Category: Manila Times Columns

From Cory’s “Damaged Culture” to PNoy’s “Grim Reality”

After February 1986, global and local media portrayed President Corazon Aquino as nearly a saint, and predicted that with Marcos’ fall, the Philippines would soon join the ranks of Asia’s tigers.

That view was shattered in a well-written and well-researched article November 1987 in the venerable Boston-based The Atlantic magazine by James Fallows. It was titled A Damaged Culture, and it triggered a storm of debates, as well as national self-examination. Re-read that article (available in the web), and you’ll be astonished at its prescience and its solid analysis, much of which are eerily still valid after 26 years. A few examples:Continue reading

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Did we pay software firm extra P400 million for source code?

Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brilliantes Jr. continues to make fools out of Filipinos by announcing the other day that Smartmatic, Inc. and Dominion Voting Systems have settled their case filed in an arbitration court in

the United States that will result in the delivery of the crucial “source code,” the basis for the binary code that runs the ballot-reading machines. Continue reading

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Send us a memo, Reds demand ‘unmannered’ Aquino

I decided to reprint below the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) statement on the collapse of its peace talks with the government, as posted in its website, which would be published also in its official newspaper Ang Bayan. Only by reading the communists’ actual statements would one realize how they are as anachronistic as they are arrogant.

I find the statement even a bit hilarious though. Read it, and you’d get the sense that the Reds really want the peace talks to resume, although they’re squirming to say this, and they’re trying to say that the Norwegian government will get angry if the peace-talks end.

One can sense the CPP’s panic that the end of the peace talks will mean the end of the “Jasig.” That’s the immunity the government has been giving CPP cadres and leaders going in and out of the country or of its guerilla zones. Military sources claim that because of this JASIG, ranking CPP officers have been able to closely supervise their guerillas on the ground and even collect the “revolutionary taxes” gathered by the New People’s Army in remote provinces. The military has been frustrated by the fact that every time they capture a ranking CPP leader, the insurgents claim that he is covered by the JASIG, and more often is released.

Rather comical is how the Reds are clinging to straws by claiming that the peace talks aren’t ended yet since the government of President Aquino hasn’t formally informed them, reflecting his “great discourtesy and lack of manners.” It seems the peace talks had gone into the communists’ heads that they think that they are a sovereign government. I hope some intrepid reporter asks Ang Bayan senatorial candidate—allegedly a CPP cadre assigned to the “legal struggle” —what he thinks about the collapse of the peace talks. I’d bet he would be echoing the following CPP statement:

“Until there is formal termination of peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Philippine government (GPH), the CPP maintains the position that joint agreements forged in over 20 years of negotiations should remain in effect and be respected by both sides.

The CPP identified the joint agreements as The Hague Joint Declaration of 1990, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) of 1998, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and other critical agreements “that were forged through difficult negotiations and which serve as hallmarks of the determination of the NDFP and past Philippine governments to work through differences and unite on matters of crucial importance to the Filipino people.

Over the past few days, the Aquino government and its peace negotiators have publicly declared that it is no longer going back to the negotiating table to face the NDFP in either the regular track of formal peace negotiations or the special track of forging a ceasefire agreement on the basis of a declaration for democracy, social justice and national sovereignty.

In light of the recent bellicose statements of the GPH effectively terminating the NDFP-GPH peace negotiations, the CPP and the NDFP awaits a formal notification from the GPH terminating the formal peace negotiations.

GPH peace panel member Teresita Deles is lying when she claims that Norway has already been informed of the termination of the talks. If the GPH is really no longer interested in peace negotiations, it should formally send correspondence indicating their decision to terminate the negotiations.

Aquino is showing great discourtesy and lack of manners when it unilaterally terminates the talks relentlessly pursued over the past 20 years through irresponsible statements issued through the media.

The least that the GPH should do, in cognizance and respect for the efforts of the past Philippine governments and the Royal Norwegian Government, which has served as third-party facilitator, is for it to formally inform the NDFP and Norway that it is now terminating the talks. Peace negotiations are a two-sided interactive process. To end it, one side must formally inform the other that it is no longer interested in talks.

With a formal termination, both sides can make clear its stand as to the status of the previous agreements, and whether further mechanisms should be put into place for the enforcement of these agreements. This is particularly important for the CARHRIHL and the JASIG.

It is reprehensible that Aquino’s officials have resorted to blatant lies in their vain effort to justify their act of terminating the formal peace negotiations. The Filipino people denounce the government for making malicious claims that the NDFP has imposed preconditions for the resumption of formal peace negotiations.

Government negotiator Alex Padilla is lying through his teeth when he claims that the revolutionary forces demand an end to the government’s so-called ‘poverty alleviation’ programs as precondition for the resumption of formal peace negotiations.

Never did the NDFP assert that peace negotiations should be preconditioned on putting an end to the conditional cash transfer program or the GPH’s Pamana programs, which are, of course, nothing but worn-out counter-insurgency schemes designed by the US military and funded by the World Bank.

The demand for the NDFP to release all NDFP peace consultants is not a matter of precondition, but a matter of obligation of the GPH under the JASIG.

On the contrary, it is the GPH that has insisted that it will only resume formal talks if the revolutionary movement agrees to surrender its armed resistance through an indefinite ceasefire. Over twenty years of peace negotiations have proven that critical agreements can be forged even if there is a raging civil war.”

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Do NPAs pray to Mao, believe in a proletariat heaven?

Exactly, in the sense of the word’s original meaning in early Christianity as images (eikon in Greek) of saints and prophets. The five are the prophets of communism, which is in essence a secular religion, with all of the main features of an irrational belief system.

First, as dramatically shown in the communist-led rally, communism has its version of Christianity’s prophets. NPAs (New People’s Army) of course don’t pray to Mao, as Christians neither do to John the Baptist, or St. Luke. Mao, Marx, Engels, Stalin, and Lenin are not their gods, but the communists’ revered prophets, perfect humans who saw how a classless society would be created on earth.

Second, scriptures. Just like the three great religions of the book – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – communism has its “holy” books, such as Marx’ Das Kapital, Lenin’s State and Revolution, Mao’s “Selected Works.” The Filipino communist “holy” book is party founder Jose Sison’s, “Philippine Society and Revolution” (PSR). (That’s despite its being a plagiarism of the late Indonesian communist leader Dipa Nusantra Aidit’s “Indonesian Society, Indonesian Revolution.”)

It’s what is in these books that determine what’s true or false, not logic and evidence. Data that fit in with what is in the books are true; those that don’t, are false. It is from these books that justifications for party dogmas are formulated.

Sison just didn’t present the “objective conditions” of Philippine society: he had to invoke Mao’s “Specific Characteristics of the Chinese People’s Revolution.” And when the late Popoy Lagman challenged Sison’s protracted-people’s war strategy, he
hurled a hundred quotes from Lenin, even his most obscure works.

Similarly, listen to a fundamentalist arguing against the Reproductive Health bill, and you’ll be peppered with quotes from the Bible.

Third, Catholicism has its College of Cardinals. The Communist Party has its Central Committee. Both bodies choo­se—at least theoretically—who would head their organization. Documents these bodies issue (like the CPP”s “Reaffirm Our Basic Principles and Carry the Revolution Forward” or like those coming from the Second Vatican Council) are supposed to be believed without question by its members or else, they are expelled, “heretics” in the case of Christianity, “splitists”, in the case of the Philippine Communist Party.

Fourth, both Christianity and communism are essentially millenarian ideologies: For Christianity, a Kingdom of God will be established somewhere in the future overcoming the powerful forces of Evil. For communism, the “inexorable march of history” will create a classless society despite the forces of capitalism and the ruling class.

Marx’ ideas even closely parallel Christian eschatology. For Christianity, as narrated in Revelations, an Anti- Christ will first fool men and rule over them, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will trample on mankind before the Christ’s comes to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. For Marx, capitalism will first develop into Imperialism ruling the world, until the faithful, led by the Proletarian Party, defeats it to establish a classless society. The Anti-Christ for Marx? The democratic socialists proven right in the Scandinavian countries now.

If you’ve listened to the late NPA spokesman “Ka” Roger Rosal, to communist mouthpieces in Congress, to Bayan Muna’s Teodoro Casino and Anakpawis’s Rafael Mariano, you would have sensed a distinctive arrogant certainty, born out of their millenarian belief. It’s the same certainty you would hear also form Christian fundamentalists like “Bro.” Eddie, “Bro” Mike, and “Fr.” Quiboloy.

Fifth, both have their martyrs, and their names are glorified to inspire the faithful. The communist urban assassination group is named after labor-leader-turned-NPA Alex Boncayao. Leadership of guerilla fronts are named after NPA martyrs killed in firefights with the military, e.g., the Melito Glor Command (Southern Luzon), Menardo Arce Command (Southern Mindabnao), Rodante Urtal Command (Nor­t­h­ern Samar).

Sixth, both have their rituals. For instance the head of the communist party unit officiates the wedding of members under him, in which the hammer-and-sickle flag drapes them as they declare that they will be as faithful to each other as to the
“Party and the Peo­ple.” (The wedding rings? In my time, the bride gave the groom an Armalite 5.56 mm bullet; he gives her a .45 mm.) Both have their special days and you’d be condemned if you don’t celebrate them: May 1 International Labor Day of course, the NPA’s March 29 founding, and Dec. 26 the founding of the Communist Party which is of course also Mao Tse Tung’s birthday.

No wonder priests have quite easily embraced communism to become the Party’s die-hard leaders, as in the case of National Democratic Front chairman Luis Jalandoni and Santiago Salas of the NDF’s Eastern Visayas chapter who even prefers to be called “Father.” All they had to do was to replace the names of the categories in their minds, “Masses” for God, PSR for the New Testament, “the ruling class” for the Devil.

But communism is violent, and uses arms to further their ideology, unlike Christianity, you’d argue. Well, until it became a dominant religion, its proselytizing was, to paraphrase Mao, through the barrel of the gun—as the Christianization of South America and the Philippines were.

Communism and religions are similar in that they try to satisfy one of deepest needs of a human being: the need to transcend himself, to feel as if he were part of a greater whole.

This likely was an evolutionary need, as success in doing so has a pleasure reward—a feeling of contentment, happiness, and even ecstasy. Humans— with their feeble physique— would have been brought to extinction by bigger predators if they didn’t learn to band together, with each member expected to sacrifice his life so his band of hunters would survive. Feeling that one is part of something bigger also creates the illusion that one is immortal, which would have prodded our ancestors to do everything he could to survive nature and beat his predators.

For Christianity particularly, this feeling of transcendence is acquired by believing one is part of a God’s Kingdom and well, even a Cosmic God, which is after all the point of the ritual of “eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood.” An Islamic suicide bomber would likely feel a kind of ecstasy in the seconds before he blows himself up thinking he will soon be an atom of God. (Or does he rather look forward to having his way with the 72 virgins the Koran says are the reward of the martyr.)

For communists, the feeling of transcendence is simulated as being one of the Proletariat who will usher in a classless society, the real heaven on earth. The mind is a trickster: NPAs dream of a proletarian classless heaven, where they will even perhaps meet Mao.

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Fake candidates, fake authenticity

Objectively look at those aspiring to be senators of the Republic, and many of them are either essentially fake candidates or those with fake authenticity.

Two are obviously fakes, succeeding so well in their deception that they are rating high in surveys.

Filipinos will not really be voting for one balikbayan named Mrs. Llamanzares, who spent most of her working life in the United States as product manager of CSS Scientific in Virginia and as procurement liaison officer for the US Geological Survey, and got married to a fellow OFW, one Teodoro employed there at a defense contractor company and who is now with San Miguel Corp.’s telecoms unit. If Mrs. Llamanzares wins, she’ll be the first ever and probably the last movie and TV censor to become Senator of the Republic.

Filipinos though would be actually voting not for Mrs Llamanzares but for somebody they have been deluded to believe is the daughter of the fictional Ang Panday, the swashbuckling warrior, or the working class hero in so many movies: Mary Grace, adopted daughter of the late Fernando Poe, Jr. Her TV ads even emphasize this, where she visits a family in whose home a movie poster of Ang Panday prominently hangs. She herself noted that it was only when she dropped her married name Llamanzares that her ratings shot up.

Mr. Poe, by most accounts was a reserved introvert who minded his own business, both figuratively and literally (the very successful FPJ Productions). “FPJ” however as a presidential candidate ion 2004 was a fake one, concocted by the Estrada forces to win the presidency in 2004, which the former president thought was his last chance to stay out of jail. Many Filipinos were fooled in seeing his movie persona—the mythical warrior Ang Panday or the working class hero with his sweat towel around on his neck—for “Ronnie” who was fond of expensive designer jeans, was never interested in any social crusade, and abhorred politics.

Yet many Filipinos had equated Poe with his screen roles of a man fighting for the masses, which is as delusional as believing that Sylvester Stallone is Rambo or Rocky, or that the Austrian professional body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger is Conan, or the Terminator. Those voting for Grace Poe take this confusion to a higher level: the fiction of a Grace Poe is based on the fiction of Ang Panday.

Imagine Stallone’s daughter Sophia running for the US senate, projecting herself as Rambo’s daughter, her Dad behind her in her campaign ads wearing his trademark black headband and brandishing an Armalite. Ridiculous? That’s what Grace’s electoral bid is like.

The phenomenon of confusing the reel for the real is one instance of modern late capitalism’s phenomenon that has been made possible because of the power of media. French sociologist Jean Baudrillard (in his seminal work “Simulacrum and Simulation”) and Italian semiologist and novelist Umberto Eco called it “hyperreality”: The inability of modern media-bombarded man to distinguish reality (Mr. Poe and Mrs. Llamanzares) from a simulation of reality (Panday and his daughter).

The second fake candidate is the son of the most business-minded scion of a political clan, who had the skill of being favored under every post-Marcos administration. This businessman seemed to have become so rich that his son didn’t need to work, and instead has devoted his adult life so far in philanthropic activities, which obviously has been part of his clan’s game-plan for him to appear to be some kind of crusader.

He and his family lobbied furiously to get him a post in the Arroyo administration to gain some visibility, although he himself hasn’t been able to claim any notable achievement in his post, and now bad-mouths the former president.

Filipinos wouldn’t choose him in surveys by any stretch of imagination. Except that they are not voting for this person, but —as in the case of Ang Panday’s daughter—a simulation of the slain martyr of democracy, Benigno Aquino, Jr.

Senatorial candidate Paolo “Bam” Aquino (Paul Aquino’s son) is even taking his impersonation of his assassinated uncle to its absurd extent. He changed his glasses and even his hair, for Chrissakes, to look like Ninoy, a feat his cousin the President couldn’t and thus is green with envy.

Who are, Jack Enrile, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito, Sonny Angara but simulations of their fathers, constructs in Philippine hyperreality?

Hyperreality can be made widespread only with the power of media: It is not coincidental that these simulations of candidates so far have been the biggest political-ad spenders.

“Fake authenticity” on the other hand, is actually so common in our mundane lives. It is a brand-new Levi’s jeans made to look so worn out by certain machines, so that its wearer projects the image that the he is a rugged outdoorsman. It is the repro furniture left out in the sun in the rain for a month to look like an antique.

In the current election season, it is the fake authenticity of billionaire heiress Jamby Madrigal in her TV ads where she is depicted as an aktibista braving water blasts from anti-riot firemen’s hoses.

It is the fake authenticity of Ana Theresia Baraquel with her contrived trademark shawl she wears even in the heat of summer, on top of a truck smiling ear-to-ear with President Aquino at flood-stricken victims August last year as if she were paying for the relief goods. It is Baraquel’s fake authenticity to project herself as a new-politics activist when it is the ruling power, and especially Mr. Aquino who has been funding her rent-a-demonstration party Akbayan as well as her senatorial candidacy now. It is the fake authenticity of Edgardo Angara, Jr. as he wears a yellow camisa chino shirt, to project the preposterous notion that he is a working farmer.

Baraquel in fact represents a new generation of senators and senatorial of candidates with fake authenticity: Those who acquired name-recall by being at the forefront of the furious anti-Arroyo lynch mobs since 2005, among whom are Francis Escudero, Alan Cayetano, and of course Antonio Trillanes, the Navy lieutenant who made mutiny a career path toward the Senate. Everyone seems to forget that it was Escudero who was so vociferous against the EVAT law that he led those who filed a case at the Supreme Court to junk it. Well, it was that value added tax which saved us from the 2009 global depression and remains the biggest factor for the economy’s stability in the past two years.

What a silly, silly election.

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Is Aquino now the NPA’s ‘biggest recruiter’?

Yes, it seems, just as Ferdinand Marcos was because of his regime’s corruption in the early 1980s. By most indications, the communist New People’s Army has grown in military and political strength since he assumed office in 2010.

The country was given a rude awakening to the NPA’s strength when it ambushed the convoy of Gingoog City Mayor Ruthie Guingona, the former vice president’s wife, and a senator’s mother, wounding her and killing two of her escorts. The NPA’s statement was one of arrogant confidence, an indication that they control the area after the sun sets: “The mayor breached their provisos on the bringing of armed security escorts while on the campaign trail.”

“I promise that in all my power and in all my strength and in the name of the law, those responsible will pay,” Mr. Aquino vowed. A week later three soldiers have been wounded in firefights with the NPA, and a policeman was abducted—for the nth time—in Red bastion Compostela Vallley.

Quite ironically, it is the democratic exercise—the elections in May—which have suddenly unveiled the extent of the NPA’s control of the countryside, as assessed by the Philippine Army itself.

“Candidates in the forthcoming midterm elections are paying between P100,000 and P5 million to buy protection from the NPA,” the Philippine Army’s Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta said. He disclosed that candidates for governors down to councilors in Western Visayas and parts of Eastern Visayas have paid the so-called “permit-to-campaign” fees to the NPA, which he estimated will earn P150 million this election period. The NPA’s rate schedule: P5 million for those running for governor or congressman; P100,000 for mayor or board member; and P75,000 for vice mayor.

As this paper reported, military spokesman Col. Marcelo Arnulfo Burgos, Jr. said the situation is similar in other areas occupied by the NPA such as in Davao, Caraga Region, Agusan , Surigao, and some parts of Northern Mindanao, including Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Cagayan de Oro and Gingoog.

During President Arroyo’s term, her national security officials met once every two months in which the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency presented its assessment whether insurgents and terrorists were gaining in strength or weakening, what policies needed to be implemented. Mr. Aquino has not had such a single intelligence conference, and had relied on Peace Process Adviser Teresita Deles and Political Affairs Adviser Ronald Llamas to update him on the insurgent groups.

“So we really don’t have any idea whether the NPA has grown or not,” an Army colonel told me, “although it is pretty obvious that they have been stepping up their operations.”

In February, the NPA simultaneously attacked the Del Monte and Dole plantations’ main offices, killing two guards, which its spokesman claimed was “to stop their operations that were damaging the environment.” These attacks shocked Mindanao, since even at the peak of the NPA’s strength in the region in the early 1980s, they could never attack the two plantations. Del Monte is just a half-hours’ drive from Malaybalay City in Bukidnon, and an hour form the regional center, Cagayan de Oro City.

One worrying indication of the communists’ strength is that its Eastern Visayas command has the gall – or confidence – to issue an “ultimatum” to political leaders there, practically telling them that they will be killed unless they kowtow to the NPA. This has never been done before.

Last week, “Fr.” Santiago Salas, spokesman of the Eastern Visayas chapter of the communist National Democratic Front “issued a final warning to reactionary die-hards (congressman) Ben Evardone and (his cousin running for governor) Javier Zacate over their counterrevolutionary and anti-people crimes…otherwise they will surely face the full force of revolutionary justice.”

There are several factors that contributed to the growth of the NPA under Aquino.

First, poverty has worsened, based on data released by the National Statistics Coordination Board, pushing the desperate poor to join the ranks of the insurgents. The region where the NPA is strongest is in fact that where the poverty has worsened significantly: Eastern Visayas, where the poor increased from 33.3 of families in 2006 to 37.2 percent in 2012.

Secondly, in contrast to Presidents Estrada and Arroyo’s iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove approach to the communist insurgency, Aquino’s has been a limp-wristed one. This is even reflected in the title for Aquino’s anti-insurgency plan, “Oplan Bayanihan” (Cooperative Spirit), in contrast to Arroyo’s “Oplan Bantay Laya” (Freedom Vanuguard).

While Oplan Bayanihan in theory seemed a humane, peaceful approach to the insurgency, the ground-level reality is that the military has been defanged, waffling to undertake combat operations against the NPA. It has practically been ordered to focus on community work. “I joined the Army, not the social welfare department,” the army colonel said sarcastically. Because of Oplan Bayanihan, formerly anti-NPA areas have shifted allegiance to the communists, fearing that the military no longer intends to defeat the insurgents in the battlefield.

Worse, Aquino’s peace talks with the rebels—led by the naïve Teresita Deles and human rights lawyer Alex Padilla—has had the effect of tying the military’s hands, and allowed the NPA to expand both militarily and politically with little interference from the armed forces.

And thirdly, Aquino has fit to a T the communists’ decades-old description of the People’s Enemy, a landlord who is a puppet of the “US imperialists”, thereby boosting its credibility. Since he assumed power, the communists have been harping on Aquino’s clan as representative of the exploitative landlord class, stubbornly refusing to put its Hacienda Luisita under land reform, and worse, killing seven workers on strike there in 2004 as arguments that an armed revolution is necessary in the country.

Aquino’s efforts to portray his administration as a corrupt-free one has also lost traction, with the communist paper Ang Bayan in its recent issue for instance claiming:

“The Aquino ruling clique is allowing presidential relatives and cronies to engage in technical smuggling that has resulted in the loss of at least P58 billion in customs revenues for the government since 2010. This is now the most exposed type of corruption under the regime that boasts of being clean and honest.” With the Aquino administration’s obvious pro-US stance—to the extent of antagonizing America’s rival, China—that old communist formula had been given life: “the Aquino-US regime.”

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

UP: ‘Mga Iskolar na Mayayaman’


The Manila Times, April 29, 3013


“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men..” Horace Mann, American educator, 1848

RATHER than “Iskolar ng Bayan” (Scholars of the People) with its connotation that they’re from the masses, students of the University of the Philippines are mostly “Iskolar na Mayayaman” (rich scholars).

Based on official UP data, its typical student is from the upper class, whose tuition taxpayers heavily subsidize: 72 percent are among the A and B brackets, or those whose families have income of at least P500,000. Only 6.2 percent are from the lowest E bracket, who are not charged tuition.

This conclusion is extracted from the UP’s report on beneficiaries of its Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program. The number of those in the AB could be a bit inflated, based on the argument that the UP’s requirements to prove one’s eligibility to the STFAP program is so rigorous that many of those not from the upper classes do not bother to go through the process. I don’t believe this though: Really poor parents would do all they can to save a few thousands in tuition they deserve.

The class structure for a university the state subsidizes is scandalous. The UP’s full tuition for a year is P54,000, while its actual cost has been estimated to be nearly triple that, at P150,000. Why would the government—us taxpayers—subsidize a rich college kid’s tuition by nearly P100,000?

The data shows something deeply wrong in the UP, as a heavily subsidized national university. UP Manila student Kristel Tejada took her life when she fell into deep depression that she had to stay out of school as her application to be moved to the E2 bracket (full tuition subsidy and a stipend) was not acted upon.

And how many UP Manila students were in the E2 bracket? One hundred ninety-eight: 3.3 percent of the UP Manila’s 5,938. If Kristel was taken in into the E2 bracket, that poorest strata would account for just 3.4 percent of its student population. Was that such a difficult decision from UP Manila’s administrators?

The UP system’s budget is about P10 billion. How many poor students are there in UP who do not have to pay tuition fee? Just 2,544 or 6 percent of its 41,356 students.

In the US, college tuition accounts for an average of 17 percent of a family’s income. In the UP tuition is just 5.4 percent of those in the A bracket, or those with at an annual income of P1 million. The P54,000 the 72 percent of rich UP students pay for tuition is dwarfed by their families’ annual budget for such leisure as for eating out, or a summer vacation.

Even in such things as the state-funded national university, the elite manages to use it to perpetrate itself.Continue reading

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Are terrorists just too religious?

Exodus’ biblical terrorist? Artist’s depiction of the Angel of Death killing all Egyptian first- borns to terrify the Pharaoh to release the Israelites.

The Manila Times, April 28, 2013

Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too/ /Imagine all the people / Living life in peace — “Imagine” by John Lennon

THERE is something deeply disturbing about terrorism, and it is not just the horrific killing of innocents, as in the death of an 8-year old boy and two other bystanders in the Boston bombing.

It is its nature that while it is a most gruesome deed, it is done not to satisfy the terrorist’s basest, selfish impulses—as ordinary crimes are— but for something he believes, or thinks he believes, is a noble cause, something that is bigger than his small self.

Bin Laden is most probably a megalomaniac mass murderer, but after all has been said, there is still that lingering question why a scion of a Saudi Arabian clan would devote his life and probably his billions of dollars to what he believed was a holy war against the US infidel that he even reveled in the killing of 5,000 human beings in the World Trade Center carnage.

The suspected Boston bombers—especially the 19 year-old Dzhokhar Tarnaev— could have lived a comfortable life in the US. They instead believed that they had to risk their lives to kill people for what they thought is some higher good. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 of his fellow Americans in his bombing of an Oklahoma building in his belief that this would spark a revolt against what he believed was a tyrannical US state. Terrorism seems to arise from some deep human impulse, albeit in a perverted version: Man’s need to transcend himself, to become part of bigger whole. Yes, quite ironically, it’s the same impulse responsible for much of humanity’s achievements and its religions.

You would be surprised that a defining mythic episode of Judaism and Christianity would fall under most definitions of terrorism.

In the Exodus, because plagues and infestation weren’t enough, it was the killing by the Angel of Death of all Egyptians’ first-born that convinced the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. If that were true, it was terrorism on a genocidal scale. With an estimated Egyptian population of 3.5 million at that time, that would have meant the killing of about a million innocent firstborns, from those in the cradle to the elderly nearing the grave—in order to terrify the Pharaoh.

The Old Testament indeed relates many episodes of terrorism, an indication that such atrocities were not rare in ancient times. When some Israelites began to worship other gods, Numbers 25: 3-4 narrates that Yahweh ordered Moses, to terrify them: “Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun.”

Could all these Biblical accounts of an angry God killing innocents for His higher purpose been etched in humanity’s collective consciousness that the notion that to murder for such lofty aims is all right? Indeed, this justification was obviously that of the Spanish Inquisition, which ordered thousands of “heretics” burned to the stake. Even (St.) Thomas More, a lawyer, social philosopher, and Renaissance humanist had six “heretics”— actually the first Protestants—executed when he was Lord Chancellor.

It isn’t terrorism but a heinous crime when a gang kidnaps a tycoon’s and demand millions of pesos in ransom. It was terrorism though when the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped tourists in Dos Palmas and demanded ransom, and claim that they did it as part of their jihad to establish an Islamic state. It seems there has to be a broader, even higher purpose for a violent act to be classified as “terrorist.”

But the religious would point out that the most horrific episodes of terrorism—to broaden the use o—f the term —are those committed by atheists—Hitler most especially, if one believes he rejected his childhood Catholicism, as well as the communist megalomaniacs Stalin, Mao, and even Khmer Rouge Pol Pot.

But these mass murderers also didn’t kill for fun, or to amass fortunes. In the same manner that the faithful believe in some higher (Divine) purpose, these mass terrorists believed in something bigger than themselves (defined by what they thought by history and “rationality”), the achievement of which for them justified the killing of millions of innocents.

Continue reading

Filed under: Culture, Manila Times Columns, Philosophy

Aquino’s CCT: The biggest vote buying scheme eve

Daang Mahirap: More poor under Aquino's regime


The Manila Times,  April 26, 2013

Aquino’s centerpiece program, the conditional cash-transfer program—basically a dole-out scheme for the poor—has obviously not made a dent on the country’s poverty. Based on government data recently disclosed, 1.32 million Filipinos joined the ranks of the country’s 27 million poor in the 34 months of Mr. Aquino’s regime.

However, the program, which Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman dubbed “4P” for Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program has emerged as the biggest vote- buying scheme in our history, which would affect not only the senatorial and local elections next month, but the presidential contest in 2016. Here’s how.

The program gives from P500 to as much as P1,400 monthly to supposedly poor families all over the country. The dole-outs are given as long as the beneficiary fulfills two conditions. First, the recipient (usually the mother) takes her children to the local health center for regular check-ups and deworming, and second, she keeps her children enrolled in school.

Since Aquino, took over, a staggering P100 billion has been expended for it, including the P45-billion budgeted for this year.

On the ground level though, the program has been perceived by Filipinos as “PNoy’s Pantawid Progam,” the President’s magnanimous giveaways for the country’s poor.

Worse though, election campaigners for Aquino’s candidates, especially for local posts, have pursued the following propaganda message, as narrated to me by ground-level political operators in a province in Southern Luzon.

“If Aquino’s candidates do not win here, the CCT will be ended here. Aquino plans to expand the program, but if his candidates lose he will not implement it here.”

“It’s a very clever plot,” one local political leader who is not with Aquino’s party said in Pilipino. “How can we counter it when they’ve spread the news about ‘ PNoy’s Pantawid’ that people are getting P500 monthly. People here also know actual families who are its beneficiaries, even if they’re not poor, “he added.

“Sa totoo lang, bale nabili na nila ang boto,” he said. (“In truth, they’ve already in effect bought the votes”).

The DSWD has not explained in detail its method for choosing beneficiaries, nor has it disclosed their geographical distribution. A suspicion is emerging though that the DSWS has focused on vote-rich provinces of the country.

Its reach all over the archipelago has certainly become extensive, as Soliman, the program’s champion, bragged in her recent press release: “Some 3,841,992 poor households are now benefiting from the program, as of April 3, 2013. It is implemented in 1,627 cities and municipalities in 79 provinces in 17 regions nationwide.”

That’s a huge pro- Aquino political base she has built up—or really bought from taxpayers’ money.

Soliman had also claimed that the CCT’s coverage will be expanded in the next two years, to double the total to P200 billion by the end of the Aquino administration, making it the biggest, and most clever votebuying scheme in our history.

It would be the most important campaign message the Liberal Party will pound on to defeat even the most popular candidate for the presidency in 2016: “If Aquino’s heir doesn’t win ( Mar Roxas?), the CCT program will be ended and you who are among the 8 million recipients ( the target number of beneficiaries by 2016) will lose your monthly allowance. Your choice.”

The CCT’s hidden political agenda explains a puzzle to foreign observers of the program —its relatively big benefit that requires a huge budget despite the other pressing demands on the country’s coffers. A January 2013 study of the World Bank’s Social Protection Unit observed: “Benefit levels for Pantawid Pamilya are relatively generous compared to those of other CCT programs around the world. The maximum amount of monthly household grants to which they are entitled is P1,400 ($32), estimated to be about 23 percent of the beneficiaries’ income.“

Never mind though if the CCT is basically a plot by Aquino for his party to hold on to power in 2016. Is the P100 billion so far spent, and another P100 billion to be spent a mammoth waste of taxpayers’ money?

It has definitely given much joy to nearly four million families so far. Soliman has been boasting that the World Bank’s January 2013 study showed such gains as higher percentage of children in “Pantawid barangays” enrolled in school and more children being de-wormed as well as getting vitamin A in these villages. But Soliman conveniently has never disclosed one crucial finding of the World Bank study:

“However, the findings suggest that the program has not had a significant impact on increasing enrollment among older children aged 12-17 years old . . . The program was unable to even improve enrollment of children 12-14 years of age, who are currently covered under Pantawid Pamilya.”

This finding is important, as all studies on poverty here and elsewhere show that the most important factor for a child to crawl out of the poverty he finds himself in is at the very least, getting a high- school education. How could CCT raise a family’s poverty level if it cannot afford to keep its high school child in school? And if the CCT has not enabled poor families to keep their children in high school, they are still condemned to poverty, even if they are a bit healthier for going to the health centers regularly as the program requires.

A 2011 study on the program published by the Asian Development Bank in fact raised fundamental questions regarding the CCT dole-out scheme:

“Some may argue that, if economic growth is the main engine of poverty elimination, it would be better to spend scarce public resources for other services, such as infrastructure, for higher growth. Others may challenge cash grants because these may give disincentives for people to work and discourage self-reliance among recipients.”

In more concrete terms, should the P100 billion spent so far (to increase to P200 billion by 2016), for the CCT have been more wisely spent for infrastructure, or even for state-funded industrial projects that would contribute to a productive economy, which has and always will be the way out of poverty?

But rationality is not a concern in this government. The CCT program has been the conjuncture of Soliman’s ego (as she thinks it is her brain-child and legacy) and an incompetent party’s greed to continue in power.


Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Zobels, BIR owe the nation an explanation


President Aquino with Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel at Davos conference early this year
Manila Times, April 24, 2013
PURE baloney.

That is what Bureau of Internal Revenue chief Kim Henares’ and Fernando Zobel de Ayala’s explanation is, that wellknown tycoons aren’t among the country’s top 500 taxpayers because they didn’t file their annual income tax returns ( ITRs) and instead availed of the socalled “substituted filing” scheme.

They must think Filipinos are so gullible. According to our tax regulations, everyone earning income in the Philippines are required to file his ITR except for the following:

• Those earning a minimum wage or less, or those whose income does not exceed P60,000, the tax on which has already been remitted to the BIR;

• Those whose sole income are from bank deposits, dividends from stocks, and capital gains from property and stocks;

• Those who have only one employer, who directly remits to the BIR its officers taxes (the so-called “substituted filing” system).

The Zobels Jaime Augusto and Fernando as well as such tycoons in the Forbes roster of top Philippine billionaires such as Enrique Razon, Robert Coyiuto, Frederick Dy, and William Uytengsu aren’t, by any tax expert’s esoteric justification, in any of these categories who are exempt from filing ITRs. They are executives in many firms, and therefore cannot avail of the substituted filing arrangement.

The BIR and these tycoons owe it to the nation to explain why they didn’t file their ITRs, as four million Filipinos did this month.

The BIR appears not to realize that the release of its list of top 500 taxpayers, in which President Aquino’s sister Kris came out as the no. 1 taxpayer and in which many of our billionaires aren’t included, has made our country not only the laughing stock of the world but also portrayed the Philippines as a nation of tax-evaders. How can, in a lower middle income country, foreign and local executives as well celebrities account for twothirds of its top 500 taxpayers?

Imagine this. The US Internal Revenue Service makes public its list of top taxpayers and it is celebrity Paris Hilton who comes out as the biggest American taxpayer. Many of its renowned billionaires like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the Walton brothers, and Jeff Bezos aren’t in the list.

If this ever happens, there would be such an uproar in the country that probably the IRS chief would be fired if proven his list was erroneous, the billionaires harassed to eventually disclose their tax payments, and their firms’ stock prices would plummet.

This is exactly what the BIR’s top 500 list is, yet we have lost the capacity for outrage in this country. The BIR and Zobel make an explanation regarding substituted filing—that can be very easily proven false—and yet media acquiesces. One columnist even made a smarmy defense of tax-evading tycoons, claiming that the “employment and business opportunities generated by (their) companies translate into more tax collections for government.”

One of our nation’s biggest flaws is that we, especially media, are so quick to accuse politicians and corrupt bureaucrats for the morass the country has been unable to crawl out of, but are so sheepish in pointing to the real culprit: the economic elite.

Never mind if rough- andtumble Chinese- Filipino tycoons like Lucio Co and William Gatachalian or lowprofile ones like Michael Cosiquien and Edgar Sia don’t appear in the BIR’s top 500 list.

But for well-known tycoons like the Zobel brothers, Lance Gokongwei, Enrique Razon, and entrepreneurship-champion Jose Concepcion III not to be appearing as top taxpayers is, if you really think about it, scandalous.

These people are the youth’s models, the epitome of the Filipino business elite. The Zobels and their people are even known to be champions of “corporate governance”, and their father even made the unprecedented move of joining demonstrations against corruption under the Marcos regime. The Zobels especially make up the face of Philippine business to the world, the country’s link to the global corporate elite, as they proved by single handedly getting President Aquino a last-minute participation in the Davos conference. They are among the billionaires closest to Mr. Aquino, who is claiming to be on an anticorruption crusade.

And they’re not in the country’s top 500 taxpayers list, and so far have arrogantly refused to explain why?

What would they tell their foreign partners if asked why? I’m not sure which is worse for the country’s image: That they can outsmart the BIR in not appearing in the list, or that that agency is both so incompetent and irresponsible to have released such an erroneous list. If property tycoon Andrew Tan was so forthright to release data on his income and tax payments, why don’t the Ayalas, Gokongweis, and other tycoons do so?

It is certainly possible that they aren’t appearing in the list because of some BIR bureaucrat’s boo-boo. But Henares has insisted that her list is correct: “Those that did not appear in the list, we went out of our way to check their returns to make sure there was no mistake. We’ve been able to verify and there seems to be no mistake.”

What kind of message is the BIR sending to the country’s tax payers— especially the middle class whose incomes are automatically deducted every payday with the 10 percent withholding tax— if the country’s well-known billionaires aren’t in the top taxpayers list, and aren’t explaining why? How can the BIR chief Henares claim that she is boldly running after tax evaders such as actresses and doctors, when she can’t collect the proper taxes from tycoons?

Britain’s top taxpayer, David Harding, founder of hedge fund Winston Capital Management, who paid the equivalent of P2 billion in taxes, or 39 percent of his P6 billion income in fiscal year 201-2111, had warned that if high earners who avoid “paying their fair share provoked anger among the rest of the country . . . I think the resentment and anger is felt among the middle class – the civil servants, the teachers, the soldiers, the public sector workers, the professional classes, the backbone of the nation.”

That’s certainly the case here. If the billionaires aren’t paying their fair share of taxes, why should I? That’s what millions of unhappy taxpaying Filipinos are thinking.

To change this kind of thinking, Henares should make public the income and taxes of the Zobels and other billionaires not in the top 500 taxpayer list, her authority for her to do so is that which she invoked for releasing that list, Section 14 of Republic Act 9480. Or she is just afraid of her boss’ friends?

Filed under: Manila Times Columns