Three elephants in Malacañang Palace

[Photo by Lara Roche via]

[Photo by Lara Roche via]

By Joe America

“The Elephant in the room” is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is going unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss, or a condition of groupthink no one wants to challenge. [Wikipedia]

People keep pointing out the good things being done by the Duterte Administration and I just can’t get enthused about the discussion. I can’t get past the elephants in the room, the huge truths that are not being addressed by those who groupthink at Malacañang Palace and other places where leaders converse. These elephants are so huge, and so ugly, that it is fruitless to consider any lesser animals that may warrant praise.

EJKs: a gross case of the most powerful people abusing those without power

EJKs are not only a violation of human rights laws, and a violation of Christian or Muslim or reasoned compassion, and a violation of laws against murder, and an abridgment of the right of presumed innocence, they represent a circumstance where powerful people are picking on the most powerless people in the nation. Armed troops are attacking the poor and vulnerable, those without access to guns or flak vests or lawyers with whom to sue the PNP for excessive use of force.

EJKs reflect the most horrible values, values that have the strongest people grinding their deadly force against the meekest of the land. The Philippine war on drugs turns courage and honor on their heads.

Even calling it a war is misleading and offensive. There is no organized attack on the Philippines. There are no planes or troops or ships or missiles deployed against the nation. Maybe China is attacking the Philippines with its drug distributions, but then why are we warring on our own citizens?

Face it. This is a police action, rather like the Mamasapano raid, only 6,000 have been killed, not 67, and there are no street protests because the powerful are so brutal and the victims are so powerless that they have become throwaway citizens that journalists, senators, representatives, palace executives, priests, professors, and people in general don’t care about.

Or are too scared to defend.

It is one ugly elephant. Not only is it ugly, it is doing its business on Filipino honor around the world.

Sovereignty is not a Pokemon card to be traded for trains

Man, I miss the good Senator Miriam Santiago. She was rabid about sovereignty because she understood that it is the nation’s heart and soul. It is not just land or seas or a batch of islands or the resources around them. It can’t be traded. It can’t be painted or defined in tangible terms. It is priceless. It is our honor, it is our pride, it is our courage, it is our determination to stand up as equals to other nations and peoples.

It for sure is not a Pokemon card to be traded for trains.

The arbitration hearing won by the Philippines is not a piece of paper to be set on the shelf because its findings are inconvenient.

If I were Filipino, I’d be outraged if global recognition of the nation’s equal rights and stature were diminished by any Governmental act or statement.

Discarding one’s sovereignty is like telling the Chinese that Filipinos are low-born dark skinned natives happy to serve at their pleasure. That is, after all, what many Chinese leaders think, and what they promote to their people by making Filipinos villains in the sea dispute.


Propaganda and Freedom of Information are not compatible

Central to Freedom of Information (FOI) is trust. By making information available on request, the National Government is saying “We are earnest and honest  and so confident of our work that we will willingly share any information you wish to see.”

There is honor to FOI.

So when that National Government puts out an Executive Order for FOI that has some 160 exceptions, and when that government deploys an army of internet trolls to manufacture facts, create conflict, and slander decent people like Vice President Robredo, we have a gross flaw of character in that Government.

It is not possible to trust what ANYONE in that Government says.

We can’t even trust that GOOD NEWS is being fed to us straight. If the Government is blowing smoke anywhere, how can we tell who and what to trust? When one is being played for a fool by propagandists, one is inclined to think FOI is just another bit of manipulation. And the good news is just another way to jerk us around.

When one is being played for a fool by propagandists, one can easily see that the leaders don’t have a lot of respect for Filipinos. They demean them and insult them with manipulations. They turn good people into gullible fools.

It’s another very ugly elephant, and one that can easily be led from the room by a Government that decides it wants to build its reputation on achievement instead of bullshit.

Or elephant dung, if you prefer.

The character flaw represented by the elephants

If you reflect on the three elephant metaphors, you can see one central theme in all three:

One set of people holds itself up as better than another set of people.

We can call them the entitled.

They don’t believe in equal rights or equal opportunity or fairness or compassion.

Ugly has many looks.


Addendum, January 24, 2017

The privilege speech of Senator De Lima, delivered today, is directly pertinent to the remarks in this article about propaganda and what Freedom of Information should mean. See:  ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: The Rise of Fake News and the Death Knell for Philippine Democracy


68 Responses to “Three elephants in Malacañang Palace”
  1. Wilfredo G. Villanueva says:

    Thanks, Joe. Nobody calls it as you do. Stay put. For love. No one does “love of the Philippines” like you do. There’s something about you that releases my own grit and rage. Viral, Joe, viral.

    • 🙂 I wrote that article in 20 minutes, fueled by grit and rage, I suppose. It seems to me that the elephants ought not be ignored, but given the highest notice.

      • sonny says:

        “… in 20 minutes, fueled by grit and rage …”

        With this textual output and spirit, Joe, you remind me of two essayists I do emulate: the late Mike Royko (Pulitzer awardee) and Sydney Harris both wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. Like you they wrote fast and punchy. I wonder if they also played basketball or were in the artillery unit. 🙂

        • sonny says:

          For this Tantor will always remember you. Seriously though, I share Wil’s sentiment and also Patrick Henry’s:

          “They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? …”

        • I read and admired Royko, too. Maybe he taught me a thing or two. 🙂

  2. karlgarcia says:

    Well said per usual.

  3. You are right as what you imagined. Better keep waiting for something…miraculous.

  4. grammy2342 says:

    As always right on the mark, Joeam, much like Ulysses who can shoot an arrow through many rings. And these elephants should trample on the ugly persons in Malacañan including their leader who is the ugliest of them all – inside and out.

    • sonny says:

      Thanks for bringing up Ulysses, one of my favorite Greek heroes. I think we should all go on to the Ulysses mode of thinking and devise other ideas similar to the Trojan horse. He was always on the look out for out-of-box ideas whether he was battling Circe or the Sirens or Polyphemus. And he was only human, not even a demi-god.

  5. NHerrera says:

    Halleluiah Joe. There may be other elephants or foul smelly dungs in the room to list. But Goodness Gracious you named and described those three superbly. Halleluiah for the blog topic.

    • There are sure to be operating errors and mistakes and successes, and decisions with which we don’t agree, but these three elephants are trampling on the fundamental values upon which democracy, freedom and fairness . . . and kindness . . . rest. They are HUGE violations of national integrity.

      • NHerrera says:

        And to think the piece was written “in 20 minutes.” But fueled by very high octane grit and rage.


  6. josephivo says:

    Is the problem the elephants or the blind people in the room only able to feel one leg or worse led to only touch ivory. What will it take to make the majority of Filipinos to really see the elephants and the destruction they cause? Is it up to those who saw them the bishops, the academe, the press? And how to take of the blinds or if that’s impossible to make them feel the whole animals?

    • I think it is important for decent people to keep making noise, and not to let the issues slip into ‘that’s the way it is’. There will be steady erosion of satisfaction and maybe a recognition in the Palace that the gullible are waking up.

  7. Chris Albert says:

    So very accurate it chills my bones. It is time to call it what it is regardless of the possible backlash.

  8. edgar lores says:

    1. Thanks, JoeAm.

    2. This piece restores the sense of proportion and perspective so sorely missed in the press and blur of events.

    3. Of the three elephants, I do not know which is the most problematic.

    3.1. Certainly, the EJK Elephant is the most immediate. I would call it the red elephant, red for the river of gore shed. This elephant has gone rogue, trampling suspects and innocents in its headlong rush.

    The case of the Korean businessman, Jee Ick Joo, in the “tokhang for ransom” operation is particularly evil. He is not collateral damage in the sense of a stray bullet or mistaken identity. He is a murder victim, strangled at the PNP Headquarters in Camp Crame. The modus operandi of the anti-drug war was the modus used to kidnap and execute him.

    3.2. The Sovereignty-for-Train elephant is a pay now, buy later mirage. I would, therefore, call it the pink elephant as we are hallucinating fast trains servicing mostly Metro Manila, metro Cebu, and a circuitous track around Mindanao. Indeed, the island looks like a Piccasoan elephant with the Zamboangan peninsula representing the trunk.

    Only a portion of the Metro Manila project is expected to be finished by the end of the President’s term.

    3.3. The FOI-Propaganda elephant is a dichotomy of truth and falsehood. I would almost call it a black elephant defined as “a cross between a ‘black swan’ (an unlikely, unexpected event with enormous ramifications) and ‘the elephant in the room’ (a problem that is visible to everyone, yet no one wants to address it). However, if FOI is an unexpected event, it is falsehood that has enormous ramifications. Come to think of it, isn’t FOI with all its exceptions and redactions also a falsehood?

    On the Internet one can find images of “zebra elephants.” These are photo-shopped images but I think they might appropriately represent this dichotomous elephant.

    4. Ultimately, I think the third elephant is the ugliest in the long-term. The psychopathy of killing and the psychopathy of selling ourselves cheap can be overcome by truth and honesty. As long as we are not landed upon – madaganan – by these flying elephants.

    P.S. The last sentence refers to an old corny joke:

    Q: “Bakit walang pakpak ang elepante?”
    A: “Eh, kung madaganan ka!”

    • I like your color coded elephants. There are many elephants of varying shades in PH.

      I think the masa had long been flattened like a pancake by a lot of elephants. Some are permanent. Others are recurring. Still, there seems to be new ones brought about by environmental and technological factors every year. There are just too many of them so they need to be prioritized accordingly as to their immediate or imminent danger.

      A flying elephant 🙂 :

  9. Sid Bañez says:

    Sovereignty has not really been drilled seriously into the heads my countrymen by the school, the church or the government. And now we even have a despicable government that thinks sovereignty could be easily discarded because it is a purely abstract concept to many,

  10. a distant observer says:

    This is exactly the kind of article that always brings me back to this blog! Full of compassion, “grit and rage”! You happen to express exactly what I feel. So near to my own (unwitting) thoughts, it’s almost frightening.
    I too miss Miriam Santiago so much… Sometimes I imagine her whipping Duterte’s butt like they did back in the days with the obstinate schoolboys.

  11. madlanglupa says:

    Somewhat offtopic, but this statement left me wondering if this was intentional (black) comedy:

    • It is not out of topic, madlanglupa. The “tokhang for ransom” is the calf (baby elephant) of the abuse of power mama elephant. PRD fathered this calf when he told the police that he is behind them all the way (Yikes! Dirty minded people, do not use your creative imagination in interpreting that last sentence).

  12. Luz Prado Morales says:

    Let me quote the gist of Barack’s farewell address “It’s that spirit – a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, and build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but on principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and an independent press.” Reality bites, these elephants who are secured in their own bubbles only want to accept information true or not that fits their own opinion with no regard towards available evidences.

  13. Spinal6 says:

    So apt!

  14. gerverg1885 says:

    “Lies run in sprints, truths run in marathons.” This is a truism that does not fail through all generations and this current dispensation is no exception.

    The cracks are beginning to show maybe because of the sheer weight of the elephants.

  15. NHerrera says:


    To put this in words that are kind to the Administration, let me assume as Gordon would like to portray, that there are no evidence to the EJK on illegal drug pushers and addicts. Hence this big Elephant in the rooms of the Executive, HOR and the Senate.

    But the numerous pronouncements of the President to protect the police officers from jail if the killings were done in the name of the Administration’s war on illegal drugs have emboldened the Rogue PNP officials who most probably profited earlier from the business of illegal drugs. So emboldened, we have now these “fruits”:

    – the brazen killing of the Abuera Mayor purportedly because of the gun-wielding resisting Mayor while being served a search warrant;

    – the ransom-killing of a Korean businessman right at the PNP Camp Crame, which turned out to be only the latest such crime; Ang See the ransom-crime-fighting advocate reports a lot of other cases involving visiting Chinese.

    We talk about collateral damage, we have here a COLLATERAL UNINTENDED FRUIT.

    • NHerrera says:

      I do not recall the exact words use by Obama lately relative to the incoming US President Trump. I believe it is “reality bites.” There will more such reality-bites in our part of the world and no Abella or Andanar or Mocha can stem the bites from these realities.

    • NHerrera says:

      (Oh my, while I am careful about the ideas or concepts I post lately, my grammar has been atrocious. Sorry — me no speka da inglis.)

  16. There are those who know how to ride elephants.

    Unfortunately they want to send them home.

  17. Myra Dugan says:

    Thanks for this blog. But the mother elephant is monstrous and huge. So unite, unite, unite and stop being silent so we can kill the beast!

  18. Just got done watching the Inauguration ceremonies, and learned of this Huey Long quote (I think it was some political commentator on ABC who mentioned it re Trump?)


    Now with Trump cooking from another kitchen, was the commentary. And thought it apt.

    Loved his speech, by the way, a little rough around the edges, but per Trump’s pattern, consistent & actually conciliatory . A speech Ron Paul himself could have given (albeit, softer in tone).

    Maybe, Joe, as Ireneo suggests above, & re Long’ waiters analogy, it’s not so much the elephants in the room, but those who ride it? 😉

    (looking forward to chempo‘s Wall Street article re Trump presidency 😉 , Trump’s kitchen.)

    • josephivo says:

      He forgot to mention the kids in Mexico and China, the kids in Mosul and Gaza, all with the same red blood in their veins, looking at the same night sky with the same dreams of progress… History told me to be afraid of nationalism.

      • josephivo says:

        Oops, quote got lost:

        “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots… And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.”

        • that’s probably the least Trump portion of the speech (too poetic, so I’m sure Ivanka or Jared probably wrote that in, or even Melania…), but he did say this first:

          “We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.

          We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

          We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.”

          Kinda reminiscent of Spinoza’s quotes, no? Self-actualization, or

          The above sentences are the main take away re Trump worldview and policies.

          • “He forgot to mention the kids in Mexico and China, the kids in Mosul and Gaza “

            I’m all for caring for others, but if we have to prioritize, from a US gov’t perspective, American tax dollars should go to American kids first , before it goes to Mexico, China, Iraq or Palestine, no?

          • karlgarcia says:

            On hire American:

            A pro-immigrant take.
            “The chief logical mistake we make is something called the Lump of Labor Fallacy: the erroneous notion that there is only so much work to be done and that no one can get a job without taking one from someone else. It’s an understandable assumption. After all, with other types of market transactions, when the supply goes up, the price falls. If there were suddenly a whole lot more oranges, we’d expect the price of oranges to fall or the number of oranges that went uneaten to surge.

            But immigrants aren’t oranges. It might seem intuitive that when there is an increase in the supply of workers, the ones who were here already will make less money or lose their jobs. Immigrants don’t just increase the supply of labor, though; they simultaneously increase demand for it, using the wages they earn to rent apartments, eat food, get haircuts, buy cellphones. That means there are more jobs building apartments, selling food, giving haircuts and dispatching the trucks that move those phones. Immigrants increase the size of the overall population, which means they increase the size of the economy. Logically, if immigrants were “stealing” jobs, so would every young person leaving school and entering the job market; countries should become poorer as they get larger. In reality, of course, the opposite happens.”


            • karl,

              I don’t think Trump meant hire only American citizens, legal (and illegal) immigrants are implied. So long as its generated in the US (ie. Made in USA), is the point.

              Though work visas must be addressed, loopholes in which “ethnic” businesses must be closed, ie. restaurants, massage, groceries, etc. can reach back to their home countries and be able to get work visas specific to an “ethnic” specialty, language, cooking, accupressure, etc. (I forgot which type of work visa, there’s an alphabet soup ).

              Then as discussed here a while back, on immigrants being able to come here, purely based on affinity (that’s for children over 18 yrs and adults, kids should be with their parents), which means they can be non-skilled, become liability over here, and still be able to immigrate, there’s also visas based on family affinity—- in which, visitors invariably over stay. All this just adds to the welfare lines.

              If they are skilled, have something to offer, not liabilities, sure, there should be path ways to permanent residence, then to citizenship, but loopholes need to be plugged. But they have to prove their worth, if they cannot then maybe go to Canada first, get some education, marketable skills, professional experience, etc. then re-apply to the US.

              None of this “give me your tired, your poor…” we have way too many already here, those who immigrate here should bring their A-game, not come here to compete for jobs in McDonald’s.

          • karlgarcia says:

            On buy American.
            Well, waddaya know?
            American companies is starting to feel unwelcomed.


            • I hope those businesses , who moved to China, or SE Asia, will take a back seat, when they grovel back to the US, and Made in USA type companies be given priority.

              Like I said, shoe companies like Danner and New Balance already have 2 operations, shoes made in the 3rd World, and shoes made over here.

              I hope under Trump tax breaks are offered to those that never left, and those that have sprung up recently like small batch manufacturing all over the US of late.

              If you take the clothing industry as example, karl, ie. Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, etc. where they outsourced their manufacturing in the 3rd World, where women get abused, also children, seeing them fail would be a positive.

              I’m sure chemp would disagree and we’ve talked about factories in the 3rd world before here, but I really believe Negosyo Center type arrangements (entrepreneurship) are better for families, women, towns and communities, than yanking them out of traditional environments in the 3rd world,

              and shoving them all into factories (kinda like the opening scenes of “Joe and the Volcano”).

              In conclusion, it’s been bad for us (since manufacturing left) and also bad for the 3rd world (since they have no collective bargaining, this is the source of the abuse).

    • josephivo says:

      And, don’t tell me what America did for the world, ask what the world did for America (you forgot your greatest gift, climate change), you could start in the Philippines. Soldiers, sugar and other resources, repayment of expensive loans, consumption of American goods and services, OFW’s in your clinics, schools, factories and fields…

      • josephivo,

        I hear ya, man.

        It’s a different perspective, but one that got him into office. It is his mandate, popular vote or not—- the electoral college was designed to prevent the tyranny of the minority, as well as the tyranny of the majority. 😉

        W. Bush and his neo-conservative perspective proved disastrous, and Obama/Hillary’s liberalism/globalization worst. Sure you can talk about re-training Americans who lost out, or further marginalize them as red-necks, but they were ignored and voted accordingly… Trump has to do good by them first.

        Like that Huey Long quote, Trump is cooking from a different kitchen—– whether he’ll be a brilliant chef, the worst cook ever, or will simply introduce simple yet healthy grub remains to be seen. The Republicans and Democrats were all about world engagement (albeit with differing strategies),

        Trump’s speech today turned post-WWII American worldview (from a policy perspective) upside down.

        Like I’ve been saying since last year here, josephivo, Trump, no matter his bluster, politics (that’s when he has one), is the closest to Ron Paul…

        next closest to him is Bernie Sanders (so from 3 sides, leftist Democrats, rightist Republicans; libertarian Democrat/Republicans , the theme of 2016 was let’s start focus on US now).

        • “(you forgot your greatest gift, climate change)”

          Keep a sharp eye on this one , josephivo. I gotta feeling that you’ll see more re climate change under Trump than any other president (especially Obama). Ivanka and Jared seem very keen on climate change.

          Remember my last article on here, more fracking under Obama, which they also exported (more fracking now in China). Also keep an eye on Jared’s kid brother. These three will play crucial roles under Trump.

          But I do agree with you, we are the biggest polluters since the past century. But also consider that the US also have provided the world with antidote s for every poison we’ve introduced.

          Ever since corporations left the US en masse in the 1990s, Americans have also realized more ways to divest from them… that’s another thing the US can teach the world. 😉 see Detroit.

          More innovation comes out of this nation, than any other (well, maybe except for Israel, LOL! but they’re basically an American R&D branch, LOL!)

          • I trust you will keep in mind that this is a blog about the Philippines, and not the US. Climate change is certainly a topic that affects both nations, but that is not what this particular article is about. This conversation is going the wrong direction, I think. I would welcome your rendition, in a separate article, of what the Trump presidency means to the Philippines, but otherwise, I’d ask you and others engaging on Trump to take this conversation to a more suitable forum.

  19. Vicente Co says:

    Its all about a sinister planned revision of history to bury the legacy of EDSA 1…

    • madlanglupa says:

      More than just that — all I see is nothing less than the restoration of a parvenu fascist family who reigned roughshod over millions, sowed fear and distrust, and consumed much to match the billionaires of the day.

  20. ton lim says:

    ….joe na first name mo….america pa apelyido….sineswerte ka….dami mo pa sinabe….ikaw na nga mgpresidente….subukan natin kng me magawa ka…..

  21. monkeyluv says:

    The first “elephant” has been around since the last administration, and even before that:—us-report

    The second “elephant” as been around for decades through U.S. neoliberalism and political leaders that challenged and used the same:

    The third “elephant” involves a “national government” that did not change radically from the previous one. If any, several of its politicians have been in power during the last two administrations or even more:

    • Three or more links puts you into moderation. Thanks for your viewpoint. I think you are not here for discussion, so I won’t try a response.

    • karlgarcia says:

      The existence of the aforementioned elephants for several years is exactly the reason you bring it to the people’s attention.
      Precedented or not, EJKs will always be alarming and if it is no longer alarming, then we have a problem.

    • Thea says:

      The article was written in March,2014 when the government still had conscience ,considered EJK as a problem and recognized its presence. The present government , on the otherhand,is denying it and numb about the killings. In fact, if you are to search, there are similar articles diverting the attention of the readers to the EJKs in the past administrations. A blame game?

  22. NHerrera says:

    Off topic

    President Donald Trump’s inauguration speech: my one centavo worth of comment

    – Stirring speech
    – for Americans in general
    – except perhaps for politicians and establishment folks and corporate officials and immigrants (not yet American citizens) who are blamed for becoming rich or well-of at the expense of the other Americans of longer-standing deemed left behind.

    – Except for the latter Americans I mentioned above, if I were an average American, not necessarily out of a job, and whether Republican or Democrat, I would have been moved enough that I don’t want to wake up from the good feelings I had from the moment I read the first line up to the last line of the speech.

    (NOTE: I did not watch videos or read comments leading to the speech. In fact, because of something I and my wife had to do, I read the text only now. About how all these words will become reality, I will not even attempt or think now. For the moment let me enjoy the good feeling of inhaling the stuff that virtually comes from the words.)

    • NH (and sonny 😉 ),

      I ‘m just now getting into HBO’s “the Young Pope” (it’s only been 2 episodes, so I don’t quite know how to make of it).

      The last part of the 2nd episode is the Young Pope’s first homily , to continue your sentiments, re stirring speech , Lenny (the Young Pope) delivered a speech/homily very similar to Trump’s , I guess you can title Lenny’s homily “What have we forgotten?”.

      p.s. ~ Just watched “Meet the Press” this morning in which Chuck stated that Trump’s inaugural speech will be known as the “American carnage” speech domestically; whilst abroad it’ll be known as the “America first” speech.

  23. Thea says:

    A good read again, Joe. As if you are writing your wife a love letter, with your heart and soul.

    The father of these elephants is the resident’s mental state and health. Not just ugly but dangerous too.

  24. I’ve added as an addendum to this article today’s privilege speech by Senator De Lima about fake news, propaganda, and the dangers to Philippine democracy. It is directly relevant.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] I’ve written two prior articles that provide background to this discussion. One said that the fate of the Philippines is in the hands of its institutions (link). The other identified three major issues that are so fundamentally problematic that it is hard to get past them to give the Duterte Administration credit for constructive things being done (link). […]

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