Safe and back in the Philippines

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014


FOR all the country’s social and political infirmities, it’s great to be back in Negros Occidental, the Philippines.

It has been just a week after a family vacation in Bangkok, Thailand.
Months before, friends and relatives warned us of the turmoil in the Land of Smiles. They even suggested we try another Southeast Asian tourist spot. But my wife Eva wanted to revisit Bangkok again.

So we did. But I monitored the Yellow anti-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra forces who held weekly, sometimes violent, protest rallies.
By April, the protest rallies began to taper off. Even my American journalist friend Jeanne Hallacy who was closely monitoring the country went to Burma, and even back for a vacation in the US.

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In Thailand, we went to the touristy places. We even got to meet the Yellow Shirts along Khaosan Road, a shopping area for the budget-conscious tourists. Wikipedia described the place as the world-famous “backpacker ghetto.”

Tuktuk Uthai Chaiphiban warned us to avoid the place because of the “protect” (protest). Still we went there and bought some bargains. The only problem I had there was that because of globalization, many products looked the same whether you’re in Manila or in Bangkok. Why buy something I could just as well buy in the Philippines and contribute to the Philippine economy?

Otherwise, aside from the summer heat and the hustlers that foreign tourists encounter, our vacation was uneventful. We went back for the terra firma of Bacolod City. Because as I write this, the Thai army has declared martial law throughout the country. Even the embattled interim Prime Minister Shinawatra said the government didn’t know about it beforehand.

“They took this action unilaterally. The government is having a special meeting regarding this. We have to watch and see if the army chief honors his declaration of impartiality,” the aide said, describing the situation as “half a coup d’etat.”

“The Army aims to maintain peace, order and public safety for all groups and all parties,” read a ticker running on the Thai army’s television channel. “People are urged not to panic, and can carry on their business as usual. Declaring martial law is not a coup d’etat.” Yeah, sure. That’s what the unlamented late Philippine dictator said on September 21, 1972.

All Thai TV stations are being guarded by the military, Thai public television announced, showing pictures of soldiers and armored vehicles taking positions outside broadcast facilities in the country’s capital.

In a statement read on Thai television, the military declared that all of the country’s radio and television stations must suspend their normal programs “when it is needed.”

The dramatic announcements come days after the head of the army issued a stern warning after political violence had surged in the country’s capital.

Whatever might be said about the corruption and filth of Philippine politics, the AFP chief of staff from Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III all pledged allegiance to the Constitution and to the chain of command under the civilian authority of the elected Commander-in-Chief.

I had one-on-one talks with then Col. (now Major General) Oscar Lactao and Col. Jon Aying. As individuals, both have their issues with some aspects of governance in the Philippines. (Who doesn’t?) But they also criticized former Navy Lieutenant Senior Grade now Senator Antonio Trillanes III for his attempted Oakwood mutiny.

Yes, our Philippine democracy and civilian supremacy over the armed forces is maturing. Thailand, on the other hand, has more growing up to attain.

***

(bqsanc@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 21, 2014.

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