Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: July 2020
Wednesday, 29 July 2020 04:47

The Philippine oligarchy

Second of 3 parts

President Rodrigo “Deegong” Duterte’s claim that he had “…dismantled the oligarchy that controlled the economy and the Filipino people” was more hyperbolic than factual. But we may grant the Deegong this expansive boast as his performance has been remarkable, substantially impairing ABS-CBN Corp.’s propensity to distort information to advance the Lopez family’s interests.

The President has had a lot of practice locking horns with oligarchs as in a similar fight with the Rufino-Prieto family, which owned the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) and who for years he accused of “swindling” the government of billions of pesos for the “illegal” use of the “Mile Long” complex, a 6.2-hectare Makati City property. Past administrations were unable to dislodge this family as they used their newspaper “to shield their shenanigans.” It was slightly different with Roberto Ongpin whom he vowed to destroy. It was the President’s first attempt against the oligarchy and Ongpin’s role as President Ferdinand Marcos’ henchman and a President Fidel Ramos hanger-on made him a logical choice. The fact that his online gambling empire was not exactly a huge contribution to the Philippine economy made things easier for President Duterte. There is, however, a nasty side story to this as Ongpin’s flagship PhilWeb was forcibly sold for a song to Gregorio Araneta, a Duterte supporter. PhilWeb’s electronic gaming outlets are now profitable.

These acts by the Deegong are unprecedented in the annals of Philippine political history. No Philippine President had the guts to do what he did. He did indeed dismantle some of the important vehicles for political-economic debauchery by these oligarchs, but nowhere was he close to dismantling their control of the Philippine economy and the Filipino. The Philippine oligarchy will continue to be a feature of this government and many administrations to come unless our basic laws and fundamental mindset of our system of governance is altered. The Deegong rode to the presidency with these explicit promises — or so we thought. But he dropped the ball mid-play. But still, he has time to effect these changes in his last remaining years; or at least nurture the seeds of change (pagbabago) applying his vaunted political will. I am reprinting portions of my column on the oligarchy in the Philippines (“DU30 vs the oligarchy,” The Manila Times, Dec. 25, 2019).

The multifaced oligarchy

The oligarchy, a small group of families that hold economic power, perforce wield political influence, has been a feature of this country for more than a hundred years. Some wear different faces at different times with different regimes. But, above all, they are the inevitable results of a free market economy imposed by our American colonials, which in some ways we adopted, but with a twist. We married it to our traditional political practices. But the President needs to understand the nature and character of the oligarchy. Not all are his enemies; nor are all enemies of the people. What he should be after are the leeches that suck the lifeblood and marrow out of our people, yet they prosper in all administrations because their allies are ensconced in all levels of government and the bureaucracy. We have senators and congressmen who need the oligarchy and the elites to win elections and win power. Many are Duterte allies, too. The people appointed in the regulatory agencies overseeing their monopolies are simply their “living quid pro quo,” and they will be there long after the Deegong is gone. Because of this unholy alliance their network permeates vital institutions of this country — the courts, the military, police, both houses of Congress, the very bedrock of our cherished values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law which they have perverted to their ends.

This symbiotic relationship between the oligarchy and the political elite has to be dismantled; provided the Deegong understands that the rule of law be applied equally well — without he himself or his administration becoming the transgressors. Now a cursory lesson on what he is faced with.

The nouveau riche

”These people are more often than not bred in the petri dish of incoming regimes like his own using their nascent clout to expand their political connections. They are a ubiquitous lot, prone to conspicuous consumption showing off their wealth whose sources could very well be illegitimate. Their fealty is pledged to the regime that allows them upward mobility on the social ladder. These are the emerging cronies, toddler steps to the elite class, new to the game of wealth accumulation, nevertheless ravenous in their acquisitions. Most originally come from modest economic and social ranks. If they can parlay their embryonic network and sustain their influence towards the next regimes in the next generations, they may undergo gentrification and perhaps a patina and nomenclature of ‘old money.’”

Old money oligarchs

The leading ones are of Spanish pedigree “…the Zobel de Ayala Family is one of the prominent names in Philippine business. Forbes magazine listed them as the Philippines’ wealthiest at an aggregate wealth of almost $6.5 billion; but in reality, their wealth can be aggregated to almost $100 billion. All the local business taipans are but their princelings, like the Sys, Gokongweis, Tans, Ongpins, Cos and other Chinese-sounding names.” (“Zobel de Ayala Empire — The Rothchild Empire of the Philippines, Makers of Philippine Presidents,” Delmar Topinio Taclibon, MBA, PhD, DA.)

Since perhaps the Spanish and American eras, these people truly began to believe that they do important service to the nation. And indeed, they do; and in some perverted way, they are patriots. Their motivations may be seemingly altruistic but heavily weighted towards their survival, expanding their wealth, preserving their political prerogatives but, more importantly, a sterling legacy they must leave behind. These people are the risk-takers, with long-term views, pioneers in industries that need big capital and managerial talents — where government is incompetent to tread into. Having invested their family’s fortunes in the country, they will not jeopardize these and therefore must work in partnership with any transitory government. The big proviso is that they have to adhere to the rule of law. And this, the Deegong must internalize in his negotiations.

Over the decades they begin to undertake the responsibility for steering the course of events the country must pursue by stage-managing the political environment. And they indeed set the trajectory of the political arc without the transparency, accountability, and consent of we, the governed. And there’s the rub!

They exist upon the sufferance of our perverted political-economic system. And this faulty structure allowed the elite and the oligarchy to survive, flourish and manipulate the transitory elected officials who govern us. And like magnets, they attract the dregs of society — from the rent-seeking “movers and shakers” up to the highest circles of the mighty and powerful.

Thus, this malevolent compact began to take shape feeding off each other’s greed — a symbiosis. In time this unholy partnership, the oligarchy and the political dynasty will be the template for the type of systemic rot eating into our body politic and practice of governance for decades to come. And this is buttressed by our basic law — the Constitution.

Next week: Political dynasty — handmaiden to the oligarchy

Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 23 July 2020 09:33

There is no bad timing for reforms

Regarding your editorial today on Charter change (“Now is not the time for Charter change,” The Manila Times, July 22, 2020), I can only say that there is never a bad time for a good idea, especially one opposed by so many vested interests, for whom timing will always be an excuse.

I don’t dispute the utmost importance of pending bills related to the pandemic and economic recovery, i.e., the General Appropriations Act, Bayanihan 2, Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act, Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy bill, and Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer Act, as you cited. Because they are urgent, we have a right to expect Congress to focus all its attention on them and send them out, say, by the yearend. Otherwise the sick patient may already be dead.

But what about next year? The 18th Congress isn’t even halfway through its three-year term from 2019. That leaves them enough time to move on to other important legislation.

Let’s give them more credit for being able to work as hard as the public interest may demand.

This other legislation won’t be Charter change, as you’ve mistakenly called it. We’re talking only about specific constitutional reforms about which there is already a working consensus between some House committees and the executive department.

Two of them — constitutionalizing the Supreme Court’s Mandanas ruling and relaxing restrictions on foreign direct investment — have thankfully won the support of the country’s mayors. This isn’t surprising.

It’s our local governments, after all, who were unavoidably on the frontlines of disaster relief during the lockdown. It is they who will require the additional fiscal resources promised by the Mandanas ruling, as well as the additional foreign investment, in order to continue to carry out their frontline duties as well as generate the jobs needed to absorb Balik Probinsya relocators and homebound overseas Filipino workers, among others.

To further bolster the fiscal transfers envisioned by Mandanas, the Constitutional Reform Movement also pushes a couple of other reforms not mentioned by the mayors. One is to revise the current Internal Revenue Allotment formula so that smaller and poorer local government units are given their just share. Another is to empower the regional development councils to bridge the distance between national and local governments.

We’ve already seen how too much distance interfered with the proper delivery of relief and other public services during the lockdown.

There is no bad timing for reforms such as this. If not now (this year), then later (next year), but certainly not never.

Gary Olivar
Vice President
Constitutional Reform (CoRe) Movement
Published in News
Wednesday, 22 July 2020 10:29

DISMANTLING THE OLIGARCHY

Editorial cartoon.
Published in News
Wednesday, 22 July 2020 09:14

ABS-CBN closure in context

First of two parts

CONGRESS has spoken. The ABS-CBN Corp. franchise is no more. The Deegong got his pound of flesh with implacable finality. As intimated by a senator-cum-personal aide, “Kung hindi ninyo sinaktan and damdamin ng Pangulo, hindi sana kayo ipapasara (If you had not hurt President Rodrigo Duterte’s feelings, you would not have been closed).” So, there! From out of the mouths of babes…I’m afraid the naive senator never did quite grasp the implications of his revelations, thus piercing the President’s alibi. But, what the hell, we already knew what would happen to ABS-CBN. It was foreordained and it has come to pass. All that is left is to pick up the pieces and examine the ramifications of what transpired.

From the Deegong’s side

Don’t blame the congressmen; or the National Telecommunications Commission or the bureaucracy. It is in the nature of the spineless to just execute orders although allowed a semblance of independence and a modicum of integrity. Don’t blame the President. While his minions were dissecting the ABS-CBN carcass in those hearings, he declared “…he was neutral on its closure;” and then contradicting himself post-facto, “…Without declaring martial law, I dismantled the oligarchy that controlled the economy and the Filipino people.”

No, sir. You did not dismantle the oligarchy. You simply incapacitated one billionaire family, albeit an oligarch, from using their most lethal apparatus in their arsenal. For ABS-CBN, information was its fundamental currency and the use, misuse and abuse thereof is power over mind. This is what sets the Lopezes apart from the other oligarchs. This is their crown jewel, so to speak. They have been influencing traditional politicians to do their bidding; perverting information, news and chismis to serve their family politico-economic interests.

But the oligarchy is a multi-headed hydra. You cut off one head, two more will grow. For all we know, the remnants of the ABS-CBN propaganda empire may resurrect once this is taken over or bought by another set of oligarchs — perhaps one well-connected — reportedly some China-linked associates. But, then again, these are just speculations. Or are they? Among the oligarchy, the Lopez propaganda machinery paradoxically was, perhaps, the easiest to dismantle as their legitimacy and clout hung provisionally on government acquiescence for a specific franchise period. It is simply their luck that it was to be renewed on Duterte’s watch. And it was easy to demonize the Lopezes as it was easy for them to do the same with former president Ferdinand Marcos, the president’s idol. So, blame the Lopezes!

From the ABS-CBN side

And what do we hear from their side? ABS-CBN, with this formidable propaganda machinery at its disposal, framed the debacle quite grandiosely as the curtailment of press freedom and death of democracy. That the closure was exquisitely timed with the pandemic quarantine, resulting in a dearth of news and entertainment, was unacceptable to its clientele serving Filipinos in the far corners of the globe. Depriving them of Vice Ganda’s antics, exceeding the boundaries of good taste, and the luridly melodramatic “Ang Probinsyano” was simply unethical — or laughable or whatever. And the Lopezes are sure the assets of ABS-CBN will be sold to a nebulous group of Duterte’s new set of cronies effectively for a song; reportedly the reason why Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez 3rd bailed out and sold his controlling shares months ago. So, kawawa naman, the 11,000 workers — the abandonados. Of course, a franchise will be awarded to the new owners.

What is really at stake?

Amid the cacophony, valid arguments emerged from both sides that would have been useful prior to the franchise’s demise and would have helped to elevate the conversation and debate to a higher level on the role of the oligarchy in governance. The Lopez family has been in existence for generations going back to the Lopez brothers who started it all.

Both Eugenio “Eñing” and Fernando “Nanding” of Iloilo parlayed their wealth and influence, with Nanding winning as senator and later vice president of both presidents Elpidio Quirino and Marcos.

“The older brother Eñing, was the businessman in the family who founded the business empire. This deadly combination of politics and business, symbolized by the siblings, defined and nurtured this symbiotic relationship, becoming the template for the Philippine oligarchy.” (“The end of ABS-CBN?” The Manila Times, June 27, 2019)
And the family used ABS-CBN and its affiliates to gain advantage in business and politics, accumulating politicians in their pockets that included members of both houses of Congress, but in the process established itself among the country’s well-run companies.

And this is what the oligarchy is all about, and the Lopezes is the microcosm of the Philippine version.

Tomes have been written about how the Lopez oligarchy in effect perverted the political and economic growth of the country. How they supported and practically installed Philippine presidents as “kingmakers” until Vice President Nanding Lopez had a falling out with Marcos, resulting in the stripping of the Lopez family of its political and economic assets and exile during martial law.

But this column will not reprise the pros and cons of the rise of this oligarchy as our political literature is replete with volumes on this subject, nor will we review the 40-page report of the congressional committee on franchises.

From the citizens’ side

This column will discuss what is being mulled over in the aftermath. Lately, attempts to introduce a legal complication in the form of a constitutional amendment are being taken seriously; no doubt encouraged by the Lopezes, the anti-Duterte opposition under the aegis of the Liberal party stalwarts with the tacit support of some members of both houses of Congress.

What is obnoxious is the inane and unconscionable plan to use government funds to upend the closure through the people’s initiative, the third mode of constitutional amendment provided for by the 1987 Constitution. This calls for a petition of at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3 percent of the registered voters therein. If this is successful and the Commission on Elections certifies to the sufficiency of the petition, then a plebiscite is held nationwide for its ratification. This should cost the taxpayers P3 billion to P6 billion — and amid the raging pandemic, to boot. All for the benefit of one family. This is insane!

The Centrist political forces, mindful of the need to rectify the systemic rot in Philippine governance have always maintained that for the country to progress, economic and political reforms have to be instituted. Blocking the path are the root causes handed down from generations: traditional politics buttressed by the twin evils — the symbiosis between the oligarchy and political dynasties. They have to be destroyed. One option is through constitutional revisions. The other is outright revolutionary upheaval. On the former, enabling laws are needed to pave the way for this critical constitutional pathway. It is unfortunate that those who make the laws are controlled by the oligarchy or members of a political dynasty. This is where the Deegong needs to exercise his political will.

Sir, you started dismantling the oligarchy. Start dismantling the political dynasties. Finish the job! Or we revert to the second option.

Part 2: The Philippine oligarchy

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 15 July 2020 08:06

CONGRESS FLIPPED THE SWITCH

Editorial cartoon.
Published in News

Last of 2 parts

“CHINA is the enemy” is Trump’s mantra that has found resonance with his base, whom Hillary Clinton famously described in 2016 as “deplorables.” A hemorrhage of United States companies in the manufacturing sector lured by cheaper labor relocating overseas resulted in massive job losses. Trump ostensibly wages World War 3 (WW 3) on their behalf using the weaponry of international trade — a series of aggressive tariffs imposed to correct trade deficits tilted for years in China’s favor. But tariffs are double-sided weapons, mindful, too, that US and China are interminably entwined with the latter holding $1.13 trillion in US treasuries which, if dumped, could spike interest rates, weaken the dollar, which would cause the US economy to go kaput. Worse, it could trigger a domino effect with other countries holding huge US debts — Japan, $1.13 trillion; United Kingsom, $341 billion; Ireland, $262 billion, etc. In this scenario, nobody wins although totalitarian China has the advantage of quick decisive acts over a faux democratic America. Thus, the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), the great equalizer claiming lives and inducing recessions, has impelled the two on a race to reopen their economies. China has the upper hand as its draconian methods to quarantine its citizenry and control the virus are tools perfectly suited for a totalitarian state. While America, already hampered by a defective and aberrant political leadership, is further complicated by its adherence to concepts of freedom and individual liberties. Even the wearing of masks has been politicized by a president focused on self-absorption and winning a second term. Add into this cauldron the disruptive racial upheavals highlighting the deficits in governance and leadership.

China’s post-Covid role

It is becoming obvious that China’s star is ascendant. It is recovering ahead, while America is stuck until the political question is resolved by its November elections.

China’s play for world hegemony utilizes a China-centric trading network, the Belt and Road Initiative. It is a global development strategy involving infrastructure development and investments engulfing emerging and developed economies.

But working against China is its inherent non-transparency concealing the real strength of its economy and defense establishment, which could just be a mirage. Even its political stability is opaque despite winning a constitutionally sanctioned term extension for Xi Jinping. WW 3 may likewise be cataclysmic for the Middle Kingdom hegemon.

Conspiracy buffs theoriz that Covid-19 was deliberately designed and spread from Wuhan as Xi Jinping’s first salvo for WW 3, in response to Trump’s tariff impositions. Trump himself has been propagating Covid-19’s China’s genesis perhaps to divert attention away from his disgraceful behavior that intensified the death counts of hundreds of thousands of American victims; his abdication of US global leadership; and the erosion of America’s prestige in the world stage, reducing Trump and the US presidency to a pathetic state.

Be that as it may, still this brewing conflict involving other nations will shape the emerging post-Covid world order. (“China now at war,” The Manila Times, July 8, 2020). This column’s interest is somewhat insular — confined to the Philippines in the light of President Rodrigo Duterte’serratic performance of late spotlighting the pandemic and diplomacy.

Covid-19 lockdowns

Despite the bellyaching of the pro and anti-Duterte camps, President Duterte did the right thing in imposing a lockdown. More than a hundred countries in fact did the same within the first half of March. This was a welcome dramatic display of “political will.” What was tragic was our failure to do what our neighboring countries did successfully: putting in place a parallel infrastructure to contain the virus — testing, tracing and treatment (TTT). This monumental blunder can be laid at the door of an incompetently led the Department of Health and a complicit collegial body, the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseaseas, dominated by ex-military types whose mindset in fighting the virus is to game plan a conventional war against an invasion — adopting an adversarial posture toward the infected and the pasaway. This mentality was aggravated by the bleeding-heart confidants who managed to sway the President with populist arguments prioritizing the amelioration of the “kawawang masa” and the hairbrained “balik probinsya” instead of funding a massive TTT, the fundamental weapon of choice mandated by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against this contagion. This could have effectively cut short the lockdown periods and mitigate trauma to the economy. South Korea, New Zealand and Taiwan succeeded at doing this and their economies are now recovering well.

‘Urong-sulong’ foreign policy

Which brings us to my second point in light of WW 3 and the post-Covid world. What is our foreign policy? With much fanfare, Duterte pivoted us away from America towards non-alignment, yet he jolted the world when on a state visit to China he declared, “The Philippines, China and Russia against the world”; which by any standard is diplomatically vague.

The crafting of Philippine diplomacy and foreign relations — which by tradition and by law should have been a function of collegiality, which includes the two houses of Congress — became the exclusive purview of the presidency and his compliant secretary of Foreign Affairs. The divorce between the US and the Philippines could not be final for two reasons: the emotional investment of the millions of Filipino Americans residing in the US; and the formalities, which could not pass muster in Congress. And the diplomatic charade continued as Xi Jinping flirted with the Deegong with enticements for the Build, Build, Build, while bullying the country out of the Philippine-owned island reefs which China then promptly converted into Chinese garrisons. |

VFA fiasco

And lately, Duterte’s backpedaling on the US-Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was a study in how to “bungle foreign policy.” It may be recalled that DU30 canceled the VFA in February this year, in a pique, triggered by the cancellation of the US visa of a favored senator. The VFA expires 180 days after the Philippines unilaterally notifies the US of its intention, which was done on February 11. But by June 1, the Deegong had flipflopped, suspending the February notification for six months, extendable by the Philippines by another six months.

On the micro level, this presidential behavior is bizarre, which is par for the course and endemic in this administration. Institutional functions are supplanted by personal whim. And I presume no one has the balls to dare ask Duterte. On the macro level, we need to evaluate our primary interests vis-à-vis our “relations or non-relations” with China and America. How do we handle our island-reefs in the West Philippine Sea now garrisoned by China. Can our fisherfolk still seek shelter and fish freely in our “traditional fishing grounds”? Can our Coast Guard patrol our seas without Chinese interference? Do we need itspermission? How do we use the arbitral tribunal decision we won negating China’s nine-dash line? What do we do with our treaties and agreements with America — Mutual Defense Treaty, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and VFA?

And let’s not forget, China’s deliverables on Build, Build, Build. Duterte and Xi Jinping signed 27 deals worth $24 billion in investments and credit line pledges. Former Economic Planning secretary Ernesto Pernia revealed that only less than $150 million had come onstream. Someone sold our sovereignty for 30 pieces of silver or we were pimped out. In less polite society, we call this “being prostituted” (my apologies to the ladies of the night).

In the vernacular. Are we still mag-un?

Published in LML Polettiques
Friday, 10 July 2020 15:03

US TO WHO

Editorial cartoon.
Published in News
Friday, 10 July 2020 13:08

Never again an oligarch-owned ABS-CBN

THE House of Representatives, especially its committee on franchises, would be making history if it rejects the demand of the oligarch-owned ABS-CBN Corp. to authorize its use of our Republic’s radio spectrum as a broadcast network.

To be frank, I had never thought I’d see in my lifetime a Congress that would disarm an oligarch as powerful as the Lopez clan of its more potent weapon, its media behemoth. This is especially so since the House of Representatives has been such a tool of the rich and powerful since the founding of the Republic and easily vulnerable to bribes.

Indeed, ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap the other day issued a statement claiming that somebody had called him, introducing himself as an emissary of ABS-CBN and asking him to vote for ABS-CBN’s franchise. In return, he would be paid P200 million, Yap said.

ABS-CBN issued a terse one-sentence denial: “ABS-CBN did not send an emissary to bribe any lawmaker to vote in favor of our franchise.” But did the Lopezes?

I do hope Yap discloses who this emissary is.

Is Yap credible? Definitely, even just using sheer logic. Why would he claim that he was offered such a huge bribe for his vote, if this risks the intense ire of ABS-CBN if it manages to succeed in getting its franchise? And just 41 years old, Yap is just starting out in his political career.

Yap explained that he didn’t want to disclose that bribe offer but had to because of the numerous reports both in mainstream and social media that his colleagues were being pressured to vote against the franchise application.

Rejection
A House rejection of ABS-CBN’s franchise would be such a momentous historical break from the past. Congress will be proving its integrity, and the Lopezes can no longer say, after weeks of deliberations on its application, that it wasn’t given a chance to present its case.

The ABS-CBN media empire is an anomaly that has made a mockery of our democracy. This fragile system we call democracy is essentially based on the one-citizen, one-vote idea, that each citizen using his intellect votes for whom he or she thinks is most capable to lead the nation.

But what happens if an oligarch operates a radio-TV network, the most powerful venue to mold people’s views, and has proven again and again to use it for political purposes?

It becomes a kingmaker, playing a dominant role in molding citizens whom to vote for, as ABS-CBN has indeed done in tandem with the formerly Lopez-owned Manila Chronicle, since the 1950s, except during Martial Law when it was closed down. Indeed there has been no Philippine president who has not been backed by ABS-CBN since the 1950s.

Oligarch
We are the only country in Asia to have such a powerful oligarch as the dominant player in broadcast media, the most effective venue in the modern era for molding the masses’ political consciousness and choices.

Japan has the mammoth government-owned NHK set up under that country’s Broadcasting Act of June 1950; South Korea’s three major networks are either state-run or funded; and Singapore’s broadcast and print media are subsidiaries of the government investment fund Temasek Holdings.


Worse, ABS-CBN has been the prime venue for the Lopez oligarchy and the Yellows’ dissemination of one-sided interpretation of the Marcos era, a crucial stage of our history that we have to understand objectively. But the Lopezes — as soon as they returned after EDSA — ferociously demonized Ferdinand Marcos whom they once supported.

For instance, one important strand of the Yellow narrative ABS-CBN has disseminated is that the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army is a force for good, that we cannot militarily defeat it, and the Republic should negotiate with them to end the insurgency. Such narrative of course is quite understandable since the Yellows — especially its icon Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. — had allied with the communists in their pathetic attempts to overthrow Marcos.

Another strand is that the nation must never again have a strong state, which was what Martial Law was, which oppressed the people. Of course oligarchs detest a strong state, which would make it more difficult to manipulate. They dismiss the lessons of history that almost all developed nations once were strong states, and weakened only when their nations became rich enough.

Write-off
The Lopez oligarchy, with ABS-CBN in its holster to be drawn, aimed and fired when needed, took advantage of its power, and got the state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines to write off P1.7 billion of its loans consisting of Maynilad Water Services Inc.’s P711 million in 2003; Bayantel’s P592 million in 2001; Central CATV’s P207 million in 2001, and Benpres Holdings Corp.’s (now López Holdings Corp.) P157 million in 2002.

The Lopezes in effect not only got P1.7 billion from government; it avoided paying the taxes due, with the hearings showing that in the past 18 years, ABS-CBN paid only P1.4 billion in taxes, while its rival GMA-7 paid P1.4 billion in 2018 alone.

An unmoderated greed. The Lopezes were given the privilege of using the nation’s radio spectrum, a limited natural resource. Yet they resort to exploiting the loopholes in our tax system to evade paying the proper taxes.

ABS-CBN apologists say there’s nothing wrong here, that its lawyers were clever enough not to “evade” taxes but merely avoid taxes through loopholes in our tax law.

However, under the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit Shifting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), more than135 countries have declared “tax avoidance is nothing but tax evasion,” and are collaborating to put an end to tax avoidance strategies.

Murdoch
Keith Rupert Murdoch is the world’s biggest media mogul, the owner of major Australian and British newspapers, the powerful Wall Street Journal newspaper, Fox News and over 500 media-related enterprises. He was an Australian, but gave up that citizenship to become an American citizen in 1985, which is a requirement in the United States for television network ownership.

Here, the Lopez scion assigned to run ABS-CBN, Eugenio Lopez 3rd who owns about one-fourth of the firm, never gave up his US citizenship when he joined it 1995 as president and later its chairman. He has mostly been using his US passport to this day, and got to be recognized as a Filipino citizen only in 2003, especially when he travels to his residence in San Francisco. The Constitution categorically bans any foreign money and management in media.

Worse, Lopez has concealed the fact that he is a US citizen, until this column first reported it in February 2020. His company should even be investigated for falsely reporting in government documents — such as its reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission since 1995 to last year — that he is a Filipino, with Tax Identification No. 102871238, when he was recognized as such only in 2003.

A “Murdoch” would have given up his American citizenship. Not this scion of an oligarch family.

And ABS-CBN has the gall to still ask Congress to give it a 25-year franchise?

Never again, this nation is clamoring
Published in News
Wednesday, 08 July 2020 11:21

US COVID-19 RESURGENCE

Editorial cartoon.
Published in News
Wednesday, 08 July 2020 11:15

China is now at war

First of 2 parts

As in most wars, the actual start of the conflict is often ambiguous. It is more a series of events, generating a spark that leads inevitably toward a conflagration. A case in point is World War 1. In June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country yearning to free itself from an empire. For a month, Austria-Hungary waited for Kaiser Wilhelm 2nd’s word that Germany would be on her side before declaring war — Serbia being allied to Russia, France and Great Britain. Upon Germany’s assurance, an ultimatum was issued with conditions so harsh that war became unavoidable. On August 4, Germany invaded France through neutral Belgium. Thus, the “Guns of August” began the war.

World War 2

WW 2 was quite different. The seeds of war were planted at the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 when a humiliated Germany, was forced to sign the document ending WW 1 with harsh demands for reparations and ceding territories to the victorious Allied powers represented by Great Britain, France and the United States (late comer to the war).

Historians attribute additional causes leading to war — the great depression and the consequent global economic dislocations that produced fascist charismatic leaders like Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party; the rise of Japanese militarism and expansion in the Far East; and the policy of appeasement of Hitler by Britain and France, precipitated in part by guilt and later realization that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair to Germany. Appeasement only emboldened Hitler to act more aggressively, unleashing his blitzkrieg against Poland in Sept. 1, 1939. America entered the war Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan destroyed the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

World War 3

Future historians would probably mark the year of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) as the veil concealing the start of the WW 3. On one side is the rising hegemon of the East, led by Chinese President Xi Jinping; and the West, by America — if President Donald Trump realizes it’s war. But this is no shooting war using guns and bullets or nuclear devices. This is a war of economic attrition and brinkmanship, but no less deadly. The prize is global trade dominance and leadership of the post-Covid-19 world that will set the agenda for the next generations. The country that emerges the winner is one that is best prepared for this type of conflict. China is.

Chinese preparations

For generations, China never wasted its resources on war. “The US has only enjoyed 16 years of peace in its 242-year history, making the country the most warlike nation in the history of the world” (Former US president James Earl Carter Jr.)

China has undergone tremendous stresses under shifting ideological experimentations in government and economy (“great leap forward,” “cultural revolution”) from the time of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, to the socialist breakthrough in market-economy reform of Deng Xiaoping, the “architect of modern China.” His marrying the workable elements of socialist ideology and market enterprise became the templates employed by subsequent leadership, lifting 850 million Chinese out of extreme poverty from a rate of 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015. And this “war on poverty” continues in 2019 propelling another 82 million of rural poor over the poverty line (World Bank Figures 2019).

This rapid change in China’s status followed a formula set by Deng Xiaoping, pursued by Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping; enshrining for the latter both his name and ideology as “Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics.” From 1978 “…China has pursued export-driven industrialization, liberalized the private sector, welcomed foreign investment and embraced global trade”. (International Monetary Fund-World Bank Report)

It has likewise modernized its armed forces spending $821 billion in five years dwarfed only by the US’ equivalent of $2,450.81 trillion. It has no ambition to reach parity with America as, in their mindset, any shooting war will lead to a mutually assure destruction. Under this doctrine, China instead has become assertive in the world’s affairs, claiming ancestral territorial sovereignty over lands within its nine-dash line. To date, it has developed and garrisoned these island-reefs into virtual unsinkable aircraft carriers contesting American presence in the South China (West Philippine) Sea which, since 1945, was known as “America’s lake in the Far East.”

US irresponsibly unprepared

Padoxically, America was the country best prepared to fight any type of conflict — a shooting war, which China will not oblige, or one against the pandemic. It has tremendous resources in weaponry, technology, science, global reach, experience and prestige. America assumed global leadership since WW 2 and subsequent American presidents built on it, catapulting the country to greater heights of wealth and power. Yet this “pandemic has amplified Trump’s instincts to go it alone and exposed just how unprepared Washington is to lead a global response. US missteps have undermined confidence in the capacity and competence of US governance. [But its] legitimacy flows from [its] domestic governance, provision of global public goods, and ability and willingness to muster and coordinate a global response to crises.” (Kurt Campbell and Rush Doshi, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)

Then Trump happened, dismantling in three years what his predecessor had built and nurtured. And the erosion of America’s prestige continues, as the world watches with a tinge of sadness mixed with nuanced derision.

Trump declared grandiosely that he was a wartime president, referring to the war against Covid-19 — his democrat rival Joe Biden derisively referred to him as the “president who surrendered.” Indeed, he is a wartime president except that, unbeknownst to the clueless Trump, he actually fired the first salvo of WW 3 on March 22, 2018 when he imposed tariffs of $50 billion on Chinese goods as part of his MAGA — “Make America Great Again” — economic policy reducing US trade deficits. Similar tariffs were likewise imposed on America’s allies. And now the global trade war rages.

American tragedy

To date, America’s abdication of its leadership caused 130,000 Americans to die of the pandemic; that could further be exacerbated by the daily Black Lives Matter street protests. But, then again, it must be clear by now that these are just symptoms of a systemic rot deeply embedded, just now exposed. First, America’s ideals of democracy and republicanism and the practice thereof are incongruent, creating an abomination. Second, the centuries-old decay that could no longer be contained surfaced through a nondescript yet aberrant death of a black man. Racism reared its ugly head. It is an American tragedy that both anomalies find expression in the American presidency.

Chinese narrative

Thus, China saw its own “manifest destiny” as America once did in1845 when she took upon herself the idea that she is destined to spread democracy, capitalism and even slavery, eventually compressing these concepts into the expansion of global trade as a vehicle for its values and hegemony. China’s version is now onstream, the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Thus, WW 3 is now a reality. The nations of the world may start realigning.

To be continued next week

Published in LML Polettiques
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