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The Iglesia’s show of weakness
By John Nery
Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 1, 2015 at 1:06 am

WOW. What just happened?

 

As I write this, the smoke has cleared from the Iglesia Ni Cristo protest action on Edsa. The protesters have gone home; the intersection of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue and Shaw Boulevard, the main site of the mass action, has been tidied up; the major satellite rallies in Cebu and Davao have been called off.

 

Protest organizers eagerly declared “victory” when they announced the end of the protest, saying the thousands of church faithful who had taken to the streets can now go home because the Iglesia ni Cristo had reached an “agreement” with the government. What that agreement stipulates they did not say. Neither (as of the time of writing) has the government.

 

I am skeptical that any agreement has in fact been reached—aside from the strictly logistical understanding needed to allow the protesters to leave Edsa in orderly fashion. Of course I could be wrong, but it does not seem likely to me that a famously stubborn president like Mr. Aquino, buoyed by renewed popularity and unfailingly loyal to his friends, would abandon Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the altar of political expediency.

 

It would be naive to expect that the Iglesia ni Cristo, the only church with a proven record of voting discipline, would pledge its bloc vote to the President’s preferred successor, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, in exchange for De Lima’s head—and nine months before election day! Tradition, and now even apostate voices within the church’s community, will attest that the Iglesia vote is determined largely by the candidates’ popularity in the home stretch of the campaign. (In this way, the INC is exactly like Brother Mike Velarde and his El Shaddai Catholic charismatic movement—except that the surveys have repeatedly proven that only a small proportion of El Shaddai devotees vote the way their spiritual leader tells them to.)

 

If the Iglesia bloc vote was not up for negotiation, then what kind of agreement was even in play? Assume the worst, that the Aquino administration had been willing to dismiss the charges filed by the Samson family against eight church officials, what could the Iglesia negotiators have offered in return? An unrealistic pledge is no pledge at all.

 

The lawyers of the Samsons who filed the serious illegal detention charges against eight members of the Iglesia’s ruling council are right to demand the details of any supposed agreement. I cannot see how their presence during the negotiations with the protest organizers could have been possible; the mere participation of the lawyers would have ended the talks. But if there is an agreement that will impact on the case the Samsons filed, now is the time to ask for specifics.

 

But was there in fact such an agreement? Until it is proven otherwise, I would have to discount the organizers’ pronouncements of victory and agreement as face-saving rhetoric.

 

Let’s go back to Thursday, Aug. 27, when the mass action began with a picket of De Lima’s office. Did the people behind the protest begin with this outcome in mind: That it will force the government to strike a deal, an agreement, that would be unspecified, unpublicized, unacknowledged?

 

When the organizers decided to escalate their protests, by proceeding to the Edsa Shrine and on Sunday effectively barricading Edsa, did they have that ambiguous, amorphous agreement in mind?

 

When they literally demonized De Lima (in a raucous presentation during what was officially called a vigil), did they expect her to resign? Did they expect her to dismiss the Samson case outright, a day after it was filed? Did they expect her to apologize?

 

When they fielded their members in a bold attempt at a show of force, did they intend to put the fear of God in the Aquino administration? On purely religious or church occasions, the Iglesia faithful have come out in their millions. This past weekend, however, the protesters were a small minority of the church membership: a few thousands at the Edsa Shaw intersection, near Boni Avenue, at the Edsa Shrine. The total number never reached 20,000.

 

Some of the protesters, interviewed by reporters, confessed to a feeling of frustration. One of the most-read stories on Inquirer.net was about a devout member who said the protest had achieved nothing; that story was shared on Facebook almost 110,000 times.

 

Did the organizers plan to impress the general public with a display of their clout? The millions of people in Metro Manila who had been inconvenienced during the four-day protests were underwhelmed and over-angry. Did the organizers assume that politicians seeking their bloc vote would come rushing in to defend their position, that the Samson matter was a purely internal affair? The example of Vice President Jojo Binay and Senators Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero, who received an unprecedented backlash on online and social media for their statements, stopped other politicians from making the same mistake.

 

A show of force? The protest was in fact the exact opposite. On Thursday, the Iglesia ni Cristo took to the streets of Manila as a political force to be reckoned with. On Monday, they left Mandaluyong much diminished. The organizers had miscalculated.

* * *

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand



Tempered growth
Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 1, 2015 at 1:08 am

THE AQUINO administration will most likely miss its economic growth target of 7-8 percent for 2015. This, after the second quarter posted just 5.6 percent. With the lower first-quarter expansion of 5 percent (revised downward from 5.2 percent), the first half of 2015 could only register a 5.3-percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP). This means the economy must grow by at least 8.7 percent in the final two quarters to hit even just the lower end of the government’s target.

 

The administration’s chief economist, Arsenio Balisacan, has admitted that even 7 percent is very hard to achieve and that it is more realistic to look at 6-6.5 percent for full-year GDP growth in 2015. The government’s economic managers will be meeting soon to decide on a new target for the year, and it is very likely that they will scale down the original one.

 

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the 5.6-percent growth in the second quarter was mainly driven by the services sector, which accelerated to 6.2 percent from 5.9 percent. But the agriculture sector, with its dismal 0.4-percent expansion, pulled down the GDP growth. The second-quarter growth was also lower than the 6.7 percent reported in the same period last year. The Philippines thus slid to become Asia’s third fastest-growing economy after China and Vietnam.

 

Moving forward, the prospects for the country are not that bleak. As far as the China scare is concerned, for example, the Philippines is expected to survive it with very minimal damage. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima has pointed out that of 10 Asian economies, China’s economic slowdown would have the least impact on the Philippines. While trade with China has grown in recent years, China’s share in the Philippines’ total trade with the world is just 12 percent. The country’s growth drivers such as remittances and business process outsourcing (BPO) earnings also have minimal links with China’s economy. Last year, remittances from China amounted to $31 million and accounted for only 0.1 percent of total remittances. Revenues from remittances and BPOs are forecast to reach $47 billion this year, a big boost indeed to the economy.

 

Outside of external forces that the government has very little hold of, there is one area where it can truly spur economic activity and help lift the GDP growth figure for the second half of 2015. That is by ramping up public spending. Government expenditures should play a bigger role in boosting economic activity in the second semester, given what Purisima had described as “ample fiscal space in the P2.6-trillion 2015 budget to fund growth-inducing investments.”

 

Government spending actually picked up in the second quarter, rising 3.9 percent from only 1.7 percent in the first three months. Public construction also rebounded from a 24-percent contraction in the first quarter to a 20-percent expansion from April to June. However, first-half expenditures expanded at a slow pace of 9 percent to P1.07 trillion from P987.7 billion last year. This was 14-percent lower than the programmed P1.25 trillion. The government also had a surplus of P13.7 billion in the first half of 2015, when it was actually programmed to incur a deficit.

 

Beyond 2015, there are of course several challenges that the Philippines must hurdle to sustain economic growth. The most important is infrastructure development, particularly transportation networks and power. The port congestion and the horrendous traffic everywhere are solid proof of the inadequate infrastructure in the country. Since the country is regularly visited by natural calamities, the government should also improve its capability to respond to disasters to mitigate their impact on the overall economy.

 

In the meantime, the Aquino administration should focus on improving its capacity to spend what has already been budgeted. The government must now triple its efforts to address issues on spending bottlenecks, especially for public infrastructure, which held back growth in the first quarter to its slowest since 2011.

 

It cannot forever use President Aquino’s “daang matuwid” slogan as an excuse for its anemic spending, in the process depriving the citizens of the necessary roads and bridges, schools and hospitals and other vital public services.



Lesson from the INC protest
By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 1, 2015 at 1:07 am

THE QUESTION in most people’s minds is: What kind of compromise(s) was arrived at between the Iglesia ni Cristo and the government that led to the church leaders’ decision to call off their mass action? The protest began Thursday in front of the Department of Justice and then moved to the corner of Edsa and Shaw boulevard, earning the ire of motorists, commuters and the general public for the inconvenience they created, adding to the already heavy congestion due to the rains, the approaching three-day weekend and the huge sale at SM Megamall.

 

Nobody has come out with the details, although the INC’s spokesperson, in a statement calling on followers to abandon their vigil, said they had reached an “agreement” with the government.

 

The INC is responsible only for itself and for its members, but the government, through P-Noy, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas or Malacañang spokesmen, owe it to all Filipinos to reveal what compromise they made with INC. Citizens need to know whether public welfare and the rule of law were sacrificed in the face of the INC’s political clout. At the very least, we need to know whether the preliminary investigation into the criminal complaint filed by ousted INC minister Isaias Samson will push through, with investigation bodies and prosecutors following due process.

 

But even more important, we need to know whether, in light of the alleged “compromise,” an ordinary citizen could still rely on law enforcers and the criminal justice system to protect everyone’s human rights and address legitimate grievances.

 

If, say, a person is victimized by a religious leader who was perpetuating a scam, or if a woman says she was raped by a Catholic priest, would these victims still be able to rely on government to listen to them and follow the law? Or would the DOJ and the courts fold to pressure from churches determined to protect their own?

 

* * *

 

I AM particularly interested in the fate of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who was the target of the protesters’ rage and anger and accused of “meddling” in an allegedly internal matter of the INC.

 

It had been said that De Lima had the most to lose because, by displeasing the leadership of the INC, she stood to lose their support for her looming Senate candidacy. But it seems we mourned her electoral chances prematurely. As the Inquirer headline proclaimed, De Lima “trended,” and trended positively at that, in social media. A good number of netizens only had praise for the justice secretary for taking a stand on the issue and “doing her duty.” For a potential candidate, it certainly took balls on her part to stand by her decision to let the charges proceed unimpeded. (Unless her position was part of the bargain with INC.)

 

De Lima’s positive reviews contrast with the majority opinion on the position taken by other candidates, especially the so-called “presidentiables.”

 

While Binay’s coming to the INC’s defense was to be expected from the “trapo” that he is said to be, many, many more were disappointed with Sen. Grace Poe’s comment that the INC had the right to defend its “faith,” as if doctrinal matters were at the heart of the case filed by Samson.

 

* * *

 

OBSERVERS note cynically that Poe’s position must have been influenced (if not crafted wholly) by her putative running mate Sen. Chiz Escudero, who has been described as among the most opportunistic of politicians of his age-group.

 

But Poe strikes me as intelligent, reasonable and quite articulate. She certainly doesn’t need to have her opinions vetted even by a close adviser like Escudero. It is still possible she truly believed the INC was only defending the tenets of its faith, in which case government has indeed no right to meddle in. Or she could be acting like a typical trapo, too, weighing the potential damage to her purported candidacy by losing INC support, against upholding democratic principles and the vaunted “rule of law.” Well, she seems to have lost more in the process.

 

Some say we must add Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the administration’s main man, to the mix of those “kowtowing” to the INC. To be fair, Roxas upheld the need to follow the law, and for fairness not just for the INC members but even for ordinary citizens being inconvenienced by the gathering. But in calling for “maximum tolerance,” was he not encouraging many more such protests and revealing the government’s weakness in the face of an influential, loud organization bent on imposing its will on the nation?

 

 

* * *

 

I DON’T know if the INC has learned any lesson from this weekend exercise in political muscle-flexing. Again it all depends on the outcome, still secret so far, of the talks held to settle the INC protest. We will know the full picture if De Lima remains in her post, if the charges are pursued with alacrity, and if the case is finally brought to court.

 

But what have we the people learned? Edsa is enshrined in national memory as the site of “People Power,” and that may be the reason the INC leaders moved the protest from the relatively obscure (and congested) environs of the DOJ to Edsa, whose iconic status can still evoke powerful emotions and memories.

 

The INC massing, though, shows us that “People Power” can be so easily abused, with disgruntled groups drawing on the residual memory of those glorious days to stage their own protests, no matter how wrong-headed and how questionable their motives are.

 

We said after Edsa Dos that “never again” should we be forced to march in the millions simply to make our voices heard. The INC vigil at Edsa was a desecration, as well, of “People Power.”



Best bets for inclusive growth
By Cielito F. Habito
Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 1, 2015 at 1:05 am

AN ENCOURAGING sign of fundamental improvement in our economy is the increasingly strong contribution of the industry sector, particularly manufacturing, to the economy’s growth relative to its performance since 1990 to 2010. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan now often cites data highlighting this positive development, which suggests that the growth in the economy is becoming more inclusive, or broader in participation and resulting benefits.

 

Why so? Manufacturing, especially when based on locally available inputs and raw materials, is among the best sectoral drivers of inclusive growth. This means that the benefits of growth in the sector are spread widely within the domestic economy. There are two characteristics we must look for in a sector or industry for it to be an inclusive growth driver. First, it must employ a lot of workers (i.e., requires more labor to produce a given level of output), hence generates more jobs. Second, it must have strong and wide linkages to other domestic industries, either as suppliers of its inputs (backward linkages), or as users of its products for their own production activities (forward linkages).

 

The latter condition doesn’t hold, for example, for electronics, our top export commodity. Our number one import also happens to be electronics, which are the inputs into our electronics exports that have virtually no domestic content. There is a thin slice of domestic value added embodied in our top export product, limited to assembly labor. Hence, our economy’s benefits from a growing electronics industry boil down to the wages paid to its workers, and the indirect effects on other industries benefited by the consumer spending of those workers. One cannot belittle, nonetheless, the thousands of jobs created by our growing electronics industries.

 

Identifying industries and sectors that satisfy the above two criteria can be done using the Input-Output Table of the Philippine economy produced by the Philippine Statistics Authority. The table shows in matrix form how each industry in the Philippines relates to all other industries as users of their products and as suppliers of their inputs, apart from usage of labor and capital. Three sectors emerge as clear inclusive growth drivers: agriculture/agribusiness, tourism and its allied industries, and manufacturing. Not surprisingly, the Philippine Development Plan puts special focus on these sectors as objects of government policy and program support.

 

Agriculture/agribusiness has remained a sore spot and unable to play its role in driving inclusive growth, as it continues to be weighed down by age-old problems. I have written much on the challenges confronting this crucial sector, and have long come to the conclusion that our failures therein are for the most part institutional, rather than technological, in nature. Our agricultural bureaucracy has long needed a drastic and fundamental makeover; not even an excellent agriculture secretary can make much difference until and unless the institution undergoes major surgery. There has been no lack of sound recommendations for institutional reform in the sector. What I see lacking is the willingness to listen, including heeding clear lessons from our neighbors, and the political will to implement them. It’s only when solid science and sound economics prevail over politics and ulterior motives in defining the structure, directions and actions of our agriculture bureaucracy (including local governments) that we will finally see the sector bring inclusive growth to our rural communities.

 

Tourism, meanwhile, has made major strides in recent years, but still performs well below full potential. Getting in the way is a combination of policy, political and natural impediments. The policy hurdles include persisting restrictions in civil aviation borne out of protectionism and infrastructure shortcomings, with the latter having been used as a convenient excuse for the former. This may have contributed to the seeming lack of urgency in pursuing necessary infrastructure improvements, especially in our primary airport. Political hurdles are both internal and external in nature. Long-standing political conflict in Mindanao has given the entire country a misplaced image as a risky tour destination, as do frequent natural disasters. Meanwhile, diplomatic tensions with China and their crackdown on government officials’ gambling activities have dramatically curtailed tourist visits from China, otherwise the biggest tourist sending country in the region.

 

Manufacturing has been a positive driver in recent years, growing faster than the overall economy, a departure from its sluggish 3-percent average annual growth over many years. It helps that China’s labor costs are rapidly escalating. Demand for food manufactures, our largest manufacturing subsector, will further pick up as average incomes rise even as population grows. We have a strong edge in light manufactures where design is key, such as high-end garments, furniture and housewares. Here, our asset is our designers, known to be better attuned than their Asian counterparts to Western tastes, owing to our colonial history. In heavy manufactures, we have already become the fourth largest shipbuilding country in the world, while a new focused government support program will further boost the now fast-growing auto industry.

 

The sectoral route to more inclusive growth is clear. We just need to stay the course in manufacturing, work even harder in support of tourism, and find the right bearings in agriculture.

 

* * *

 

cielito.habito@gmail.com



A quarter less
By Romel A. Arrobang
September 1, 2015 at 1:05 am

FIRST, I graduated at 21 and I was ready to rule the world. Then came an exciting 22, but it was immediately followed by a not-so-good 23. My 24th got me thinking about life and the unknown. Now I am midway through my 25th year of being alive—but am I really living?

 

Twenty-five is a magic number for me and, maybe, most of us. This year is my silver year and I am definite that I am not hopping onto a happy train. My birthday was almost the same story: I planned to celebrate it with “firsts.” The night before, I imagined that I would be roaming the busy streets of Manila and letting my feet take charge of the journey. I wanted to be lost and to find unusual places to have my firsts. I even planned to have my first tattoo done on my thin shoulder (declaring “Ang mamatay ng dahil sa yo,” or “To die for you”), or to paint my first graffito on an unnoticed wall of Intramuros (if it’s legal).

 

Nothing in my “firsts” list happened on my birthday. Instead of wandering the metro, I ended up under my old blanket. I had a first, though: the first time I became afraid of my birthday. I became afraid of adding one more year to my age. I became afraid of living. I became afraid of moving forward.

 

I now question myself all the time. I ask myself almost everything. I get to know myself more, but my principles are starting to shatter.

 

It all started in the last phase of my 24th year. I am familiar with the concept of the “quarter-life crisis” because it’s a “thing” among twentysomethings. It was also the frequent topic among my friends over dinner: the upcoming year that we would all have to hurdle. I had promised myself that as I approached my 25th year, I would never experience such a situation. No dramas. I thought I’d never be shaken by this risky thinking.

 

In my situation today, I am not sure if I am having this kind of life crisis; I have not consulted anyone yet. But I am starting to question my whole being and, worse, my purpose. I am starting to become afraid of the future. I am starting to become pessimistic. Am I one of those people who are walking the Earth unseen?

 

I have episodes of sadness from time to time that mostly end in depression. It all started when I became unemployed last January. I resigned from my job in order to prepare my papers for an overseas job. Unfortunately, I got lost in the time frame and I prematurely ended my contract with my company. As I write this, my visa and other documents are pending; I am still waiting and anxious.

 

If you are familiar with the feeling of nothingness, yes, that is what I feel right now. Yes, I have no stress from work, no schedule to be followed—and no salary. Because my brain is not that busy, I think about my life. I focus on finding my identity and what I will do in the near future. Yes, I feel nothing—as if there’s a hole in me that cannot be filled by my principles.

 

My thoughts have become dangerous. I have started comparing myself with my peers. I know it is not healthy to compare my life to those of others, but I can’t help it. I am only human. How can I find my bearings in life if I don’t have a comparison? After seeing my friends’ wedding photos in Instagram, I ask myself if I want to have a family, too. After seeing the post of my colleague on Facebook that she is pregnant, I imagine myself with children of my own.

 

I assess my situation every time I have this feeling—and I have this feeling constantly. I have no plan as yet to start a family because I want to travel and see the world. How can I live in a suitcase if I have that kind of baggage? But then again, wouldn’t it be nice if you have someone to grow old with? I want to marry someone, regardless of gender, but I don’t believe in love and in forever. I am afraid to be alone. I think that being lonely as you grow old is the cruelest fate. Still, I have no one. I feel that I should prepare myself for a solo flight. I have no direction to follow and no path to take. The push and pull of ideas sometimes lead to depression, and then maybe acceptance.

 

I was an achiever back in my student days, but what if I end up with nothing? What if all my efforts are not good enough? What if I make wrong decisions? What if I never become what I intended to be? Those “what ifs” keep me up all night. I had been definite in my goals and I had always achieved them. Today, I don’t know what to do. I have trouble risking something because I am afraid to fail. I am afraid to try, thus it is hard for me to begin. I know that life is a gamble, but first I have to find the courage to bet. I am finding it hard to move along. The future is a scary place, and I now question myself on how far can I go.

 

My savings account is now nonexistent. I have responsibilities to my family: I have mouths to feed and medicines to buy. I often get scared that I cannot live up to my duties. My pride is killing me. The pressure is on me because I have the capacity to work. But I have dreams, too—dreams that are on hold because of my responsibilities. I love my family so much; I will work to make them happy but my own happiness is at stake.

 

This dilemma is what’s preoccupying me nowadays. If I follow my dreams, I’ll cut short my family’s monthly support. I sometimes dream of winning the lottery so that all my problems will be solved, and so that I’ll be free from guilt once I push my personal happiness. These thoughts lead me to sadness, then depression, and some suicidal considerations. Mostly, I end up sleeping more.

 

But to be clear, my 25th year is not always dark and gloomy. I have moments to value also. I am aware that my life is a bit shaky right now because of some thoughts that weaken me, but I also believe that I can find a way and make my life worth remembering in my sunset days. I have promised myself that I would stop making comparisons. I remind myself every day that my journey is different from others’. I am hoping that the remaining days of my silver year will be awesome. I will seek wisdom through my family so that I can find inner peace. I will inhibit myself from negativity. I will keep telling myself to move forward and keep on going even though I don’t know what the future has in store for me. I will keep the faith. If being alone is my fate, then I will be the most contented virgin in the world. I’ll await death in my bed with a big smile on my face.

 

I am now halfway through this year. I am hopeful that I can turn my life around. It may not be that easy because I am now at the dark bottom, but with the help of some chocolate bars and a good mindset, I am confident that I will be okay by the time I say goodbye to 25. I am a quarter less right now, but I’ll be a quarter more soon.

 

 

 

Romel A. Arrobang, 25, is preparing for employment as a data analyst for a Portuguese company in Angola.



The pathetic state of PH Internet
By Gideon Lasco
September 1, 2015 at 1:04 am

IF THERE were an Olympics for Internet speed, the Philippines would not even make it to the qualifying round.

 

A May 2015 study by Ookla revealed that at 2.5 megabits per second (mbps), the Philippines has the second-slowest Internet in Asia, next only to Afghanistan. Our average Internet speed is slower even than Myanmar (6.54 mbps), let alone Thailand (19.82 mbps), and Singapore (122.43 mbps). Other studies in the past have reached similar conclusions, with one showing that the Philippines has one of the worst broadband LTE connections in the world.

 

As bothersome as these reports are, they shouldn’t be that surprising. Most of us live with slow and unreliable Internet connections. A YouTube video takes ages to load. Sometimes, it even takes several attempts just to post a photo on Instagram. Of course, experiencing or even just hearing about Internet speeds in other countries makes us wonder why, despite the Philippines’ crop of IT experts scattered all over the world, we are greatly left behind.

 

To make matters worse, we are actually paying more for our crappy Internet connections than others with far better ones. MyRepublic, a Singapore company, offers 1 gbps speeds for the equivalent of only S$50 (around P1,600/month). In comparison, for a monthly fee of P1,899, PLDT offers published speeds of “up to 8 mbps”—and that comes with a 50 GB cap. Isn’t it ironic? Despite the higher standard of living in Singapore, its residents enjoy much cheaper—and faster—Internet.

 

It’s not that fast Internet isn’t available in the Philippines. PLDT offers faster connections—but at a much higher price: a 200 mbps plan costs a whopping P20,000/month. Who are able to avail themselves of this but the ultrarich? Mediocre Internet speed is a problem that disproportionately affects the poor and the middle class.

 

* * *

 

The Internet is more than a platform through which people upload their selfies. It is the fundamental economic infrastructure of our time. One EU report quipped that “if the Internet were a country, it would rank fifth in the world in terms of its GDP, after the US, China, Japan and India, but ahead of Germany.”

 

The importance of the Internet means that Internet speed is of vital importance to any economy. One study showed that slow Internet speeds in the United Kingdom is costing the country GBP 11 billion a year. Surely, the same can be said of the Philippines. We are losing money and our competitive edge in the world arena because of our slow Internet.

 

The indispensability of the Internet in our everyday lives has led global leaders like US President Barack Obama to call it a “public good”—which means that one’s enjoyment of it shouldn’t impede the enjoyment of others. In a similar vein, others have called for declaring Internet access a “human right.” On the other hand, neoliberal critics of these approaches say that free market economics should simply be allowed to take its course.

 

Unfortunately, because of the oligopoly that has a stranglehold over our telecommunications systems, this is not an option for the Philippines. The fact that Sun Cellular was acquired in 2011 by PLDT, the same company that owns Smart, has all but doomed our chances of meaningful competition in the near future.

 

Thus, the only way is for us to call upon our government to address this very public concern.

 

There have been promising signs that our legislators are listening. In 2014, Sen. Bam Aquino and Las Piñas Rep. Mark Villar both called for investigations on the slow Internet. In June 2015, Sen. Chiz Escudero—whose speech inspired the title of this piece—likewise called for stronger action.

 

But as we know all too well, calling for government action is one thing and actual change is another. On a recent Facebook post, Senator Aquino lamented that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has not acted on its commitment to release a memorandum dictating the minimum Internet speed and quality for all telecommunication companies to follow.

 

Finger-pointing has befuddled the issue. In a hearing last January, the big telcos pointed to tower fees and bureaucratic red tape as hindrances to building more towers and expanding more coverage. IT experts, on the other hand, have pointed to PLDT’s constant refusal to “IP peer” with other local Internet-service providers as a major roadblock to faster Internet speeds in the country. These explanations must be thoroughly investigated and acted upon. The NTC, backed by the national government, must cover all bases if it is to reach the modest target of 15 mbps broadband speed by 2016.

 

* * *

 

Our demand is simple: Make Internet in the Philippines as fast, accessible, reliable and affordable as in other Asean countries.

 

Students doing their assignments shouldn’t have to wait for hours just to download a PDF file. Overseas Filipino workers shouldn’t have to deal with pixelated faces of their loved ones when their colleagues from other countries can easily see theirs in high definition. Businesses and bloggers alike shouldn’t have to be outclassed by others just because their connections are lagging behind. And most importantly, the poor shouldn’t have to endure a slow Internet while the rich can afford to have faster ones: The baseline should be good enough.

 

There is no excuse for slow and unreliable Internet when telcos make billions of pesos in annual revenues. The government must recognize the Internet as a public good and take strong action based on this premise if we are to be lifted from this pathetic state.

 

 

 

Gideon Lasco is a physician and medical anthropologist. Visit his website on health, culture and society at www.gideonlasco.com.

 



Generation gap in the Supreme Court
By Raul J. Palabrica
September 1, 2015 at 1:03 am

IF SUPREME Court Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin could have had his way, Justice Marvic Leonen, the most junior associate, should have limited his dissent from the majority’s decision to grant bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile to his personal views. Bersamin took offense at Leonen’s criticism that the majority decision he wrote for the signature of seven other justices was not the version voted upon in their earlier deliberations. According to Bersamin, Leonen’s disclosure on how the decision was arrived at violated the Court’s internal rule on maintaining the confidentiality of their proceedings.

 

This is not the first reported breach of the Court’s confidentiality rule.

 

In 2011, then Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno stated in her dissenting opinion from the Court’s order lifting the hold departure order on former president Gloria Arroyo that then Chief Justice Renato Corona blocked the promulgation of her opinion. She also criticized the Court’s spokesperson then, Jose Midas Marquez, for wrongly interpreting the Court’s decision on the case.

 

Bersamin’s displeasure with Leonen’s disclosure of the internal goings-on that led to the grant of bail to Enrile does not come as a surprise. It is a natural consequence of his long years of service in the judiciary. After passing the bar in 1973 and a short stint in private practice, he was appointed regional trial court judge in 1986. In 2003, he was promoted to the Court of Appeals and eventually elevated to the highest court by then President Arroyo in 2009. Thus, for the past 29 years, Bersamin has been working in an environment that demanded obedience to higher judicial authority, and observance of norms of conduct that are unique to the judiciary. From Bersamin’s point of view, after the justices have been heard on a case and the majority have made their decision, it is the moral and legal responsibility of the justices in the minority to follow it. If they entertain personal misgivings or doubts over the majority decision, they should keep their peace and not air them in public. This way, the confidentiality of their proceedings and the integrity of the Court as a collegial body are not impaired.

 

Leonen, on the other hand, has a different upbringing in the law profession. After graduating from law school in 1987, he was actively involved in organizations that extended legal services to urban poor and indigenous people’s communities. He was dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law from 2008 to 2011. Prior to his appointment to the Court in 2012, he was the chief negotiator of the Philippine government in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

 

The environment in which Leonen honed his professional skills is markedly different from that of Bersamin’s. The generations in which they grew had sharply contrasting mores and codes of conduct.

 

In Leonen’s case, the late 1980s and succeeding years were characterized by ideological ferment and critical questioning of the ways of the past that influence government policies.

 

After the fall of the Marcos dictatorship and the return of democracy in our country, no government policy or principle was immune from questioning and critical reevaluation. The “old” order, or the way things were done in the past, was no longer accepted at their face

 

value, much less considered impervious to changes if such ways had become anachronistic or out of step with the needs of the times.

 

Given these circumstances, it does not come as a surprise that Leonen (and for that matter, Chief Justice Sereno who is two years younger than him) chose to break the Court’s confidentiality rules on Enrile’s bail petition to express his dismay over the way the majority of his colleagues bent the rules to give Enrile special treatment.

 

Leonen probably felt the issue was too important to be glossed over or ignored in his dissenting opinion (which was concurred in by three other justices) that he had to make it public. He may have thought that, in the hierarchy of values, strict adherence to the rule of law in the determination of the right to bail in plunder cases, rather than the subjective concept of “humanitarian considerations,” occupies a higher rung. If, in the process of espousing that principle, the confidentiality rule had to be violated and, as a result, earn the ire of Bersamin and seven other justices who agreed with him, so be it. It was a small price to pay for fighting for what he believed was an irregular handling of Enrile’s bail petition.

 

When Sereno was asked in a recent media briefing (something which past chief justices never did) about Leonen’s dissenting opinion, she said her concurrence with his opinion is unqualified. i.e., she agrees with it in all respects and that includes the criticism about the handling of the majority opinion penned by Bersamin.

 

It bears noting that Leonen’s opinion also drew the concurrence of Justice Antonio Carpio, the most senior and longest serving associate justice, whose probity and competence are beyond reproach.

 

There is much to be read in Carpio’s action: He does not find anything wrong with breaching the Court’s confidentiality rule to prove a significant point.

 

The rules of transparency that the Court has consistently required other government agencies to strictly follow should apply foursquare to it. What is sauce for the gander should be sauce for the goose.

 

 

 

Raul J. Palabrica (rpalabrica@inquirer.com.ph) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.



On inspecting ‘balikbayan’ boxes
September 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

I AM one of the thousands of Filipinos around the world who regularly send balikbayan boxes to their families in the Philippines. However, I am having second thoughts whether to send a box this year due to the recent issue on the random opening of balikbayan boxes by the Bureau of Customs.

I am not against this as it is allowed by law to curb smuggling and other fraud. What I fear, though, is the pilferage of the boxes as, allegedly, has been happening. Considering the questionable reputation of Customs, looting of the boxes’ contents is possible. I cannot blame the overseas Filipino workers for their outrage over this move of Customs. We use hard-earned money to buy these small presents we send in balikbayan boxes to our families.

Before we send the boxes to the Philippines, we fill them gradually for weeks or months with the presents we buy, bit by bit. I know how hard it is to work in a foreign land. Every cent that we save comes with back pains from hard work.

There is, to be sure, the need to protect government interest, but please don’t forget the consignor or consignee as well.

Maybe it is high time for government or Customs to modify the procedures for inspecting balikbayan boxes. May I then humbly suggest that the boxes be inspected at the Customs regional office or Customs outpost nearest to their final destination. Then Customs, upon receipt of the boxes, may notify in writing the consignee and the forwarder to appear personally before the Customs office at a specific time for the scheduled inspection. In this way, pilferage will be avoided; not only that, the Manila ports will be decongested; this, besides giving work to idle Customs officers assigned outside Metro Manila.

 

I hope that the above suggestion from a lowly working wife in Germany will be taken into consideration.

 

—SYLVIA G. REGANIT, kieronxander@yahoo.com

 



COA tight-lipped on Makati ‘seniors mess’
September 1, 2015 at 12:54 am

THIS IS in reference to “More ‘ghost’ seniors found” (Front Page, 8/27/15).

A clarification from the Commission on Audit (COA) and the National Statistics Office (NSO) for the 30-percent variance in the two agencies’ reports on the number of Makati senior citizens in 2010, appears to be of paramount importance.

 

Where did the NSO go “wide off the mark” for the COA not to use the former’s survey results for validation purposes and as benchmark? The NSO stats were deemed official when Proclamation No. 312 was signed by President Aquino himself on March 30, 2012.

 

While the COA, in its annual audit report on Makati City, dated Feb. 26, 2010, acknowledged 50,558 senior citizens were eligible to receive benefits; in May 2010, the NSO announced the start of the 13th and 2010 edition of our nation’s Population and Household Count (CPH). The task was daunting. An “army” of 87,725 highly trained personnel (including 68,146 public school teachers) were mobilized nationwide to conduct a 30-day, face-to-face survey for data collection. A 30-day pilot census was even done in late 2009 in four areas nationwide, including Barangay Magallanes, Makati City, to test for accuracy; (PHL-NSO CPH-2010-v01). And P767,000 was budgeted for “meals, 2010 Census of Population” (Invitation to Bid, April 8, 2010, Makati City website). The CPH was public knowledge as are the survey results: 36,752 senior citizens (May 10, 2010) against COA’s 50,558 (Dec. 31, 2009)—the latter in COA notes on financial statements but no identification and relevance to specific expense items.

 

Moreover, Makati, in its website, recognized the NSO’s 529,039 household population for all 33 barangays, but not the NSO-validated senior citizens. That’s puzzling! A perusal of subsequent COA audit reports until 2013 necessitates that the agency revisit its Feb. 26, 2010, report on the seniors amid the NSO’s very telling survey counts; the lapse is possibly the root cause for the “seniors mess.” The COA could have nipped the controversy in the bud and saved our nation from unnecessary humiliation.

 

And the figures have further ballooned in 2015 by a high 38 percent, contradictory to established trends (CPH 2000, 2007, 2010).

 

The COA of late appears to have been transformed into a tightlipped agency, a “bystander” in the Senate subcommittee blue ribbon hearings! A spirited and convincing demeanor, witnessed early on, has waned and is gone. Has the moment come for the COA to be energetic one more time and intervene on an issue that is turning to be repulsive with the election fever? Otherwise we will all suffer from this ignominy as a nation of “ghosts” and “phantoms.” We don’t want that!

 

—MANUEL Q. BONDAD, Barangay Palanan, Makati City



LP out to milk INC controversy for political support
September 1, 2015 at 12:53 am

THE IGLESIA Ni Cristo assembly is a strong statement against President Aquino, Mar Roxas and the Liberal Party’s attempt to use the church’s internal issues as leverage to pressure the INC to support Roxas and the LP’s kulelat bid.

 

The INC itself has condemned the “special attention” that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has given to the illegal detention complaint against its key ministers, saying that the LP is using the rift within the church, hoping that the INC leadership would “seek help” from the administration in exchange for their support for Roxas’ presidential bid.

 

This is not hard to believe. It is no secret that Mr. Aquino and the LP have used the Department of Justice against political opponents while protecting its own allies in the past, as was the case during the Mamasapano probe and in the pork barrel scam.

 

The corrupt and opportunistic LP, P-Noy, Roxas and De Lima hope that they could turn INC’s crisis into a political advantage but the plan is now exploding in their faces.

 

—VENCER CRISOSTOMO, national chair, Anakbayan, anakbayan.media@gmail.com