Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Comparing the 'Idiot Heir' and the 'Wicked Heir'

Every 20th of January following the quadrennial presidential elections, the United States of America holds the inauguration of its new chief executive. This day this year of 2009, Barack Obama takes the traditional swearing-in to officially commence his term as the 44th President of the US. The man he replaces, George W. Bush, first assumed the American presidency exactly eight years ago today.

Somewhat across the other side of the globe, in a former US colony in Southeast Asia, a presidential swearing-in was also uncannily taking place at around the same time. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as (Acting) President in the streets of EDSA in Manila on January 20, 2001, following a four-day "People Power" power grab that deposed Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the properly elected 13th President of the Republic of the Philippines.

The key points of the ascension to, and character of the respective presidencies of America's Bush and Philippines' Arroyo present an interesting case of multiple coincidences too many that the more astrologically inclined would perhaps claim to have been written in the stars.

Both Presidential Children

First off, both George W. Bush and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are presidential children who, of course, rose to the presidency themselves. The 43rd US President is the son of George H.W. Bush who led America from 1989 to 1993. The 14th Philippine President, meanwhile, is the daughter of Diosdado P. Macapagal who governed the Southeast Asian archipelago from 1961-1965. While both presidential fathers lost their respective reelection bids, they nonetheless carved out some respectable niches as part of their legacies to their respective countries.

The patriarch Bush may not have generally won admiration for most of his domestic policies, but he is noted for his able handling of the foreign policy challenges that faced his administration during a sensitive era of geopolitical transition--the period following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The Miller Center of Public Affairs of the University of Virginia website writes about how he made the US act unilaterally when needed, but also managed to wisely forge "a large, diverse coalition (such as in the Persian Gulf War)" when so warranted.

The father of Arroyo also enjoyed a considerable level of respect, perhaps mainly based on admirers' perception of his integrity during his term. President Diosdado Macapagal is said to have been known as "The Incorruptible," and was even described by the late Nationalist Artist for Literature, Chino Roces, as "the last of (the) great [Philippine] Presidents."

January 20, 2001, to the Hour

A rather amazing point of parallelism between the two political figures is the coincidence of their same-day oath-taking--in fact, nearly simultaneous to the hour. Bush was sworn in at high noon (1700 GMT, Washington time) on January 20, 2001, in Capitol Hill as scheduled by the US Constitution. Arroyo, amidst the sea of EDSA 2 gullible mob was also sworn in on January 20, 2001, at around noon of January 20, 2001 ( 12:25 pm by some accounts).

What allowed the Bush-Arroyo swearing-in coincidence were unexpected Philippine political circumstances that were highly irregular, if not para-constitutional, because Arroyo was replacing the sitting--and very much living and able--President Estrada who took his oath of office only some 2 1/2 years earlier. The Philippine Constitution mandates the holding of presidential elections every six years, and the inauguration of the new President to "begin at noon on the thirtieth day of June next following the day of the election." Moreover, it is provided that apart from "impeachment for, and conviction of " culpable constitutional violation charges and other high crimes, the sitting President can only be removed in cases of death or permanent incapacity.

Both Heirs --"Idiot" and "Evil"

Both the Bush junior and Macapagal-Arroyo have registered presidential legacies that appear to be diametrically opposed to those left by their respective fathers.

The George H.W. Bush legacy practically contrasts with that of the son, with the criticisms of the younger Bush mainly revolving around his foreign policies.

The administration of George W. Bush has been very controversial, to say the least. He has been variously referred to as the "war criminal," "liar," and "idiot heir," among others. His war criminal tag has to do with his unilateral invasion of Iraq and use of torture. The bashing the younger Bush gets for being a "liar" is related to his war image--for justifying the Iraq invasion with what would be later proved to be false claims of Saddam's possession of chemical/biological weapons and links with Al Qaeda. Bush's "idiot heir" label, which made the rounds of cyberspace soon after his election, is based on the supposed Nostradamus prediction about his presidency, and later claims of his Iraq-war-related incompetence that led to the current financial crisis. That famous "prophesy" is found in Quatrain 78, which is said to read as:

To an old leader will be born an idiot heir,
weak both in knowledge and in war.
The leader of France is feared by his sister,
battlefields divided, conceded to the soldiers.

The above is supposed to be the English translation of the French original:

D'un chef vieillard naistra sens hebete',
Degenerant par scavoir & par armes :
Le chef de France par sa sceur redoute',
Champ divisez, concedez aux gendarmes
( p. 132 of Carlo Patrian's Nostradamus: le profezie, 1978).

In dire opposition to her father's legacy of a clean presidency, Gloria Arroyo's administration has been marked by an almost never-ending litany of controversies and corruption scandals that essentially question her moral and legitimate right to govern. She has called been a lot of names, such as "Fake President," (alternatively, "Bogus President"), "evil," and "liar, cheat, and thief," and even the "Most Corrupt President in Philippine History."

The more outspoken members of the Catholic Church, which were unofficially part of the conspiracy that forced Arroyo's installation as the 14th Philippine President, have eventually also come to accuse her of being a liar, cheat and thief.

Dubbed a "liar" just like the younger Bush, the daughter of former President Macapagal has similarly lied multiple times to the people she is supposed to serve. Perhaps the most notable incidents are those public pronouncements denying her complicity in the EDSA 2 coup, and her failure to honor her 2002 promise not to run for president in the 2004 polls. She is called "cheat" because of the majority belief that she committed electoral fraud in 2004. Arroyo is called "thief" and "Most Corrupt" because of the perception of how she and her cohorts plunder the nation's wealth, based on numerous corruption exposes that include Jose Pidal, Malacanang bribery incident, fertilizer scam, and the NBN-ZTE deal.

The hard-hitting The Daily Tribune and fiery journalist Ellen Tordesillas have been routinely calling Arroyo as "fake President" or "pekeng Pangulo," in reference to the power-grab she and other conspirators engaged in against the popular and sitting President Estrada back in January 2001. At the height of the congressional hearings on the NBN-ZTE bribery scandal, the key witness, Jun Lozada, testified to how one of her cabinet men has described her as "evil."

Controversial Ascent to Power, Both Sealed by the Supreme Court

The circumstances of Bush's and Arroyo's occupancies of their respective presidential residences in 2001 are both highly controversial, as their claims to power have both been subjected to legal challenges. While Bush won in a regular election, his victory in November 2000 was marred by allegations of fraud. For her part, Arroyo was the vice-president in 2000 until a coup d'etat conspiracy in the guise of popular uprising deposed the democratically elected President Estrada. Their claims to power were legitimized by the respective American and Philippine Supreme Courts whose interventions are thought to constitute overstepping of their constitutional duties.

Bush's inauguration on January 20, 2001 was preceded by a highly-charged drama of a close election, and involving recounts of disputed Florida votes. Al Gore won the national popular vote, but lost the electoral votes. Recounts and litigation followed beginning November 2000, with the Gore team contesting the Florida results based on claims that the Republican Party election volunteers tampered with the applications for absentee ballots. The Florida Supreme Court ordered statewide manual recount, which was later stopped when the High Court stepped in with a 5-4 decision that effectively handed over the state's 25 electoral votes to Bush. The younger Bush, was thus able to claim victory in the 2000 elections with a critical majority of 271 electoral votes.

The Bush v. Gore ruling has been criticized as being politically driven, and marred by bias or ethical breaches of two of the justices in the majority vote. The decision found the Florida recount in violation of the 'equal protection clause' of the Constitution. Dissenting justices and legal scholars believe the Supreme Court should not have involved itself in the case.

Around the same time that the electoral drama involving the younger Bush began unfolding in the US, the Philippines was faced by the equally heated drama of the impeachment process against Macapagal-Arroyo's predecessor. Earlier, then Vice-President Gloria Arroyo, along with two former presidents--Cory Aquino and former Army Chief Fidel Ramos--was leading protest actions calling for the resignation of Estrada over allegations of receiving bribery money for jueteng, an illegal numbers game. The Estrada impeachment trial that began late November 2000 would be abandoned by prosecutors who refused to accept the decision of the Impeachment court not to open an envelope that supposedly contains evidence of Estrada's corruption. The prosecutors who staged the walk-out on January 16, 2001 were uncannily not cited for contempt by the Presiding Justice, then led by the then-Chief Justice with a hilarious-sounding name, Hilario Davide. That night, protesters began gathering in the intersection of EDSA and Ortigas Ave., until their numbers swelled to the tens, or hundreds, of thousands (depending on whose estimate one believes) within the following days. Anti-Estrada forces pressed harder to mobilize support, and bring down Estrada's downfall.

Armed Forces Chief Angelo Reyes withdrew support from Estrada and transferred allegiance to Arroyo on January 19. Subsequently, the Davide Supreme Court made the controversial declaration that the presidency of the Philippines is vacant. This came despite the fact that Estrada did not resign and was obviously physically healthy at the time. The following day, Chief Justice Davide, acting only based on the verbal authority given by the 12 members of the Supreme Court, and on the urgent request of Arroyo, administered the oath of office to the former to act as Acting President of the Republic of the Philippines. Various international and local media accounts during and after the EDSA 2 coup d'etat in the fateful days of January 2001 together paint the complete picture of how, through the help of the business elites, military top brass, and certain bishops of the Catholic Church, the Arroyos conspired to unseat the incumbent by manipulating public sentiment, and subsequently taking over the presidency.

Interestingly, the respective decisions by the US and RP Supreme Courts sealing Bush's and Arroyo's 2001 assumption to power have been avowedly predicated on the supposed need for High Court intervention in order to prevent other entities from deciding on the outcomes of the presidency issues. In the Bush v. Gore case, the five justices in the majority opinion argued that they decided to intervene and block the Florida recount so as not to leave the question of the presidency to Florida state officials or perhaps, to Congress.

In the former US colony, Artemio Panganiban, one of the two Supreme Court justices responsible for directly giving the seal of approval on the coup against Estrada and the installation of Arroyo as successor, would later defend his actions in his unofficial writings. He says he proposed to then Chief Justice Davide that Arroyo should be sworn in as Acting President so as to prevent violence and chaos, which he feared could lead to the dissolution of the Constitution--this view, despite the context of an impeachment trial deliberately abandoned by the anti-Estrada forces that elected to respect mob rule over the rule of law. Panganiban also writes how he interprets the Constitution as mandating "the Court to be 'activist,' to be an 'interventionist'" in the exercise of certain extraordinary judicial duties.

Thus, the assumption of the presidency by Bush and by Arroyo, therefore, were enabled by the respective High Courts' usurpation of the powers to decide a presidential issue, which are beyond their scope in the first place, and probably belonging to Congress instead.

Both Marked by Tainted SC Independence

Beyond the overstepping character of the US/Philippine Supreme Court under their respective presidencies, the administrations of Bush and Arroyo earned some level of disrepute over the unethical relations between the executive and the judiciary branches. Based on claims of ethical breaches by certain justices, the political independence of the two countries' High Courts have been questioned.

The independence of Justices Antonin Scalia and Associate Clarence Thomas who voted to block the recount cast suspicions on the Bush v. Gore decision: Scalia's son, Eugene Scalia, was part of the legal team that represented Bush, while the wife of Thomas was part of the Bush transition team. Despite the arguably clear conflict of interest, both refused to recuse themselves from the case. Scalia has also been accused of ethical breaches by news organizations over his three-day hunting trip with Vice President Dick Cheney in the Louisiana hunting preserve of oilman Wallace Caline. The private duck-hunting occurred within only three weeks from the time the Supreme Court accepted the review of the Cheney v. United States District Court, and thus violates the call to "avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety" in every activity, as found in Canon 2 of the American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct.

Perhaps, it is under the Philippines' Arroyo that perceptions of the Supreme Court, along with the courts under it, as being a rubber stamp of the President is more pronounced. There have been actual news reports about members of the highest court in the land playing politics and taking orders from Malacanang when deciding on issues affecting the executive branch. Also, as in the case of the US Supreme Court under Bush, there have been reports and claims of ethical breaches occurring during hearings of important court cases. One of most infamous involved the guilty verdict on the Estrada Plunder case: two religious leaders close to Arroyo revealed that months before the Sandiganbayan decision was read, she already talked about the guilty outcome. Two of the three anti-graft court justices in the Plunder case were subsequently appointed by Arroyo to the High Court.

Both Noted for Constitutional Violations

Yet another striking point of parallelism between the presidential heirs is the reputation for being constitutional violators. Both Bush and Arroyo have been repeatedly charged as constitutional violators by critics in their respective countries.

Bush is said to have committed a good number of constitutional violations while in office. Cyberspace talk and a study by Gene Healty and Timothy Lynch from the Cato Institute name these acts that include:

(1) Treason based on going to war in Iraq without an actual United Nations resolution--said to be a violation of the Senate-ratified Charter of the UN.

(2) Failure to protect the rights to free thought, free speech, and free expression, as found in the First Amendment. A specific example is the signing of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform.

(3) Pushing the limits of presidential powers and overstepping the bounds of the executive branch. Such is seen in various policies and acts relating to the War on Terror, wherein he has ignored federal statues that cover the treatment of enemy prisoners. Some call them "war crimes" that supposedly include CIA-operated detention facilities, acts of extraordinary rendition, and restrictions on Red Cross personnel's access to wartime prisoners.

(4) Unreasonable searches and seizures that violate the Fourth Amendment. Bush has issued a "military" order expanding the power to make arrests, and also, adopted policies that served to dilute the standard of "probable cause."

Re Arroyo, the opposition in Congress has repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, tried to subject her to impeachment trial for a host of accusations that include culpable violations of the Philippine Charter. Arroyo has been dubbed guilty of a number of violations of the Constitution. The following forms an incomplete list, derived from the articles of impeachment from the 2005 to 2008, and from the list of opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel:

(1) Electoral fraud in the 2004 presidential elections, with support from the so-called "Hello Garci" wiretapped tapes that reveal how Arroyo spoke with an elections officer to rig the votes from Mindanao;

(2) Conspiring and tolerating extrajudicial killings;

(3) Abetting and tolerating the commission of crime with regards to the multi-billion-dollar NBN-ZTE broadband deal;

(4) Entering into the equally multi-billion peso Northrail Project without prior approval of the Monetary Board; and

(5) Misuse and abuse of presidential powers, including acts of the unconstitutional transfer of funds between government agencies, or from a government entity to political partisan projects.

Both Brought Grave Economic Woes

It is perhaps a matter of dispute whether Bush's handling of the economy, indeed, chiefly caused the ongoing global financial crisis that began in the US. Of course, the younger Bush should still take some blame, mainly for the crime of omission by not taking steps to regulate sale in housing mortgage and curbing questionable private sector financial dealings and activities, and the 100% rise in national debt, in part due to war spending. The financial meltdown, however, came about from a confluence of factors marked by deregulation policies, which were also pursued by the Democrats under former President Bill Clinton. What is much less arguable, however, is that his tax cut policies has benefited the super rich to the detriment of those in the lower income classes.

A New York Times analysis of data from the US Internal Revenue Service shows that at least as far as the 2003 tax cuts are concerned, the benefits were sharply slanted towards rich Americans having incomes of $1 million and higher. The tax cuts led to a situation where the very rich roughly pays only the same income tax as those earning from $200,000-5000,000. Economist Andrew Brod of the University of North Carolina Greensboro writes that while the tax cuts stimulated the economy to an extent, they did not generate as much jobs as had been expected or promised.

Similarly, Arroyo who is an economist, can be partly credited for not bungling the Philippine economy during her years in power--with the traditional big help from the billions of dollars worth of annual remittances of overseas Filipino workers and immigrants. The vaunted official figures showing the resilience of the economy may or may not be genuine, however, what cannot be denied is the Filipinos masses suffered in real social economic terms during her presidency. According to the Wikipedia entry on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo:

Studies made by the United Nations (UN) and local survey research firms show worsening, instead of improving, poverty levels. A comparative 2008 UN report shows that the Philippines lags behind its Asian neighbors, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and China, in terms of poverty amelioration. The study reveals that from 2003 up to 2006, the number of poor Filipinos increased by 3.8 million, with poverty incidence being approximately three times higher in agricultural communities. [37] With regards the problem of hunger, quarterly studies by the social polling research firm Social Weather Stations show that the number of Filipino households suffering from hunger has significantly increased during Arroyo's presidency. Her administration first set the record for hunger levels in March 2001, and beginning June 2004, broke the record again seven times. December 2008 figures saw the new record high of 23.7%, or approximately 4.3 million households, of Filipino families experiencing involuntary hunger.[38]

Both History's Worst?

Another striking parallelism is how both hold the record for the worst level of public perception
and public satisfaction
or performance rating. Bush has an approval rating of a mere 28 percent--said to be the lowest score in recent US history. While he started out with a popularity rating of around 50%, and climbing up to as high as 90 percent in 2001 (based on periodic Gallup, Fox News, and CBS News surveys), his November 2008 ratings went to as low as 20%-29%. He also appears to be in the running for the title of the country's worst leader. The administration of the 43rd US President was earlier rated as "failed" by over 81 percent of over 400 historians in an informal survey conducted by History News Network in 2004.

Arroyo, similarly--although faring much worst--not only holds the record for lowest level of public satisfaction but as well, the ignominious record for being the only Philippine President to ever score negatively in national surveys on the people's perception of her performance. Gloria Arroyo is the only president in the history of the country to ever post negative ratings based on various periodic surveys since opinion polling began over two decades ago, and as such, she holds the record for the lowest approval ratings in over two decades.

Beginning October 2005, her net satisfaction ratings, according to surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), have consistently been in the negative range. Additionally, a 2008 research study by Pulse Asia reveals that Filipinos regard Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the "Most Corrupt President" in the history of the country, even besting dictator Ferdinand Marcos for the inglorious title.

Adieu, Bush; 1 1/2 years to go, Arroyo

The parallelism probably ends at this point, however. There will be no flying shoes at Arroyo, nor will there be a viable end in sight for Arroyo--in sharp, unmistakable contrast to Bush who was attacked by a journalist with a pair of shoes during a December 2008 press conference in Iraq, a month before he was scheduled to step down from office (on January 20, 2009).

Although it can be argued that the humiliation of a flying shoe attack faced by Bush approximates Arroyo's humiliation when she beat dictator Ferdinand Marcos as the "Most Corrupt President in Philippine History" during a late 2007 national [Pulse Asia] research poll, there will certainly be no flying shoes of physical disgrace for the incumbent Southeast Asian president--at least while she's still in power.

Arroyo probably deserves a flying shoe--"not once, but twice." Thousands of times, perhaps. But such a democratic expression of protest would hardly be allowed in the Philippines. Under Arroyo's reign, after all, activists such as Jonas Burgos, who happened to be the scion of press freedom hero Joe Burgos, and corruption whistle blowers either get kidnapped and threatened with death, such as Jun Lozada, or get killed outright, like what befell fertilizer scam complainant Marlene Esperat and Teofilo Mojicawere. Definitely, journalists in the Southeast Asian country do not have the nerves, nor will they be allowed by the military and police forces the opportunity to throw shoes at her. The Philippine military top brass, after all, was not only pivotal in Estrada's downfall and Arroyo's rise to the presidency: the elite class of generals has been avowedly supportive of Arroyo despite her constitutionally suspect installation and hard evidence of cheating during the 2004 elections. Then again, is it just a case of the Philippine version of the Secret Service being more vigilant, or possibly more loyal?

While George W. Bush has already stepped down as the 43rd US President, noontime of January 20, 2009, and relinquished the White House office to Barack Obama, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

will continue her 'extremely corrupt' and 'illegitimate' presidency, at least until the end of her current "term." Barring any death by natural health or genuine accident causes, Arroyo won't give up power any time soon. With the her camp's deviously relentless pursuit of perpetuating Arroyo's administration regardless of how majority of the Filipinos hate or hold her in high disrepute, the wicked heir of a morally deprived president will probably stay beyond her term. The administration's seemingly unceasing plans for a constituent assembly, or charter change, or Martial Law-type scenario via a full-blown Mindanao war could just succeed to make the rapacious EDSA II coup president the Philippines' permanent-till-the-she-devil-dies leader beyond May 2010.

Democracy Talk: Bush no Arroyo, Americans no Fiipinos

Perhaps it's a cultural thing, with Americans being more respectful of the democratic institutions--unlike the Filipinos who are dominated by unpatriotic elite conspirators, or snooty but stupidly gullible mob, of EDSA 2. Or is it a question of democracy-consciousness, with the mega-corrupt brand of patronage politics that has easily allowed Arroyo to crush the four yearly impeachment cases filed in the Philippine House of Representatives not possible in Bush's US of A. The factor of the stability of democratic institutions, perhaps? Or is it simply the chasm of a difference between the minds of an "idiot heir" and a "wicked heir"?

Who was it who said that a "people deserves the kind of government it has"? It is an saying that has proved relevant time and time again, in whatever part of the world. Much as it hurts the author to admit, why the Philippine's Arroyo would most likely continue beyond her "term," while Bush already gracefully stepped down, is more of a politico-cultural thing. While there are certain complicating historical factors, it is a Philippine reality that the elites--society, religious, business, political, and lately, military--can ram their dictates on the general populace. As the weak masses deserve the elites, so does the Filipino nation deserves EDSA II and the Gloria Arroyo kind of government it brought forth. As for the United States, with its significantly more mature democratic institutions and a people that apparently know how to respect their political system, they also deserve a George W. Bush that might have erred big time, but nonetheless knows when to bid farewell to power.



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MBW said...

What a phenomenal post! Thanks for the recap of the twins' ascent to power (and hopefully Gloria's fall will follow soon too.)

Jesusa Bernardo said...

Thanks so much, Anna! I appreciate the encouraging comment. This article's REALLY a labor of patriotic love. I mean, difficult to write. :( But I think it's worth it.:)

Ellen Tordesillas said...

It's awesome!

Jesusa Bernardo said...

Thanks, Ellen! The surer I am that the work's all worth it. :)

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