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Archive for the ‘Philippine Development’ Category

This early, there are already signs of jockeying for strategic points and advantageous heights for the presidential contest in 2016. There are also signs of preparations for an alternative possible scenario of the premature end to the Noynoy Aquino administration before then.

While there is a certain level of consolidation on his hold on power, the Aquino administration certainly cannot take comfort from it. There are at least three factors that influence against further development in this direction. One, the performance of this administration in addressing felt problems of the people is not registering on the ground. Two, there are several active inimical campaigns against the administration–most of which are bent on destabilizing, if not actually preempting its term. Three, the 2016 presidential electoral contest increasingly becomes an immediate consideration for key forces and allies of the president, undermining party and ruling coalition unity and cohesion.

Of the three, the last one is completely unnecessary but assumes life on its own because of the failure (so far) of the president to bind all his men (and women) to a single vision, a single strategy and a unified plan for his term in power. He has given a long leash to key cabinet and other officials without clarifying first his own set of priorities. It therefore led to a situation where ambitions and interests of those close to him dictate more often than not specific policies.

The 2016 presidential electoral contest has already spawned this early at least three contenders, with several others trying to position themselves as presidentiables. If the president does not nip this in the bud, it can undermine his administration and open the possibility of a weakened administration under attack after two years in office.

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The Social Weather Station, in its survey from March 4-7, 2011, disclosed a disturbing trend in President Noynoy Aquino’s satisfaction ratings. Across all the ABCDE groups and throughout the entire country, there is a definite downward trend.  His net satisfaction rating went down 13 points to +51 (69% satisfied minus the 18% dissatisfied) from November’s +64 (74% satisfied, 10% dissatisfied).

This is not yet something to be worried about, and the over-all trend is still positive. However, there are two conclusions that can be made: first, there is already a transitioning away from his political honeymoon with the people; and second, the primary basis for judging him from now on is his performance.

To be sure, President Noynoy’s satisfaction ratings has started at a very high level and there’s no way but down. However, he has gone down  more rapidly and now is unfavorably below the comparative ratings of previous presidents, except Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Nine months into their term, his mother, Cory Aquino, has satisfaction rating of +69, Fidel Ramos has +66, Joseph Estrada has +67. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has only +27 in November 2001 and -12 in March 2005.

Apart from the symbolism of the ill-advised Porsche purchase, the more serious cause of the present downtrend of President Noynoy’s satisfaction rating is the perception that his administration does not have a comprehensive program of government, reacts only to current events, and has misplaced priorities that do not address the urgent crises situations that confront the nation.

From the high inflation rate, job insecurity and perils of the overseas Filipino workers, and local job creation to urgent political reforms, there is a developing unease on how this administration tackles them. Worse, there is the growing impression that this administration is more intent on power consolidation, flexing its political muscle, and vindictively going after its political enemies.

An example is the complete lack of appreciation of necessary electoral reforms such as the passage of the political party reform bill and reforms of the automated election system. It would rather spend its political capital in an unnecessary synchronization of ARMM elections and in setting aside the scheduled ARMM elections, thereby complicating an already complicated situation. Its anti-labor decision in the PAL case is also being seen as an indicator of future labor policies. Now, everybody is waiting for the presidential approval for the Marcos burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

The greatest fear here is for the matuwid na daan to turn into detours and eventually ending up at the same crossroads. There is still time to straighten things but the seemingly unending string of patience is simply not there anymore. The honeymoon is ending, and soon.

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When Malacañang’s announced that PAL employees may retire only in accordance with prevailing labor standards–despite Lucio Tan’s political and judicial connections–everybody thought that it is only another manifestation of President Noynoy Aquino’s “matuwid na daan.” Of course, Tan immediately torpedoed the idea by filing a motion of reconsideration. To underline its confident position, it announced the mandatory retirement of some PAL employees who reached 55 years old (according to Tan, the contract stipulates this, despite the 65-year legal requirement).

Malacañang did not react to this Tan ploy and Tan’s defiance of its decision. Now it can be explained. First, DOLE secretary Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz issued the decision basically upholding all the PAL management position of outsourcing vital core functions such as aircraft maintenance, and the consequent forced retrenchment of more than 3,500 PAL employees. That this is not a question of preserving the profitability of the company is shown by the latest declared profit for 2010 of US$1.6 billion.

When there was fierce opposition, Malacañang stepped in, ostensibly to review the Baldoz decision–and as it now turned out, to preserve Tan’s hide. Malacañang–through Executive Secretary Ochoa–all but upheld the Baldoz decision. The bone thrown to the PAL employees and workers was the higher price for the loss of their jobs and job security.

PAL has always been seen before–even when it was still managed by the government–as a milking cow. Equipment and supplies, staff training, food preparation and the like were all given to management-friendly companies. In Tan’s case, it was his own companies who profited. However, this time, “non-core functions” (his term) will be outsourced, ostensibly to maintain PAL’s profitability. Of course, his profitability has always been assured because–whether PAL loses or not–for his satellite companies, including the outsource companies, selling to PAL always will take in the profits.

The fiction of mismanaged government corporations always producing losses–and thereby justifies privatization–can be traced to these companies always being run as milking cows by both the private or government entities running them. The former because of greediness for more and more profits and the latter because of huge corruptions.

The problem of President Noynoy Aquino is starkly represented by his PAL decision. “Matuwid na daan” seemingly does not cover profit greed and the milking cow syndrome. If he is not careful, his “public-private partnership” policy can be easily turned on its good intentions–by engendering huge private profits for Malacañang-friendly businessmen and huge commissions for Malacañang habitues.

Lucio Tan certainly has his people in Malacañang; they have been maneuvering from day 1 on the PAL case. Unfortunately, the people and the hapless PAL employees and workers seem to have none of their friends in Malacañang. Is the price still right there?

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The attention of the whole world is riveted on ongoing Japan crises of a 9.0 great earthquake, tsunami, volcano eruption, and–still developing–the partial meltdown in at least three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Three more reactors damaged in the tsunami are in similar danger.

At present, more than 200,000 persons were already evacuated from a 20- and 30-kilometer radius around the plant concerned. There were evidences of low-level radiation contamination as far as Tokyo.

The partial meltdown (and possible total meltdown) of nuclear reactors in Japan–despite several back-ups established with precisely the situation of earthquakes and other disasters in mind–underscored the constant and grave danger that nuclear fission power poses for countries that decide to utilize it. Japan is among those which embraced the technology and has cutting-edge capability for controlling and managing it.

Of course, the great earthquake-tsunami combination that knocked-out the reactors was not an ordinary disaster. The 9.0 earthquakes was the fourth strongest in recorded history and the tsunami it spawned was more than 13 meters in some places. However, it can be argued that Nature will always have the capacity to deliver disasters beyond the imagination of technocrats, capitalists, and politicians.

The big argument against the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP) in the 1980s was that there is no guarantee that can be made for the safety of nuclear fission power technology. Once a major nuclear leak occurs as a result of an accident or even when spent nuclear fuel  is stored for hundreds of years, nobody can guarantee that it will not impact disastrously on the population for hundreds of kilometers around it.

In the case of BNPP, a possible nuclear leak can reach the entire Central Luzon and Metro Manila areas, as well as major parts of Northern Luzon, Southern Luzon, and the Mindoro island. It is also situated near major faults and is vulnerable to tsunamis from the South China Sea quakes.

The Japanese experience has demonstrated that a well-disciplined and highly-skilled nuclear technical workforce and the vast resources of a rich nation cannot prevent nuclear power disasters. These can only barely cope with the containment of possible damage to the population and environment around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Japan’s nuclear crisis is a sobering lesson for us. Those who still advocate for nuclear power in the Philippines–either by reviving the BNPP or constructing new ones–should reflect deeply on the ruinous consequences to our people, our economy, and our environment of a major nuclear accident. With our relatively low level of nuclear technology, bare nuclear workforce experience and capability, and our limited resources, the possibility of the Philippines not coping with a major nuclear accident is exceedingly higher than that of Japan.

Nuclear fission power is dead in the Philippines and probably elsewhere in the world. The world will be more safer with other alternative energy sources.

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The plight of overseas Filipino workers in the Arab and Middle East countries should be attended to and immediately!

A new order is coming into being in these countries–and depending on specific national conditions–Filipino OFWs will have to contend with its implications. The Aquino government should not underestimate these implications, not only to the OFWs themselves but also to our oil supplies, to inflation, local and global job availability, government tax income, Moro situation, great-power rivalry, international terrorism, and our democratic people power legacy.

The loss of possibly hundreds of thousands of jobs in these countries can lead–in the medium term–to a dip in the Philippine GNP growth. In a situation of global recession, this can lead to a “squeeze” effect when foreign jobs gets scarcer even as new graduates enter the labor market and the local job market cannot sufficiently expand to accommodate the slack.

Oil supplies may also suffer even as the oil prices shoot through the ceiling. This is also a “squeeze” situation where scarcer but pricier oil and gas products drive up inflation even as foreign reserves scramble to cover higher-priced oil importation.

The government basically and indirectly taxes the OFWs through their remittance spending (consumer goods in malls, land and housing acquisitions, tourism, and other family-based spending). This will slow down and marginal business may collapse. Government income may thus take a hit.

As instability engulf the Arab world and the Middle East, big powers will increasingly compete for scarce resources–not only in these countries but throughout the world including southeast Asia. We are already well within the ambit of this hidden “resource war,” as a possible major resource for oil, gas, and other minerals.

Politically, we are also vulnerable to the events in the Arab world and in the Middle East because of our own Moro Muslims–who have living ties to the Arabic world. The Al Qaeda network extends into the region and into the Philippines. And to a certain extent, the events there mirror our own 1986 people power.

It is now a question of when–and not if–a major global crisis hits us from the events in the Arab world and the Middle East. The crisis opens both the door to our own crises and our own opportunities. Interesting but dangerous times. Also, dangerous but interesting times.

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The Aquino administration has come out with 12 priority bills which it presented before the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). There is supposed to be 11 bills more in the process.

According to a report from the GMA7 news on the matter, the following bills are:

“I. Human Development

1. An Act creating the Department of Housing and Urban Development (DHUD), defining the mandates, powers and functions, providing funds therefore, and for other purposes

2. An Act rationalizing the night work prohibition on women workers, thereby amending Articles 130 and 131 of Presidential Decree # 442 as amended, otherwise known as the Labor Code of the Philippines

3. An Act enhancing the curriculum and increasing the number of years for basic education, appropriating funds therefore and for other purposes

4. An Act providing a definite targeting strategy in identifying the poor, amending republic act no. 7875, otherwise known as The National Health Insurance Act of 1995 as amended, and for other purposes

II. Infrastructure Development

5. An Act further amending certain sections of republic act no. 6957, as amended by Republic Act No. 7718, Entitled “An Act authorizing the financing, construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure projects by the private sector, and for other purposes,” appropriating Funds for the said purpose, and for other purposes

III. Economic Development

6. An Act rationalizing the grant and administration of fiscal incentives for the promotion of investments and growth, and for other purposes

IV. Sovereignty, Security and Rule of Law

7. An Act to establish the archipelagic sea lanes in the philippine archipelagic waters, prescribing the rights and obligations of foreign ships and aircrafts exercising the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage through the established archipelagic sea lanes and providing for the associated protective measures therein

8. An Act to define the maritime zones of the Republic of the Philippines

9. An Act to strengthen the modernization of the Armed Forces of The Philippines, extending the implementation of the modernization program of the AFP, instituting necessary reforms in the AFP, amending for the purpose certain provisions of Republic Act No. 7898, otherwise known as the AFP modernization act and for other purposes

10. An Act resetting the date of the regular elections for elective officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Synchronizing the ARMM Elections with the synchronized national and local elections 2013, amending for the purpose Republic Act No. 9333, Entitled “An Act Affixing the Date for Regular Elections for Elective Officials of the ARMM Pursuant to RA 9054″ Entitled “An Act to Strengthen and Expand the Organic Act for the ARMM, amending for the purpose RA 6734, Entitled An Act Providing for an Organic Act for the ARMM, as Amended,” and for other purposes

V. Good Governance

11. An Act instituting reforms in land administration

12. An Act to promote financial viability and fiscal discipline in Government-Owned or Controlled Corporations and to strengthen the role of the state in its governance and management to make them more responsive to the needs of public interest and for other purposes.”

A cursory examination of the bills showed that there is nothing fundamental or even major reform in terms of their content and direction. They are, more or less, consistent with the stated thrusts of the new president against corruption and poverty . They are also consistent with the strategy for public-private partnership (PPP) enunciated in his inauguration and state of the nation address last year.

These bills are suspect until the new administration spells out its entire governance framework. Even the publication of the forthcoming 2011-2015 Philippine Development Plan will not be enough. The Plan is a secondary document as far as all administrations before it are concerned. The present Aquino administration has so far indicated it will not treat it differently–merely a  recommendation to its own plan–whatever it will be.

What is troubling is that the bills may turn out to be either 1) political accommodations; 2) a sell-out of natural and public resources and the regulatory capture by the wealthiest local business elites and big foreign and international business interests; and 3) only an empty sop to the long-suffering poor. I hope not, but the choices of priority bills are troubling.

The list of reform bills not in the list are glaring. Among these are 1) the political party reform bill–important for setting new rules for political contestation, sans the politics of guns, goons, and gold; 2) the freedom of information bill–important for transparency and accountability in government; 3) the reproductive health bill–important for responsible family planning; 4) Marcos human rights victim compensation bill–important for giving long-delayed justice for Marcos victims; and 5) bills on small and medium enterprise development, particularly in rural areas and regions outside Metro Manila–important for job creation.

As it is, there is no evident political will in the priority bills for democratic political and asset reforms. If this trend continues, the Aquino administration is in danger of slipping towards a regime of slick, high-profile populism with neither substantive impact on poverty and people empowerment nor concrete reforms that strengthens democracy.

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Revisiting  the events of EDSA 25 years ago, I am reprinting the last section of a paper I presented before an audience of South Korean political scientists last October 2010 in Seoul, South Korea:

“The first lesson in Philippine experience is to democratize the state, government and society. The second lesson is to strengthen this democratization to full democracy enjoyed by all the people. The third lesson is to realize that democracy is a never-ending work that requires constant vigilance and attention.”

“Governments are a neutral agency—they are there to govern or translate a state’s policy and program into executable measures. Genuine democratic governments are products of a democratic state power. Without such a state, the immediate aim and focus of democratic forces can only be its achievement. So it was with the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship; so it will be in other countries as well.”

“Democratic governments, in turn, have a responsibility to complete the democratization process, whether internally or in society at large. Even at the international level, it is increasingly recognized that democracies have a responsibility to defend and promote the idea of democracy everywhere it is challenged.”

“Democratic legislatures, as part of government, have a key role to play in advancing the cause of democracy in its various functions of lawmaking, budgeting, and oversight. The judiciary needs to strongly uphold the rule of law, while recognizing its inherent limitations in deciding political matters.”

“The executive department, particularly its head, the president, is on the frontline in the democratic institutionalization. Given the key role played by the leader in current politics, it is incumbent on the president to uphold the principles and policies of democracy and should not be tempted to use non-democratic means in governance. In short, he should set the example.”

“In a fragile democracy such as that in the Philippines, the role of the president cannot be underestimated. He can be the most important actor for strengthening democracy. Or he can be the greatest obstacle to it.”

“Civil society organizations—with a democratic orientation—have the responsibility to infuse and engage governments and legislatures everywhere in the democratic dialogue. They must secure the democratic character of political institutions, even if it requires electing their own representatives into governments and legislatures.”

“There is a very high level of expectation for democratic change and reform riding on the new Noynoy Aquino presidency. He won the elections by garnering 44 percent of the valid votes. A week before his oath of office, surveys showed him enjoying a stratospheric—if unsustainable—85-90% trust rating.”

“It is but proper that, in his inauguration speech—he alluded to their family’s contributions to democracy and pledged his own contribution would be to ensure that all Filipinos enjoy the benefits of democracy.”

We have come a full circle since then. EDSA 1 gave us democracy; we now have the task of making it work. Happy 25th EDSA anniversary, Filipino people!

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