(STAR) BIZLINKS By Rey Gamboa - The eighth State of the Nation Address by the most unpopular Philippine president in two decades lasted 58 minutes and was interrupted 104 times by applause which exhibited an enthusiasm that was noticeably several notches lower than in previous gatherings.

In the end, the President’s report seemed to focus on two main messages. The first, on VAT, should help sustain the administration’s gains during its last two years especially now that the country and the world are facing a global economic crisis.

The President’s decision to stand pat on the expanded value added tax amid mounting calls to scrap the 12 percent impost on oil and electricity – or at least reduce the rate while inflation is at its14-year high – could grudgingly be regarded as an admirable decision.

Apparently, by not capitulating and giving in to the clamor to cut the oil and electricity imposts, GMA has projected herself as a president who is not after “pogi points,” something that she could have taken advantage of to shore up her flailing image.

With its decision on the VAT on oil and power, the administration stands to gain additional revenues of P73 billion, quite a tidy sum of money that could come in very handy in the next few months, especially if put to sensible use.

The President’s economic managers have deftly pointed out that removing the levy on oil and power would just benefit the rich who consume more of these commodities and would only marginalize the poor who would have less in terms of subsidies.

So far though, the government has been using the bonanza VAT collection to subsidize food and energy costs for low-income Filipinos. The benefit of dole-outs is highly debatable on a long-term basis, though admittedly has silenced and helped manage unrest among those who are considered the biggest threat to the nation’s security.

I still believe, though, that the money would have been better spent if appropriated to building more farm-to-market roads and irrigation systems, and strengthening research and development to improve the nation’s food security and eventually lead to rice self-sufficiency.

Brownie points from credit rating agencies

Aside from keeping the masses from taking to the streets, the decision to keep collecting the VAT on oil and power is winning brownie points for Mrs. Arroyo among foreign investors and credit rating agencies.

The expanded VAT is considered by credit rating firms and foreign investors as a critical fiscal reform that would help sustain the government’s efforts to nurse its finances back to health.

In fact, the expanded VAT was instrumental in boosting investor confidence last year, helping the country post its strongest GDP growth in 31 years, narrowing the government’s budget deficit, and strengthening the peso to its best in more than a decade.

While some of the past year’s gains were reversed this year as a result of surging oil and commodity prices, the VAT has undeniably served as a cushion to buttress an abrupt and extremely painful fall. If only for that, we must indeed thank the president for her political will.

Bowing to Church pressures

The second message of the President that could potentially do the country more damage is her weak position on population management issues. Unfortunately, the political will she demonstrated when tackling the VAT issue was totally absent when she affirmed her support for natural family planning.

Using such a lame argument that population growth slowed to 2.04 percent during her term from 2.36 percent in the 1990s when President Fidel Ramos endorsed artificial family planning, Mrs. Arroyo practically echoed a statement made by the church days before the SONA.

The President’s position looks like a kiss of death on the chances of the reproductive health bill from ever being passed during her administration. Pending approval on second reading at the Lower House and calendared for debates after the SONA, the bill seeks to give couples more choices, including artificial birth control methods, in planning their families.

A study showed that more than 35 percent of predominantly Catholic Filipinos support even artificial methods like pills and condoms, while less than 15 percent remain loyal to natural family planning.

Imperative population management

Controlling population growth has become more relevant in the face of the food crisis and would have justified a policy shift on the part of a president that has nothing much more to lose in terms of popularity. But it was not to be; Mrs. Arroyo, instead, threw her weight on bills like consumer protection, changes to the charter of the social security system, and amendments to the power reform law.

This isn’t to say that these other initiatives aren’t important – because they are. It’s just unfortunate that the president had a golden opportunity to leave a truly remarkable legacy in a career marred by allegations of corruption.

That legacy would have provided Filipinos broader views on how to plan and manage their families. The government would have been able to promote and to map out integrated health reproductive programs that would educate couples and expand their choices giving them greater say on how to grow, sustain and maintain their respective family life.

Meanwhile, three babies are born every minute in this country and while it’s romantic to think that Heaven will take care of all these infants, the reality is that neither the church nor the government can feed them all. Not even the VAT bonanza can save them. \

Authentic apologies BUSINESS MATTERS (Beyond the bottom line) By Francis J. Kong Saturday, August 2, 2008

Leadership guru Dr. John C. Maxwell talks about apologies of the authentic kind.

“I am sorry.” What makes it so hard to say those words? They seem so simple, yet we’ve been fighting against saying them since we were kids.

“Say you’re sorry,” a parent commanded us. Maybe we had stolen a toy from a friend, had spoken a bad word in front of guests, or had hit a sibling. Stomping over to the offended party, we would mutter, “I’m sorry,” as quickly and quietly as possible, as if the apology was physically painful to say. Our human nature cringes to admit guilt. We hate to be wrong, but worse yet, we hate to confess to having wronged others.

Doesn’t it irritate you when you see leaders, or show business personalities refusing to apologize and claim responsibility for their mistakes? Well it certainly does me. And then there are “so-called leaders” with a messianic complex insisting that they are never wrong…only misunderstood!” What a loser!

John Maxwell continues saying:

A leader will inevitably make a mistake. Perhaps a misjudgment of where to allocate finances, maybe a bad decision related to hiring or firing employees, or possibly a lapse in moral judgment. The mistake may be small and affect only one or two employees. Or, the mistake may be visible and far-reaching, affecting employees, shareholders, partners, and the community. Regardless of the mistake’s size and scope, a leader must learn how to apologize.

The half-apologies of celebrities or public officials are almost laughable. The sound bites are usually as follows, “I regret that my words were misinterpreted,” or, “I’m sorry if they felt that way about my actions.” Notice how, in these phrases, the person is not even admitting guilt. Rather, they are almost blaming those they have offended for being unable to properly interpret their words or for being overly sensitive to their behavior.

In her article, “Always Apologize, Always Explain,” featured on, Martha Beck offers sound advice for giving an authentic apology.

1. Fully acknowledge the offense

Tell the full account of your misdeeds. Take complete responsibilities for what you did wrong, and as Beck advises, don’t avoid the worst truths. Don’t put the onus of the offense on the person who was offended, i.e., “I’m sorry they reacted that way.” Instead, assume total culpability for having made the offense.

2. Give an explanation

While avoiding justification for your actions, explain why you made the mistakes. Allow your humanity to show. Every person has weaknesses. Stay away from those who think they are perfect.

3. Express sincere remorse

By recounting the ways your behavior has caused harm, you convey awareness of your misbehavior and its consequences. By doing so, you also communicate sincere regret for what you have done. Apologies should be given, not because they’re expected or because the guilty party has been caught, but because the offender has hurt someone and feels bad about having done so.

4. Repair damage done

If the damage is tangible, like money embezzled or assets stolen, then the offender should pay back what was taken. Oftentimes, however, the offense creates intangible harm. This happens during an assault on a person’s character, a slur against their ethnicity, or a betrayal of their trust. “In such cases,” writes Beck, “Your efforts should focus on restoring the other person’s dignity.” In every instance, your aim should be to make amends.1

You know what?

It takes a lot more courage, nobility and honor to apologize and authentic leaders know it and they do it. But it takes a higher level of spiritual maturity to motivate a person to come clean and admit his mistake especially when the leader knows that men look at the externals but God looks at the heart.

And so it’s better to be sorry and then be safe.

Don’t just be a good leader. Be a great leader. Authentic, human and best of all – fully trustworthy!

(Send me your feedback and write me: franciskong@ You can also listen to my radio program “Business Matters” aired 8:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. daily over 98.7 dzFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch’, the classical music station.)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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