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Good morning Armageddon

With its proximity to Asia, Guam has become a favorite destination of Filipino tourists. It competes with Osaka as the new Quiapo (a title Hong Kong used to hold). Filipino migrants have long established a foothold in Guam. Post World War II, Filipino labor was instrumental in rebuilding the devastated territory. Per government’s statistics, Guam is home to more than 42,000 Filipinos. Guam is in our DNA so we are justifiably alarmed when North Korea threatens to nuke it.

Its proximity makes it a natural venue for imperial outposts for American interests. The Anderson Air Force Base, built largely on Filipino sweat and blood, is the US launching pad for its “friendly” bomber missions over the Korean Peninsula. Hence, Guam’s strategic value as a target.

Holocaust hazards. Yesterday, President Trump showed no signs of backing down from his earlier warning: “face fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Just in case he was misunderstood before, he announced that he was dead serious about his statements. And North Korea ratchets up the threat by releasing an elaborately detailed plan for their launch and the target (just off Guam) suggesting their own seriousness.

Despite all the braggadocio and the heightened tension, there is still insufficient basis to believe that war is imminent. No signs of build up or unusual movement are discernible that would support the commencement of direct aggressive action. Its not as if the region hasn’t been through this before. Japan and, of course, South Korea have lived through these posturings for years.

Hidden desires. What we hope is happening is that the chest thumping is all leverage for a larger prize or simply to be treated better? As in a chess game, perhaps pawns were being advanced on other parts of the board. With China’s emerging dominance on the global stage, propping up North Korea or turning a blind eye to its nuclear aspirations as counterpoint to the US presence in South Korea, who really controls the board?

There are all sorts of failsafe mechanisms intended to make it next to impossible to start a war. There is even the argument that President Trump can’t launch any nuclear or interceptor missiles without Congressional imprimatur. Just like in the Philippines, it is the US Congress that has the power to declare war. But what is clearly constitutionally verboten is an offensive war. If North Korea were to launch first, or should the US decide on pre-emptive action, the legality enters the realm of grey. The prevailing wisdom is that the American President has the power to determine how and when to wage a defensive war – without waiting for Congress. Of course, the nightmare scenario is the accidental war.

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Nobody wants a war, specially one between two nuclear powers. There can be no Team Trump vs Team Kim in a nuclear war. No matter who wins, we all lose. To borrow a line from the Lt. Commander Hunter in the movie Crimson Tide: In a nuclear world, the real enemy is war itself.

Careful what you wish for. Among the most applauded initiatives at the President’s second State of the Nation Address was the call for the creation of a Department responsive to 21st century conditions. What he had in mind was enhanced disaster resiliency and response – specially in the event of a monster earthquake. Yesterday, as we were writing this column, the monster event did hit us – a 6.3 intensity quake with Mindoro as epicenter. In Metro Manila, it felt much stronger than 6.3.

Immediately, the muscle memory from previous safety drills sprung to life as our legs led us to the designated open areas outside our buildings. I passed by several places in the aftermath and saw thousands of occupants pouring out of buildings, aftershocks on their mind, a great majority conscious of their responsibilities to themselves and their companions.

The general reaction was an encouraging sign and further validates the need for exactly the office that the President proposes.

Out of step. An equally timely initiative is the need to respond to 21st century technological advances that leave us all in the lurch. Case in point would be our inadequacy in addressing the Uber-Grab regulatory shortfalls.

I am reminded of this rude awakening in the 80s when in an audit of existing Manila ordinances, I found an archaic trove which included: criminalizing the public hanging of garments on clotheslines; requiring all dogs to be fitted with a muzzle on public streets. Even the law on vagrancy was still in the statute books then, the antiquated provisions of which we sought to temper by ordinance.

By far, the most interesting ordinance we encountered was that which prohibited bathing and washing clothes in the Pasig River. We understood it to be a public health measure. In the 1980s, Pasig river was a cesspool. Bathing in its waters would kill or maim you permanently. What was ironic about the ordinance was that it had a different rationale. It was one of the older ones, enacted long before – a time when the prohibition against bathing in the river was meant to protect the river itself which was still a principal source of fresh water. Unbelievable!

Don’t look now. Our river Pasig is one of the finalists in the 2017 Thiess International River prize, the only developing country cited in the contest. Why? Over 17,000 illegal settler families have been relocated by the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission and almost 200 private structures dismantled on the river and its tributaries. In the past 20 years, 35,000 linear meters of buffer zones between the river and the cities were put up. The River is now 6 meters, from dredging, making it passable to ferry boats. The next target would be to make water quality levels sustain life. For the ordinance, it would be a return to its original intent.

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