February 24, 2018, 10:30 pm
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What the Asean delegates will not see

Former Newsweek and Time magazine editor and now one of the most astute analysts of the global political economy, Fareed Zakaria, in a televised discussion, alluded to deep ironies inherent in American president Donald Trump’s extended trip to Asia. 

Given both the interests of the American public, their manner of free trade, specifically western culture and economics, as well as the freedoms espoused by democracy, Zakaria went through the list of stops Trump would go through. In each, Zakaria virtually set on an imaginary column, divergent stances, whether ideological or simply practiced, of the visited country set against ideals represented by the leader of the free world.

Make no mistake about it. Zakaria remains among a select Left-wing group. He once called the American president a “Bullshit Artist” and Trump’s electoral triumph a class victory against the educated. Strange. He could have been referring to the Philippine presidential elections of 2016.

Profanity meltdowns aside, he is obviously one of Trump’s most severe albeit more intelligent critics.

Both diversity and intolerance could have been the overriding benchmark of the ironies Zakaria applied as criteria as he went through the list that Trump would invariably need to confront. Our particular interest are issues relevant to the Philippines in relation to hosting the American president and those set front and center as we host the Association of Southeast Asian (Asean) summit this week.

Zakaria reduced the most relevant ironies to two. One is our draconian and inhumane treatment of a public health problem. In referring to this Zakaria employed the word “massive” to describe the deterioration of human rights. That is significant. It sets such humanistic concern at the top-of-mind of an astute thinker. The other is what he described as our diminishing democracy -- another concern shared by an increasing number in a country which had not only been a proud experiment in democratic freedoms but a democracy fashioned closely under an historic model.

What do these ironies have to do with the Asean summit? Specifically, what do these have to do with what Asean delegates will not see as our title suggests?

Here is where each is relevant to an Asean that posits integration and unity as integral.

On the question of widespread murder as a solution to a health issue, recently Rodrigo R. Duerte preempted criticism by declaring that the issue of extrajudicial killings would not only be avoided among talking points but that these are strictly internal concerns. Any discussion is tantamount to foreign interference.

Recall that the bizarre world order our government espouses highlights a 360-degree pivot from established democracies and free enterprise economies to those authoritarian and command-based economies.

Moreover, human rights  advocacies and respect for life are borderless. If identifying common humanity in others regardless of economics, politics and culture is considered foreign interference, then what unity Asean establishes among different states cannot be founded on any humanizing principle. Alliances would be mere dotted line relationships, utilitarian and fleeting.

On our threatened democracy this is sustained by a few institutional pillars now severely compromised by political rot and decay. 

Note our spreading cancer. The Lower House is a rubber stamp. The Senate, a circus. The Commander in Chief mulling a revolutionary government. Several other democratic pillars are under clear and present danger. Politically-motivated impeachment procedures have been initiated against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman, the latter for investigating a precondition present well before presidential immunities were conferred. Both assaults explicitly endorsed at the highest level. The Human Rights Commission set inutile as other constitutional agencies such as the Commission on Elections, the guardians of democratic suffrage, are threatened.

If these creeping anomalies that diminish our fragile democracy characterize this country, one chosen to host an Asean summit attempting to unify against aberrant authoritarian regimes, then the ends to which our officials lead us are in direct opposites to the Asean ideal.

As hosts, have we not been profoundly hypocritical? What is it that the Asean delegates will not see? They will not see that behind the hospitality there is a rapidly increasing inhumanity characterized by violence and a disrespect for laws. As Zakaria observed they will also not see a diminishing democracy malignant among an otherwise healthy Asean.
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