MANILA, Philippines - Plunder is back in the list of offenses punishable by death, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said yesterday.

The decision came after House leaders were apprised of possible irregularities in a casino contract between the government and a private group, during a hearing by the committee on good government.

“This contract is highly disadvantageous to the government. The amount involved is P234 million in taxpayers’ money. That is plunder. In view of that, we will retain plunder in the death penalty bill,” Alvarez said.

He was referring to the November 2014 contract entered into by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) with Vanderwood Management Corp. for the opening of a casino at a hotel the latter is building at the old Army and Navy Club complex near Rizal Park in Manila. The city government, which owns the property, leased it to Oceanville Hotel and Spa Corp. for P300,000 a month.

Oceanville subleased it to Vanderwood, which in turn leased it to Pagcor for P13 million a month.

Alvarez directed the good government committee to recommend the filing of a plunder case with the Office of the Ombudsman against former Pagcor officials and private individuals involved in the deal, led by then chairman Cristino Naguiat Jr.

He said the anomalous deal has given him and his colleagues enough reason to keep the crime of plunder in the death penalty bill.

Last Wednesday, House members agreed in caucus to delist plunder from the measure. The crime involves the stealing or misuse of at least P50 million in public funds.

Alvarez said the total amount involved in the Pagcor-Vanderwood transaction was P3.2 billion, the amount of rent the state gaming agency had committed to pay Vanderwood for 15 years.

The Speaker said Pagcor already paid Vanderwood P234 million representing advance rentals for 12 months and security deposit for six months.

“You’ve already given them P234 million even if you’ve not occupied even a single square inch of space of the leased property. Is that not highly anomalous? What you are leasing in effect is just air. Meanwhile, Vanderwood already used your P234 million,” he told Naguiat and other former Pagcor officials.

He said if current Pagcor officers honor the Vanderwood contract, they too would be liable for plunder.

Alvarez asked Vanderwood representatives if the casino-hotel they were building was already finished.

Company president Manuel Sy and the firm’s lawyer Edgar Asuncion said the 6,500-square-meter space leased by Pagcor “is 90-percent complete.”

Naguiat claimed the transaction was aboveboard and was in fact cleared by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC).

Transportation Undersecretary Raoul Creencia, who was OGCC head in 2014, said though he gave his blessing to the deal, “it was Pagcor that ultimately made the decision.”

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas told Creencia that he should have checked the contract the Manila city government entered into with Oceanville.

“Under the contract, the property would be transformed into a lodging, dining and entertainment facility. There is no provision for a casino here. The city government could intervene and seek the invalidation of the deal between Oceanville and Vanderwood,” he said.

He said there was nothing in the documents that indicated Sy and a certain Mario Leabres were authorized to sign for Vanderwood and Oceanville, respectively.

Answering questions from Fariñas, Asuncion said it was he who introduced Leabres to Sy, adding the three were his friends.

But when requested to locate Leabres, who snubbed yesterday’s hearing, Asuncion declined.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo Bondoc, author of the resolution seeking an inquiry into the Pagcor-Vanderwood deal, said the Commission on Audit has asked incumbent Pagcor officials to recover the P234 million the agency advanced to Vanderwood.

Deferment pushed

Anti-death penalty lawmakers, meanwhile, are pushing for the deferment of plenary debates on the revival of the death penalty bill while the Senate is still deliberating on the fate of the country’s treaty with an international human rights group.

Reps. Edcel Lagman and Raul Daza are urging Alvarez to hold off debates on House Bill 4727 while senators are preparing to vote on whether to uphold Manila’s commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Second Optional Protocol.

“This is a bicameral legislature. No one acts solely without the consent of the other. We must suspend all proceedings in the House and avoid a clash. Otherwise, we will only be engaged in an exercise in futility,” Lagman of Albay pointed out.

Daza, who represents northern Samar, agrees. “I urge the House leadership to pause and rethink about the debates in the plenary, because all the time, energy and resources by the House on this bill will be laid to waste.”

Fourteen senators have signed a resolution expressing the sense that any treaty or international agreement should not be valid without Senate concurrence.
Published in News
Tuesday, 14 February 2017 09:59

Manila is not Bogotá, Mr. Gaviria

CONTEXT and perspective are very important in analyzing a policy, program, plan and activities. These are important to reduce the impact of unintended consequences at the implementation level.

Last February 7, later updated online on February 8, the New York Times published an op-ed article from contributor, Cesar Gaviria, entitled “President Duterte is repeating my mistakes.” If you look at the full article, Gaviria singles out PRRD and uses key words such as “extra-judicial killings, vigilantism, killing of a South Korean businessman, rights and well-being of citizens, etc.” Gaviria, an official of Colombia’s Liberal Party, is apparently monitoring PRRD; he even knew the results of the survey on his popularity. Is he for real? A Latin American leader commenting on an Asian leader as if Manila is like Bogota?

Three takeaways were made: 1) “Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up nonviolent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime. That is the message I would like to send to the world and, especially, to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Trust me, I learned the hard way.” 2) “Taking a hard line against criminals is always popular for politicians. I was also seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs during my time as president. The polls suggest that Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs is equally popular. But he will find that it is unwinnable. I also discovered that the human costs were enormous. We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts. We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one.” 3) “No matter what Mr. Duterte believes, there will always be drugs and drug users in the Philippines.”

What is Gaviria suggesting? “If we are going to get drugs under control, we need to have an honest conversation. The Global Commission on Drug Policy — of which I am a founding member — has supported an open, evidence-based debate on drugs since 2011.” Mr. Gaviria, that’s six years ago and what has your Global Commission done? What are the learnings? What honest conversation? Colombia exported cocaine to the United States and that is why the US intervened and launched or aided a domestic war in Colombia, right, Mr. Gaviria? You cannot hold the fort and you needed John Wayne because all institutions in Columbia were compromised, right?

Gaviria further said: “We do not believe that military hardware, repressive policing and bigger prisons are the answer. Real reductions in drug supply and demand will come through improving public health and safety, strengthening anticorruption measures — especially those that combat money laundering — and investing in sustainable development.” For your information, PRRD has launched a universal health care program and is not instituting “no Philhealth card” needed to avail of state assistance in health and hospital needs. Duterte has also banged his head on the inability of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to do a money trail analyses of individuals linked to the drug trade.

Gaviria likewise suggested, “we also believe that the smartest pathway to tackling drugs is decriminalizing consumption and ensuring that governments regulate certain drugs, including for medical and recreational purposes.” Decriminalize consumption of shabu? Rugby? What else would you want decriminalized? Dictate on us, please. If the Philippines should heed an expert like Gaviria, can we charge Colombia for all the unintended consequences that will result from decriminalizing?

Will Colombia give the Philippines for 14 years, $9.3 billion? Yes, Vice President Robredo, Columbia received from the United States under Plan Colombia $9.3 billion for the past 14 years. The Plan’s initial official objective, to reduce by half the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia in the first five years. Cocaine, Madame Vice President! And it failed! And Plan Columbia was the biggest US military aid program outside the Middle East, the biggest in Latin America.

Please tell us, Vice President Robredo, why should we listen to Gaviria and what should we learn from them? You were already on speed by using Gaviria’s op-ed article on February 9, why can’t you be on speed with concrete plans? Gaviria talks, among other things, for “support alternative sentencing for low-level nonviolent offenders and provide a range of treatment options for drug abusers.” Have you actually studied these, Madame Vice President? Are you ready with your concrete plans or you just want to hit the punch bag daily?

Did you know that the Colombian drug trade is estimated at $10 billion and at present accounts for 43 percent of global coca supply (as well as smaller amounts of marijuana and heroin poppy)? And the Philippine drug trade is what? Do we produce like Colombia or are we a transshipment point? Would you want air fumigation in CAR, Madame Vice President, just like what Gaviria had in Colombia?

Well, Colombia is not the Philippines and the Philippines is not Colombia. Colombia has a total area of 1,141,748 sq km while the Philippines has 300,000 sq km, with 61 percent inland waters. Colombia has a population of 49,034,411 (2017 estimate) while the Philippines has 100,981,437 (2015). The Philippines is the eighth most populous country in Asia and 12th in the world. The Philippines’ population density is at 336.60/sq km and Colombia is at 40.74/sq km. The Philippines is an archipelago with 7,641 islands and Colombia is one contiguous area. Clearly, you see differences geographically.

Economically, the Philippines’ nominal GDP (2017 estimate) was $348.593 billion with per capita at $3,280 while Colombia stands at $300.988 billion and a per capita of $6,104. A Gini coefficient of the Philippines (2012) was at .43 percent while Colombia is at .52 percent. The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income or wealth distribution of a nation’s residents, and is the most commonly used measure of inequality. A Gini coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality, where all values are the same (for example, where everyone has the same income). A Gini coefficient of 1 (or 100 percent) expresses maximal inequality among values. And the Human Development Index (2014) was .668 for the Philippines and .720 for Colombia.

Again, context and perspective are needed in dissecting Thailand’s war on illegal drugs because it is inherently a border issue, “greater than any since the communist insurgency of the 1970s and early 1980s – lies along the northern border. It consists of a mass of highly addictive methamphetamine pills, (known locally as yaba, which translates to ‘crazy medicine’) produced in Myanmar for the Thai market by the United Wa State Army (UWSA).” What was good in Thailand is they had a baseline study done: “From an early user-base among sugarcane workers and long-distance truckdrivers, Myanmar-produced methamphetamine has spread to infiltrate homes, schools, offices and factories throughout the country. The pandemic of ‘yaba’ has left in its wake a widening swathe of organized crime, official corruption, street violence and broken families. The impact among youths and students has been most severe. A September 1999 survey of 32 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, including Bangkok, found that 12.4 percent of youth in secondary and tertiary education were either using or dealing drugs and nearly 55 percent of that group were using methamphetamines.”

Thailand’s war on drugs “victory” was temporary. PM Thaksin’s campaign decimated the drug market at the local drug trafficker and street-user level, but it did not reduce cross-border trafficking or attacked the drug trade’s higher elements. Additionally, his battle against “dark influences” had been ineffective, with few arrests of note. And we know what happened to Thaksin.

Gaviria also forgot to mention in his op-ed piece the phenomenon of “balloon” or “push down, pop up” effect in the war against illegal drugs. In fact, the nature of that adversary was daunting. “Bigger than both the Cali and Medellin cartels combined, more powerful than the infamous Pablo Escobar—this was a Colombian cocaine empire with a reach so vast, and profits so great, it became known as ‘the super cartel.” What was so striking about that development was that this “super cartel” was operating with great effectiveness years after the much-ballyhooed defeat of the infamous Cali and Medellin drug trafficking operations and their immediate successors. Is Colombia better off today?

Do we have “disposable people,” Madame Vice President? Colombians have the atrocious phrase of “disposable” people (desechables) to refer to “addicts, the homeless, and the extreme poor. Sad, shocking, yet not uncommon, addicts are often found unconscious on main streets in broad daylight, and people skirt around them as if they are not there.” Are we on that level, Madame Vice President? Should we not act today or wait for that before we act? Before PRRD, shabu was dirt cheap and was being smoked openly by shared hits. Rugby? You can buy by spread and that will last you 24 hours. They hit the poor, yes, the laylayan. And we are not Colombia!

All of us know that the war on drugs is being lost on a daily basis. We need to fight it at the community level where all hands are on deck. You don’t want to help? Then you don’t care about this nation. Simply put.
Published in Commentaries
Friday, 10 February 2017 10:10

Economic managers junk free tuition

The government’s economic managers have junked the proposed across-the-board free tuition for students in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), saying it is unsustainable and will only benefit the rich.

They said the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) is a better alternative.

In a joint position paper submitted to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd and Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno said UniFAST provides a more coherent and comprehensive framework to address the educational needs of students.

The economic managers said that while all citizens have the right to quality education, they do not agree that an across-the-board free tuition for all undergraduate students in SUCs is the best way for the government to achieve the mandate of providing education to all.

“The proposed free tuition policy is expected to have little impact on poor children’s enrolment in college,” they said, stressing that tuition does not comprise the biggest share of the cost of college education.

Based on the grant structure of the government’s Student Grants-In-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (SGP-PA), tuition constitutes merely one-third (P20,000) of the annual cost of P60,000 per student covered by the grant.

The officials said living expenses make up the biggest chunk of the cost of college education (P35,000 for 10 months). Instructional materials comes third at P5,000.

Since poor families will be unable to pay for the two-thirds cost of college education, they will still be unable to send their children to college.

“The proposed free tuition policy will benefit largely the non-poor students who predominate in SUCs. In 2014, only 12 percent of the students attending SUCs belong to the bottom 20 percent of the family income classification based on the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey,” the economic managers said.

They believe that an untargeted tuition subsidy to undergraduate students enrolled in SUCs will mostly benefit families who can afford to send their children to college while many deserving and qualified poor students unable to enrol in SUCs will be left out.

The economic managers also pointed out that an across-the-board free tuition policy will trigger an exodus of students to SUCs which would eventually affect the overall quality of graduates given that a number of private higher education institutions perform better than SUCs.

“Also, the budgetary support for free tuition will be difficult to sustain,” the Cabinet officials said.

They explained that if the tuition funding requirement is to be based on the national average tuition of SUCs under the SGP-PA – which is at P20,000 per annum – the estimated 1.4 million students currently enrolled in SUCs would require about P28 billion budgetary support from the government.

The economic managers recommended funding UniFAST instead, which they said is better designed to ensure a more efficient and effective use of government funds.

Established in 2014 through Republic Act 10687, UniFAST is designed to unify and harmonize all modalities of publicly-funded Student Financial Assistance Programs such as scholarships, grants-in-aid and student loans for tertiary education. The law provides full financing to deserving students, which generally favors the poor.

The officials argued that UniFAST is the better alternative because it has a clear delineation among its three modes of financial assistance in terms of objectives and target beneficiaries, applicability in SUCs and private educational institutions, a test-based eligibility requirement, and adherence to the acceptable standards of the Commission on Higher Education.

“The government should implement its mandate of promoting quality and accessible education within the limits of fiscal prudence, and with the use of appropriate tools and targeting mechanism. The UniFAST is better designed to ensure a more efficient and effective use of government funds,” they explained.
Published in News
Thursday, 09 February 2017 09:06

Deegong’s controversial alter egos

Part 3

CULTURE in the political management context, is the personality of the collective. The Deegong is very clear on this promise of “pagbabago,” or change. All incoming administrations have their slogans related to this much-prostituted word. But the Deegong has a proven track record encompassing two decades of local governance backing up this slogan. His administration is perceived to have one of the lowest incidences of corruption in government and he intends to introduce this culture of anti-corruption applying the same methods in the national level for the desired outcome.

The alter egos’ task is to help him shape this culture, from one where the practice of corruption is pervasive, legitimized and a matter of course; to one where corruption is perceived to be a perversion of positive values and ethically unacceptable. These Cabinet men and women must internalize the task to do what the Deegong did at the outset in his city—to overhaul their own respective departments also. They can’t go for cosmetic changes in techniques and tactics but must go all out to stamp out this sordid practice. Initiating management controls, reeducation and training are just some of the facets of the process. The more important aspects are the firing of corrupt personnel and instituting other sanctions, including cases in court. There is now a critical need to change this culture within the departments yet the pace of change will depend upon the political management skills of the principals—the Cabinet heads. And all these changes and initiatives need to be communicated to the public, clearly and unequivocally. And this is not simply a job for the presidential spokespersons – this requires the all-out efforts of PRRD’s alter egos, the Cabinet members. They need to be the “talking heads” of their own departments.

To understand better the political culture of the Deegong regime, we look back at where he comes from. A city mayor who ran his city successfully, boasting a good steady economic growth over two decades and imposing “law and order” on a city that was perceived to be the CPP/NPA laboratory during the martial law regime. Except for one term as a congressman, the mayor was really—as he himself admitted—“…just a local city mayor who did good by his constituency”. His no-nonsense approach to political governance was effective locally and he is applying the formula on a large scale for the whole country. This is perhaps where his critics may have some argument, on the type of people the President chooses.

Those within the periphery of power (not necessarily Cabinet posts) are from his intimate circle of friends and local boys and girls; some from his alma mater. The profile of his Cabinet are basically local personalities who made good in executive capacities as Cabinet members in past administrations (Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, heads the list with Secretaries Bello, Dureza and Diokno); some have extensive experience as local government executives (Secretaries Piñol and Sueño); and some have international exposure (Yasay of Foreign Affairs and Lorenzana of Defense).

Some chosen personally by the Deegong are those recommended by his allies in Congress, those he relied upon during the presidential campaign and the coalition he hammered to catapult him to the presidency. No doubt these choices are qualified and may have the complete trust of the President. We don’t exactly know who these people are but we do understand their entitlements in relation to the realities of this new government, the dictates of the coalition that support it and the decisions dominated by political imperatives. The President must now pay the price for the coalition’s support, by allocating as evenly as possible, appointive positions at all levels of government to the coalition members. This is of course a logical offshoot of the politics of patronage and spoils system practiced over several generations.

To date PRRD has reportedly over 3,000 positions in the bureaucracy and government corporations still left unfilled with the holdovers of the old regime still in place. This is understandable as the PDP-Laban, the nominal party of the President, does not have enough qualified people to take over the sinecures. The old office-holders may also be protected by the large influx of the Liberal Party members into the PDP-Laban who now practically dominate Congress.

But now, these people must perform their jobs based on their discernment of the new set of values which the PRRD has brought with him. And in turn those with specific Cabinet positions will have to reshape the missions and goals of their departmental turf. To do this, each Cabinet head and his own team must remold the organization and re-inject the concepts of ethics and creating public value. Those key persons in the “old organization” who are unable to give way and submerge their personal values to the collective (new political culture) must be done away with.

The job of these appointed presidential alter egos are not really cut out for them. But they need to follow the lead of their principal, the President. And here is where it becomes complicated. PRRD is a self-directed public manager always setting his own goals, pushing the boundaries of discretion. He is a proven political organizer and coalition builder. It was instinctive for PRRD to build consensus for whatever endeavor he is occupied with at the moment; but the Deegong is perceived also to be cavalier in anchoring his actions on the rule of law – and even seemingly has shown contempt for it.

Which puts the alter egos in a quandary as to how their own personal values and those of the President are analogous. A case in point is the concession given by PRRD to the CPP-NDF where three Cabinet posts were assigned to the openly avowed leftists. In the light of the failure of the peace talks between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDF, and the indictment by PRRD of these groups as terrorists; how will these alter egos now align their beliefs with that of their principal?

Another consideration for the managers recruited to populate the bureaucracy is a common belief that it is easy to transition from the private sector, where many of the Cabinet members and heads of GOCCs were recruited from. This is not exactly correct. Central to their careers as public entrepreneurs are their non-aversion to risk taking. While in the private sector, the gauge of the success or failure of entrepreneurship is in the pesos earned or lost, the bottom line for alter egos is the public good and value they create. Success of the alter egos’ work in government is reflected therefore in the eventual emancipation of the Filipino from the shackles of poverty and injustice – even perhaps at a great personal risk. This is the essence of public service.

Published in LML Polettiques
Friday, 03 February 2017 10:21

Speaker eyes con-ass by July

MANILA, Philippines - If he could have his way, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wants senators and congressmen to convene as a constituent assembly (con-ass) in July to work on a new Constitution.

He said lawmakers would rewrite the Charter to shift the nation to a federal system, as advocated by President Duterte, and to relax its restrictive economic provisions.

Alvarez said he expected Duterte to soon appoint members of the consultative commission on Charter change, which the Chief Executive created in December.

Alvarez said the commission should submit its report to the President and Congress in six months.

The Speaker has a three-year timeline for shifting the nation to the federal system.

He wants the new Charter to be submitted to the people in a plebiscite that would be held together with the midterm elections in May 2019.

To prepare his colleagues for their con-ass work, the House and the ruling PDP-Laban party organized a seminar on federalism last Wednesday.

In a message to participants, Alvarez thanked them for their “show of support and enthusiasm” in joining the discussion on Cha-cha.

“When this event was proposed to the Speaker, he gave it his full support. The kind of structure we have will dictate the strategic trajectory of our country in terms not limited to peace and development. Strategy always follows structure. Let us remember this,” he said.

Alvarez noted that under the present Constitution, the President serves as both head of state and head of government.

“From our historical experience, this has been an overwhelming task. This kind of setup has failed to respond effectively and efficiently to the recurring issues that have continuously plagued our nation. It has also adversely affected the needs and collective aspirations of our people,” the Speaker said.

“We have to consider the possibility that the structure we have now is no longer fit for the pressing needs of today and it is not compatible with meeting the challenges that tomorrow will bring,” he said.

Duterte has expressed preference for a federal system with a strong president and a prime minister who assists the chief executive in running the government.

Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez has proposed a mix of federal-presidential setup with a two-chamber Congress. On the other hand, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Maximo Rodriguez Jr. wants a pure federal-parliamentary form with a unicameral or one-chamber parliament.

Benitez, Rodriguez, Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and several House members are pushing for the relaxation of the Constitution’s economic provisions to allow 100-percent foreign ownership of land and businesses.
Published in News
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 10:58

Germany supports PH quest for federalism

GERMANY is willing to assist the Duterte administration in its move from a unitary to a federal form of government for the Philippines, German officials in Manila said on Tuesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been consistently pushing for the shift, saying it will facilitate better delivery of public funds and services to the areas outside the Philippine capital.“We support the discussion in the Philippines. We are also in dialogue with the Philippine government,” Michael Hasper, deputy head of mission of the German Embassy in Manila, told The Manila Times’ editors and reporters in a roundtable interview on Tuesday.

The move toward federalism has been gaining momentum in the country as some quarters see it as the best means to address the longstanding ethno-religious conflicts in Mindanao.

Hasper said the Philippines can use Germany’s experience as a guide that could help Manila address the specific needs of the country and its people, although he and the new German Ambassador Gordon Kricke stressed that the nation must fashion its own form of federalism according to the specific circumstances and needs of its people.

Germany is a democratic, federal parliamentary republic, with federal legislative power vested in the Bundestag (parliament) and the Bundesrat (representative body of Länder, or regional states).

The Federal Republic of Germany is divided into 16 regional states, each with its own constitution, legislative body and government that can pass all kinds of laws except in defense, foreign affairs and finance which concerns the federal government.

The federal government consists of the Chancellor and ministers who are drawn from the members of the constitutional and legislative body, called Bundestag.

Ambassador Kricke said federalism is an instrument to foster political participation and democracy.

“Federalism is not only about distributing financial resources and competencies but also about enabling the population to participate, to have a stake in the public debate or to be more involved,” he said.

“That is certainly one of the reasons why it works so well and why it is so important to the Germans because they feel that they have a stronger influence on decision-making,” he added.

Just recently, a delegation of Filipino politicians and scholars traveled to Berlin to meet with members of the federal government and familiarize themselves with the system.

Headed by former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., one of the prime proponents of federalism, the group consisted of Rommel Alonto of the Department of Justice, Clarisse Aquino, legislative staff officer of Sen.

Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd, Caroline Lee, program officer of the Hans Seidel Foundation of the Philippines, Quezon Gov. David Suarez, Manuel Jaudian of the Phinma Educational Network and Development Academy of the Philippines President Antonio Kalaw Jr. among others.

Kricke said Philippine policymakers need not “copy and paste” Germany’s formula but must create a system that will perfectly fit the country.

“It is difficult to generalize the experience we have in Germany because we don’t have these scenarios [that you have]. Every country has to make its own decision – what it feels is best and what possible risks and advantages it might involve. But I would say, the feelings of people and citizens…is important,” he added.
Published in News
Beneath the gorgeous smiles and grace, Miss Universe contestants assume a critical role in terms of broader global and international politics. In essence, pageants like these represent another form of diplomacy, one that is softer and more amicable. International beauty pageants fundamentally cover political agenda or try to assume a normalized relationship especially between countries in dispute. Just remember how the netizens reacted when Miss Philippines Maxine Medina got cozy with Miss China for a friendly photo-op. Even this simple picture can launch a thousand tweets and become a subject to several diplomatic interpretations because of the territorial sea disputes between Philippines and China.

Though organizers try to suppress any forms of political agenda surfacing, women joining this pageant cannot help but become more careful of their actions as they were seen by the world not just any other women, but as representations of their homeland. And this is where political flavor inevitably comes in.

For example, controversies surfaced when in 2002, Christina Sawaya skipped the Miss Universe because of border tensions between Lebanon and Israel. Even the much awaited display of national costume can be a source of controversy because of how it depicts situations and practices in the countries the contestants represent. Yamit Har-Noy, Israel's 2002 Miss Universe delegate, had been controversial when she wore a national costume embellished with the map of Israeli state depicting the disputed territories of West Bank and Gaza. (, 2015)

Miss Universe candidates have no immunity to racism and other forms of discriminations. Just take for example our very own 2013 Miss World Megan Young, who was thrown with racial slurs for being a Filipina by a Singaporean Devina DeDiva. The latter said that Filipinos are uneducated, poor and smelly, and that Miss Young do not deserve the crown. A Filipino filed a case against her. She reportedly apologized for her racist comments but still a lot of Filipinos were angered by her remarks.

The “dreaded” Q&A portion is also critical as the candidates’ answers become subjects to public debates. They have to formulate answers not only relevant to the question but is also sensitive to the audience. I remember in 1994, the beautiful and intelligent Sushmita Sen who gave a profound answer to the question about the essence of a woman. According to Miss Sen, the essence of being a woman is the fact that she is a mother and that entails the responsibility to share love and care. She was met with contradictions from other feminist groups, particularly from the West, who pointed that to define the essence of a woman within the parameter of motherhood is fundamentally limiting. Answers to beauty pageants are essentially relevant to the values held by the individual which is brought about by the society she lives in. Apparently, in India, such values are woven in its social fabric.

Unstable political environment sometimes intercepts the essence of Miss Universe beauty pageant especially when beauty queens carry political baggage with them as they join the competition. This is the reason why Miss Universe pageant organizers not only look into the preparations of the actual event but also the geopolitical affairs that may affect the whole course of planning.

In any beauty pageant, a woman is transformed into another being in the entire course. She becomes an ambassadress of goodwill, a representative of her country and an amicable diplomat. Concurrently, beauty pageants like the annual Miss Universe is an avenue for celebrating and embodying cultural sensitivity, diversity, respect, and racial harmony among all the contestants and the nations joining the pageant.
Published in Commentaries
Friday, 27 January 2017 10:01

Palace hails 6.8% GDP 2016 growth

MALACAÑANG on Thursday welcomed the 6.8 percent rate of economic growth in the country in 2016, the fastest full-year pace in three years.

Economic growth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), the value of goods and services produced by the domestic economy, last year on the back of increased activity in manufacturing, trade and real estate.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, GDP grew by 6.6 percent, moderating from 7 percent in the third quarter but faster than the 6.3-percent growth recorded in the final quarter of 2015. This was enough to boost the full-year pace to its fastest since 2013, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Thursday.

“The last quarter of an election year is usually weak with the government transition. However, in our case, it has actually improved,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters.

“The 6.6-percent growth in fourth quarter is a testament that our economy remains robust and is growing at a healthy and steady rate. Also, the Philippine economy is likely the third or fourth fastest-growing economy in the fourth quarter of 2016 after China and Vietnam,” he added.

Growth in 2016 topped the 5.9 percent pace registered in 2015 and 6.2 percent in 2014. The economy grew by 7.1 percent in 2013.

“Among the major economic sectors, industry had the fastest growth at 7.6 percent, higher than the previous year’s 6.5 percent growth,” National Statistician Lisa Grace Bersales said in a news conference on the 2016 national income accounts.

“Services decelerated by 7.4 percent from 7.8 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2015. On the other hand, Agriculture declined further by 1.1 percent. In the same period of the previous year, it dropped by 0.2 percent,” Bersales said.

Full-year growth settled within the 6.7 percent to 7 percent forecast range by private analysts polled by The Manila Times, and within the government’s 6 percent to 7 percent target.

At 6.8 percent, the Philippines could become the second fastest-growing economy in Asia for 2016. China grew at 6.7 percent and Vietnam at 6.2 percent last year, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).


Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia sees the industry sector staying vibrant, with the construction industry expected to be in the limelight following the government’s commitment to implement critical infrastructure projects.

The services sector is expected to remain strong, supported by moderate inflation, tourism and retail trade, as well as a healthy financial system, sustained growth of remittances and the continued expansion of the information technology-business process management sector.

“Domestic demand has so far remained buoyant, and should continue to provide support to economic growth in the near to medium-term. Improved employment prospects and favorable income conditions will underpin the growth in household consumption,” said Pernia, the NEDA director general.

Given the 2016 GDP result, the government target of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent growth for 2017 is “highly likely” to be achieved, the Cabinet official said.

In the medium term, growth will strengthen further to between 7 percent and 8 percent, he said, forecasting the economy to expand by about 50 percent in real terms and per capita income by over 40 percent over the next six years.

“This should bring us to the upper middle income category standing by 2022. More importantly, we hope to reduce the poverty incidence to 14 percent by 2022, thereby lifting about 6 million Filipinos out of poverty,” Pernia said.


But the way toward the goal is not without risks, Pernia warned, citing the impact of bad weather, policy shifts in the United States and the geopolitical situation. “For now, our biggest roadblock is an extreme weather disturbance like that of the El Niño,” he said.

He called for the development of the agriculture sector to make it resilient to shocks.

“We are deeply concerned about the contraction of the crops sector in the fourth quarter following a contraction the previous year. More disturbing is the performance of the fishery subsector that remained in negative territory for almost seven years now, except only in 2013,” he said.

Pernia said nurturing entrepreneurship and attracting investments that produce higher-paying quality jobs, especially outside of Metro Manila, were among the government’s significant goals.

Such requires a secure and stable economic and political environment, he said.

“Moreover, we need to ensure that our sectors are resilient and diversified in both of products and markets. In particular, we need to champion innovation and diversification in the industry sector as it is still heavily dependent on external demand,” he said.

In the services sector, Pernia cited the need for a policy environment that makes it easier for firms to set up and operate businesses and heed regulations.
Published in News
Wednesday, 25 January 2017 10:07

The urge to make a movement

In the 13 years he was dictator, Ferdinand Marcos systematically dismantled the parties that existed prior to martial law. His New Society demanded the resurrection of an old scheme. His model was the Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas (Kalibapi) during the Japanese Occupation, which was meant to replace the political parties of the Commonwealth. His Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) was called a movement supposedly upon the request of former speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr., who asked that the Nacionalista Party be allowed to “go to sleep” for the duration.

Marcos’ desire for a one-party state was nothing new. One can argue that the political class’ built-in tendency is to have a single party to ensure everyone has access to patronage. This is why in 1957, for example, the Nacionalistas and Liberals considered reuniting (both traced their origins to the prewar Nacionalistas) in what was expected to be Magsaysay’s unstoppable second-term landslide victory.

Magsaysay himself liked the idea, as it would sideline party elders who were a thorn in his side. Presidents like the idea of inspiring a movement because while each one enjoys the support of the administration party that coalesces at the start of every administration, it requires bargaining with the leaders who bring the factions to the feeding trough; and that party remains supportive only as long as the trough is kept full and the president remains popular. If the president—or, to be precise, his or her people—are more ideologically minded, then a six-year shelf life is unsatisfying because it means long-lasting political change is impossible. You need a movement to accomplish that.

Every president since Edsa has hoped or tried to set up a movement that would become a permanent party. Cory Aquino had Lakas ng Bansa to push for the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, which became the LDP which transformed into the Lakas-CMD of Fidel V. Ramos. He hoped this would become the permanent union of political factions on the model of Malaysia’s Umno once the shift to a parliamentary government took place. To do this, he tried to foster movements to push for charter change (Arroyo would try to do something similar, rebranding it Kampi). Estrada tried to cobble together the Left and Marcos loyalists into his PMP. Aquino III tried to foster volunteer organizations even as he hoped the bloating of the Liberal Party wasn’t just a flash in the pan (it was).

All these efforts failed because our democracy is top-heavy. The barangay is our government’s basic unit, but it is supposed to be “nonpolitical,” which is like insisting that if you can make a pig moo, people will think it produces beef.

What the barangay really is, is demonstrated by the impunity its officials enjoy: freedom from fixed terms. Of course they technically have fixed terms but in reality, they have no regular, predictable expiration date. Other officials come and go like clockwork, but of all people, the barangay chairs remain the same.

This is because barangay officials man the political front lines; they are more useful the longer they’re in place, most especially during election season when everyone else has to campaign (and risk winning or losing). But being “nonpolitical” officials, barangay chairs have an excuse to stay on and hold the political machinery together. And so the only thing regular about barangay elections is how regularly they’re “postponed” and “rescheduled” to “save money” or ensure “efficiency.”

We saw it under Arroyo, we saw it under Aquino III, and in 2016 the “supermajority” in the 17th Congress labored half a year only to produce a mouse: its sole legislative output being the postponement of the barangay elections from last year to this year. Presidents may, from time to time, say how undemocratic this is. In the end their party leaders point out to them, in private, that to reform the barangays is to institute a circular firing squad. It would reform everyone’s political machinery out of existence.

For the methodically minded in the present dispensation, giving in to yet another barangay election postponement may be pragmatic politics but does nothing to effect changes that will outlast their dear leader. For Kilusang Pagbabago (the movement meant to liberate the President from his political kind) to finally achieve the vanguard dreams of its architect (Cabinet Secretary Evasco), a different model from the past is required. That can be found in the ’60s and ’70s, in the building of the CPP-NPA-NDF. Whatever path the cadres of those days subsequently chose, a chance for redemption is being dangled: Reunite the factions; recycle the red manifestos; work from within the corridors of power to mount a revolution from within.

But as we will see, this is turning out less easy than it first seemed.
Published in Commentaries
Tuesday, 24 January 2017 09:56

Can Duterte keep both US and China?

WILL President Rodrigo Duterte still be all praise for newly inaugurated US President Donald Trump when/if the latter makes good his threat to go after China as a cheating trader and a regional bully?

Sooner or later, especially if State Secretary nominee Rex Tillerson joins the Trump team, Duterte may have to choose between continuing to cozy up to the next-door Mandarin suitor or swing back to good old Uncle Sam.

Or, summoning his skills in handling such triangular love affairs, Duterte may just succeed – to everyone’s relief – in positioning himself as a moderating influence in the seething regional rivalry between China and the US.

In his Davao home base over the weekend, Duterte was gushing over the inauguration of the 45th US President: “It was a very superb ritual and Trump was at his best.” He talked of looking forward to repairing bilateral ties that took a beating during the Obama administration.

Appreciating that the New York tycoon-turned-politico “talked from the heart,” Duterte said he liked Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan reminiscent of the martial law Marcosian “Make this nation great again” mantra.

But after the excitement of the inaugural wears off and everybody settles down to realpolitik, Duterte may have to spend time guessing how Trump would translate into policy and action his thoughts about the Asian dragon:

• China must be laughing at how easy it has been to take advantage of the US. Better to slap all its exports to the US a 25-percent tax to make American products competitive and balance out the trade deficit.

• The US must rethink the opening of its market to countries like China that “steal (e.g. intellectual property) from us” or oppress and violate the human rights of their people.

• China’s currency manipulation should stop. Although American products are better, Chinese goods are given a competitive edge by the currency manipulation.

• Pressure or motivate US firms to close their factories in China and relocate home to provide more jobs to Americans.

The US-China rivalry will loom bigger if Tillerson, an outspoken former Exxon Mobil Corp. chairman and chief executive, is confirmed as State Secretary and given a chance to influence and enforce foreign policy.

• Tillerson favors confronting China

TESTIFYING days ago before the Senate foreign relations committee, Tillerson batted for stopping China’s building of artificial islands in areas within the territorial seas of its neighbors – and the building of military installations on them.

He said the US must reaffirm its security ties with its regional friends. He did not mention the Philippines, a treaty ally, but cited Taiwan (which China regards as a renegade province) with which he said the US must renew its commitments. This departs from the standing One-China US policy.

Beijing bristled at the declarations of a figure who stands to become the key enforcer of a more aggressive US foreign policy that could put the US on collision course with China.

As the two superpowers gird for a showdown in the South China Sea, where will Duterte position the Philippines, a military pygmy and a medium-scale economic player in the region?

Assuming Trump attempts to catch up, will Duterte put on hold the multimillion-dollar development projects and aid that Beijing has started to position in the pipeline? Or will he just open the country indiscriminately to both Chinese and American assistance?

As reported by Reuters, Tillerson appearing for confirmation in the Senate described China’s building and militarizing of artificial islands as “akin to Russia’s taking Crimea” from Ukraine – a move that triggered a US-NATO military response.

Asked whether he supported a more aggressive stance toward China, he said: “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” He did not elaborate.

Using a unilaterally drawn “nine-dash line” boundary, China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing territorial claims.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he could not guess what Tillerson was referring to when asked about the nominee’s suggesting blocking access to the islands.

• Pope warns against ‘populist saviors’

A NEW CROP of leaders of varying shades and styles of “populism” has sprouted in several countries, eliciting cautionary counsel from Pope Francis that “populism” in some cases could lead to the election of Hitler-like “saviors.”

In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais conducted as Trump was being sworn in as President, the Pontiff also condemned the idea of using walls and barbed wire to keep out foreigners.

“Build bridges, not walls,” the Holy Father once quipped after a visit to Mexico. Trump, then a candidate, had announced he would build a wall on the US border with Mexico to stop illegal migration and the smuggling of narcotics.

In his El Pais interview, the Pope said, “Of course crises provoke fears and worries,” but that for him “the example of populism in the European sense of the word is Germany in 1933… Germany was looking for a leader, someone who would give her back her identity and there was a little man named Adolf Hitler who said ‘I can do it!’”“Hitler did not steal power,” the Pope said. “He was elected by his people and then he destroyed his people.”

The Germans at that time also wanted to protect themselves with “walls and barbed wire so that others cannot take away their identity.” He added: “The case of Germany is classic… Hitler gave them a deformed identity and we know what it produced.”

As for the new US President, the Pope said it was too early to pass judgment on Trump: “Let’s see what he does and then we will evaluate.”
Published in Commentaries
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