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Weathering a ‘sneeze’
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 28, 2015 at 2:05 am

“When the United States sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.” This adage used to be bandied about by economists when describing how any weakness in the world’s largest economy can instantly send ripples through financial systems of countries half a world away.

Recent events prove, however, that this old saying is no longer the exclusive domain of one superpower.

Less than 24 hours after China devalued its currency to help prop up its apparently weakening economy, stock markets around the world—including the Philippines’ own—dropped precipitously. The rationale for this is, any weakness in the world’s second largest economy would mean weaker sales for many companies around the world, especially those which directly or indirectly sell raw materials, intermediate goods or finished products to the country that has been dubbed “the factory of the world.”

Indeed, if this so-called factory of the world is slowing down, the rest of the world economy will probably likewise slow down. So conventional economic wisdom goes.

The question we should be asking right now—and trying to answer with solutions—is how China’s economic convulsion will affect individual Filipinos and the Philippine economy, as a whole.

Distrust anyone who says that recent wild swings in financial markets portend another major financial upheaval in the manner of the 1997 East Asian financial crisis.

The country’s dollar reserves stand at near all-time high levels, equivalent to almost a year of the country’s import needs. By any measure, that is a very comfortable buffer in the unlikely event of investors suddenly deciding to pull out their dollars, or locals suddenly deciding to hide their wealth overseas.

And unlike 1997, today’s debt stands at very manageable levels, with both the public and private sectors taking to heart the lessons of the previous crisis by cutting down on dollar-denominated loans and extending the maturities of the remaining ones far into the future.

At the same time, distrust anyone who says that all’s well and that the Philippine economy will survive this Chinese crisis unscathed.

There is another, less visible—less headline-grabbing—indicator just as, if not more, important for Filipinos, and that is the peso-dollar exchange rate.

China’s calibrated devaluation of its own currency, the renminbi, sparked a virtual currency war among economies around the region. The thinking among policymakers in different countries is that, if goods sold by an economic competitor like China suddenly become cheaper because of a government-mandated devaluation, we’d better cut our own prices, too, so that our goods remain competitive in the world market. Hence, a currency war ensues.

Or has ensued. So far the Malaysian ringgit has fallen by over 17 percent against the dollar, the Indonesian rupiah by over 11 percent, the Thai baht by over 8 percent, the Singaporean dollar by over 6 percent, and—so far, still one of the most resilient currencies in the region—the Philippine peso declining only by over 4 percent.

A weaker peso is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, it translates to short-term gains for millions of beneficiaries of billions of dollars of remittances sent by millions of expatriate Filipinos each month. Other dollar-earning industries like the booming business process outsourcing industry also stand to gain, and help deliver a short-term consumption boost to the local economy.

On the other hand, a weaker peso makes it more expensive to buy dollar-denominated needed goods and services from overseas, whether one is an individual who needs to travel overseas or a large corporation which needs to buy imported raw materials.

In the face of all these moving parts, and a din of conflicting voices—some advising a rush toward the investment exit doors and some counseling calm—what is the average man to do?

Personal finance experts have some rules of thumb that are applicable to individuals and even large corporations: Keep a savings or cash buffer (equivalent to at least four months’ worth of spending needs, if possible); set aside a portion of one’s earnings for investments even during bad times (perhaps, especially during bad times when asset prices are depressed); and use debt wisely.

In sum, as with most situations where there are many unknown variables, it is best to be prepared. But not paranoid.

 

 



President Bongbong
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 29, 2015 at 2:58 am

Sen. Bongbong Marcos is the picture of confidence these days—some would even say, of cockiness. The son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos has eased himself out of the shadow of his perpetually more quotable mother Imelda and older sister Imee by getting his own voice heard on many of the hot-button issues of the day, from the public transport mess to the Mamasapano debacle and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The appearance of seriousness and maturity has excited that segment of the population that has never abandoned the Marcos myth; Marcos Jr. is now seen, more than ever, as viable presidential material, whose fateful return to Malacañang one day soon would be a vindication of everything that the Marcoses have endured since their exit from the Palace in 1986.

In their view, the Marcos years were a halcyon era in Philippine society and politics, when peace and order reigned, the economy boomed, people were disciplined and the government was functioning. In the wake of Lee Kuan Yew’s death, Bongbong even declared with dead seriousness that the Philippines could have been another Singapore had his father’s 20-year stay in power not been cut short by the Edsa People Power revolt.

This week, he was back defending the rampart. There was nothing wrong about martial law, he said on TV, and there is nothing to apologize for. “Will I say sorry for the thousands and thousands of kilometers [of roads] that were built? Will I say sorry for the agricultural policy that brought us to self-sufficiency in rice? Will I say sorry for the power generation? Will I say sorry for the highest literacy rate in Asia? What am I to say sorry about?”

It’s a catchy picture, but a false, incomplete one. Marcos’ agricultural policy? He simply parceled out the economy to his cronies; as the Chicago Tribune put it, “Eduardo Cojuangco became the ‘Coconut King,’ Antonio Floirendo the ‘Banana King,’ Herminio Disini the ‘Tobacco King,’ Jose Campos the ‘Pharmaceutical King,’ Roberto Benedicto the ‘Sugar King.’” For years, millions of farmers had to fork over hard-earned money for a so-called coconut levy fund that never went to their welfare, but instead became a P150-billion asset fought over by the likes of Cojuangco and Juan Ponce Enrile.

The land reform that was supposed to be the cornerstone of Marcos’ New Society? It was a sham. Out of some 10 million hectares of private land and 17 million hectares of public land available for disposal, only 50,000-70,000 hectares had been subjected to land reform by the time the Marcoses fled Malacañang in 1986.

Power generation? The monstrosity that is the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant—built of an outdated design with some 4,000 defects, on a known earthquake fault line, to the tune of $2.3 billion, about $80 million of which ended up as kickbacks to Marcos and his bagman Disini as documented in court records against its builder Westinghouse—is the ultimate indictment of Marcos’ energy policies.

The highest literacy rate in Asia? Sure—against a landscape where press freedom was absent, dissenting journalists were hauled off to jail or allegedly thrown overboard from helicopters, then Minister of Information Gregorio Cendaña had an iron hand clamped on TV and radio, and newspapers were the plaything of Marcos cronies.

And so on. We haven’t touched on the billions of dollars in Swiss accounts, or the thousands of “desaparecidos” and human rights victims. Do current history books reflect these facts? Apparently not, because Bongbong could also claim that one reason he’s getting giddy at the idea of running for president is that “young people who were not even alive at that time say that, ‘Buti pa noong panahong iyon, alam namin, may ganito at may ganyan.”’

Bongbong may find in that youthful gushing a quick high, but the ill-informed appraisal of what he believes is the golden era of his formative years says more about the tragic miseducation of the Filipino than about his father’s true record. Still, one hears what one wants to hear, so an apology is not in the offing from the Marcos son, because “history will judge [Marcos] properly, and we’ll leave it at that.”

But he has, in fact, been judged. Marcos is the only president in Philippine history who had to flee with his family in the dead of night to escape the wrath of his people—from whom he stole up to the end, by the way, with millions of gold, jewelry and cash brought along with them. There’s the judgment of history right there for you. Unfortunately for Bongbong, that ignominy cannot be erased with a cocky shrug.

 

 



A view from the frontlines: The battle against corruption
By Guillermo M. Luz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 29, 2015 at 2:56 am

Since 2000, I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Mahar Mangahas and his team at Social Weather Stations on a project known as the Annual Survey on Corruption. It just completed its 12th run (2000-2009, 2012, 2013, 2014/15). The survey is unique for a number of reasons. First, it surveys only Filipino businessmen and entrepreneurs. Second, it surveys perception of and experience with corruption. Third, the respondents are from small and medium-scale enterprises (two-thirds of the sample) and large companies. Fourth, it asks about both public and private corruption. And fifth, it enables us to look at trends in selected cities.

We started with Metro Manila in 2000, progressively adding Cebu and Davao (2004), Cavite-Laguna-Batangas and Cagayan de Oro-Iligan (2005), and Angeles and Iloilo (2012).

This is the view from the frontlines in the battle against corruption.

Generally positive trends: 32 percent say they have personal knowledge of public sector corruption in the last three months. This is an all-time low for the series. It was 38 percent in 2013 and 44 percent in 2007. Among cities, Metro Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro-Iligan reported the biggest declines, though Cavite-Laguna-Batangas has the overall low score (though it rose versus 2013).

A new low for companies, 39 percent of them claim that most enterprises in their line of business have to give bribes to win public sector contracts. That’s a significant number down from 52 percent in 2003 and 2004.

Of 36 public sector institutions, 21 were rated favorable, 9 neutral, and 6 unfavorable. In 2013 (the last survey period), the ratings were 14 favorable, 8 neutral, and 6 unfavorable. Of the 36 institutions, 8 received an upgrade from 2013, 19 recorded no change, and 7 were downgraded.

The top performing agencies in the battle against corruption (measured as sincerity in the fight against corruption) were: Securities and Exchange Commission (net rating of +63), Social Security System (+57), Philippine Securities Exchange (+55), Office of the President (+54), Department of Trade and Industry (+51). They were followed by Filipino business association (+49), Supreme Court (+42), Civil Service Commission (+41), Department of Education (+43), Sandiganbayan (+37), Ombudsman (+36), Commission on Audit (+36), and Department of Justice (+34). These institutions are classified as Very Good (if +50 or more) or Good.

Those classified as Moderate (+10 to +29 in scores) were the Department of Health (+28), Government Service Insurance System (+27), Department of Social Welfare and Development (+24), barangay (+19), Department of Finance (+15), Presidential Commission on Good Government (+12), city government (+12).

The Neutrals (+9 to -9) were the Department of Interior and Local Government (+9), trial courts (+6), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (+6), Armed Forces of the Philippines (+4), Department of Budget and Management (-7), Department of Transportation and Communications (-2), Senate (-2), Bureau of Internal Revenue (-4), and Commission on Elections (-6).

Moving down the scale from Poor to Very Bad, we see the Department of Agriculture (-10), Philippine National Police (-16), Department of Public Works and Highways (-21), House of Representatives (-25), Land Transportation Office (-26), and Bureau of Customs (-55).

Regardless of ratings, what is noteworthy is the movement—up or down—of agencies over time. For me, the standouts are the Ombudsman (-8 in 2011 to +36 today), COA (from 0 in 2012 to +36), DOJ (0 in 2012 to +34), GSIS (-5 in 2011 to +27), DOF (-4 in 2011 to +15), PCGG (-28 in 2011 to +15), BIR (-57 in 2011 to -4), and DPWH (-65 in 2011 to -21).

Attitudes point to optimism and hope. The survey is as important for its perceptions of and experiences with corruption as for its reflection of business attitudes toward corruption. The view generally points to hope and optimism but with some clear conditions.

Over 60 percent say “government can be run without corruption,” 79 percent say local government transactions are more transparent, and 59 percent say processing of local business permit renewals is easier now than three years ago. These are peak results in the time series, indicating that attitudes are shifting and progress in the fight against corruption is being made.

Moreover, the number of businesses who reported being solicited for a bribe fell from 50 percent in 2012 to 44 percent in 2013 and 2015. That may be progress but hardly anything to cheer about at this stage.

But the business community is looking for more teeth in the law and more tools for uncovering corruption. Less than half believes our laws to fight corruption are adequate and only 11 percent feels the government regularly punishes corrupt government officials. More significantly, 90 percent feels that a strong law institutionalizing freedom of information will help reduce corruption.

More action needed. But for all the shift in attitudes, the walk still doesn’t match the talk in many ways. Many businesses still suspect that peers in their sectors keep multiple sets of books, don’t issue receipts and don’t pay the right taxes. While businesses have been generally better than government in punishing their own corrupt executives, few have joined anticorruption groups or funded campaigns outside of their own businesses. The interest to support or fund groups has been dropping. Finally, only 13 percent of businesses that have been solicited for a bribe actually report it, which makes it difficult for government to punish its own officials.

Bottom line: The trend in the battle against corruption is moving in the right direction. What more should we do to accelerate it?

Guillermo M. Luz (gm.luz@competitive.org.ph) is the private-sector cochair of the National Competitiveness Council.

 

 



Binay asking for his day in court?
By Solita Collas-Monsod
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 29, 2015 at 2:55 am

Vice President Jejomar Binay should clarify his stand with regard to the role of the courts in the charges that have arisen against him (overpriced Makati buildings, Hacienda Binay, etc.) in connection with the Senate hearings. Why the need for clarification?

Well, in his speeches, he talks about answering the charges in court—not in the Senate. Well and good. But on the other hand, he is fighting, tooth and nail, any court proceedings regarding the charges against him. He even filed a suit against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, among others, including the Inquirer. He accuses the Ombudsman of being biased, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council of lying. Similar charges (without legal action) have been leveled against the Senate subcommittee.

In other words, he asks for his day in court, but has made every legal move to prevent that day from happening. Ano ba ’yan?

Of course, that is par for the course, for him… The first graft and corruption charges filed against him in the 1990s was delayed by legal maneuverings (twice he went to the Supreme Court) until finally the Sandiganbayan sometime in 2006 dismissed the charges on some technicality. That was at least 10 years ago.

This kind of delay seems to be SOP as long as litigants have the wherewithal to hire good lawyers and influence the right people. The government’s case against Lucio Tan took 22 years before a decision was made (in his favor) against all odds.

Given that kind of court delay, the Filipino voters, if they buy Binay’s ploy, will only find out, long after 2016, what kind of man they are voting for—after the damage shall have been done to the country and to themselves. Is this acceptable to us?

Which is why those Senate hearings are important, because at least we will know what kind of a man this would-be president is.

I like watching those hearings. I think I can tell whether I am being snowed under by lies or not. The demeanor of those in the hearing is important. Eyeballing a person is so much better than reading his testimony. The first subcommittee report found sufficient cause to recommend that Binay be charged with plunder. And the hearings are continuing because more evidence is coming out, showing a pattern of behavior where the chief executive and his minions appear to have cornered not only infrastructure funds, but also funds for security and janitorial services. And senior citizens. Nothing is too small to be overlooked.

Like in the construction of buildings where there was only one contractor (who, accusers say, returned the favor by building Hacienda Binay almost pro bono, at least the Binays didn’t have to pay; it was taken out of the costs of Makati structures), apparently there was also only one favored contractor for security and custodial services. Whereas Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. at least had a legitimate identity, the custodial and security services and IT services (P5.6 billion in 10 years) were owned by minions (Gerry Limlingan et al.) of the Binays. Sweet deals.

All this recent information would not have come to light had the City Hall administration not changed hands. For 28 years a Binay was in control of City Hall, so it was no problem to hide things or to “fix” things with, say, the resident COA auditors, by giving them a share of the action. But Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales suspended Junjun Binay for six months (after much grief), and Vice Mayor Kid Peña took over—and opened the records for investigation.

Two Makati City Hall officials testified, one Arturo Cruto and one Violeta Lazo—a sea change from before, where there was lack of cooperation from City Hall. Cruto testified that there were ghost senior citizens; Lazo testified to the corporate structures of the winning bidders of the security and custodial services (damning), and even IT services.

What was the immediate reaction of the Binay side? They did not dispute the issues, they attacked the witnesses. Cruto was Ernesto Mercado’s executive assistant with unliquidated accounts, and Lazo was Peña’s person whose objective was to vilify Binay. Thus their testimony was not to be believed.

From what I can gather, Cruto was never in Mercado’s staff. He was in the Makati Action Center directly under the Office of the Mayor. And I was told he is well liked by his peers because he gets things done. Which is why he was taken in by Peña.

A Mr. Ryan Barcelo, former head of the Makati social welfare department, was sent to defend the senior citizen’s program. Somewhere, I heard him say he had cleaned up the program because when he started there were some 90,000 senior citizens, and he cut the list down to 68,000. So what was Cruto talking about?

Makati has an estimated 550,000 citizens. If it followed the national age distribution pattern, 7 percent of its citizens would be 60 years old and over, which would mean 38,500 senior citizens. The 68,000 senior citizens Barcelo was talking about would mean that Makati’s senior citizens comprised 11 percent of the population. You think?

Lazo’s contribution to the general knowledge was that the contracts for services—security, janitorial and IT—had been cornered by firms whose board of directors were studded with Limlingan, Lichnock and other Binay-associated names that had popped up in previous hearings.

The Binay spokesperson never refuted this. Which means really that Makati was being sucked dry by very corrupt people. And I, a citizen of Makati for 43 years, allowed it to happen. Mea culpa.



Bringing power to public schools and schoolchildren
By Mario A. Deriquito
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 29, 2015 at 2:54 am

Foundation for Worldwide People Power

Tamale Elementary School is a multigrade school with a current enrollment of 64 pupils from kindergarten up to Grade 6. Located in a remote, off-grid barangay in the town of Bongabon, Nueva Ecija, the school did not have access to electricity and, consequently, to information and communications technology.

Through the initiative of an NGO, and with support from the local government, solar panels have been installed around the community to power the streetlights for the residents as well as provide electric light to some of the households. About half of the schoolchildren still use kerosene lamps and candles when they study at night.

The other day, the school received a package of blessings. The same NGO which provided streetlights to the community donated a solar generator set to the school. An electronics company donated laptops and tablets for the use of the pupils and the teachers. The municipal government fixed one room to make it more conducive to learning and to securely house the generator set and the new ICT equipment. Meanwhile, the barangay chair committed to deploy the barangay tanod for added security of the ICT room and equipment during nonschool hours. The children will no longer have to use kerosene lamps and candles when they study at night because another NGO has donated solar lanterns.

What happened in Tamale Elementary School—specifically, the assistance that the school got and the multistakeholder support that went into it—is exactly what the Department of Education has started doing in almost 6,000 public schools around the country that do not have electricity. That’s about 12 percent of the entire DepEd schools system.

Through a program called LightEd PH which was launched last month, the DepEd hopes to finally provide these public schools with electric power. More than 2,400 of these schools are on-grid and will soon be energized through a partnership with the National Electrification Administration, the local electric cooperatives and their local government units. The rest will be energized using alternative sources of energy in partnership with renewable energy companies and the Department of Energy. Once they have electricity, the DepEd and its partners will provide these schools with ICT packages similar to that of Tamale Elementary School.

At the same time, through the “One Child, One Lamp” campaign, the DepEd hopes to raise enough resources to distribute solar lamps or lamps powered by alternative sources of energy to 680,000 schoolchildren who are enrolled in the unenergized schools. To achieve the objectives of the “One Child, One Lamp” campaign, the DepEd and its partners will rely on the generosity that Filipinos—and friends of Filipinos—are famously known for. The cost of one lamp is about P400 and donations can be made through Children’s Hour Philippines. At the same time, the Philippine Business for Social Progress is helping the DepEd and Children’s Hour in sourcing and procuring the lamps as well as in the actual distribution of these lamps to the schoolchildren.

To make the process more community-driven, the DepEd strongly encourages local philanthropic or social organizations and companies with business interests in the communities to adopt entire schools, either by themselves or as a concerted effort. The adopting entity or consortium must commit to raising the funds, procuring the lamps and actually distributing them to the schoolchildren who need them, and to any other tasks that would ensure that the “One Child, One Lamp” campaign succeeds in what it has set out to do.

Private companies are likewise enjoined to make “One Child, One Lamp” an employee-organized community outreach activity or an integral part of any gift-giving or donor/volunteer programs they might have.

The distribution of these lamps is a very simple solution, yet the experience of various organizations who took part in the “One Child, One Lamp” campaign has shown that the project really brings about concrete and immediate benefits to the schoolchildren and their families. For one thing, having light during the evening hours enables the schoolchildren to study their lessons and work on their assignments a bit longer, thus their interest in staying in school is enhanced because they don’t lag behind their school work. More importantly, over time the young learners will imbibe the discipline of reading and studying, which will definitely serve them well as they move up the education ladder and later on in life. The household itself benefits from the “One Child One Lamp” campaign because the parents no longer need to buy candles and kerosene, and the children are no longer exposed to toxic fumes.

The LightEd PH project and the “One Child, One Lamp” campaign are part of the DepEd’s programs for “last mile learners,” programs that aim to assist children and youth in hard-to-reach areas and in difficult circumstances—like the street children, out-of-school youth, children who need to walk long distances or cross rivers to go to school, children with disabilities, children in indigenous people’s communities, and those living in unenergized communities.

With the LightEd PH project and the “One Child, One Lamp” campaign, and the support of the community, the DepEd hopes to get closer to its goal of making quality education available and within the reach of everyone.

Mario A. Deriquito is the undersecretary for partnerships and external linkages of the Department of Education. He can be reached at mario.deriquito@deped.gov.ph and externalpartnerships@deped.gov.ph.



The new SWS survey on corruption
By Mahar Mangahas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 29, 2015 at 2:53 am

Since 2000, Social Weather Stations has surveyed top executives of Filipino enterprises, on matters of public and private corruption, 12 times. This survey series is far superior to that of Transparency International, producer of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which is based on surveys of expat executives by private foreign consulting firms that do not open the underlying data for specific questionnaire items in any country. The CPI is adequate for comparing countries’ corruption for the benefit of multi-country investors and international agencies, but not for assessing movements in a single country’s corruption over time.

The new SWS Survey of Enterprises on Corruption did interviews of Filipino executives at 966 companies over Nov. 14, 2014 to May 12, 2015, in the National Capital Region and six other major business areas. It used a random sample, two-thirds from lists of small and medium companies, and one-third from lists of large companies.

The new survey of 2014/15 is the third during the P-Noy administration so far, after one in President Estrada’s time, and eight in President Arroyo’s time. It was supported by the Integrity for Investments Initiative with funding from the US Agency for International Development. The findings were presented to a multisectoral audience at Hotel JEN Manila last Thursday, in cooperation with the National Competitiveness Council.

Experiences of corruption have declined. On the whole, the 2014/15 survey shows continued progress against corruption since 2013, after the quantum leap in 2012. This is based on corruption as experienced, and not merely as perceived, by the responding business executives.

Sincerity in fighting corruption, based on businessmen’s judgment calls, has generally improved. The respondents gave mostly favorable ratings of the sincerity of institutions—all government agencies, except for “Filipino business associations” and the Philippine Stock Exchange—in fighting corruption.

Out of 36 ratings, 21 are favorable, 9 are neutral, and 6 are unfavorable. Top-rated is the Securities and Exchange Commission; bottom-rated is the Bureau of Customs (BOC). (In 2013, there were 24 institution-ratings; of these, 14 were favorable, 8 were neutral, and 6 were unfavorable. Top-rated was the Office of the President; bottom-rated was the BOC.)

Compared to their last ratings, 8 institutions are upgraded, 7 are downgraded, and 19 have stayed the same; 2 are rated for the first time. (In 2013, 5 were upgraded, 10 were downgraded, and 9 stayed the same; 2 were rated for the first time.)

The most notable upgrade is that of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, up from a Poor -38 in 2009 to a Moderate +15 in 2014/15. The Bureau of Internal Revenue has climbed steadily to a Neutral -4 in 2014/15, after having been mired in Very Bad grades below -50 in 2008 and 2009.

The Office of the President got a Very Good +54 in 2014/15, after an Excellent +77 in 2013; this is like becoming silver medalist after being the sole gold medalist. None of the new downgrades went to an unfavorable category.

Attitudes about the prospect of defeating corruption are strong:

But honesty in business practices still leaves much to be desired. Referring to companies in their own line of business—

Conditions are right for businesses to do more to help fight corruption.

* * *

Contact mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

 

 



Soldiers, rebels and the ‘lumad’
By Teddy Casiño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 29, 2015 at 2:52 am

For several months now I have been keeping track of the plight of the indigenous peoples (or lumad) of Mindanao, particularly those who have evacuated to the urban areas to avoid the intense military operations in their communities.

The latest sad development involves the 700 or so Manobo evacuees who have fled to Davao City from their militarized communities in Davao Oriental and Bukidnon. A “rescue” attempt by self-proclaimed diwata Nancy Catamco, supposedly a Manobo princess who represents North Cotabato’s second district, turned violent when police and paramilitary goons attempted to storm the church compound housing the Manobo evacuees.

I was in Davao recently and took time to talk to the leaders of the lumad staying in the Haran Compound of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines. I met a dozen or so datus, including Manobo chieftain Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, the woman who was supposed to be rescued by Catamco but who ended up berating the lawmaker for deceiving her own tribespeople.

The datus were one in expressing their fear, anguish and frustration with the way military operations are being conducted in their areas. The typical lament went this way: “When the soldiers come, they build detachments or stay in our schools even if we don’t want it. They don’t ask permission when they get our chickens or corn. They hurt or kill our leaders. They abuse and rape our women. They are always suspicious of the men. They have no respect for the way we do things. They sow confusion and discord and even make family members turn against each other.

“We are allowed to go to our farms for only two hours after which we are suspected of meeting with the NPA [New People’s Army]. If you are smart and have good answers to their questions, they tell you that you have been taught by the NPA. They want to close our schools because they say it’s an NPA school.”

They also complained of their men being forced to join the military-backed Alamara, a lumad paramilitary group in the tradition of the Tadtad and Alsa Masa. Those who refuse are considered NPAs or NPA sympathizers.

I also asked them about the NPA. Here was what they said: “They just pass by and don’t insist on staying in our communities or houses. They don’t build detachments or stay in our schools. If they want our chicken, they ask permission and pay for it.

“They listen to us and follow our rules like when we say ‘no guns’ in a place, they don’t bring their guns. When we have complaints about them, they listen and punish those among them who make mistakes. They respect us and our way of life. They teach us things and help us in many ways.”

Listening to their many comparisons between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the NPA, I sensed a certain fondness for the rebels and none at all for the government soldiers.

I’m sure the military will insist that the evacuees have been brainwashed by the NPA and “communist front organizations.” But even Magdalo party-list Rep. Ashley Acedillo concedes that 70 percent of the NPA in Mindanao comes from the lumad communities. If that were true, then the NPA guerillas must really be popular with the indigenous peoples.

So I asked the datus: “Why are you strongly against the presence of government soldiers but not against the NPA?”

The response was simple as it was unanimous: “The NPAs respect our rights, our ways and traditions while the soldiers don’t. Mga bastos sila. Also, when the soldiers come, they are there to protect someone else’s interest, not ours.”

Again, the military will say this is nothing but propaganda. That the lumad are just mouthing the words of the NPA. Therein lies the problem.

If the AFP wants to be effective, maybe it should start by giving the lumad the respect they deserve. This requires taking the natives at their word and understanding their plight. The indigenous peoples might be gentle, illiterate and often shy, but they are not stupid.

If the lumad want the AFP to pull out, then the AFP should respect that, pull out and not consider it a tactical defeat. Go find a better way.

The AFP insists that the lumad schools teach the children to hate the government. Its solution? Occupy the schools, threaten the parents against sending their kids to school or, worse, close down the schools altogether. But it’s a solution that has resulted in even more resentment.

Perhaps it’s time our soldiers engaged the lumad not as enemies, not as NPA sympathizers, not as ignoramuses or brainwashed simpletons, but as human beings who can think and act for themselves.

Teddy Casiño is an activist who served for three terms in Congress (from 2004 to 2013) as a Bayan Muna party-list representative. He is now back in the parliament of the streets.

 

 

 

 



Reasoned scrutiny
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 29, 2015 at 2:51 am

“A reasoned scrutiny of the Bangsamoro Basic Law will come if legislators set aside their prejudicial views about Muslims, appreciate the distinct history of the Moros as a people and, most important, study the proposed law well so they would understand what it intends to achieve.”

—Candido Aparece Jr., spokesperson of the Mindanao Civil Society Organizations Platform for Peace, appealing to legislators who have been “bashing and prejudging the proposed law before the public”

 

 

 



The great bubble in emerging markets
By Bill Emmott
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 29, 2015 at 2:50 am

LONDON—Something has gone badly wrong in the emerging economies that were supposed to be shaping, even dominating, the future of the world. The search for culprits is under way: commodity prices, fracking, US interest rates, El Niño, China, these and others lead the field. But the answer is simpler and more traditional. It is politics.

Look at Brazil. There an economy once tipped for ever-lasting boom has barely grown for more than two years, and is currently shrinking. Falling prices for its commodity exports haven’t helped, but Brazil’s economy was supposed to be about far more than just harvests and extractive industries.

Or look at Indonesia. That economy is still expanding, but at a rate—4.7 percent annually in the latest quarter—that is disappointing in terms of previous expectations as well as population growth. The same can be said of Turkey, where growth has sagged to 2.3 percent in the latest quarter—which at least beats population growth but is meager compared with the country’s go-go years of 2010 and 2011, when it expanded by 9 percent. Or South Africa, where economic progress has constantly been too slow—whether in boom years for gold and other resources or busts—to make any real dent in poverty levels.

Then there is China itself, whose slowdown is everybody else’s favorite explanation for their own sluggishness. There, private economists are back enjoying their favorite pastime during periods of economic stress, namely trying to construct their own indices for GDP growth as at such times they do not believe the official statistics. Officially, Chinese growth is rock-steady at 7 percent per year, which happens to be the government’s declared target, but private economists’ estimates mostly range between 4 percent and 6 percent.

One mantra of recent years has been, whatever the twists and turns of global economic growth, of commodities or of financial markets, “the emerging-economy story remains intact.” By this, corporate boards and investment strategists mean that they still believe that emerging economies are destined to grow a lot faster than the developed world, importing technology and management techniques while exporting goods and services, thereby exploiting a winning combination of low wages and rising productivity.

There is, however, a problem with this mantra, beyond the simple fact that it must by definition be too general to cover such a wide range of economies in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. It is that if convergence and outperformance were merely a matter of logic and destiny, as the idea of an “emerging-economy story” implies, then that logic ought also to have applied during the decades before developing-country growth started to catch the eye. But it didn’t.

The reason why it didn’t is the same reason why so many emerging economies are having trouble now. It is that the main determinants of an emerging economy’s ability to emerge, sustainably, are politics, policy and all that is meant by the institutions of governance. More precisely, although countries can ride waves of growth and exploit commodity cycles despite having dysfunctional political institutions, the real test comes when times turn less favorable and a country needs to change course.

That is what Brazil has been finding so difficult for the past four disappointing years. Unable to keep inflation under control without causing a recession, the country has, since 2010, got stuck not because of bad luck, or any loss of entrepreneurial spirit in its private sector, but because of political failings. Brazil’s government has been unwilling or unable to cut back its bloated public sector, has been mired in vast corruption scandals, and yet its president Dilma Rousseff continues to evince a fondness for just the sort of state-led capitalism that leads exactly to these problems.

The democracies of Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa are all currently failing to perform what is a basic task for any political system: to mediate smoothly between competing interest groups and power blocs in order to permit a broader public interest to prevail. By that is meant essentially a public interest in allowing the economy to evolve flexibly, so that resources move from uses that have become unprofitable to ones that have a higher potential. A clogged up economy, one that does not permit such creative destruction and adaptation to new circumstances, is one that will not grow sustainably.

Is this something that democracies, especially immature ones with fragile institutions of the rule of law and freedom of speech, are simply bad at, when compared with authoritarian regimes? Certainly, what these stumbling economies are guilty of is a failure to learn from Singapore, a system whose managed democracy is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and which has successfully avoided the sort of interest-group sclerosis and corruption holding back Brazil, for example.

One comfort, perhaps, for the democrats is that right now China is failing to learn the Singaporean lesson, too. Its current slowdown appears to arise from a failure by the Communist Party to challenge the monopoly powers of state-owned enterprises and to free up new sectors for private enterprise.

No matter. It is not a question of whether democracy or authoritarianism is best. The bottom line is that unless emerging economies can ensure that they remain flexible and adaptable, they will not continue to “emerge.” And the determinant of that flexibility and ability to adapt lies in political institutions and their willingness to challenge interest groups, mediate social conflicts, and maintain the rule of law. It’s the politics, stupid. Project Syndicate

Bill Emmott, a former editor in chief of The Economist, is executive producer of a new documentary, “The Great European Disaster Movie.”



LGUs bowing to ‘hacendero’ ploy to foil land reform
August 29, 2015 at 2:49 am

This is about issues hounding land reform and how local governments, specifically in Negros, are responding to demands of sugar plantation owners to have vital city-financed institutions located in their property.

This ploy thwarts efforts to transfer the ownership of agricultural lands to their tillers while allowing plantation owners, who are members of the local government councils, to allot government funds (without benefit of public hearing) for the purchase of land on which to build city-owned institutions, though their location does not befit their purpose.

Recently I filed a complaint in the Ombudsman in connection with a decision of the government of San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, to buy a piece of property (part of a sugarcane plantation) owned by the family of a senior member of the Sangguniang Panglungsod.

The land is so far off the city center that one begins to suspect the purchase was done to allow the landowner to eventually convert the adjacent agricultural area into a nonagricultural one and escape land reform coverage.

But sadly the purchase was defended by a lawyer from the Department of Interior and Local Government because, according to the council, the member who owns the land did not participate in its deliberations on the matter. This declaration was made three years after my request for a DILG investigation was made in 2012.

Thus, I specifically asked the Ombudsman to investigate the purchase on the following issues:

  1. Whether local government officials are immediately investigated if they cause government to purchase items (such as supplies/construction contracts) without the benefit of public bidding. For huge purchases (millions of pesos) such as that of a lot to locate its city hospital, can the council just decide and negotiate with the owner without a public hearing and the benefit of bidding?
  2. Can city councils just decide where to locate its city hospitals without clearances from the Department of Health or government institutions that can do studies to determine whether the proposed site is the best relative to the sector it is meant to serve—the poor and marginalized?

—GERARD E. REONISTO, gerryreon@gmail.com

 

 

 

 



Why use X-ray, K9 on ‘balikbayan’ boxes only now?
August 29, 2015 at 2:43 am

This is a reaction to the article “Local cargo forwarders told to install X-ray machines” (News, 8/26/15). It’s about time that Customs Commissioner Bert Lina directed X-ray checks on balikbayan boxes at “no cost to the overseas Filipinos” who send them. This should have long been the practice. As technology advances, we also need to keep ourselves up to date with the latest scanning machines in order to protect our borders from contrabands.

“We are already looking into ways of acquiring K9 (dog) units and additional CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras for our ports through emergency procurement,” Lina also said. About time! It is appalling to hear that this measure is only being considered when this has been the practice of other countries for some time.

Indeed, it is disheartening to know that in this day and age the Bureau of Customs still thinks of using the most primitive means of checking balikbayan boxes, which is to open them and have someone go through every single item therein and identify what needs to be taxed, and find out if the box sender is a smuggler or not.

Invest in technology and a good process, to boot. Being a migrant myself, I empathize with the overseas Filipino workers. And I say, considering the stigma of corruption that has soiled the bureau’s image, it will be hard to get the public to accept this.

The balikbayan boxes should be the least of the agency’s worries. I dare Customs officials to go after the big fish—the illegal importers of rice, sugar, luxury cars, etc., not the balikbayan boxes sent by legitimate OFWs and migrants. If a sender has been flagged previously for smuggling illegal goods then obviously the bureau has all the right to investigate. Shipping companies can also be made liable for shipping goods worth more than $10,000 without the proper fees and taxes. And this calls for a continuing, overall vigilance from the point of exit to the point of entry.

President Aquino was spot on when he described balikbayan boxes as “tangible signs of (the OFWs’) love and concern for their family members.” The balikbayan box is an iconic gesture of the love of OFWs and migrants for their families, and since time immemorial anything good is worth preserving.

The bureau just needs to think of measures to enable them to do their duties of protecting our borders and ensuring public safety while keeping this family tradition. To be sure, opening all balikbayan boxes is not one of them.

—KATRINA ISABEL SUZARA, katsuzara@yahoo.com