POSTSCRIPT / July 31, 2022 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Marcos’ diplomatic acumen faces test

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. waved an olive branch to the world in his first State of the Nation Address on July 25. Being the new kid in the neighborhood, he has to exude somehow the gravitas that will make everyone sit up and listen.

The USS Ronald Reagan is operating in the South China Sea ahead of a possible visit by Nancy Pelosi. Photo: US Navy/ Jackie Hart

Marcos has to summon the perspicacity of his late father who ruled the country under martial law (1972-1985) and to quickly develop his own sense of diplomatic balance as he grapples with the clashing interests of friends and neighbors.

Aside from foreign policy tutorials, the President needs diplomatic skills to help prevent the brinkmanship game between the Philippines’ neighbor China and its treaty ally the United States from erupting into an armed confrontation with Filipinos caught in the crossfire.

There is, too close for comfort, the issue over the status of Taiwan, which US Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to visit over the angry objections of China. American warships are steaming to the island nation, which China claims as its province, just 520 air km north of our Batanes Islands.

As this developed, US Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told the AP in Manila on July 26 that any Asian aggressor who violates the sovereignty of other countries in the region risks punitive reactions, just like what Russia is facing now for its invasion of Ukraine.

Del Toro said that the US military focus in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the South China Sea roiled by disputes, would continue and in fact intensify.

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Marcos may soon have to deal also with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte tried to draw into an ambitious “Beijing-Manila-Moscow axis” as he clambered up the world stage in what looked more of an ego trip than anything else.

In March, while China voted “No”, the Philippines voted “Yes” on a UN General Assembly resolution demanding that Moscow halt immediately its attack on Ukraine and withdraw its troops. It echoed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ appeal for respect for humanitarian principles to protect civilians and non-military infrastructure in Ukraine.

The Batasang Pambansa was still reverberating with the applause that met Marcos’  SONA declaration that the Philippines will be “a friend to all, and an enemy to none” when news came out that it has canceled the ₱12.7-billion ($227 million) deal to acquire Russian Mi-17 helicopters.

Done deals are sometimes undone for good reasons but what made the scrapping of the purchase of the Russian choppers noteworthy, as reported by the Associated Press, was the reason given by officials.

Former Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who had overseen the transaction, said that the purchase was canceled with the approval of then-President Duterte before their terms ended on June 30, out of fear of possible US sanctions.

Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez was also reported by the AP as saying that the deal was canceled because Manila could face possible sanctions under US Public Law 115–44 (the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) if the deal went through.

The AP added that a Philippine military officer whom it did not identify said the helicopter deal would undergo a “termination process” since a contract had been signed and a down payment made.

Under the purchase agreement signed in November, the first batch of the multi-purpose Mi-17 helicopters would have been scheduled for delivery by Russia’s Sovtechnoexport in about two years.

Ironically, similar Russian Mi-17s are among the equipment that the US is transferring to Ukraine to fight Russians. Many Ukrainians know how to operate them. Some Mi-17s were taken back by the US from Afghanistan when it was about to be lost to the Taliban in 2021.

• IL bettor bags $1.3B lotto pot

By the time you read this, someone may have won Friday’s estimated $1.28 billion jackpot in the MegaMillions lottery in the US where a bettor pays $2 for a lottery ticket with five numbers taken from 1 to 70 and a 6th number (the Mega Ball) from 1 to 25.

[Information provided by the Multi-State Lottery Association on Saturday, July 30: the winning MegaMillion numbers for July 29 were 13 36 45 57 67 Mega Ball 14; one winning ticket was sold in Illinois; the estimated jackpot was $1.3 billion ($747.2 million cash); next drawing on Tuesday, Aug. 2, with an estimated jackpot of $20 million ($11.6 million cash).]

Hit the six-number combination and win the jackpot, which by Friday afternoon was already around ₱70.4 billion (at ₱55 to the US dollar). If nobody got it, the ensuing frenzy of betting will push the prize soaring by the next draw on Tuesday.

The odds of hitting the MegaMillions jackpot have been calculated at 303 million-to-1. But at just $2 to buy one computer-generated ticket or one bearing a bettor’s six lucky-pick numbers, it is worth the long shot.

A Pinoy visiting the US may buy tickets from any lottery retailer. Those who are physically outside the US can ask friends or relatives in the participating 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands to place bets for them.

What to do if you hit it? You no longer have to beg, steal or borrow, or become a rotten politician to amass untold wealth. Fall on your knees and pray that that fortune entrusted to you will not ruin your life but enrich it even more as you share your blessings.

That heavy windfall crashing down on an individual could make him lose his moral balance, as many stories have told of some winners losing it all back – together with their humanity.

The winner or the ticket-holder (note the difference) gets the jackpot either as a cash lump sum upfront, or receives annual payments over 30 years, increasing by 5 percent each time as a hedge against inflation. Friday’s jackpot would amount to some $747.2 million after taxes if collected in one cash payment.

Security-conscious Pinoys want to know: Can a jackpot winner claim the prize anonymously? It depends. Public disclosure laws vary from state to state. Some states require their lotteries to publicly identify winners, while others do not.

(This is an update of the original Postscript column first published in the Philippine STAR on July 31, 2022, with the head “Bet $2, win $1.28B, share your blessings!”)

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