistle? He disclosed that many soldiers had already been inoculated with a Covid-19 vaccine. Immediately, there was widespread uproar:

At least two Cabinet members, three military officers and the presidential spokesman tried to do damage control, confirming what Duterte had said but giving varying justifications. We learned from their uncoordinated responses that the vaccine had come from China’s state-owned pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm, and that they had been administered to the president’s close-in security personnel without registration or authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as required by law.

A judge ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate. The FDA and the Bureau of Customs said they would do their own probes. Sounding like a whistle-blower, the president was quoted as saying in a meeting with the FDA and other health officials: “I have to be frank. I have to tell the truth. I will not foist a lie. Many [soldiers] have been vaccinated.” Then he hastened to add that the vaccination was “just for the select few, not all soldiers, because it is not yet policy”.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon did not find the statements of Duterte’s men credible. “They have twisted themselves into knots trying to find excuses,” he said. “They are lying through their teeth in a bid to protect those who are principally involved in the illegal shipment of the unauthorized vaccines to the country. They cannot hide the truth.” Those who caused the illegal importation and use of the unauthorized vaccine must be held responsible, he stressed, concluding that “otherwise the environment of impunity is enhanced”.

Let us wait and see what will happen in the promised investigations, impelled by Duterte’s perhaps inadvertent whistleblowing. Remember what happened to other whistle-blowers in the past: They get ignored.

The Saddest Christmas Ever
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
The Saddest Christmas Ever

Sara Soliven De Guzman, Chief Operating Officer, Operation Brotherhood Montessori Center, in her As a Matter of Fact column in The Philippine Star (December 21, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Rudy and Peter Skitterjans/Pixabay)

The Saddest Christmas Ever

To many, this will be the saddest Christmas. Covid-19 has disrupted our lives. It has created such a crisis, destroying homes, work and the human spirit. Christmas will not be the same this year. Our homes will be silent, our tables half empty, but we must not let the darkness take over the light that should continue to shine in our hearts. We need to feel that hope and to fight the feeling we have in our hearts. We need to do this not only for ourselves but also for our children.

On the brighter side, we have family to support each other. The simple celebration around the table with prayer and reflection will cleanse our spirits and hopefully make us better. It is during a crisis when our “will” or “might” can be tested. The life that we have now should bring us closer to God. 

This will be the first Christmas for millions of families around the world to spend without their loved ones who were taken by the virus. Let us light a candle or two for all those who have gone this year.

The sad part is that some people do not even feel the hardship of the times. They continue to go out and party like there is no tomorrow. These past days have shown us how many of our countrymen continue to ignore social distancing. They have forgotten about Covid-19. Surely after the holidays our Covid-19 cases will spike again. Do not forget we have not even gotten the vaccines yet.

So this is Christmas. Love is the strongest weapon we have in order to survive this pandemic.