The Martilyo Gang: master criminals and their fearless pursuers

March 31, 2014

To fully appreciate the comedy in this headline, you need to know a bit of backstory.

There have been mall robberies in the Philippines where the perpetrators used hammers to break display cases. The hammers were purchased inside the mall so in response, Philippine police ordered a ban on the sale of hammers. Yesterday a robbery took place and pipe wrenches were used. Now there seems to be a serious discussion on how the thieves changed their MO. Apparently, the police have a lead on where they bought the pipe wrenches.

This game of chess between master criminals and their fearless pursuers is riveting…

The Keystone Cops

Flipping the democracy myth

February 3, 2014

Dr Jason Hickel, lecturer at the London School of Economics, is one of those academics who believes that we can solve poverty by demanding change.

In his article, Flipping the corruption myth, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is nothing more than a distraction from the duplicity of the Western Superpowers. Dr Hickel blames a shadowy elite for causing poverty through tax avoidance and unscrupulous dealings by the institutions that have hijacked global governance. He points out one myth yet, ironically, concludes by perpetuating two other myths:

  1. that taxation is the way out of poverty;
  2. that democracy is an ideal worth pursuing.

Dr Hickel is an advisor to an organisation called /The Rules. Here’s what its website says:

“…for the first time, ordinary citizens like you and I have the power and ability to change the rules that are creating [poverty]. Technology and the shift of global power mean that we can now demand our say in decisions that have traditionally been made by elites behind closed doors. But the truth is, these things will only change if we demand it…If we work together, the voices of the world’s majority are too loud to be silenced. Change the rules, and we change the world.”

Let’s break down this line of thinking into simple terms: “People are poor because members of the elite aren’t playing by the rules. We will demand that powerful people make them play by the rules.”

Do you see the huge gaping flaw here?

Those powerful people are the elite who don’t play by the rules. You can ask (or ‘demand’) all you like but why the hell are they going to listen to you anyway? But the truth is, these things will not change by making demands. That’s not changing the rules. It’s playing by the rules.

I’m always surprised at the people smart enough to see the flaws in the system but whose only solution is to ask for more participation in the very same system. In fact, those with a cynical leaning may even suspect the motives behind some of these smart people and that they are, perhaps, being a little disingenuous. Of course, I have no reason to doubt Dr Hickel’s sincerity. This article was the first I’ve heard of him. But one can’t help but wonder at the coincidental associations after a little research.

By coincidence or by design?

Dr Jason Hickel, is a lecturer at the London School of Economics (LSE) which was founded by four members of The Fabian Society. The Fabian Society came about as the political break-away group of a 19th Century organisation called Fellowship of the New Life whose goal was “the cultivation of a perfect character in each and all.” By forming The Fabian Society, its members planned to bring about a new socialist world through gradualism rather than revolution. Their tactic has been to advance socialism through stealth.

Now let’s look at /The Rules. Even though there’s no mention of socialism on its website, it has clearly been founded on socialist thought. It calls itself a ‘movement’ and strangely doesn’t display information about the organisation behind it. All we have is a link to, a society whose ‘purpose’ is to ‘move people to remake the world.’ However, a whois lookup shows the registrant to be Alnoor Ladha. It turns out that Mr Ladha is the founder of both Purpose and The Rules. It also turns out that he studied at LSE.


For those in the know (i.e. the kooks), much has been made in conspiracy theory circles about the Fabian Society’s former coat of arms being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Below is ‘The Fabian window’ unveiled by then British prime minister Tony Blair (a Fabian) at LSE in 2006.

Fabian Window: photo credit

Fabian Window: photo credit

There you see the shield bearing a wolf wrapped in the skin of a lamb, two figures beating the world on an anvil and the words, ‘Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire.’ Does that sound familiar? ‘…move people to remake the world.’

So yes, maybe I’ve gone off the deep end. But the question remains: why would a movement advocating a change to the status quo suggest solutions that actually reinforce it?

Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

Omar Khayyam

Why is the public silent about these latest NSA revelations?

September 9, 2013

If you were born before the 80′s, this news that the NSA has defeated internet privacy should really be quite a big deal. During the Cold War, Western propaganda played up how citizens of the Free World lived in an open society. In contrast the oppressed people under Communism suffered pervasive surveillance and totalitarian control of information.

Now we discover that major Western governments, the ‘Five Eyes’ have for a decade colluded to spy on their citizens. The NSA has deliberately inserted vulnerabilities into commercial products. We can no longer trust any proprietary software, hardware or internet service available on the planet.

The scale of the intrusion goes far beyond anything the Soviet Bloc countries could every have achieved. And yet there’s virtually no public discussion about it. This worries me more than the news itself.


If you’re unaware of the background to this story, more about this can be found at The Guardian’s NSA files.

The Pork Barrel scam goes deeper than most people think

August 27, 2013

Here’s an interesting thing about the Philippine Pork Barrel scandal: everyone is arguing about how to spend other people’s money.

There is public indignation about how the Philippine government was defrauded of Php10 billion in order to fund the lavish lifestyles of the scam’s perpetrators. Very little discussion is being put into considering an even bigger scam: that the money didn’t belong to the government in the first place. It was revenue gained by coercion.

Economist and political theorist Murray Rothbard explains in his work, The Ethics of Liberty, that “taxation is theft, purely and simply even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match.” The pork barrel funds were the product of an even bigger scam. How else would you describe how people are duped into thinking that government money is legitimately acquired?

Taxation is the compulsory seizure of an individual’s property under threat of violence. We should not be arguing about how best to spend it. Attacking the pork barrel system is simply going after the low-hanging fruit. Anyone who’s position is founded on consistent philosophy will realize that we should ignore the fruit, go past the branches and strike at the roots.

“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.
Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Matthew 3:10

The first rough draft of history is being edited

August 24, 2013

I used to wonder why Philippine news is so empty and one-sided. Then I realized that if, like many Filipino journalists, you could ‘get disappeared’ one day on some lonely road while driving home, you wouldn’t be so keen to report real news either. The British government’s action of detaining David Miranda sends the same message to Western journalists: if you continue to report news we don’t like, you can ‘get disappeared’ too. This seems to have been confirmed when The Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, revealed that ‘shadowy Whitehall figures’ demanded the newspaper return or destroy their material from Snowden.

In a follow-up commentary, Simon Jenkins pointed out that only mainstream media has the resources to stand up to the Surveillance State. This is true. No alternative media outlet would even be taken seriously for exposing the kind of information we saw from Snowden. Interestingly, The Guardian, which has been one of the mass media’s few vocal critics of state snooping, has only one shareholder: The Scott Trust, created in 1936 to safeguard journalistic freedom. Its core purpose is to ensure editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity. Most other news outlets have no such mission and are strangely tame in their reporting. Worse, they may even be complicit in spreading propaganda.

Bloggers, Tweeters and Facebook forwarders would very likely just shut the hell up if visited by Men In Black Vans. Given the growing skepticism over the official story of a journalist’s mysterious death by exploding car, would you blame them? The journalist was Michael Hastings, an investigative journalist who was apparently working on a story about the CIA. Strange.

It’s been said that journalism is the first rough draft of history. There’s obviously a great deal of editing happening right now.

The Woolwich Angels and normalcy bias

May 25, 2013

The Woolwich attack bystanders are being praised for remaining calm and the three women who tried to reason with murderers are called heroines. This is complete rubbish. They were suffering from shock, denial and normalcy bias. These things tend to get you killed. You do not walk up to a knife wielding murderer who’s beheading someone and try to reason with him. There is no reasoning in that situation.

Only three responses are appropriate: RUN, HIDE or FIGHT—in that order; three survival instincts natural to all animals. Many first-world city dwelling humans, with our thin layer of civilization, seem to have forgotten or never learned this.

There’s no way to stop future acts of public violence so don’t allow yourself to become collateral damage. Society has changed drastically over the past 15 years. We need to adapt to the new normal.

Anyone who wants to understand the warning signs and precursors to violence should start with Gavin de Becker’s book, ‘The Gift of Fear.’

Boston manhunt – a dystopian sci-fi turned into real life

April 22, 2013

Anyone else notice how the Boston Manhunt was like a dystopian sci-fi turned into real life?

  • A whole city locked down
  • Highly militarized police on the streets
  • Warrantless house-to-house searches
  • A 19 year-old kid on the run and armed with bombs
  • The fugitive is apprehended and the crowd cheers

This is policing in the 21st Century and it’s scary. Worse still, it’s clearly intended to be scary.

Honestly, I’m worried about what things will be like in 10 years time. We don’t have to live in America to feel the knock-on effects of what happens there.


Why would anyone need guns in a modern society?

January 18, 2013

“There is no need for guns in modern society. We have non-violent democratic mechanisms for resolving disputes.”

These assertions are casually thrown around during debates about gun control by those who believe themselves to be more civilized and of course, more morally upright. On the surface, they may sound perfectly reasonable. After all, hasn’t society progressed to the point where we no longer need the tools of vulgar barbarity? Nevertheless, they are wrong.

Equality requires force, order demands violence

To understand why, we must first look into the fundamentals of how we order society. The liberal democracy is the world’s primary political system and regardless of practice, is also the official political system in the Philippines. Its underlying principles are ideas of liberty and equality. Few people realize, however, that these two concepts are at odds and cannot harmoniously exist together. Liberty is a pure condition and can be found in nature but equality is imposed by Man and must be established by force. Humans are intrinsically not equal so equality means holding back some while pushing forward others; groups who discriminate are compelled by the state to desist. Equality requires that freedoms are denied.

Any form of government, whether it be democratic or authoritarian, eventually boils down to the use of force against the individual. As author Jack Donavan writes, ‘Order demands violence. A rule not ultimately backed by the threat of violence is merely a suggestion.’ In a democracy, the majority simply delegates the lawful application of force to a smaller subsection of society: police, military and the like. This mechanism of violence by representation lulls people into thinking that they themselves are above the messy business of pulling a trigger. Yet every time we clamor for a law, a tax or more regulation, we are, in effect, asking someone to point a gun at another. Disobedience of the law, taken to its ultimate conclusion, will eventually result in the loss of life or liberty for any dissenter.

Most of us in society go about our lives never having to directly encounter this violence. Our hands are clean of any actual blood. Yet every voter, by the very nature of their participation in the democratic process, is complicit in perpetuating the need for guns in a modern democracy. Guns are the cornerstone of our political system. With no way to enforce the ‘will of the majority’ through the final threat of violence, our governments would be unable to function; the whole purpose of voting becomes meaningless without a gun ready to back up the arbiter’s decision.

The peace-loving gun control advocates who rely on government to push their agenda are thus mired in the deepest hypocrisy. They despise the use of violence yet wield it to achieve their aims. As George Orwell wrote, ‘Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.’

The Myth of the Uniform

Having delegated away the uncomfortable idea of administering violence, many take for granted that members of the government would naturally be more competent at the task than ordinary civilians. For example, even the most ardent gun control advocate will usually concede with the idea of allowing police to be armed. Their thinking seems to be that a uniform and special role in society somehow endows a person with abilities above those of ordinary citizens. There is a grain of truth in this since by definition, trained professionals will have received an element of instruction. The mistake is in assuming the extent of the training and that only police can be competent, with no room for the idea that civilian firearms owners can gain equal or better skill through private training.

Nevertheless, it’s well-known in the American firearms training industry that budget constraints mean police officers rarely get the chance to practice after basic firearms qualification. The New York Police Department, for example, require only semiannual re-qualification on stationary paper targets. The few who wish to become more proficient must often resort to seeking instruction in the private sector. One can hardly imagine what training budgets are like in the Philippines, where the PNP has trouble paying its electrical bills and the basic entry-level salary is only slightly above that of the average household driver. In contrast, civilian gun enthusiasts practice monthly, even weekly, spending thousands of pesos of their own money per session to hone their skills.

Gunless society proponents who say only police should be armed have no trouble imaging bloodbath scenarios with firearms-owning civilians. It’s strange that they seem afflicted with selective memory when it comes to remembering the boy who was shot five times by police during a hostage incident, or the infamous Rizal Park hostage crisis. They also seem to forget all the stories of police corruption and intimidation that permeate our society, as well as the suspected police involvement in the Maguindanao massacre. If anti-gun campaigners truly want a safer society, they should in fact be calling for better police training, raising salaries and improving professionalism in the force.

Blunders aren’t limited to the PNP. A confrontation between police and a gunman outside New York’s Empire State Building resulted in nine wounded bystanders. All were hit by police bullets. A study by the RAND Corporation for the The New York Police Department revealed that the average hit rate for NYPD Officers involved in a gunfight was only 18%. Even in the UK, where firearms are issued only to very small numbers of highly-trained members, police have shown appalling lapses. In 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was accidentally shot by elite SO19 firearms officers who mistook him for a terrorist. An investigation also found that armed British police fired their guns more times by mistake than when responding to threats. These incidents include royal police who were apparently guarding the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s home and royal protection officer who accidentally fired his weapon on the royal train.

Interestingly enough, several studies indicate that armed citizens make fewer mistakes than police. While evidence for this claim may be open to dispute, it is time, at least, to puncture the myth that government agents are the only members of society who can be trusted with arms.

Two opposing world-views

Gun control advocates seem to live for the utopian world where government will one day allow everyone to live in peace and harmony. To them, government is the only agency capable of defending ordinary citizens. But who is the government but a group of individual humans? In other words, anti-gun people insist that someone else takes care of their family. Furthermore, they advocate that everyone else should be forced down this same path.

Ultimately, the gun control debate isn’t about guns but two opposing world-views. One is where people believe that responsibility for your life lies with someone else, and that other people know better about how you should live. That is a world-view of dependence and authoritarianism. The other is one of self-reliance and liberty—that the ultimate duty of safeguarding one’s life and family begins with the individual.

Those who see the government as the answer to humanity’s problems cannot imagine a world where ordinary people provide their own solutions, whether it’s in the realm of one’s livelihood or protecting one’s family. Their mantra is, “Leave it to the government as they have promised to take care of us!” After relinquishing responsibility for their own welfare, it is no wonder that gun control advocates do not see a place for guns in society; they demand that others risk their own lives for them.

The truth is that we alone have the primary responsibility of taking care of ourselves and our families. One can argue that the government can be there to provide support, but safeguarding an individual’s life is not the government’s job.

The place for guns modern society

Just as a trusting young child looks up to its parents for care, ardent believers in government do not see a time when their Protector will fail them. Or turn on them. Many seem to have forgotten that just 70 years ago, the whole world was embroiled in war and our grandparents were fighting governments that brutalized their people and their neighbors. Within a generation, the Philippines, Asia’s first independent democratic country, was corrupted into a dictatorship by a democratically-elected politician. The hard-won freedoms that Filipinos now seem to hold so dear have once before been snatched away by a home-grown tyrant.

If we were to lose our freedoms again, they may not be so easily regained in our lifetime, nor our children’s lifetime. Back in the earliest days of democracy, Plato warned that democracies will always degenerate into tyranny. This has been proven true many times throughout history. From the final demise of the Roman Republic with Emperor Augustus, humanity had to wait one thousand two hundred years before the seeds of freedom would once again spring from the Magna Carta in England.

A popular rhetorical question is to ask whether or not we would want to live in a society where ordinary people go about armed. This is the height of complacency and decadence. Being armed is a prerequisite for freedom. Free speech and the ability to vote are worth nothing if someone can put a gun to your head. This revelation is often met with incredulity or even outright mockery: “Do you really believe you are going to stand up against the might of an army?” It doesn’t matter what we believe. Human history tells us that one day, civilians will have to take up arms against their government or a foreign invader. These words are not meant to spread sedition. They are merely an acknowledgement of history. When that time comes, do we want to be left with nothing but rocks and empty hope?

The place for guns in modern society is at the side of ordinary people. An armed citizenry is the only defense against a tyrannical government, both foreign and domestic. Arms act both as a preventative measure and a corrective measure. If we wish to keep the liberties that come with our modern society, we must maintain the means to defend them.

War isn’t the way out of the West Philippine Sea standoff with China

May 14, 2012

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

-Sun Tzu

The Philippine-China standoff is heating up. It seems that this incident is stirring up Filipino patriotic fervor and many want to show that the Philippines will not be intimidated by China. Predictably, their solution is to take the military path and I’m hearing war drums beating from a number of my acquaintances. Armed conflict, however, is not the way out of this particular situation.

In my opinion, this current situation was the result of heavy-handedness by the Philippine government which greatly miscalculated the outcome of their actions. They showed no finesse in their approach of sending a warship to confront Chinese fishing boats in the Scarborough Shoal. Instead of trying to find a diplomatic way forward, it thought we could just throw our weight around and somehow get our point across.

Although using civilian coastguard to confront Chinese fishing boats may have been more appropriate, the Philippine government instead sent a military vessel. This predictably forced the Chinese Navy’s involvement to show themselves as the big man in the area. In effect, the Philippine government’s actions caused China to escalate by saber-rattling; China cannot be seen allowing a ‘small player’ like the Philippines to stand up to it without losing face.

The US on the other hand doesn’t really want to get involved in an actual armed conflict. With their presidential elections coming up, proposing to send more of their young men and women to fight in another far-off part of the world won’t exactly be a vote-earner. However, it certainly has something to gain from this situation with the added advantage of a way out. Even though the US has a Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines, they can if necessary stand back a little by claiming that territorial sovereignty is still undetermined. My friend Harry Santos observed that we got a glimpse of this during the 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict.

At the same time, the US benefits from increased calls to allow their patrols in the area and even perhaps get bases back on the Philippines. It wouldn’t really surprise anyone if American diplomats gave assurances of support to the Aquino administration, knowing full well that they could back out. Unfortunately, our own Philippine diplomats are out of their league in this arena. We simply don’t have the experience for such maneuverings on the world stage and are likely being played by powers who are both more savvy and have lots to gain from this confrontation.

Exhaust all options before considering war

I’ve been called unpatriotic and in denial by more hawkish observers for holding these views. They seem to see war as a forgone conclusion and you can almost hear their excitement at the prospect of holding foreign invaders at bay. There’s talk of the need for missiles and ‘only a few’ jets and upgraded navy vessels. Apparently, some military hardware is the magic bullet for the Philippines’ problem with China. If only it were that easy.

In order to have any sort of balance of power with the Chinese, the Philippines needs to be an economic powerhouse. We cannot realistically fight a war when we don’t even have the money to pay the electricity bills for our local police stations.

Nonoy Oplas, an economist friend who’s given a presentation on the economics of this territorial conflict, estimates that it would cost the Philippines a minimum of Php350 billion (over USD8 billion) to wage a three day war. I’m very interested to know where those who believe me to be in denial expect to source the funds, or what we need do to get it.

No-one can tell for certain if war will come. Regardless, we definitely ought to be prepared militarily. That is why I support a policy of having an armed population with no limits on ownership of arms to make us a hard target. But war should always be the last option. If it comes, I doubt that the armchair generals I’ve heard salivating over a heroic resistance will even be in any condition actually go to war. It will be the troops of Philippine and US military who’ll be first in the firing line. Next to suffer will be the old, the very young and the sick. I don’t want to waste their lives because of some incompetent politicians with below par diplomacy skills.

So, what’s the way out? One answer is to explore harnessing the international community, an avenue that our politicians have not yet effectively leveraged. Nonoy Oplas already covered some options so I won’t rehash them in this post. As he observed, the Chinese government simply doesn’t know how to effectively deal with civil society organizations and public protest. This has been seen recently with the case of Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Chinese dissident and Nobel peace prizewinner. In trying to silence him, they ended up making him more widely known, with his writings now to be published in English for the first time. Conversely, China knows war and their military is far superior to ours. The Philippine government should not have tried to fight them in that arena. Our politicians are trying to wage war on the country that was the birthplace of Sun Tsu and The Art of War.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Maybe if a few of our politicians bothered to read the book, we wouldn’t be in this situation.