Tuesday, February 28, 2006

GMA's "State of Emergency" might yet ruin the country's economic gains

Ironically, it’s GMA herself who is going to destroy the Philippine economy if she persists on her “emergency powers” under Proclamation 1017. The latest figures from the National Statistics Office show that the average capacity utilization of manufacturing industries stayed at an all time high of 80.4 percent in December. It means that a lot of factories are pretty busy despite all these political noise.

The December import figures also show double digit growth in both the purchases of capital goods (goods imported to produce more goods which includes machines, transport equipment, among others) as well as raw materials and intermediate goods. Hey, manufacturers are more productive as ever. The latest figure from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas also indicates a slow revival of credit activity particularly in the farm sector as well as finance, real estate and business services.

And surprise, surprise. The latest figures from the Department of Tourism shows that in January, visitor arrivals grew 22 percent, owing to high visitor volumes from Asean, East Asia, South Asia, America, and overseas Filipinos. This has been a trend since the last two years. The Philippines is getting to be an interesting place for tourists again.

Should this State of Emergency stays for long, GMA might yet ruin all those economic gains. Hello, Malacañang!?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Lift "state of emergency," Madame President, before its too late

President Arroyo's picture (Time Asia.com/Reuters) as she appeared on television declaring a state of emergency last Friday, February 24, 2006. Time Asia had good story on how the supposed coup was planned.

Recall Proclamation 1017, Madame President. It’s not doing the country any good. The longer it stays hanging like a Sword of Damocles on every citizen’ head, the more it will do damage to the country. Recall it now, if only to remove the sense of uncertainty that everyone feels these days.

You and your advisers probably think Proclamation 1017 has done your presidency any good. You may have thought that the “Marcosian” measure gave you an aura of firmness and resolve. The effect was the opposite. When you appeared on TV on Friday to tell us there was “clear and present danger” to the Republic, you appeared scared and confused, projecting an image of a beleaguered presidency prone to knee-jerk reactions, a lost caravan of weary travelers circling the wagons.

Maybe those threats from the Left, Right, and “military adventurers” were real. Who knows? But that’s your judgment call, and your lawyers and defenders will have to account for that at the Supreme Court. But those “coup plotters” are now running scared themselves. Some of them like party-list representative Crispin Beltran are now in jail. It is clear most of the perpetrators could no longer do mischief to your Administration. By the time this paper hits the streets early tomorrow, most of those Leftist legislators who were a pain in your neck may have started to write poetry as they ponder upon their destinies inside some of the country’s humid prison cells.

What are you really scared about, Ms President? Media? You better not, because media will always do its job. Do you and your advisers really think media will tow the line simply because you have 1017?

Besides, the cops, or even the bureaucrats from the National Telecommunications Commission, wouldn’t actually know how to run newspapers and television channels once you decide to seize them for “national security” reasons. Well, some newspapers actually wish General Lomibao takes over so that he would require each one of the 120,00-strong police force to buy a copy every morning, thus boosting subscription and revenue. But that’s a joke and we feel it’s not funny.

Lift Proclamation 1017, Madame President, before you totally ruin the economy. Imports of capital goods rose almost 24 percent in December while purchases of raw materials and intermediate goods grew 17 percent. That means that the country’s businesses are gearing to produce more goods and services this year to push the country’s economy forward. The country’s value of production index continues to grow at double digit rates while the manufacturing sector’s average capacity utilization has remained at a high of 84.4 percent. These factors must be among the reasons, Madame President, why a few weeks ago, a survey released by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said the country’s business community is “optimistic” about the prospects of the country’s economy.

Business people are doing their part creating jobs for the people, Madame President and yet you are about to ruin their contributions to the economy. This is bad, because you are going to destroy our jobs as well as our dreams. Since the last five years, the Philippines has not attracted significant foreign direct investments, save for the call centers and other business process outsourcing. With uncertainties created by Proclamation 1017, you are going to shatter what is left of our image abroad as an investment destination.

Proclamation 1017, Madame President, is a losing proposition. Lawyers after lawyers in the country are saying you are going to lose once the Supreme Court hears all those petitions questioning the legality of your actions.

Just today, the faculty of the University of the Philippines Law Center issued a statement saying “…nothing in the Constitution can authorize the suspension of the Bill of Rights. Even under a declared state of martial law, which the Arroyo administration repeatedly insists this is not, the Bill of Rights remains fully operative. Thus, the suppression of free speech, the muzzling of the free press, and the prohibition on public assembly sanctioned by the two issuances cannot be construed as anything other than clearly and unequivocally unconstitutional.”

There you go, Madame President. Lift it before you get more embarrassments.

Films without borders: "Memoirs of a geisha"

“Memoirs of a Geisha” is a beautiful film. But it is a troubling kind of film. As I entered the world of Nitta Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi), I was debating in my mind what a geisha really is. Is she an artist or a whore?

This film is a story about a poor girl sold to an Okiya (geisha house) who became a celebrity geisha of sort in her own time (1929). As she rose from an all around punching bag to become a maiko (geisha apprentice) learning all those artistic and social skills a geisha is required to master, I was convinced that Sayuri's profession was really all about an ennobling art. Says Mameha (played by Michelle Yeoh), Sayuri’s mentor: “
Remember, Chiyo [Sayuri’s name when she was a girl], geisha are not courtesans. And we are not wives. We sell our skills, not our bodies. We create another secret world, a place only of beauty. The very word "geisha" means artist and to be a geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art.”

Artists, indeed but when the geisha house started the buzz for the auctioning of Sayuri’s virginity to the highest bidder, that’s when I started to feel uncomfortable. Coming home from her misuagi, her devirginization, she was greeted by the Mother, who told her “Now, you are a true geisha.”

Maybe a geisha is ultimately a whore. No, an artist who is also whore. Or a whore who is an artist. Was Sayuri really no different from our local “movie stars” who, rumors say, also sell their virtues to business tycoons or the highest bidders?

In her time, becoming a geisha could have been some kind of cool, probably our own version of the “movie celebrities” who move around high society. Says Sayuri as the girl Chiyo: “
I changed from a girl facing nothing but emptiness, to someone with purpose. I saw that to be a geisha could be a stepping stone to something else...a place in [this] world.”

Sayuri’s fate suddenly changed with the onset of World War II. One of her patrons, a business tycoon named Nobu saved her life by hiding her off somewhere in a kimono making shop. Years after the war, Nobu came begging Sayuri to don her kimono once more so he could show her off to American military officials,
Japan’s new master. Nobu was hoping that with her entrancing beauty he could get some business contracts from the Americans and get rich again. Nobu, penniless, begged her but she knew she owe him a lot and had to pay him back.

We went out of the movie house feeling down. Maybe Sayuri and her kind were really artists but it’s only us men—nay, the lusts of economically and politically powerful men that control peoples' destinies—that are really making them into what they are not.

s we walk down away from the theaters, Sayuri’s words were drumming into my consciousness: “
She paints her face to hide her face. Her eyes are deep water. It is not for Geisha to want. It is not for geisha to feel. Geisha is an artist of the floating world. She dances, she sings. She entertains you, whatever you want. The rest is shadows, the rest is secret.”

Yes, it was not for a geisha even to fall in love. And that's Sayuri’s greatest tragedy of all.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Marines standoff is over (or the Pinoy soldier as Pusong Mamon)

By the time I arrived home at 10:45 pm last night, GMA 7 was announcing that the standoff at the Marine Headquarters was over. The channel was showing marine BGen Nelson Allaga talking beside Col Querubin who earlier called for the citizens to rally behind him. This time the rebellious colonel appeared tamed. They supposedly had a "gentlemen’s agreement" for the troops to go back to the barracks. Certainly, many government haters were disappointed; they thought the night’s event was the tipping point, especially after the yellow queen, former president Corazon Aquino, announced she was going to the marine headquarters. But it was not meant to be.

I guess it was never meant to be. The night’s event only proves my thesis once more that Filipino soldiers really don’t have the necessary cold calculation and ruthlessness to launch a “successful” coup.

A coup d’etat is a violent seizure of power where you see heavy armor punching through the gates of the presidential palace following a violent clash between the coup plotters and the loyal military faction. The drama usually ends with either the massacre or arrest of the palace occupants followed by the classic TV scene of a young swaggering military leader flanked by uniformed officers announcing the formation of a "new social order.” That scenario will never happen in the Philippines. Filipino soldiers, both the officers and men, were systematically trained in the way of organized violence but their being Pinoy usually get the better of them. For the Pinoy is pusong mamon (softhearted); he can’t bear the thought of pointing his gun at his fellow soldier.

The Pinoy, no matter what his training and educational backgrounds are, is a rural folk. He interacts with his fellowmen or colleagues in a very personal way. In an urban setting, people’s behavior is supposedly governed by impersonal laws, regulations, norms, and ordinances. But the Pinoy, being a hillbilly that he is, only values the opinion of his relatives and friends, or the substitutes of those relatives—his buddies, his officers, his military academy classmates [mistah].

Those marines are typical of that behavior. They are supposed to be following the institutional “chain of command” but, based on TV interviews with several marine officers, it was clear that they were marines first (their family), Armed Forces of the Philippines second. That explains their plea to the people and media to leave them alone. “Please leave the camp. Allow us to settle this problem internally.” Problemang pamilya ‘to, huwag kayong makialam. And indeed, it was settled internally. Just like that. And being a family affair, don’t expect Colonel Querubin to suffer disciplinary sanctions. A slap in the wrest maybe or a few push-ups, just like what General Fidel V. Ramos did to rebel soldiers in the late 80s when Corazon Aquino was president. It’s a family thing, you know.

My last post for the night: Is this it, folks?

9:26 pm, Feb 26 Manila Time: Definitely, this is my last post for the night. I'm hungry and eager to to home. Im tired and stressed. What will happen tomorrow? Nobody can tell. Your guess is as good as mine. I'll resume posting tomorrow. A point of no return? Good night.

Ricky Carandang reports access to Fort Bonifacio blocked

9:23 pm, Feb 26, Manila Time: Ricky Carandang reports that government is blocking all access to to Fort Bonifacio to prevent Corazon Aquino from getting near the camp. The police pushed the civilians back but remained near the gate of Fort Bonifacio. Seems like people will not leave.

AFP Chief Gen Generoso Senga faces media

9:06 pm, Manila time, Feb 26: General Senga says Col Querubin to solve the issue [relief of General Miranda] through proper channels peacefully and not conduct an exercise that will create speculations and concerns that could be taken advantage of by some elements/groups. Asked the citizens to allow the marines to solve the problems internally, peacefully. Also asked people to leave Fort Bonifacio. But there are reports that people are gathering at the gates and their numbers are rising. "Please leave us alone," he implored. Also clarifed that he remains steadfast to his oat of office. Also asked the media not to cover the incident so that the situation will not deteriorate. Meanwhile, at the gates of Fort Bonifacio, the cops are trying to disperse the crowd.

Is this the tipping point? I don't know

9:00 pm, Manila Time, Feb 26: It's nine and I need to go home. This is my last post for the day. What will happen for the rest of the night, I don't know. Wait a minute... there's a news that the cops are trying to disperse the crowd, says the ANC, supposedly to prevent Cory from going into Fort Bonifacio. But it seems Cory might yet proceed to go there.

Mike Defensor/Malacañang palace conducts press conference

8:19 pm, Manila Time: Mike Defensor, palace spokesperson, denies Palace hand in the relief of relieved marine commandant General Miranda. Calls for politicians not to meddle and allow the Marines to settle the problem internally. The situation is under control of the Armed Forces, he said. Requested politicians and media to help ease the tension so it wont deteriorate into bloodshed. Calls on soldiers to respect the chain of command, the Constitution, and the institution (marines command).

Senator Ramon Magsaysay: GMA may take a leave

8:12 pm, Manila Time: Senator Ramon Magsaysay was interviewed by ANC Channel. He suggested that GMA may want to take a leave and allow a transition team. With Arroyo going to Fort Bonifacio, what will happen next? Will the middle class follow? Middle class mobilizaton was crucial in the downfall of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986 as well as during the Edsa 2 that led to the ouster of Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Former president Corazon Aquino announces she will go to Fort Bonifacio

At about 7:56 pm, Manila Time: ANC reports that former president Corazon Aquino will go to Fort Bonifacio to help solve the crisis in a peaceful way. She will be joined by her relatives. Civilians are reportedly massing at the gates of the marines camp. Politicians like Senator Magsaysay are there. Will this be the repeat of Edsa People Power 1?

Marines massing in Fort Bonifacio: Is this the tipping point?

7:30 pm (Feb 26, Manila Time): There's confusion in Fort Bonifacio. General Miranda, marine commandant, was reportedly relieved of his post in relation to the supposed coup. Anoter officer, Col. Querubin said he is supporting his commandant, calling the people to rally behind him. Whatever that means we don't know yet. Things are fluid. This is scary. The marines are known to speak as one voice. The troops are known to be the most disciplined bunch and will follow whatever order the commandant would give them. Is this the tipping point? Its the most trying moment for this Republic.

Gloria Arroyo shoots herself in the foot with Proclamation 1017

GMA should realize by now how stupid Proclamation 1017 is. She and her advisers may have thought that the proclamation would give her an aura of firmness and will. The effect seems to be the opposite. What I see is a government seeing ghosts where there are none, a beleaguered presidency prone to knee-jerk reactions, a panicking leadership that is circling the wagons.

Maybe the threats were real. Who knows? But GMAs reactions, issuing Proclamation 1017 and General Order No. 5, were totally unwarranted. Cory Aquino had faced nine coup attempts and Joseph Estrada had one, all real coup attempts, yet they never thought of doing any thing close to what GMA did. When she appeared on TV reading the proclamation, she looked pale like a girl who had seen Jack the Ripper, totally scared shitless. Pathetic is an understatement.

Do GMA and her advisers really think media will tow the line simply because she has her 1017? She should now realize that 1017 is getting to be a lightning rod for more criticisms and discontent.

Whatever goodwill she had prior to 1017, I guess, is totally gone. All her credible allies, like the former president Fidel Ramos, are gone. Her credential as a democrat is shattered. She is now totally isolated from the rest of society but she has only herself to blame. The “loyal” faction of the military, I guess, is still there with her. But for how long? Some major business groups had expressed support for her, but when the instability triggered by 1017 starts to bear on the economy, these people may abandon her, granting they have not already done so. It seems like she has reached a point of no return.

The political situation is still fluid as of this moment with the Philippine Marines massing in Fort Bonifacio in protest of the relief of their commandant, Gen. Miranda. (6:52 pm, Feb 26, Manila Time).

Saturday, February 25, 2006

GMA’s Proclamation 1017 triggers outrage among Philippine bloggers

Proclamation 1017 issued by President Gloria Arroyo to quell what she perceives as a “clear and present danger” to the Republic posed by Leftsts and Right wing “military adventurers” seems to be triggering a backlash from the citizenry, or at least from citizen bloggers.

Yes, I am afraid, like anybody else, to speak out because I might be arrested even though I'm just a simple blogger. But I feel strongly about this issue [the state of emergency] and I cannot let it pass without giving a genuine comment. I feel strongly about it because I am involved, as a Filipino. I won't pretend I'm speechless because I am not,” Cheenee Otarra, in Princessic Thoughts of Cheenee (http://princessacheenee.blogspot.com).

How could she?! How could she take away the freedom of other people to speak out? This is indeed another name for Martial Law: State of Emergency,” Cheenee adds. “To arrest people who are against her just because she's threatened by a coup isn't enough reason for her to arrest them. That is indeed a political harassment. Hello, Gloria? Where's Democracy?”

For Maria Jose in her blog Alleba Politics (http://politics.alleba.com/), the proclamation shattered her.

“Tonight I cry. I cry because of fear, anxiety and frustration. There is something very wrong with the country today and not enough people care,”she said. “Yesterday, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared the entire Philippines under a “State of National Emergency.” Having done so has allowed her to arrest without any warrants and interfere with the right to freedom of expression.”

“Our dear Philippines has been under the state of national emergency since Friday,” says Mai in Mai Buhay (http://ellehte.livejournal.com/). It's ironic how twenty years ago we fought for our freedom and had won - and now that we're celebrating our democracy we're being deprived of it. This is absurd.”

Says ebonietheweird in http://ebonietheweird.livejournal.com/): State of emergency: what a load of crap! GMA is just hiding behind all her lies and her inability to properly govern a country. We can't really blame her for everything. I mean, the Filipino people did vote for her. But then the issue of her treachery comes to mind again. So it's all really confusing.”

These are some of the reactions that BusinessMirror obtained from blogs randomly selected through the search engine Blogger.Com. And many of these bloggers fear the state of emergency may bring back the dark days of Martial Law, especially after the news spread that the Daily Tribune was “taken over by the government.”

Muses Dean Jorge Bocobo in Philippine Commentary (http://www.philippinecommentary.blogspot.com): “1017 outlines the new conjugal dictatorship in the Philippines… The die is cast in many ways, by the brazen, gang-banging nature of Proclamation 1017's mandates and the manner of its execution. A red line has been crossed in the closure and seizure by the Philippine National Police of the opposition Daily Tribune, and open threats by General Arturo Lomibao of closures and seizures of other newspapers, television, and radio outlets that do not toe the line of "Responsible Journalism."

“The thinking of some now is that Proclamation 1017 does not give the Executive enough powers to contain and quell the rising anger and mobilization of Civil Societies and mass organzations across the entire political spectrum at the audacity of the government's crackdown. The attempt to paint everyone as coup plotters and military adventurists as the reason for the pogrom is melting as the government is starting to go after patently legitimate opposition,” Bocobo adds.

Others though are hoping that GMA would get to her senses and cancel the Proclamation 1017.

Mr E in Bunker Chronicles (http://edching-bunker.blogspot.com/): “With the way police are implementing Proclamation 1017, and the impending barrage of protests to be lodged in the Supreme Court for its immediate declaration of unconstitutionality, it won't be long for President Arroyo to be forced to withdraw its controversial open-ended provisions in order to save face this time with the international community, who are now seeing more and more of her "dark" side with the implementation of Proclamation 1017.”

Friday, February 24, 2006

Legacies of EDSA People Power Revolution 1

I wasn’t there at EDSA. But it doesn’t mean I like the declaration of the state of emergency that takes away our basic freedoms. But what I want to say is that these events are all part of the unintended legacies of the EDSA 1. After Marcos fled, we destroyed the long-established institutions for political socialization and mobilization, the party system, by disparagingly calling them “traditional politics” or trapo (dirty rag). Yet, those naïve reformers of the post-Marcos era never gave us the idea what’s non-traditional politics is all about. So we destroyed, we demeaned political personalities including those reasonable personalities like Nene Pimentel, Edgardo Angara, Franklin Drilon, nay even Jovito Salonga.

Every politician these days are “trapo” so we simply ran out of alternatives. In the last few years, The Gloria had all those scandals, the worst of them being the Hello Garci, yet the opposition couldn’t drive her out of Malacañang through "constitutional" means. “There is no viable alternative!,” they always say. And indeed there are none, because we are looking for a “non-traditional politician” to lead us. Joseph Estrada, of course, is a “non-traditional politician” but he is in jail. Many of us are not comfortable with him either. So was the late Fernando Poe Jr—but he is now dead. That’s the reason why every time there is political crisis in this country, we always have coup or rumors of it.

We should not wonder because, the Cory Constitution, another naïve EDSA legacy, gave soldiers the reason to intervene politically. After all, the Constitution says soldiers are "the protectors of the Filipino people.” So every time there’s political impasse, some of our “idealistic” soldiers are always aching to save the Filipino people from themselves. The real solution should really have been to strengthen the party system and make them more inclusive a la the party system in America, in tandem with economic redistributive and deregulation measures.

I wasn't there in Ayala Avenue

I’m supposed to be in Ayala Avenue (Makati) right now hobnobbing with the Cory crowd, hurling invectives against the Arroyo government. Instead, I’m here in Alabang Town Center waiting for my time to watch Zhang Ziyi in “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Make no mistake about it; I’m a political animal and I care for this country. I do believe, however, that another “people power” will solve not solve this country’s problems. It will only confirm our status as an amusing banana republic in an era when the original banana republics of the Caribbean and Latin America have matured out of it.

I had my own marches and rallies in my student days but I was never a participant of any EDSA uprising. When EDSA I took place, I was living a blessed life doing research on Mindanao’s crop industries. I rejoiced when Ferdinand Marcos left for Hawaii for it gave me a sense of justices, nay vengeance, for the lives of my friends and acquaintances who died fighting Marcos’ henchmen as “revolutionaries.” But right now I’m having mixed feelings about the legacies of People Power 1.

Greater freedom of expression, vibrant media, fast growing services sector, modern telecommunications industry. These are the positive legacies of EDSA 1. In 1976, I remember that 40 percent of our exports are coconut products. Now, almost 70 percent of our exports are electronics. Now we have a vibrant services industry that’s creating lots of job opportunities for college graduates. On the other hand, EDSA 1 gave us those pseudo-nationalistic policies that that is still hampering the full potentials of the economy. We can’t maximize the benefits from outsourcing (e.g. call centers) because our command of the English language has deteriorated since we enshrined in our Constitution the use of “Filipino” as a medium of instruction in schools. In truth, Filipino is nothing but an imposition of Tagalog as the “national language” in a country where there are 87 major ethnolinguistic groups. Imperial Manila—that’s how we call it in Mindanao. We simply should have stuck to using the English language in schools and official communications.

In the last decade, the services sector (e.g. professional services, trade, banking, communications, transportation, information technology, business services) has been growing quite well despite the rambunctious politics. We could have grown much faster had we totally done away with limits to foreign investments. In the name of protecting the public interest, we put limits to foreign equity participation in the services sector. In reality, we are actually just protecting the oligarchy that’s been monopolizing power in the Philippine political economy. But we can’t reform it right now because it’ enshrined in the Philippine constitution. Oh my! That piece of paper is preventing us from getting the full benefits of a globalizing world.

I’ll watch the movie now; more on this next post.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Who ruined the spirit of Edsa People Power Revolution?

Journalist Anthony Spaeth's story recently put the Philippines on Time magazine's cover (Asia Edition). The story said that while people power ousted a dictator and inspired the world 20 years ago, the Filipino nation has yet to fulfill the promise of those glorious days.

Indeed, after three Edsa "revolutions," people power, it is said, had totally lost its luster and has become a symbol of political instability and lack of adherence to due process. Why?

The common interpretation seems to be captured by a story in this paper's back page (February 22 issue) quoting personalities saying that politics has ruined the vision of Edsa. Maybe. But we think the real reasons are the sins of commission and omission that Filipino reformers failed to achieve after the fall of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The major mistake, the sin of commission, is that post-Edsa reformers destroyed political parties by demonizing "traditional politics" without providing an alternative mode of political socialization and mobilization. It's this demonization of traditional politics-without provision for the ideal alternatives-that destroyed people's trust in political institutions and political leaders, thus ushering in the rise of celebrity politicians that led to the current stalemate.

In the first place, traditional politics is a misnomer. In truth, all politics is traditional; its essence is the struggle to capture and maintain political power. Sometimes, some political actors employ creative or "nontraditional modes" of contesting and capturing power (e.g. mass-based, issue-oriented, populist), but once those political actors have captured power, the same rules apply: maintaining it. This is necessary because a political group or organization needs to maintain power to pursue its program of governance and vision of the future.

The concept of an alternative or "nontraditional politician" being advanced by the Center-Left organizations that coalesced around President Corazon Aquino therefore was a mirage. It was easy then for activists and opinion-makers to continuously bombard media with messages against "traditional politicians" yet they found a hard time producing a face to define "nontraditional" ones.

When the first national elections came, many from the extreme Left (e.g., the "national democrats" aligned with Joema Sison) participated, waving the banner of "alternative"—nay nontraditional—politics. The people, however, rejected them as many of the same leftists had earlier rejected the electoral struggles that were led by Corazon Aquino against Marcos.

The cynicism against "traditional," or trapo (dirty rag) politics, further heightened when the major players in Cory Aquino's yellow coalition, many of whom espoused populist politics, went separate ways as bitter enemies-especially after Corazon Aquino anointed Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) as her heir apparent against the prototypical trapo in Ramon Mitra. For all that may be said against him, Mitra was a dedicated partyman since before Martial Law, in contrast to FVR who seemed to make a "career" out of inventing parties.

When Ramos left office, the Philippine political landscape was simply ripe for celebrity politics, an environment that catapulted action star Joseph Estrada to power. The rest is history and we now have political paralysis.

Wave after wave of political scandals have rocked Malacañang, and the "united opposition" had hurled everything, including the kitchen sink, yet The Gloria is still there standing with her perpetual smirk. The main reason is that "there is no alternative to Gloria," and that's because the anti-trapo campaign of the Edsa 1 revolution has managed to discredit every "traditional politician" in the land. It's a phrase that now includes just anybody from the opposition to the party in power.

Do you know why, from Presidents Aquino to Arroyo, the Philippines has always been rocked by coup attempts? It's because people no longer see political parties and movements as alternatives. Instead, what they see, rightly or wrongly, is that only the Armed Forces are “credible enough” (i.e. has the discipline, organization and real power) as an "alternative" to Mrs. Arroyo. It's only a matter of finding an "idealist young officer" to lead us from perdition. This is scary.

But the bigger problem, the sin of commission, is the fact that the Edsa I revolution failed to cut or weaken the nexus between wealth creation and political power in the Philippines. To be an accomplished "tycoon" in this country means one must have political ties to those who grant legislative franchises, provide fiscal incentives in the bureaucracy, provide tariff shelters to favored industries, and those who sign all the administrative and bureaucratic papers and requirements. Piatco, that overpriced Macapagal Highway, the fertilizer scam, Venable contracts—these are just few examples of rent-seeking behavior that characterize the country's political economy. No wonder elections from the presidency down to the barangay levels always attract all sorts of seedy characters and political operators, whose motives always clash with the national interest.

We could have cut this political-economic tangle of sleaze a long time ago.

We could have done so through measures including low and neutral tariff rates (to discourage smuggling, as well as the incentive to make deals with Customs officials), the removal of the pork-barrel system, opening up of entry and exit of all businesses including utilities and telecommunications without having to acquire franchises from Congress, and lowering of corporate taxes coupled with the removal of fiscal incentives, among many others. Some of these options could have worked, who knows? But they were not considered either for lack of resolve or of understanding.

So who "ruined the spirit of Edsa"? And what do we do to restore that lofty spirit? These are hard questions we need to ponder upon as we commemorate those glorious days that freed us from the shackles of a dictatorship.

Related posts

Wanted: statesmen and masochists (Or why we should shift to monarchy)

Cutting red tape means hitting several birds with one stone

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Myth No.4: Philippine economy is completely open and globalized

We often hear those refrains from the Left about the openness of the Philippine economy to foreign competition and its supposed negative impact on local enterprises. Well, the truth is that it’s really the lack of competition that has been constraining the growth of small and medium enterprises and that because of our reverses in implementing trade reforms. That I found out from the recent presentation from one of the top notch economists from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies. Read on.

As a result of major reverses in trade reforms, the lack of strong competition in the Philippines is discouraging the growth of new businesses and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country, an economist from Philippine Institute for Development Studies said.

“The more than 20 years of trade liberalization in the manufacturing sector has not resulted in any significant increase in competition, preventing the economy from reaping the benefits of freer trade,” said economist Rafaelita Aldaba, in her recent presentation at the PIDS.

Aldaba explained that competition is one of the major channels through which trade liberalization affects the economy.

“Competition is important in fostering innovation and technology adoption which leads to increases in competitiveness, productivity, and growth that could have large consequences for poverty and inequality reduction in the Philippines,” she explained.

A culture of competition is characterized by the efficient allocation of resources and production processes, competition among firms in both price and quality, innovation of new products, and consumers being able to benefit from the resulting efficiency. However, evidence shows—Aldadba said—that most of these characteristics are absent, indicating that competition in the country has remained weak.

Since the early 1980s, the Philippines has implemented market-oriented reforms that were intended to stimulate competition, induce firm efficiency, and introduce technological change through new investment.

Aldaba noted that the last twenty years of trade liberalization considerably reduced high rates of effective protection in the country. Nevertheless, she observed that the protection structure of industries continues to be uneven, with some sectors receiving relatively higher levels of protection than others. Petrochemicals, float glass, and steel are prominent examples of raw materials receiving higher duties than their finished products.

“Our trade liberalization process has been reversed many times in the past due to the intense lobbying by strong interest groups for higher protection; hence, a policy of selective protection emerged causing tremendous distortions in our trade and economic structure. Tariffs have been changed on an ad hoc basis without taking efficiency considerations into account,” Aldaba noted. “The protection that emerges, however, becomes incompatible with the country’s stated development objectives and continues to provide incentives for more lobbying activities,” she added.

Continuous distortions in tariff in the country, Aldaba said, have given way to favoring highly protected sectors like agriculture and manufacturing importables as against exportable goods, thereby leading to a decline in competitiveness. As an example, she cites the cost of sugar as being brought about by a 65% tariff that continues to affect the competitiveness of the country’s fruit processing sector.

“Our experience shows that trade liberalization, while necessary, is not a sufficient condition to promote competition, it is also important that firms change their behavior and adjust to the new market environment,” Aldaba said.

Other factors that enhance competition, Aldaba claims, include both physical and institutional infrastructures like the state of transport and communications, framework of laws and regulations, effectiveness of the financial system in matching investment resources with entrepreneurial opportunities, as well as information available to consumers.

“Business firms will not venture into the unknown and uncertain unless the government program for implementing policy reforms is credible; policy reversals, delays in timetable, lack of infrastructure and inconsistent decision-making can undermine the success of entrepreneurship that could be had from the government’s liberalization policy,” Aldaba concluded.

Related links

1. Despite globalization, it’s still difficult to do business in the Philippines

2. Demystifying the World Trade Organization

3. Cutting red tape means hitting several birds with one stone

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Leyte mudslide tragedy: A fantastic slide show by the Associated Press

These are some of the pictures that you can view in Associated Press' story and slideshow ("Landslide Victims Buried in Mass Grave" by HRVOJE HRANJSKI, Associated Press Writer) about the Leyte mudslide being run online by Yahoo News. The slideshow contains 179 excellent pictures that anybody could email to friends.

Enough has already been said about the tragedy. Let me just extend my condolences to families affected by the tragedy. My prayers are with you.

You may read the statement of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regarding the incident: http://www.denr.gov.ph/article/view/3597/. You may also monitor the reports and updates of the National Disaster Coordinating Council regarding the Leyte mudslide through this link: http://ndcc.gov.ph/ndcc/.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Truckers and their gripes

If truckers who are supposedly busy hauling goods from the ports and factories to retailers and consumers would suddenly find themselves engaging in political action (e.g., barricading the North Luzon Expressway), we know we have a real problem. What if suddenly all the truckers suddenly stopped working? Fortunately, the Confederation of Truckers Association of the Philippines (CTAP) that claims to be one of the biggest truckers organizations in the country, did not join the mass action. Rodolfo de Ocampo, CTAP president, said they didn’t join the demonstration because they fear such actions could “paralyze” the economy. “We don’t normally resort to such actions,” he said. De Ocampo, however, stressed that the issues being raised by those who conducted the mass actions are valid and he is urging government agencies to address the industry’s concerns. In this interview (unedited), de Ocampo explained the industry’s gripes and provides recommendations on how to solve them. You may or may not agree with his recommendations but it's worth reading. Excerpts:

Huge trucks barricaded the NLEX last week, causing a massive traffic jam. What’s the issue there?

It’s the strict implementation of the Section 7c of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 8794 [An Imposing a Motor Vehicle User’s Charge on Owners of all Types of Motor Vehicles and for other purposes] at the NLEX. The trucks carrying cargo that exceeds the weight limit of 13,500/axle are prohibited from using the NLEX. However, the government has not offered any alternate route for the truckers which makes them difficult to deliver the goods from Central Luzon to Manila, and vice versa. A 10-wheeler cargo truck with 2 axles that usually carries 25MT will only be allowed to load 17,000 kgs. Since the freight charge for loose cargo is computed on a per bag/ton basis and the delivery costs are the same, the hauling charge is not enough to cover the delivery cost in view of the high cost of diesel, toll fees, and other operating expenses. Only trucks with high axle load capacity can be used to transport goods which are not enough to cope with the requirements of customers being serviced by the trucking industry, thereby affecting the delivery of goods for local and international markets.

On the other hand, the weight of loaded containers being shipped to the Philippines varies depending on its size. Most of them exceed the allowable load as provided for in the aforementioned provision. As truckers, we are not privy to the true or actual weight of containerized goods bound for either export or import. It is the shippers who are in the best position to determine the authentic weight of cargo. We are merely responsible for moving the cargo in a punctual and safe manner from one destination to another. The shippers maximize the space of containers to save on the cost of shipment. However, the truckers are the ones being penalized.

Did your organization join that strike?

No. Our organization comprises 18 trucking associations, involving 8,000 individual companies. Eleven of these trucking associations operate in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon. If we join that mass action, the economy will be crippled. We normally avoid that course of action. It’s counterproductive. We would rather go for dialogue.

How big is the trucking industry? How many are affected by this problem?

Based on the LTO’s statistical data, the trucking industry has a total population of 266,915 trucks scattered all over the country. There are about 2.5M employees consisting of drivers, truck helpers, mechanics, tinsmiths, office personnel and their families who are directly independent on them. This excludes the suppliers of diesel fuel, parts and other service contractors whose income comes from the trucking industry. The truckers remit their dues to the national government by paying the annual registration, franchising, business permits and taxes of their earnings to the tune of P1.5B as their contribution to the government coffers. Three types of trucks being used in the industry, namely trailer trucks, 10-wheeler trucks, and dump trucks.

We have no way of determining the percentage composition of each type of truck in the whole population. But if we use CTAP’s own statistical data of trucks operating in Metro Manila, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon provinces, there are 6,000 units that are affected. Trailer trucks, comprising 58 percent of the total are operating at various ports in Metro Manila transporting containerized cargo. Ten-wheeler trucks, which account for 37 percent, transport loose cargo as well as 20-footer containerized goods. The remaining 5 percent are accounted for by dump trucks hauling gravel and sand and other construction materials.

Trucking companies are classified into small, medium, and large. The small ones accounting for 43 percent of the total are those with 1-9 units; medium, comprising 39 percent are those with 10-19 units; and the large ones, accounting for 18 percent, are those with 20 or more units.

Have you figured out the industry’s contribution to the economy?

In every part of the country, whether in the rural or urban areas, trucks are on the road carrying cargo. In Luzon, trucking operations are concentrated in the CALABARZON, Metro Manila and Central Luzon Provinces. These are the economic hubs where the manufacturing companies, importers/exporters, poultry/hog raisers, economic zone, ports are being serviced by trucks. Specifically, truck are used for multifarious economic activities including the transport raw materials to manufacturing plants and distribute finished products to the markets; delivery of export and import products; delivery of agricultural products to the farm/markets; and the delivery of construction materials to infrastructure projects and other construction sites.

I can sense that the truck ban is also a problem among truckers. Is that true?

The problem is really about unsynchronized truck ban time in Metro Manila. Some LGUs in Metro Manila have their own truck ban ordinances which are not synchronized with the established truck ban regulation of MMDA. Their truck ban is from 6:00 – 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 – 9:00 P.M. while the MMDA’s is from 6:00 – 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 – 9:00 P.M. Because of this, the window period for the trucks has been shortened considerably, thus diminishing the capacity of truckers to earn and provide efficient service to customers. Export products must be delivered to the port before the scheduled departure of ship or airplane.

Moreover, towing companies accredited LGU’s charge the truckers ranging from P2,500 – P8,000, which can be described as capricious and detrimental to the interest of the industry. Tow truck personnel are abusive, they force the driver to get down, or grab the wheel from the driver.

I heard the Local Government Code also has created a lot of problem for the industry?

Some LGUs imposed annual fixed tax on delivery truck or van of manufacturers, producers, wholesalers, dealers or retailers in certain products pursuant to Sec 141 of the local government code. The province may levy an annual fixed tax for every truck/van or any vehicle used by manufacturers, producers, wholesalers, dealers, and retailers in the delivery or distribution of distilled spirits, fermented liquors, soft drinks, cigars and cigarettes, and other products as may be determined by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, to sale outlets, or consumers, whether directly or indirectly within the province. We believe we do not fall within the purview of this provision because our trucks are not owned by the manufacturers, producers, wholesalers, etc, in the distribution of the said products to their respective sale outlets or consumers within the province, Cargo trucks, in entering the territory of any province, city or municipality is merely passing through their territorial jurisdiction. Moreover, cargo trucks are already subjected to Motor Vehicle User’s Charge (MVUC) by the national government under RA 8794, which is known as the Road Users Tax. To impose further taxation to similar facilities by said units will run counter to Sec 10 of RA 8794, which explicitly provides that no other tax for or any charge of similar nature as the MVUC shall be imposed by any political subdivision or unit in the country.

I understand you have a dialogue with government agencies yesterday, besides those you already have cited, what other problems did you bring to the attention of the government?

One is the cut-throat competition in terms of setting hauling rates. Small truckers offer very low rates to prospective customers just to keep their units running. Companies hire their services to economize in the delivery cost of goods to their customers. However, after several weeks or months, the truckers stop their service because they cannot sustain the operation of business. This malady in business practice destroys the stability of trucking industry.

Another is the continued increases in prices of diesel fuel and parts. The trucking industry is hard hit by the oil crisis. The strong demand and chronically scarce supplies of diesel fuel in the world market consistently moves its price higher. In view of this, the price of diesel in the local market goes up almost on a weekly basis which makes it doubly hard for the trucking industry to sustain business operations.

And third is the lack of government assistance. Trucking is the only sector in the transportation industry that has not been given any incentive by the government, not recognizing the fact that it is the life blood of commerce and trade in the country. Its service contributes immensely to the nation’s economic stability and development.

What do you think are the impacts of these problems on the economy?

The strict implementation of the axle load limit of 13,500 kgs will certainly junk a large portion of trucks population, thereby aggravating the unemployment problem in the country. It will create paralysis in the land transport system of goods. The hostile business climate—our problems at the NLEX, unsynchronized truck ban, high annual fixed tax by LGUs, coercive towing and high fees on towing, among others—will severely affect the stability of the trucking industry. Several small truckers have already closed shop due to their inability to sustain their business operations.

What were your recommendations to the government during the dialogue?

We have several recommendations.

1. From the point of origin abroad, the loaded containers being shipped to the Philippines must conform with the weight limit prescribed by RA 8794.

2. From the loading point in the Philippines, the loaded container for export must conform with the weight limit prescribed by RA 8794.

3. Establish government policy guidelines governing weight restriction for local shipment of containerized and loose cargo in accordance with RA 8794.

4. For the loose cargo, implement the load limit for the 10-wheeler cargo and flat bed trailer trucks. However, [we will] increase the rates to compensate the reduced weight.

5. Synchronize the truck ban period in Metro Manila to give enough time for the delivery of raw materials and finished products to its destinations, particularly the export product.

6. LGUs in Metro Manila must have uniform towing rates and policy guidelines similar to MMDA’s to preclude the accredited towing companies from committing abuses.

7. DILG should make representation with the DOJ for legal opinion on the application of Sec 141 of the Local Government Code to trucks plying in the provinces.

8. Establish government policies to forestall the proliferation of fly by night and colorum operations of trucks. Require trucking companies/firms to join an association accredited by DTI to avert cutthroat competition in the industry.

9. Provide incentives to truckers by allowing cooperatives to import goods free of tax and custom duties to mitigate the impact of the high cost of diesel fuel.

10. Assist the truckers in availing of the loan being extended to other sectors by government financial institutions on a long term basis to help trucking companies reflect/upgrade their units.

How did the government respond to these recommendations?

They formed a technical working group to study our proposals. They are going to have answers within seven days. The DTI/BOI has also promised us to provide us some fiscal incentives.

I thought all along trucking could also enjoy fiscal incentives.

No. We want fiscal incentives to mitigate the impact of high fuel prices. If the cooperatives enjoy exemptions from customs duties, why can’t we? We also hope government financial institutions could provide us long-term loans so we could upgrade our trucks, retool, or re-fleet, buy new units. But at this time, the government is doing nothing.

Does it mean they are going to stop apprehending “overloading” trucks within those seven days?

They didn’t say that.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Damned lies and statistics: the case of the strong Philippine peso

“There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” (Benjamin Disraeli, 1804-1881)

Will the government stop using the economy’s statistical indicators such as the peso-dollar rate as political props? This is to avoid confusion on important public economic policy.

Is the government promoting a strong peso? Apparently not. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), which is supposedly independent, has been stressing it’s implementing a “market-determined” exchange rate policy. Nevertheless, President Arroyo’s often use of the "strong peso" as indicator of her administration’s "economic performance" is sending a confused signal to the private sector. Lately, exporters are complaining that a “strong peso” is hurting their competitiveness. And certainly, it’s affecting the families of overseas workers who are now pressured to send more dollars for the same amount of peso that their families need.

In December, for instance, Sergio Ortiz-Luis, president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation warned that a peso-dollar exchange rate lower than P54:$1 would hurt their chances of attaining their 10 percent export target for 2006. Is president Arroyo aware of the consequences of her statements? Yesterday, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported that remittances from overseas workers jumped 25 percent in 2005. This could probably mean the peso may yet remain “strong” for long thus hurting further the “globalized” sectors (i.e., export, OFWs) that are propping up the economy. Take note that these sectors now account for about two-thirds of the country’s gross domestic product. What will she say this time?

The government is having a peace process in Mindanao, an island economy which is highly depended on the exports of marine products like seaweeds, and high value crops like bananas, mango, pineapple, asparagus, among others. Government has been saying it wants to see an economically prosperous Mindanao. Surely, they are not happy with GMA’s preference for a “strong peso.”

Lately, economists from the University of Asia and the Pacific are warning that the strong peso might yet worsen the country’s trade deficit and are recommending that the government should buy dollars to “mop up the excess dollars” in the economy to "weaken" the peso and restore the competitiveness of the country’s export-oriented industries. Should her advisers or the BSP find these recommendations appropriate, the government now may have lost its flexibility and credibility to do something. Will she reverse her earlier statement and say “Wow naman, the peso is depreciating na. This is great!”

Go easy on statistics, Madame President. It’s not wise to use them the way a drunk would use a lamp post. The truth behind the “strong peso” could hardly be credited to your strong “economic fundamentals.” It’s largely due to high OFW remittances, meaning that many professionals are seeing limited options for a secure future within the country’s borders so they are wandering about the globe, following trail of the dollar. Certainly, portfolio investments are coming in after sensing that the implementation of the higher VAT will push through, but these monies are nothing but mindless herds that will stampede out of the border once they see trouble or once they find a more profitable grazing land.

Besides the OFW remittances, the real money are the export-generated dollars and foreign direct investments. Exporters however are hobbled by a host of problems, (including a non-competitive peso-dollar rate). We are not seeing foreign direct investments coming in droves because of constraints like lack of infrastructure. Infrastructure is bad because government has been inept at collecting taxes and would rather keep the money for “fiscal consolidation” to appease its tuxedoed gods at the headquarters of Fitch as well as Standard and Poor’s.

Business process outsourcing, of course, are raking in billions of dollars in terms of service exports, but these activities are largely private-sector driven and could not be credited to the “economic performance” of the government. It’s a “people’s economy” and there is hardly anything that the government could claim credit for.

The government often blames “political noise” every time the economy are experiencing hiccups. Part of the reason, we believe, is her often inappropriate use—nay cherry picking—of economic indicators for political purposes. If you use economic statistics to flaunt economic performance, chances are the economy becomes a lightning rod for criticisms from all quarters. And that’s unfair to the private sector entrepreneurs who are caught in the political crossfire.

In their station of the union addresses and policy pronouncements, former United State President Bill Clinton and even the current president George W. Bush hardly speak using the arcane esoterica of the Dismal Science. Instead, they usually talk about whether or not Americans have adequate shelter or jobs or medical care or better quality of life. This way, their message, simple and unpoliticized, get across the nation loud and clear. Couldn’t we just do the same here in the Philippines?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What do the Magdalo rebels really want?

Will somebody from those Magdalo rebel soldiers please explain what are they trying to achieve? Replace this “elite government” with what? A military dictatorship? Corruption in the military are valid issues. But when they start behaving like infantile college activists, that’s when we should start to worry. In history, military coups rarely figure out as real solutions to society’s problems.

Since the French coup of 1851, the world has witnessed 99 coups, 17 of them failed. Eleven of these failed coups were in the 80s onwards. This information may indicate the growing difficulties of grabbing power through a coup, probably because of several factors, including the effectiveness of peaceful people-power revolutions as an alternative; and the continuing tide of democratization worldwide. Wikipedia says coups rarely solve the social economic problems of developing countries hence it has become less attractive to military leaders. Currently there are 13 serving leaders who came to power through coup:

How are these countries performing in terms of economic and human development? I rest my case.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Hey, optimistic numbers on Philippine economy are showing up!

It seems like the Philippine economy is producing some encouraging numbers lately. The revised composite leading economic indicator from the National Statistical Coordination Board says the economy continues to expand in the first quarter. The LEI is a sort of early warning system devised by both the National Economic Development Authority to forecast the short-term trajectory of economy. The latest export statistics from the National Statistics Office shows the December 2005 exports growing at 17 percent because of the much-improved performance of the country’s top ten exports, including electronics, garments, coconut oil, petroleum products, ignition wiring sets, bananas, metals, woodcraft and furniture, and pineapples. Is this a foretaste of things to come in the export sector? I keep my fingers crossed.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has just released a report showing that the dollar remittances of overseas Filipinos coursed through the formal financial system jumped 25 percent in 2005 to reach $10.7 billion. That means we are going to see a continuing rise in domestic consumption, assuming inflation rate—which has been modest so far—wouldn’t shoot through the roof with the recent implementation of the expanded value added tax. Last week the Makati Business Club released its report saying that the country’s business sector remains “optimistic” about the prospects of the economy despite their continuing concern about corruption in government. The other day, Fitch, a credit rating agency, upgraded the Philippines’ debt rating outlook from negative to stable, implying a reduced cost of borrowing for both the public and the private sectors. Incrementally, some good things are showing up and it would be unfair not to recognize them.

Myth No. 3—Globalization will transform Filipinos into “little brown Americans.”

Globalization is in fact promoting cultural diversity. With access to satellite TV, Internet, 24-hour news, and to all sorts of information, Filipinos are interacting with different cultures, not just the Americans. My son chats about the Roman civilization with history enthusiasts from Greece, Britain, and America. In the past several years, Philippine TV has been running soap operas from Mexico, Taiwan, and Korea. McDonalds has been here but Jollibee is even bigger. At a time when every body has access to CNN, BBC, and Fox News, local TV has suddenly shifted to using Tagalog, our “national language.” It’s a great mistake because we are now in dire need of English proficient workers for the fast-growing business process outsourcing industry. Of course, the local film industry has practically died but that’s because Filipinos now have choices other than the usual inane films that local film makers dish out. (Globalization has not prevented Bollywood from flourishing). The list of examples is endless.

Myth Number 2—globalization will crush “third world” economies

The truth is that, based on the recent discussions among the economists who participated in the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, globalization is proceeding in ways that most of them do not expect. So far, globalizaton is behaving in ways that do not follow the scripts of either its enthusiasts as well as its critics.

Supporters of globalization believe that supposedly it’s a win-win situation for both the rich and poor countries. So far, it’s turning out to be zero-sum game for emerging markets. Investments have been flowing towards China and other emerging markets. The US has been growing quite well, and productivity is rising, but there has been no substantial growth in the number of American jobs. Wages in the US are not growing in sync with productivity. Trends in Europe is even worse. Because of stiff competition from abroad, Ford Motors has started shedding off thousands of workers, stoking fears that the car firm might eventually collapse.

Now, many people in the US and Europe are wondering when will the exodus of manufacturing jobs to China and other emerging markets end. Also, they thought all along that jobs in the services sector will stay in the West as these activities are supposedly "nontradable." This assumption turned out to be false as well. Because of advances in information technology, many of these service jobs are going to India and the Philippines via business process outsourcing. I guess there would be more surprises in the next few years.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

CBCP admits they don't have technical knowledge about mining

Yesterday, the Bishops admitted that the “CBCP does not have the technical expertise to fully analyze the effects of mining” but has issued a statement urging the government to repeal the Mining Act of 2005 and close large-scale mining firms all over the country (BusinessMirror, 13 February 2006, page A2) because of their supposed feedback from the grassroots. At least, the Bishops have admitted that they don’t really know what they are talking. But why would they propose the killing of an industry they do not understand? Are the bishops now into policy making? If they are, why would they propose a policy agenda where they admit they don’t have technical background? In my previous posts, I have made a point-by-point analysis of CBCP’pastoral statement and have recommended an honest-to-goodness environmental accounting or cost-benefits analysis of the mines so that we could settle the issue. Why can’t the Bishops call an independent panel of experts to inform them about mining so their policy proposal could at least be informed by science?

Whose "grassroots" are the Bishops talking to? I understand the “grassroots” are divided on the issue. Naturally, those who are benefiting from the mines (close to 600,000) are in favor while some activist groups are opposed. I’m certain that a great majority who are not directly affected positively or negatively wouldn’t have any strong opinion for or against mining. So whose grassroots are the Bishops talking to?

Movies without borders: Steven Spielberg's Munich

Munich” is one of those movies you wouldn’t want to miss this year. It's about a team of assassins led by Avner (Eric Bana) sent by the Israeli government to track down and kill the perpetrators of the massacre that claimed the lives of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics. The action is superb. What you wouldn’t want to see, however, is Steven Spielberg’s attempt to preach to Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of the world that violence will solve nothing. We knew this "wisdom" long ago that’s why it’s so irritating to see Spielberg trying so hard to rub the message in through prolonged scenes of Avner’s nightmares, his paranoia, his teammates’ doubts and angst about the mission, the suicide of one his bomb expert, his inability to have gentle sex with his wife after killing six of the eleven targets, and his arguments with his former Mossad handler.

I wonder if Spielberg really understands the psyche of trained killers who are sent to do such dirty work. Why should the Israeli government send five brooding philosophers instead of efficient triggermen who would kill and be killed without question and remorse? I had the opportunity to talk to some special forces types doing such dangerous missions. My impression is that for this kind of people, a target is a target is just a target. They terminate targets, period. Analyzing the political consequences or philosophical ramifications of their actions is not their call. In that movie, Avner’s team is composed of talkative types who are always debating among themselves their ethical dilemmas and the political repercussions of their mission on the future of the Jewish nation. In real life there is probably no such kind of philosophizing Men-with-no-names, making Spielberg’s spiels in unrealistic. (But probably, it's the same reason why this world is such a mess).

Revised leading economic indicator say Philippine economy to expand in first quarter of 2006

Is the economy heading for a first quarter slow down? Yes, said the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) in February 1 through its report on the composite leading economic indicators. Last week, however, the NSCB has changed its mind saying the economy is rather heading for continued expansion in the first quarter this year as shown by revised composite LEI.

The LEI is an early warning system of sort designed by both NSCB and the National Economic and Development Authority to forecast the short-term trajectory of the Philippine economy.

According to the NSCB, the correction was prompted by an inquiry by the Department of Economic Statistics of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas regarding the supposed errors on the contribution of “money supply” to the composite LEI. The corrections made on the entry, the NSCB said, led to the revision of the composite LEI.

The composite leading economic indicator (LEI) sustains an upward trend in the first quarter of 2006,” said the NSCB in its revised report. “It continues to rise from 0.078 in the fourth quarter of 2005 to 0.155 in the first quarter of 2006. The composite LEI has been increasing since the third quarter of 2005 after suffering consecutive declines beginning with the third quarter of 2004.”

The NSCB uses eleven variables in the computation of the composite LEI, namely terms of trade index, electricity consumption, money supply, total imports, tourist arrivals, consumer price index, exchange rate, number of new business establishments, stock price index, hotel occupancy rate, and wholesale price index.

Under the revised composite LEI, seven indicators contributed positively stock price index, electric energy consumption, exchange rate, hotel occupancy, imports, terms of trade and money supply. The negative contributors were wholesale price index, consumer price index, tourist arrivals and new businesses.

The LEI does not determine the growth rate in the gross domestic product (GDP) of the economy. Rather it tends to determine whether or not economic activity is headed for a contraction or expansion.

“The system is based on an empirical observation that the cycles of many economic data series are related to the cycles of total business activity, i.e. they expand in general when business is growing and contract when business is shrinking. The LEIS was institutionalized to provide advance information on the direction of the country’s economic activity/performance in the short run,” said the NSCB.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Myths about globalization (1): It's is an inexorable force that we can’t control.

The truth is we can control globalization. Just ask Kim Jong Il or Fidel Castro. In these socialist utopias, time stands still. But if you are a Filipino who is used to the irrational exuberance of democracy, you would find these countries boring. There are no Starbucks there. No Jollibee. You can’t bitch around there unless you wish a date with the prison guards. No Internet porn. But yes, if you want to join the rest of the more exciting world, then globalization is for you. Even China, a communist country, has realized that the best way to achieve prosperity is to unleash the force of capitalism. Well, the Chinese are just being true to the tenets of Marxism—that capitalism, global capitalism for that matter, could be a potent historical force that could revolutionize the “forces of production.” But hey, Cuba may yet follow China’s way. Don’t you know that Cuban negotiators were active participants during the last WTO ministerial conference in Hongkong? Oh that would mean King Jong Il will be left alone holding the torch for socialism. But he will be comforted by the fact that in the Philippines, many people still share his dream of a socialist or communist future. Filipino communists, however, are ashamed to call themselves communist and would rather go to the Netherlands, or the United States for a comfortable “exile” than North Korea or Cuba. (Happy Valentines Day to all!).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sex without borders: why the French deserve their reputation

Happy Valentines to all! Let me share with you my review of a book on French slang which reveals more about French sexuality than anything else. Read and enjoy!

For long, I’ve been wondering how the French got their reputation for sexual sophistication. The results of Durex’s 2005 Global Sex Survey say the French get laid 120 times a year, making them the sixth most "amorous" country on earth, next only to Greece, Croatia, Serbia & Montenegro, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic. In the previous three surveys, the French were always on top. But isn’t it that people of all cultures either embellish or downgrade their sexual records?

After reading Henry Strutz’s Dictionary of French Slang and Colloquial Expressions (New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1999), however, I’ve concluded the French indeed deserve that reputation. Would you believe that at least ten percent of the dictionary’s 4,000 entries are related to sex? Only people who are totally obsessed with sex, people who have elevated this most passionate act to high art would be able to evolve those word variations.

In how many words could you describe the sex act? We are familiar with the “shag” and the F-word that the Americans often use. But this is nothing when compared to the French who have evolved at least 75 words and phrases. Baiser, caramboler, dégraisser son panais, enfiler—they are all mean the same: fuck!. Sometimes, they do it foursome (partie carrée). When people have sex out of love, we call it lovemaking and the French say it with great flourish: parte de jambs en l’air. Baiser a la bourgeose is doing it in the “male superior position” but when you say baiser a la papa, it means having sex in a very calm, relaxed manner. I haven't found a phrase for quickie though.

Perdre sa fleur means losing one’s cherry, patiner le chanois (to fellate) and pelotage means petting. And this one is only for those who pleasure from pain: rayer le casque or to bite while fellating. Apparently, they are indeed careful about getting the clap or HIV for they have almost half a dozen words for condom, for instance marguerite, passeport, petit chapeu, préso, schaphandre, and capote anglaise are among the few.

In France, it seems like prostitution has evolved into a highly specialized profession that would make British economist David Ricardo who conceived the Theory of Comparative Advantage blush.

There are very expensive prostitutes (caravelle), very cheap ones (merchande d’amour), prostitutes who turn tricks quickly (cocotte minute), transsexual prostitutes (bresilienne-rasoir), prostitutes who make big money (gagneuse), occasional practitioners (étoile filante) and full-time prostitutes (fille d’amour). There are those who engage in the business for the sheer pleasure of sex than money (montgolière). Some are phony prostitutes who take money but do not render the services (truqueur). Others are very professional and generous, giving extra services without charging extra (amoureuse). Some, however, are just plain incompetent, unprofessional, and unreliable (béguineuse).

There are old practitioners who try to pass off as a teeny bopper (lolita), while other prostitute try to pass off as a housewife (ménagerie). Some are just plain peau de chien (old whore!).

Location, location, location—business gurus say these factors are very important for entrepreneurial success. This principle very much applies to the practice of the oldest profession in France. Some prostitutes solicit business from her windows (fenetriere), or from trains (wagonieré), and near or under the bridge (pontoniére) while others are car-based specializing in oral sex (incendiare, amazone).

In his book On Marriage and Morals (New York: Bantam Books, 1929), British philosopher Bertrand Russell theorized that society—nay the men who dominates society—created prostitution as an institution parallel to the family as a way of safeguarding the virtues of their wives and daughters.

Russell explained: “The need for prostitution arises from the fact that many men are either unmarried or away from their wives on journeys, that such men are not content to remain continent, and that in a conventionally virtuous community they do not find respectable women available. Society therefore sets aside women for the satisfaction of those masculine needs which it is ashamed to acknowledge yet afraid to leave wholly unsatisfied."

It seems like Russell is now passé because some married French ladies do moonlight as courtesans. The slang term passe bourgeoise means “paid sex with a married woman.”

But make no mistake about it. The French are generally sweet and loyal to their spouses. The wife is légiteme and the steady girlfriend is regulière.

Despite the availability of professional sex services, it seems that many French people sometimes go solo. Words like Agacer le sous-prefet, palucher, pignoler, and polir le chinois means to jerk off. But if partners do it mutually, they call it vice-versailles. But hey, don’t you know that the French have special slang terms for jerking off for each gender? Yes, it’s branleur to mean masturbator and its feminine form is branleuse (masturbatrix).

For girls out there who are dating a French guy, don’t assume he is talking about your favorite car safety accessory when he asks about your airbags. Please do ask him if he means pare-chocs or roberts or roploplos or bloblos. If he says oui!, then you know he’s obsessed about your boobs and not your car accessory.

And for you guys, don’t panic when your French lover screams balayette infernalle! (very large penis). That’s a rare compliment a Filipino Casanova could get from a French lady.