EDITORIALS & OPINIONS OF THE WEEK:
(Mini Reads followed by full commentary of the news below)

FROM THE INQUIRER

EDITORIAL: STRONG SPEECH
[He ended with a rhetorical flourish—not one of his strongest suits, but this time it proved to be effective. Taking his own advice about “moving on,” he dared to dream of a postpolitical Philippines, one that would be “more just and more progressive.” The phrase he kept repeating at the close—“Simula pa lang ito (This is only the beginning)”—he offered as both promise and prophecy.]


President Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address may have been the longest of his term (the 15 video presentations stretched the total running time to two hours and eight minutes), but it was not, as some critics have alleged, a rambling mess. Far from it. The structure was well-defined, the direction clear. He just had a lot to say. We had hoped that he would spend less time defining the national situation as he inherited it in 2010 (“For us to appreciate just how far we have travelled, let us recall where we started,” he said, in the official English translation). We wished he had used the time detailing his administration’s achievements (“Tremendous perseverance, courage, political will, and faith in God and in our fellowmen were needed in order to breathe life into this ideal”) to also talk about those initiatives that went awry or did not do so well, as a lesson for those who will follow. We expected him to say goodbye, as his own mother did in her last Sona, but did not quite anticipate the sustained expression of gratitude (“Now, I will ask for some of your time to thank those who were our inspiration and partners”) which went on for very many minutes. But, in all, the speech was a positive, and we sense that many of those who tuned in to the address gave it a thumbs-up, too. The use of easy-to-understand numbers to compare past and present and to measure performance was not unique to this Sona or indeed to this presidency, but the President’s lack of bombast and his use of Filipino spelled the difference. (In the use of the national language as the language of the Sona, Mr. Aquino has proven to be a trailblazer; it will be harder for his successors to return to English.) Perhaps the fact that he was under the weather last Monday (“I am not feeling too well right now,” he began) added to the impression of pained sincerity: At times his voice ran low, and he had to stop many times to cough or catch his breath. Not least, he was not above making a joke (of which there were many, of the muted variety) or responding to criticism. READ MORE...

ALSO EDITORIAL: Key shipping reform [More importantly, the government must ensure that Philippine ports of entry and exit are fully shielded against smuggling or dumping of goods. Otherwise, the relaxed Cabotage Law will only worsen the current situation where an assortment of commodities illegally enter the archipelago’s porous maritime borders. This is where the strengthening of the Bureau of Customs, the Coast Guard and the Philippine Ports Authority should come in.]


RELEGATED TO the sidelines during the signing of the Fair Competition Act in Malacañang two weeks ago was an important piece of legislation with a huge economic impact on trade and the local shipping sector. Republic Act No. 10668, or the liberalized Cabotage Law, will allow foreign-flagged vessels to call at Philippine ports and enable importers and exporters to load cargoes in foreign ships going in and out of the country.
Previously, only domestic vessels were permitted to engage in coastwise trading, or the carrying of cargoes from one domestic port to another. This was a protectionist policy aimed at promoting the development of the local shipping industry that, sadly, did not happen. A 2014 study by the state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) observed that the absence of competition in domestic shipping has resulted in the bloated cost of transporting raw materials to manufacturing sites, finished products and agricultural goods to various destinations, and imported products to distribution areas. These increased overall operating costs that were eventually passed on to consumers as high prices. PIDS argued that relaxing the Cabotage Law was necessary to bring down domestic shipping costs and, in turn, lower the prices of goods.
Another study, by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines, provided a concrete example: A 40-foot container shipped domestically from Manila to Cagayan de Oro would cost $1,860 compared with foreign transshipment via Hong Kong of $1,144 or Kaohsiung at $1,044. A local trader, in effect, could save 43 percent in shipping costs through transshipment via Kaohsiung than directly using domestic shipping services. Senate President Franklin Drilon also had another example. He noted that shipping dry cargo from Davao to Taiwan cost about $450 per 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU) compared to $680 when shipped from Davao to Manila, which was much shorter in distance. The aging and small domestic fleet of the maritime transport industry has also contributed to high local shipping costs. While the Philippines is the world’s fifth-biggest shipbuilding country, domestic shipping lines continued to use smaller and even older vessels in transporting cargo, which were uncompetitive compared to those of their foreign counterparts. The small capacity of cargo vessels implied longer transit and more turnaround times in ports, resulting in higher shipping costs, according to PIDS. It noted that domestic shipping was dominated by vessels with a capacity of 200-300 TEUs compared to those of foreign container ships that carried as much as 5,000 TEUs. In his speech at the signing ceremony in Malacañang, President Aquino said allowing foreign vessels from a port outside the Philippines to carry cargo to their domestic port of final destination “will make the export and import of products faster and cheaper [and] lead to a more vibrant market. Stakeholders, from consumers to businessmen, will be able to save [money].” READ MORE...

ALSO by Randy David: Revisiting ‘daang matuwid’
[As counterintuitive as it may sound, one might similarly argue, apropos the slogan “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap,” that where there is no poverty, there is less room for corruption.One only needs to take a look at the Philippines’ most emblematic form of corruption in the last two years to see the plausibility of this reverse proposition. I refer to the pork barrel scam for which three Philippine senators and Janet Lim Napoles are today in jail. It was, as we all know, a racket that revolved around the highly politicized delivery of goods and services to the poor.]


In the opening paragraph of his sixth and final State of the Nation Address last July 27, President Aquino reminded his listeners of how, in the five years he has been in office, his administration put a stop to the culture of privilege (“wang-wang”) not just in the streets but everywhere in society, how he has fought corruption to eradicate poverty, and how our people’s sense of hope has been restored as a result of these reforms. “My bosses, this is the story of our journey along the straight path,” he said. The President uses the term “daang matuwid” (straight path) as a label for his administration’s approach to governance, its reform agenda, and sometimes for the totality of its programs. One certainly cannot argue with this phrase’s strong resonance as a political slogan. With its sharp moral slant, it serves both as a denunciation of the crooked administration that preceded it, and as a statement of commitment to the principles of ethical governance that the late Cory Aquino symbolized. Indeed, more than anything else, it has defined P-Noy’s public image and legacy. But, I have always wondered if “daang matuwid” contains an adequate analysis of the problems and challenges that the nation faces in the modern world. Or, whether it defines a clear set of objectives and priorities against which one can objectively measure the Aquino administration’s accomplishments. Its accompanying slogan, “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap” (Without corruption, there will be no poverty), is pleasing to the ears but is misleading, to say the least. It reduces the complex problem of poverty to an issue of corrupt governance. I doubt if enough empirical evidence can be marshaled to support this bold cause-and-effect proposition. At most, corruption might be shown to aggravate poverty, but, surely, it cannot be its principal cause. But, more than this, a formulation of this kind, when made to guide development strategy, tends to focus too much attention on compliance with existing indicators of good governance, and too little on the underlying structural causes of slow and uneven economic growth. It allows multilateral institutions to gloss over the deeper and broader roots of persistent underdevelopment, even as they deploy their governance experts to lecture countries like ours on the imperatives and “best practices” of good governance.
Let us, however, be clear about the point being made here: There is nothing wrong with good governance as a government goal. But using it as the prism through which to view the problem of poverty only creates fatal blind spots. Many good governance norms, such as those developed by the World Bank’s “Worldwide Governance Indicators,” cannot realistically be adopted by underdeveloped societies given their existing conditions. Often, such societies devote precious time and energy putting governance reforms in place just to qualify for development assistance. Instead of using their limited resources and strengths to develop appropriate antipoverty strategies, they find themselves paying homage to good governance by participating in rituals of compliance under the supervision of global technocrats. READ MORE...

ALSO by John Nery: Aquino a lame duck?


Benigno and Gloria. Not the best of friends. Pic: AP. IN JULY 2005, at the lowest point in Gloria Arroyo’s presidency, she went to the Batasan for the State of the Nation Address rite not so much to defend herself, as to test her political allies’ defenses. She received an enthusiastic welcome. To witness the outpouring of support, to hear the lusty cheers and to see the outstretched hands, for a leader who only a couple of weeks before had considered resigning because of an election fraud controversy, was to learn a crucial lesson in political resilience.
The political class respects power, recognizes it, rallies to it—and nothing adds sheen to power like surviving a crisis. I am reminded of this fundamental fact of Philippine politics because of the spreading notion that President Aquino is “losing clout,” is becoming a “lame duck,” as he begins his last year in office.
This notion runs counter to Philippine political experience. Just in the last few months, before Vice President Jojo Binay finally resigned from the Cabinet, he was engaged in an undisguised effort to win Mr. Aquino’s endorsement for the 2016 elections. Nobody will question Binay’s pragmatism, his practical reading of the political situation. Why bother to win the President’s endorsement, at the exact time he loses clout and becomes politically ineffective? The awkward dance between the President and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, on one side, and Senators Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero, on the other, also does not make full sense unless administration resources—the network of allies and the government machinery that Poe does not have—were a factor in the negotiations. Why invest so much time to win the President’s understanding, if he will lose clout and become politically ineffective anyway? The answer to both questions should be clear to anyone who knows how the government truly works: It is deeply authority-centered, and the President remains the most powerful authority, retains the biggest bully pulpit, until that hour his successor takes the oath. READ MORE...

ALSO by Cielito Habito: Recent economic slippages


Posted: 10:59 am, October 6, 2013 by J.K. ---President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday promised that he will step down from office at the end of his term with a glowing economy. FROM CAPIZNEWS ONLINE IS OUR economy losing steam? Latest economic data haven’t been quite as encouraging as what we had been seeing since 2010. That year saw a clear break from the past, most importantly in levels of private investment. In that year, the data showed total fixed investments surging by more than 19 percent, reversing a negative growth of -3.5 percent in 2009. It was the investments of private Filipino investors that began reigniting this growth in 2010. Foreign investors were not as quick to catch on, but by last year, foreign direct investments (FDI) had posted a record $6.2 billion, nearly double that of the previous year, and more than six times the annual average in the past decade. President Aquino can take justifiable pride in how his leadership ushered in a “breakout” for the Philippine economy, as analyst Ruchir Sharma put it in his 2012 international bestseller “Breakout Nations.” Statistics bear this out. Based on my usual “PiTiK test”—with P-T-K standing for presyo (prices), trabaho (jobs) and kita (incomes)—the economy has indeed been breaking out from past performance patterns. Prices are more stable, with the annual inflation rate averaging 3.8 percent in 2010-2014, vs. 5.8 percent in 2004-2009—and was down to only 1.2 percent last month. Employment generation rose from an average of 766,000 net new jobs per year in 2004-2009, to 776,000 in 2010-2014; in 2014, more than a million net new jobs were actually created. This is good news considering that around a million new working-age Filipinos come about yearly. READ MORE...

ALSO by Rina Jimenez David: Across the river into the cornfield
[I STOOD on the other bank of the river, too much of a coward to even attempt the slippery clamber up the rickety bridge. I gazed at the muddy waters, flowing and eddying, glistening in parts in the late morning light. I was drawn to prayer, to say words in my mind to the 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force, many of them killed in the cornfield just across the water; to the 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front joining their comrades on the banks where I was standing; and the three civilians living in a nearby village or wandering into the fray. “May you find peace, may your souls find rest, may your deaths not be the cause of an unfinished peace and continued violence in this land.”]


AS I write this, there is live TV coverage of the moments before the “last Sona,” the final chance for P-Noy to “report” to his vaunted bosses, the Filipino people, on the accomplishments of his administration for the past year. Other presidents, and the other State of the Nation Addresses by the President himself, also focused on plans and promises, accomplishments by which to judge the performance of the administration by measuring how much has been achieved as compared to the signposts the leadership itself set. But this is a different Sona. True, there’s about a year left for P-Noy in office, but no one, I would guess, still expects dramatic changes or landmark successes. Instead, we find ourselves in winding-down mode, with officials wrapping up legacies and hoping to ride out their last months in office with a minimum of controversy and leaving at least some mark by which to be remembered. So there is a hint of melancholy, of early nostalgia about the event to take place in an hour or so. It will be the beginning of many farewells, of a long, slow walk into the sunset. True, P-Noy is still a young man, with plenty of life (but not a love life?) left in him. But he is marking a coda to his political life. I very much doubt he will follow his predecessor’s path both in seeking another, minor post and in desperately fending off charges of corruption. My hope for him is that he will leave the Aquino name unsullied in the time he remains in Malacañang, and in the many more years he will be living as a private person. Judgments and verdicts will rain down on P-Noy and the administration he is about to bring to a close. For the moment, my prayer for him is that he finds the right words to sum up the years since he asked us to join the journey he initiated, and shine a light on the path we are to tread, at least for the next six years. READ MORE...

ALSO EDITORIAL: Scandal in INC


Photo shows the Iglesia ni Cristo compound in Tandang Sora, Quezon City yesterday, where the mother and brother of INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo are reportedly holed up, fearing for their lives. Left inset shows a sign outside the window expressing concern over 10 INC ministers allegedly kidnapped and being held against their will. Right inset shows screen grabs from a video by Angel Manalo and his mother Tenny who appealed for help. MICHAEL VARCAS PHILSTAR FILE That was a quick one. Last Monday, the National Bureau of Investigation declared as “case closed” the alleged abduction by the Iglesia ni Cristo of a number of its recalcitrant ministers. News of the reported abduction—as well as hints of discord and scandal in the powerful religious group arising from the YouTube video of no less than INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo’s mother and brother claiming their lives are in danger and pleading for help and protection—has caused a media sensation and opened a crack into the church’s secretive world.
The implications of the case called for, at the very least, an inquiry into whether pertinent laws had been violated. It is, after all, against the law to harass, intimidate, or hold anyone against his or her will. The crime becomes considerable when whole families are said to be subjected to fear and threats, or restrained from going anywhere, to make them toe the line. The cry for help of Angel Manalo and his mother Cristina “Ka Tenny” Manalo, as well as the ensuing allegations of kidnapping and torture of certain ministers expelled by the INC, would ordinarily trigger an investigation by law enforcement authorities. Leads would be pursued, witnesses questioned, the incidence of alleged crime verified, and the alleged victims located and taken into protective custody to allow them to talk freely. But apparently, none of that took place. In reports, Manuel Eduarte, chief of the NBI’s Anti-Organized Transnational Crime Division, said the INC case was being closed because “per report of my men … they were not able to prove the allegations of abduction.” According to Eduarte’s narrative, last Friday NBI agents went to the INC compound in Quezon City in the wake of reports that Angel Manalo, who is one of the three Manalo siblings expelled by the INC from the church along with their mother, was holed up there, apparently in fear. READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

EDITORIAL: A strong speech

MANILA, JULY 30, 2015 (INQUIRER) @inquirerdotnet - President Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address may have been the longest of his term (the 15 video presentations stretched the total running time to two hours and eight minutes), but it was not, as some critics have alleged, a rambling mess. Far from it.

The structure was well-defined, the direction clear. He just had a lot to say.
We had hoped that he would spend less time defining the national situation as he inherited it in 2010 (“For us to appreciate just how far we have travelled, let us recall where we started,” he said, in the official English translation).

We wished he had used the time detailing his administration’s achievements (“Tremendous perseverance, courage, political will, and faith in God and in our fellowmen were needed in order to breathe life into this ideal”) to also talk about those initiatives that went awry or did not do so well, as a lesson for those who will follow. We expected him to say goodbye, as his own mother did in her last Sona, but did not quite anticipate the sustained expression of gratitude (“Now, I will ask for some of your time to thank those who were our inspiration and partners”) which went on for very many minutes.

But, in all, the speech was a positive, and we sense that many of those who tuned in to the address gave it a thumbs-up, too. The use of easy-to-understand numbers to compare past and present and to measure performance was not unique to this Sona or indeed to this presidency, but the President’s lack of bombast and his use of Filipino spelled the difference. (In the use of the national language as the language of the Sona, Mr. Aquino has proven to be a trailblazer; it will be harder for his successors to return to English.)

Perhaps the fact that he was under the weather last Monday (“I am not feeling too well right now,” he began) added to the impression of pained sincerity: At times his voice ran low, and he had to stop many times to cough or catch his breath. Not least, he was not above making a joke (of which there were many, of the muted variety) or responding to criticism.

READ MORE...

The President made the strongest impact when, for the first time, he proposed imposing limits on political dynasties. “But I have [since] realized: There is something inherently wrong in giving a corrupt family or individual the chance at an indefinite monopoly of public office … I believe it is now time to pass an Anti-Dynasty Law.” This has been read by many as an attempt to contain Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family; any of the bills pending in the Senate and the House, if passed in their current form, would prevent the election of a vice president, a senator, a representative and a mayor from one family. But on its own a cap on dynasties can breathe new life into, and bring new blood to, Philippine politics.

To be sure, there were inexplicable omissions.

There was no mention of the freedom of information bill—a campaign promise in keeping with his accountability and transparency mandate, that became a bargaining chip in negotiations with legislators over other, more controversial bills in the last five years. The hope that he would push the bill in his last year and finally make good on his promise was a legitimate one.

There was no reference to the tragedy in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January—only the worst crisis to overtake his presidency, and the cause of the most serious drop in his ratings. These have since recovered, but instead of using this return to normal as an opportunity to eulogize the police troopers who died in battle or to place the encounter which also claimed the lives of Moro rebels and civilians within a larger context, he was content to say nothing.

But, in fulfilling his constitutional duty to report on the state of the nation for the last time, he was able to achieve the specific objectives he set for himself, unequivocally. He sought to define his legacy on his own terms, and to define the terms by which his successor would be chosen. He succeeded.

He ended with a rhetorical flourish—not one of his strongest suits, but this time it proved to be effective. Taking his own advice about “moving on,” he dared to dream of a postpolitical Philippines, one that would be “more just and more progressive.” The phrase he kept repeating at the close—“Simula pa lang ito (This is only the beginning)”—he offered as both promise and prophecy.


EDITORIAL: Key shipping reform SHARES: 44 VIEW COMMENTS @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 01:45 AM July 28th, 2015

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RELEGATED TO the sidelines during the signing of the Fair Competition Act in Malacañang two weeks ago was an important piece of legislation with a huge economic impact on trade and the local shipping sector.

Republic Act No. 10668, or the liberalized Cabotage Law, will allow foreign-flagged vessels to call at Philippine ports and enable importers and exporters to load cargoes in foreign ships going in and out of the country.

Previously, only domestic vessels were permitted to engage in coastwise trading, or the carrying of cargoes from one domestic port to another. This was a protectionist policy aimed at promoting the development of the local shipping industry that, sadly, did not happen.

A 2014 study by the state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) observed that the absence of competition in domestic shipping has resulted in the bloated cost of transporting raw materials to manufacturing sites, finished products and agricultural goods to various destinations, and imported products to distribution areas.

These increased overall operating costs that were eventually passed on to consumers as high prices. PIDS argued that relaxing the Cabotage Law was necessary to bring down domestic shipping costs and, in turn, lower the prices of goods.

Another study, by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines, provided a concrete example: A 40-foot container shipped domestically from Manila to Cagayan de Oro would cost $1,860 compared with foreign transshipment via Hong Kong of $1,144 or Kaohsiung at $1,044.

A local trader, in effect, could save 43 percent in shipping costs through transshipment via Kaohsiung than directly using domestic shipping services.

Senate President Franklin Drilon also had another example. He noted that shipping dry cargo from Davao to Taiwan cost about $450 per 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU) compared to $680 when shipped from Davao to Manila, which was much shorter in distance.

The aging and small domestic fleet of the maritime transport industry has also contributed to high local shipping costs. While the Philippines is the world’s fifth-biggest shipbuilding country, domestic shipping lines continued to use smaller and even older vessels in transporting cargo, which were uncompetitive compared to those of their foreign counterparts. The small capacity of cargo vessels implied longer transit and more turnaround times in ports, resulting in higher shipping costs, according to PIDS. It noted that domestic shipping was dominated by vessels with a capacity of 200-300 TEUs compared to those of foreign container ships that carried as much as 5,000 TEUs.

In his speech at the signing ceremony in Malacañang, President Aquino said allowing foreign vessels from a port outside the Philippines to carry cargo to their domestic port of final destination “will make the export and import of products faster and cheaper [and] lead to a more vibrant market. Stakeholders, from consumers to businessmen, will be able to save [money].”

READ MORE...

As an added benefit, allowing foreign ships access to other ports in the country will stimulate economic activity in areas outside the capital and help free up space and congest the port in Manila, which earlier was the only place in the country where foreign ships could load and offload cargo.

Similar to the deregulation of the airline industry that drove ticket prices down and led to a surge in domestic tourism, relaxing shipping rules can also trigger a decline in costs and increase trade. It may, hopefully, also prod local shipowners to modernize and make their operations more cost-efficient.

Of course, much still needs to be done. Private shipowners have raised the need to develop port infrastructure—big foreign cargo ships need bigger berthing facilities—and for the government and the private sector to work on moving production areas closer to the provincial ports and highways to further increase efficiency.

More importantly, the government must ensure that Philippine ports of entry and exit are fully shielded against smuggling or dumping of goods. Otherwise, the relaxed Cabotage Law will only worsen the current situation where an assortment of commodities illegally enter the archipelago’s porous maritime borders. This is where the strengthening of the Bureau of Customs, the Coast Guard and the Philippine Ports Authority should come in.


Revisiting ‘daang matuwid’ SHARES: New VIEW COMMENTS By: Randy David @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:17 AM July 30th, 2015

In the opening paragraph of his sixth and final State of the Nation Address last July 27, President Aquino reminded his listeners of how, in the five years he has been in office, his administration put a stop to the culture of privilege (“wang-wang”) not just in the streets but everywhere in society, how he has fought corruption to eradicate poverty, and how our people’s sense of hope has been restored as a result of these reforms. “My bosses, this is the story of our journey along the straight path,” he said.

The President uses the term “daang matuwid” (straight path) as a label for his administration’s approach to governance, its reform agenda, and sometimes for the totality of its programs. One certainly cannot argue with this phrase’s strong resonance as a political slogan. With its sharp moral slant, it serves both as a denunciation of the crooked administration that preceded it, and as a statement of commitment to the principles of ethical governance that the late Cory Aquino symbolized. Indeed, more than anything else, it has defined P-Noy’s public image and legacy.

But, I have always wondered if “daang matuwid” contains an adequate analysis of the problems and challenges that the nation faces in the modern world. Or, whether it defines a clear set of objectives and priorities against which one can objectively measure the Aquino administration’s accomplishments.

Its accompanying slogan, “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap” (Without corruption, there will be no poverty), is pleasing to the ears but is misleading, to say the least. It reduces the complex problem of poverty to an issue of corrupt governance. I doubt if enough empirical evidence can be marshaled to support this bold cause-and-effect proposition. At most, corruption might be shown to aggravate poverty, but, surely, it cannot be its principal cause.

But, more than this, a formulation of this kind, when made to guide development strategy, tends to focus too much attention on compliance with existing indicators of good governance, and too little on the underlying structural causes of slow and uneven economic growth. It allows multilateral institutions to gloss over the deeper and broader roots of persistent underdevelopment, even as they deploy their governance experts to lecture countries like ours on the imperatives and “best practices” of good governance.

Let us, however, be clear about the point being made here: There is nothing wrong with good governance as a government goal. But using it as the prism through which to view the problem of poverty only creates fatal blind spots. Many good governance norms, such as those developed by the World Bank’s “Worldwide Governance Indicators,” cannot realistically be adopted by underdeveloped societies given their existing conditions.

Often, such societies devote precious time and energy putting governance reforms in place just to qualify for development assistance. Instead of using their limited resources and strengths to develop appropriate antipoverty strategies, they find themselves paying homage to good governance by participating in rituals of compliance under the supervision of global technocrats.

READ MORE...

In an essay introducing the book “Is good governance good for development?” (UN Publications, August 2012), Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury sum up their objection to the World Bank’s governance indicators: “The ostensible evidence using [these] problematic measures actually suggests that growth and development improves governance, rather than vice-versa.” What they are saying, in effect, is that if a country takes care of growth and development, governance will usually take care of itself.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, one might similarly argue, apropos the slogan “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap,” that where there is no poverty, there is less room for corruption.

One only needs to take a look at the Philippines’ most emblematic form of corruption in the last two years to see the plausibility of this reverse proposition. I refer to the pork barrel scam for which three Philippine senators and Janet Lim Napoles are today in jail. It was, as we all know, a racket that revolved around the highly politicized delivery of goods and services to the poor.

Educational and medical assistance, livelihood programs, and various other services formed the core of the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations for their impoverished constituents. No one—not even the “daang matuwid” policy—had found anything wrong in the legislators’ personal control over the disbursement of these public funds. For, indeed, how could anyone object to a mechanism that is meant to benefit the poor?

Napoles, however, brought the system to a new level of corruption by offering herself as a contractor who would not only take care of the paperwork but also, through her network of bogus NGOs and varied menu of fictitious projects, pay huge kickbacks. That is when the PDAF became problematic, and the abuse grave enough for the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional.

The truth is: Corruption is found in every cavity of our political system. It is the heart and soul of patronage politics—the kind that thrives in societies where mass poverty exists. Every politician knows this.

The traditional ones work within the system by projecting themselves as the poor’s source of relief, and they have no problem getting themselves and their kin elected.

The modern ones seek an end to poverty through well-conceived strategies of economic growth and social development.

That they seldom get elected is part of the curse of mass poverty.


COLUMNIST RANDY DAVID


Aquino a lame duck? SHARES: 1397 VIEW COMMENTS By: John Nery @jnery_newsstand Philippine Daily Inquirer 01:43 AM July 28th, 2015


Benigno and Gloria. Not the best of friends. Pic: AP.

IN JULY 2005, at the lowest point in Gloria Arroyo’s presidency, she went to the Batasan for the State of the Nation Address rite not so much to defend herself, as to test her political allies’ defenses. She received an enthusiastic welcome.

To witness the outpouring of support, to hear the lusty cheers and to see the outstretched hands, for a leader who only a couple of weeks before had considered resigning because of an election fraud controversy, was to learn a crucial lesson in political resilience.

The political class respects power, recognizes it, rallies to it—and nothing adds sheen to power like surviving a crisis.

I am reminded of this fundamental fact of Philippine politics because of the spreading notion that President Aquino is “losing clout,” is becoming a “lame duck,” as he begins his last year in office.

This notion runs counter to Philippine political experience.

Just in the last few months, before Vice President Jojo Binay finally resigned from the Cabinet, he was engaged in an undisguised effort to win Mr. Aquino’s endorsement for the 2016 elections. Nobody will question Binay’s pragmatism, his practical reading of the political situation. Why bother to win the President’s endorsement, at the exact time he loses clout and becomes politically ineffective?

The awkward dance between the President and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, on one side, and Senators Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero, on the other, also does not make full sense unless administration resources—the network of allies and the government machinery that Poe does not have—were a factor in the negotiations. Why invest so much time to win the President’s understanding, if he will lose clout and become politically ineffective anyway?

The answer to both questions should be clear to anyone who knows how the government truly works: It is deeply authority-centered, and the President remains the most powerful authority, retains the biggest bully pulpit, until that hour his successor takes the oath.

READ MORE...

Again, Arroyo is an excellent example. Despite suffering a lingering legitimacy crisis, reflected in the lowest approval and satisfaction ratings for a president in Philippine survey history, she remained, indisputably, in charge, until her last day in office. Her 2005 Sona had the effect of galvanizing her allies in Congress, and (at least in my view) led directly to the defeat of the first impeachment complaint filed against her. (The rousing reception must have made an impression on her allies, and steeled their resolve.)

Until the turnover, she continued to dictate the policy agenda. (Control of the public agenda was another matter altogether; ceding it was a consequence of her crisis of legitimacy.)

But, if only because of the potential for mischief, a president’s powers even in the last year in office should never be underestimated. Again, Arroyo is the perfect case in point. She appointed Associate Justice Renato Corona chief justice despite the election-period ban on appointments (and the clear language of the Constitution).

The high court backed her, but her decision damaged the relationship between the succeeding administration and the judiciary’s leadership and led, almost inevitably, to Corona’s impeachment and conviction.

Three more considerations:

First, President Aquino is presenting a P3-trillion budget, double the amount he inherited from Arroyo. Regardless of the exact nature, and the precise placements, of the lump sums now alleged to line the proposed budget, we can be sure of one thing: Mr. Aquino will not want to be accused by his predecessor the same way he accused Arroyo in his first Sona, of using up the next budget by the halfway point, and leaving very little for the next administration to use.

(It is apropos to repeat an argument I raised before: That in fact one of the Aquino administration’s strongest assets is budget reform. I realize this flies in the face of the controversy over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP); but, as I have tried to show in this space, I understand DAP precisely as an effort to reform the budget process.)

My point: Anyone who controls such a budget cannot blithely be written off as a lame duck.

Lame-duckery comes to us as an American political tradition. But our presidency, even after the disastrous experiment with authoritarianism and the new limits imposed by the post-Edsa Constitution, retains much of the centralized authority of the original occupants of Malacañang, the Spanish governors-general. In other words, and in terms strictly relative to a polity’s system of government, the Philippine presidency is actually more powerful than its American counterpart.

Second: Mr. Aquino has just survived the worst crisis in his presidency, in the aftermath of the Mamasapano tragedy. Now his approval and satisfaction numbers are back up; for the political class, nothing succeeds quite like resilient success.

And third, I hold to what I wrote here last year: The 2016 elections will be about continuity, not change. That’s an advantage for Mr. Aquino.


COLUMNIST JOHN NERY


Recent economic slippages SHARES: 132 VIEW COMMENTS By: Cielito F. Habito @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 01:37 AM July 28th, 2015


Posted: 10:59 am, October 6, 2013 by J.K. ---President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday promised that he will step down from office at the end of his term with a glowing economy. FROM CAPIZNEWS ONLINE

IS OUR economy losing steam? Latest economic data haven’t been quite as encouraging as what we had been seeing since 2010. That year saw a clear break from the past, most importantly in levels of private investment. In that year, the data showed total fixed investments surging by more than 19 percent, reversing a negative growth of -3.5 percent in 2009.

It was the investments of private Filipino investors that began reigniting this growth in 2010. Foreign investors were not as quick to catch on, but by last year, foreign direct investments (FDI) had posted a record $6.2 billion, nearly double that of the previous year, and more than six times the annual average in the past decade.

President Aquino can take justifiable pride in how his leadership ushered in a “breakout” for the Philippine economy, as analyst Ruchir Sharma put it in his 2012 international bestseller “Breakout Nations.” Statistics bear this out.

Based on my usual “PiTiK test”—with P-T-K standing for presyo (prices), trabaho (jobs) and kita (incomes)—the economy has indeed been breaking out from past performance patterns. Prices are more stable, with the annual inflation rate averaging 3.8 percent in 2010-2014, vs. 5.8 percent in 2004-2009—and was down to only 1.2 percent last month. Employment generation rose from an average of 766,000 net new jobs per year in 2004-2009, to 776,000 in 2010-2014; in 2014, more than a million net new jobs were actually created. This is good news considering that around a million new working-age Filipinos come about yearly.

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As for incomes, gross domestic product (GDP), which measures both incomes and output, grew by an average of 6.4 percent per year in the past five years vs. only 4.9 percent in 2004-2009. What’s remarkable is that manufacturing, whose growth in 2004-2009 averaged only 3.0 percent annually, has averaged 8.2 percent growth per year since 2010, faster than the entire economy’s growth. This is significant as growth in manufacturing translates into more and better quality jobs than growth in services and agriculture.

But latest data have not been as upbeat. Two of the three indicators in my PiTiK test appear to be slipping lately. Price stability is still improving, as indicated above. But after last year’s full-year growth rate of 6.1 percent (still the fastest in Southeast Asia), GDP growth in the first quarter of 2015 came in at a disappointing 5.2 percent. And after four consecutive quarters showing year-on-year net new job creation exceeding 1 million, the April 2015 jobs survey showed a gain of only less than half a million from the same period last year.

Still, the unemployment rate actually fell to 6.4 percent from last year’s 7.0 percent, explained by a lower labor force participation rate. This means that a lower percentage of the working age population actually sought work in the past year, as more opted not to seek work. Hence, notwithstanding the addition of around a million new working-age Filipinos, the labor force actually expanded by only around 283,000 workers. If lower labor force participation rate is a reflection that households see less need for a second working member due to ample income, then there could be good news in this.

Still, I’d prefer to see more sustained job growth so that the unemployment rate could go down even faster to levels more comparable with those in our neighbors.
More disturbing has been the latest trend in FDI inflows. Even with our FDI inflows hitting a historical record last year, it was hardly anything to crow about given that our neighbors, including Vietnam, continued to attract far more.

But the real bad news is that our FDI inflows in the first four months of this year plummeted by nearly half to only $1.2 billion, from last year’s $2.38 billion. This could partly explain the halving of new job creation indicated above.

It’s not a particularly good time to be missing out once again on foreign investments flowing into our region, with foreign companies either exiting from China due to rising labor costs there, or seeking a second base of operations besides China. Vietnam has reportedly attracted much more of such new investment flows than we could, even as much more is also flowing to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, our traditional rivals for FDI inflows into Asean.

Is our “breakout” fizzling out? Can we still arrest this seeming slowdown that is also translating into slackening job creation? I don’t know. What’s clear to me is that we should be moving even more aggressively at this time, rather than allow the election fever to make us drop our guard on needed reforms.

I worry about the common expectation that little would come out of the 16th Congress in its final session with the onset of election fever, when there remains so much critical homework to be done. The National Economic and Development Authority recently communicated to the Senate a list of important reforms that remain in Congress’ “to do” list.

These include measures to further liberalize investments, adopt modern trade facilitation standards, rationalize fiscal incentives, reform the tax system, take the Bangsamoro region into the political and economic mainstream, and many more.

To give up on these reforms now and pass them on to the next Congress would mean getting back to a “muddling through” mode for at least another two years.

At this time when the world and regional economies are undergoing rapid change, I fear this would border on economic suicide. And to be sure, its casualties will not be the better endowed among us.


COLUMNIST CIELITO HABITO


Across the river into the cornfield SHARES: 13 VIEW COMMENTS By: Rina Jimenez-David @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 01:36 AM July 28th, 2015

AS I write this, there is live TV coverage of the moments before the “last Sona,” the final chance for P-Noy to “report” to his vaunted bosses, the Filipino people, on the accomplishments of his administration for the past year.

Other presidents, and the other State of the Nation Addresses by the President himself, also focused on plans and promises, accomplishments by which to judge the performance of the administration by measuring how much has been achieved as compared to the signposts the leadership itself set.

But this is a different Sona. True, there’s about a year left for P-Noy in office, but no one, I would guess, still expects dramatic changes or landmark successes. Instead, we find ourselves in winding-down mode, with officials wrapping up legacies and hoping to ride out their last months in office with a minimum of controversy and leaving at least some mark by which to be remembered.

So there is a hint of melancholy, of early nostalgia about the event to take place in an hour or so. It will be the beginning of many farewells, of a long, slow walk into the sunset. True, P-Noy is still a young man, with plenty of life (but not a love life?) left in him. But he is marking a coda to his political life. I very much doubt he will follow his predecessor’s path both in seeking another, minor post and in desperately fending off charges of corruption. My hope for him is that he will leave the Aquino name unsullied in the time he remains in Malacañang, and in the many more years he will be living as a private person.

Judgments and verdicts will rain down on P-Noy and the administration he is about to bring to a close. For the moment, my prayer for him is that he finds the right words to sum up the years since he asked us to join the journey he initiated, and shine a light on the path we are to tread, at least for the next six years.


* * *



I STOOD on the other bank of the river, too much of a coward to even attempt the slippery clamber up the rickety bridge. I gazed at the muddy waters, flowing and eddying, glistening in parts in the late morning light.

I was drawn to prayer, to say words in my mind to the 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force, many of them killed in the cornfield just across the water; to the 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front joining their comrades on the banks where I was standing; and the three civilians living in a nearby village or wandering into the fray. “May you find peace, may your souls find rest, may your deaths not be the cause of an unfinished peace and continued violence in this land.”

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Unknown to me, across the river in the middle of the cornfield, my companions in the conference, called without any irony “Beyond Mamasapano: Reporting the Bangsamoro Peace Process,” were engaged in the same exercise.

Religious leaders with the group: Fr. Jonathan Domingo who works with the newspaper The Mindanao Cross; Rev. Luis Daniel Pantoja, who is with the PCEC Peace and Reconciliation Commission; and one of our Muslim participants led the rest of the group in prayer and reflection, gathering in a circle amid the green corn stalks.

It was the reason I decided, at very short notice, to fly to Cotabato City for the conference. I wanted to see for myself, though many months after, the site of the firefight that has nearly (may it only be “nearly”) derailed the peace process in Mindanao.

* * *

TO BE sure, the landscape has changed somewhat.

A few meters away from the bridge of Mamasapano, the rickety wood-and-bamboo structure that has become emblematic of the entire tragedy, a new bridge is being built. There are concrete piers on either bank of the river, but wooden planks are being laid on the metal beams.

“The original plan was to construct a concrete bridge,” a community volunteer said. “But the residents requested that the bridge be made of wood, so that tanks would not be able to cross the river using the bridge.”

As I gathered, military tanks have become, for the residents of the remote and previously inaccessible barangay, fearful symbols of war and violence. I could only imagine how the residents, waking up that early morning, quaked in their huts when they saw the line of tanks on the edge of the highway and heard the gunfire from both sides of the small river.

A small, still rough road leads from the highway and across the river, some distance from the symbolic bridge.

In many ways, the Mamasapano “massacre” has served to open up an area previously closed to the outside world, an MILF-dominated hold-out where even forces from the nearest military outpost would not dare enter. Will peace usher in progress and participation in this neglected village?

* * *

THAT is one of the questions raised in the two days journalists from all over Mindanao and from Manila assessed the way the media have covered not just the peace process but also Mindanao itself—its history, its social and political upheavals, the search for a peaceful solution to the violence that has become synonymous with the locale.

Personally, the past weekend was a living, vibrant lesson on Mindanao, on the lessons to be learned from its past, present and future.

Too many times, we the media in Manila tend to offer the answers even to questions we still ask ourselves, pretending we are sure of their rightness.

In the next few days, I hope to share with you some answers arrived at, but also questions that continue to be asked.


EDITORIAL: Scandal in INC SHARES: 13 VIEW COMMENTS @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:18 AM July 30th, 2015


Photo shows the Iglesia ni Cristo compound in Tandang Sora, Quezon City yesterday, where the mother and brother of INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo are reportedly holed up, fearing for their lives. Left inset shows a sign outside the window expressing concern over 10 INC ministers allegedly kidnapped and being held against their will. Right inset shows screen grabs from a video by Angel Manalo and his mother Tenny who appealed for help. MICHAEL VARCAS PHILSTAR FILE

That was a quick one. Last Monday, the National Bureau of Investigation declared as “case closed” the alleged abduction by the Iglesia ni Cristo of a number of its recalcitrant ministers. News of the reported abduction—as well as hints of discord and scandal in the powerful religious group arising from the YouTube video of no less than INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo’s mother and brother claiming their lives are in danger and pleading for help and protection—has caused a media sensation and opened a crack into the church’s secretive world.

The implications of the case called for, at the very least, an inquiry into whether pertinent laws had been violated. It is, after all, against the law to harass, intimidate, or hold anyone against his or her will.

The crime becomes considerable when whole families are said to be subjected to fear and threats, or restrained from going anywhere, to make them toe the line.

The cry for help of Angel Manalo and his mother Cristina “Ka Tenny” Manalo, as well as the ensuing allegations of kidnapping and torture of certain ministers expelled by the INC, would ordinarily trigger an investigation by law enforcement authorities. Leads would be pursued, witnesses questioned, the incidence of alleged crime verified, and the alleged victims located and taken into protective custody to allow them to talk freely.

But apparently, none of that took place. In reports, Manuel Eduarte, chief of the NBI’s Anti-Organized Transnational Crime Division, said the INC case was being closed because “per report of my men … they were not able to prove the allegations of abduction.”

According to Eduarte’s narrative, last Friday NBI agents went to the INC compound in Quezon City in the wake of reports that Angel Manalo, who is one of the three Manalo siblings expelled by the INC from the church along with their mother, was holed up there, apparently in fear.

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The agents were not able to enter the compound or to independently check if the occupants were under duress. “They tried knocking at the gate which is locked. They were not given entry, so no information was gathered and they were told that there is no such thing as abduction committed inside the premises of INC,” Eduarte was quoted as saying.

Thus foiled, the NBI team proceeded to the INC Central Office to talk to members of the staff of the church’s legal office, who denied the allegations of abduction. “So, for us, [the case] is considered closed already although we are still in the process of awaiting further information from the grounds,” concluded Eduarte with a straight face.

The usual bureaucratic incompetence in action? Perhaps. But because this case involves the INC, whose connections to influential people in the government are both well-known and said to be cultivated by the church itself, it’s not unreasonable to think that some forces are trying to close the lid on any inquiry to prevent further damaging revelations. Last Tuesday, four INC ministers came forward to deny they had been abducted.

Internal dissension, or even possible corruption in the INC hierarchy, is, of course, outside the purview of law enforcement or government scrutiny. But the sordid disclosures emerging from a growing number of disaffected former church members, some of them previously highly placed and privy to the INC’s most confidential operations, have touched on something else that has immense significance to public policy and governance: the alleged extortion of money from politicians and government officials in exchange for the coveted bloc vote of INC members.

Roel Rosal, an expelled minister, has come out to say that a town mayor in Bulacan and a barangay captain in Parañaque had asked him to deliver a letter to the INC executive minister complaining that church “tagapangasiwa” overseeing the concerned province and city had demanded money in return for the INC bloc vote during the 2013 elections.

This is a grave charge, and it deserves serious investigation by the government—certainly not the kind of slapdash procedure done by the NBI.

How widespread is this practice, and does the INC tolerate it?

Names have been named. The church must be made to cooperate with any inquiry into this matter, and its officials given the Nixon test: What do they know, and when did they know it?


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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