Gold fever

Posted in Brownman's Posts by uniffors on the December 9th, 2013

Is Gold Worth the High Costs?

By Robin Broad and John Cavanagh

“An engine of growth & prosperity,” announces the OceanaGold sign that greets us in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya. We’ve come a long and windy twelve-hour drive up the Maharlika highway, through seven provinces from Metro Manila into the clouds of the Sierra Madre. We stand at the base of what remains of a hill that the Australian mining executives call Dinkidi, Australian slang for “the real thing.” Just years ago, this was a green hill dotted with trees and farmers’ modest homes.

Today, with the homes demolished and successive layers of land blasted away by high powered explosives, it is a giant pile of rocks, with the valuable gold and copper – “the real thing” — being extracted for the profits of a firm headquartered far away in Australia.

We sit with Didipio community members of the Didipio Earth-Savers Multipurpose Association Inc. (DESAMA), with a bird’s eye view of the plundered site that’s just outside the window.

To the public and executives of OceanaGold, we invite you into the room.

Listen to the weary and distraught mother as she tells us that her family lives so close to the enormous conveyor belt that carries rock to be crushed that she and her four school-age children cannot study or sleep. They hear the loud droning noise 24 hours a day. When the mining company blasts rock, it feels like an earthquake. But it is her house and her land, and what is she to do?

Listen to the cracking voice of Lorenzo Polido, a farmer who moved from Ifugao to this fertile land decades ago, as he recounts the demolitions of homes several years ago. He tells us of a neighbor who suffered a heart attack watching his home demolished to make way for the mine. During the demolitions, many in the community set up barricades to try to stop OceanaGold. Allies from the national Alyansa Tigil Mina (the Network Against Mining), the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, and other groups lent support.

Carmen Ananayo, her voice breaking and eyes tearing, talks about the 2012 murder of her daughter, herself the mother of two very young children, along with another DESAMA member. No one suggests that the mining company shot the two, but OceanaGold’s presence has brought conflict and death to this previously peaceful municipality

As to the economic benefits from the gold mine, Carmen tells us that many of the mine’s workers – often hired as irregulars to avoid minimum wage and benefits — earn a meager P248 for a long 12-hour shift, less than P21 an hour (US$.50 an hour). It would take these workers many lifetimes to approach the US$ 1.3 million compensation package of OceanaGold CEO Michael Wilkes in 2012.

Moreover, any economic benefits from this mine’s projected 16-year-life will be more than outweighed by the environmental devastation. We hear of “dirty water” downstream from the mine and of dead fish washing up on the shore. What is the cause? What is in the four massive vats that can be seen amidst the mine’s machinery beside the piles of rocks? Is OceanaGold, like other global mining firms, using cyanide to separate the gold and copper from the surrounding rock? Are there sulfides in the rock now exposed by the mining — sulfides that are transformed into sulfuric acid every time it rains, creating “acid rock drainage” of toxins — as there are at roughly half the mine sites around the world? And why don’t the affected people in this area have access to this information?

Another farmer, hesitant to speak up until now, pipes in: “It pains us to see this destruction. We have nowhere to go. What pains us even more is that our children are witnessing this destruction.”

It may be hard for mining proponents to believe, but these farmers tell us that their dream is simply to end the mining, to have their community and clean rivers back, to be able to farm in peace and to build a better tomorrow for their children. They are proud to be the producers in Luzon’s “fruit and vegetable bowl” of Nueva Vizcaya, and they want to keep it that way.

For the mining executives, the bottom-line seems to be the yearly 100,000 ounces of gold that OceanaGold projects to extract from this once-verdant mountainside, most of which will be shipped overseas. Left behind will be but pennies on each dollar extracted, a trivial sum that does not nearly compensate for the social, environmental, or economic chaos.

Back in Manila, Philippine Human Rights Commissioner Loretta Ann Rosales tells us of the motion that the Commission filed against OceanaGold in 2011.

Citing the forcible and illegal demolitions, the harassment of residents by the police, and the indigenous community’s right to culture, the Commission recommended the revocation of the mining license of OceanaGold. Rosales is discussing with her counterparts from other countries a stronger framework to protect the rights of people and their environment from the plunder of mining firms.

OceanaGold is but one of dozens of mining companies now in the Philippines that have celebrated the skyrocketing gold, copper and other mineral prices since 2000. Collectively, these companies are blasting up and down the Philippine archipelago, and opening mines all over the world. In the Philippines as in other countries, a broad set of groups – beginning with the affected communities like those at Didipio — has come together to protect land, water, and life in the face of this mining onslaught and they have proposed an alternative mining bill that would protect these basic rights. These groups, like the people of Didipio, deserve a broad hearing.

    Robin Broad is a Professor at American University and John Cavanagh is director of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. They are co-authors of Development Redefined: How the Market Met its Match.
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Not all pork is bad?

Posted in Brownman's Posts by uniffors on the November 30th, 2013
    Not all pork is bad?

by Mario M. Galang

I hope I got it wrong – I mean my reading of the Supreme Court ponencia declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund as unconstitutional. But, is the Court saying that not all pork is necessarily bad, even if it says PDAF is truly bad?

By implication, yes; and that much is implied when the Court defined its key terms. (Without even intending to, the definition has also put an end to the “confusion of meanings” that attended the pork debate. No more are we in pork Babel.)

“Pork barrel” is not defined explicitly, but “pork barrel system” is, and in so doing the Court hints strongly at what it means by “pork barrel.”
“Pork barrel system” is “the collective body of rules and practices that govern the manner by which lump-sum, discretionary funds, primarily intended for local projects, are utilized through the respective participations of the Legislative and Executive branches of government, including its members.”

I’ve taken note of the reference to “funds” that are: 1) lump-sum discretionary; 2) primarily intended for local projects; and 3) used through the participation of the Legislature or the Executive, including their members. All these three features combined describe or define our controversial “pork”.

This pork variety is proudly Pinoy, not so unlike our adobo. It bears the marks of “local concept and legal history,” as the ponencia acknowledges. Unique unto its own, it distinguishes itself from the universally understood lexical “pork barrel” that such authority as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) accords entry, as: “The state’s financial resources regarded as a source of distribution to meet regional expenditure; the provision of funds (in U.S., Federal funds) for a particular area achieved through political representation or influence.”

OED’s pork shares with pork barrel adobo at least one common feature: the use of funds for local or areal projects. Otherwise, OED’s pork hardly cares if the central funds are lump-sum or used by whoever in congress or the executive branch. In that sense, the adobo variety is restrictive and covers a narrower scope.

Definitions are only as good as the function they do in your scheme of things. Since the Court wants to establish the constitutionality of PDAF, “pork barrel” defined at this level lacks the precision to serve the purpose.
Hence, the term “congressional pork barrel” – “defined as a kind of lump-sum, discretionary fund wherein legislators, either individually or collectively organized into committees, are able to effectively control certain aspects of the fund’s utilization through various post-enactment measures and/or practices.”

Note that the use of fund is further qualified with “through various post-enactment measures and/or practices.” The operative word is “post-enactment”- meaning, after the budget bill is enacted into law, or the stage at which the president executes the budget.

The description has now taken the unmistakable shape of PDAF. Defined as such, congressional pork barrel is intrinsically illegal, as if it was born with unconstitutional genes. Now, here’s the catch.

Any salient point missing disqualifies an item for the “congressional pork barrel” label. PDAF qualifies, not because it is lump-sum per se; but, as Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno pointed out, its “infirmity is brought about by the confluence of (1) sums dedicated to multiple purposes; (2) requiring post-enactment measures; (3) participated in, not by the Congress, but by its individual Members.”

Point 1 is precisely the lump-sum nature of the fund. The “post-enactment measures” cited in Point 2 are those that require, say, the agency implementing a PDAF-funded project to submit to Congress a priority list of beneficiaries 90 days from effectivity of the budget law – thus allowing Congress to join in the execution of the budget, in violation of the principle of separation of powers as the Constitution provides. For Point 3, one example is when individual lawmakers identify projects under PDAF, which become binding to the implementing agency.

The flipside of precision is exception or exclusion. Limiting modifiers in a definition may tend to stretch the list of exemptions. A few pages into the ponencia, the Court writes: “In a more technical sense, “Pork Barrel” refers to an appropriation of government spending meant for localized projects and secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district.” This pork looks more like OED’s pork as cited above. By definition, it “fails” the Court’s congressional pork barrel test – is it legal?

The Court defined PDAF into extinction. It was swift and easy and just. What is there to replace it? Trust our lawmakers to come out with innovations of their own. With the Court’s doctrinal definitions, the bounds of constitutionality are now clearer. They would know from this experience what to heed, and not among these is greed.

    Galang is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms.

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Posted in Brownman's Posts by uniffors on the November 26th, 2013


My colleague Manuel Buencamino calls it the biggest reconstruction project in the Philippines after World War II. President Noy Aquino (PNoy) calls it a “comprehensive rehabilitation program.”

Typhoon Yolanda has brought incalculable, terrible costs. Two weeks after the most powerful storm in more than a century ripped central Philippines, more than 5200 people have died, more than a thousand are still missing, and scores of thousands are recuperating from physical injury and emotional trauma.

The calculation of economic losses brought about by Typhoon Yolanda’s devastation varies widely. The International Business Times (UK edition) provides some information on the economic impact:

CEDIM Forensic Disaster, based in Germany estimates that losses will range between US$8 billion and US$19 billion.
Another group, Kinetic Analysis Corp. places the economic costs at between US12 billion and US15 billion.
Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan estimates that the reconstruction costs can reach US$5.8 billion.

In short, the amount for rehabilitation is staggering. But as I will explain later, the resources can be mobilized without necessarily overburdening the economy. The important point is this: The rehabilitation program is an opportunity to lay the foundation for post-Yolanda all-round, sustainable development.

In this context of recovering from the devastation brought about by the super typhoon, we can apply loosely (even literally!) Joseph Schumpeter’s “gale of creative destruction.” Yolanda destroyed the old, and it is up to us as a people, not only the policymakers, to create a new one. We hope that what we rebuild, to quote Schumpeter again, will “revolutionize the economic structure” and bring in “the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization.”

The PNoy administration has created a “task group” for the comprehensive rehabilitation program, composed of Cabinet members and coordinated by Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla. The priority programs consist of shelter and reconstruction, power restoration, livelihood and employment, resettlement and psychosocial care, environmental protection, and resource generation and allocation. In the same vein, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is tasked to prepare a unified plan, which will integrate the rehabilitation programs and projects of different agencies.

From the description above, we can observe that the “task group” is basically made up of the whole Cabinet. That is, the Aquino administration for the remainder of its term will focus its energy and attention on the post-disaster program.

The administration has correctly identified the core programs. Of course. they are general categories that are part of any template on recovery and rehabilitation. And any program cannot offer sure-fire solutions,

Allow me, nonetheless, to identify and emphasize some areas, which are essential for the success of the rehabilitation plan.

First, the plan is an opportunity not only to rehabilitate and rebuild the provinces that were hard hit by Typhoon Yolanda. The reconstruction plan must be a national one. To repeat, now is the moment to “revolutionize the economic structure.”

In addition, tens of thousands of victims have left their homes and have become internal refugees, evacuating to urban centers to start life all over again. This suggests that the scope of the plan cannot be limited to the damaged areas.

In another area, the restoration of power is not a quick fix. The power shortage extends to many parts of the archipelago. Further, we cannot discount a national energy crisis in the medium term. This entails hard decisions that will address the market failure in the energy sector.

Second, jobs have to be created. In the near term, giving cash to victims to do relief and rehabilitation work is a good step. The massive infrastructure rebuilding will also result in creating jobs, skilled and unskilled. But why stop there? After all, the administration is committed to inclusive growth, in which the creation of quality jobs is the cornerstone.

Third, employment generation—creating jobs of higher productivity and expanding the number of wage-workers—is linked to industrial and technology policy. The government through the Department of Trade and Industry has a program on expanding and diversifying manufacturing through new forms of industrial policy. This program, however, remains low key. It is high time we placed prominently on the national agenda industrial and technology policy, which is tied to job creation. In this regard, we welcome the technical assistance of multilateral organizations and donor countries,especially those in East Asia, towards doing industrial policy right.

Fourth, industrial and technology policy has new substance and forms. It is not just about picking winners; it is also about putting in place the disciplining mechanisms to prevent abuse of discretion. It is also about collaboration between government and the private sector to jointly diagnose problems, coordinate actions, and discover new ways of doing things.

Moreover, industrial and technology policy must adapt to an unfortunate reality in the Philippines—that we will continue facing horrible natural disasters. In this sense, developing local green technology to address disaster reduction and management and climate change can be the lynchpin of such policy. The advantages of indigenous green technology include its labor intensiveness and its dynamic comparative advantage (given that the technology is relatively new, even to advanced countries).

Last but not least, the rehabilitation plan will obviously entail huge resources. This can strain the government’s fiscal capacity, but this problem is not a binding one. The Department of Finance and the Bureau of Internal Revenue have performed well in steadily increasing the tax effort. The combination of Kim Henares’s tax administration reforms and the passage of the sin tax reforms symbolizes confidence in government’s revenue performance.

To be sure, more revenue measures have to be put in place, all the more made pronounced by the expenditure demand for rehabilitation. It is thus an imperative for Congress to pass the bill on reforming mineral taxation and another bill on rationalizing fiscal incentives. On top of this, depending on PNoy’s political capital, he may ask Congress to reform the specific tax on petroleum, which has been eroded through the years because of non-aadjustment to inflation.

Notwithstanding the increase in tax effort and the proposed tax reforms, government cannot avoid borrowing to finance the rehabilitation program. A word of caution though: It is better to borrow domestically than externally. A heavy inflow of foreign loans leads to a currency appreciation, which in turn weakens the real sector and thereby undermines the goal of inclusive growth.

We have heard it many times, but it has been recently articulated by Kim Henares, that slow development in the Philippines is attributed to our weak sense of nationhood. Typhoon Yolanda has moved the Filipinos, rich and poor, to act as one. Let us seize this moment to sustain national action. Let us turn disasters like Yolanda into a “gale of creative destruction.”

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What ought to be

Posted in Brownman's Posts by uniffors on the November 18th, 2013

What ought to be
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III

Some of us are dismayed over the behavior of blaming and bitching government for the slow, disorganized, or powerless response to the Typhoon Yolanda devastation.

Here’s a sample of Facebook comments that I liked:

• Please, if you are not doing anything to help, just shut up. We are all hurting, especially those in the affected areas. Let us unite in helping in any way we can. Criticizing, spreading false stories, predicting failure and all that negative stuff have got to stop.
• I hope all those know-it-all critics of the typhoon relief efforts sit down together and produce a magic master plan for the survivors. I’ve been waiting days for them to stop bitching and to come up with an alternative to what the government is doing.
• The damage from Yolanda is incalculable. The worst is psychical. The aftermath has made bitching a national pastime.

Don’t get me or us wrong.

First, everyone is not faultless. Even PNoy. Recall that he criticized the local government of Tacloban, expressing doubts over its preparedness. In times of great distress and disaster, emotional outbursts are difficult to control. In fact, they are better released.

Second, criticisms are necessary. Government is not omniscient. Criticisms make government awake and responsive.

But the type of criticism we have to avoid is one that weakens the collective effort to provide relief and rehabilitation to the suffering millions.

Some criticisms or complaints stem from the thinking of what ought to be. Government must or should do this or do that. Dapat ganito, dapat ganyan.

What ought to be is the best situation; it is the ideal. But the ideal is not the real world. We face too many constraints to achieve our objectives. Apply this to the response to the devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda: The information and logistics failure overwhelm the people on the ground. Without information, infrastructure, and logistics, we can expect chaos.

Thus, attributing the absence of government’s presence as a cause of the worsening situation is misplaced. Government’s invisibility in some areas is but the effect of an objective problem—information and infrastructure facilities having been knocked off, leading to inefficiency and miscoordination.

It is also true that in remote areas, government cannot be found. But this has been the case since time immemorial. It is thus a constraint in the context of the ongoing relief and rehabilitation.

Another example of the “what-ought-to-be syndrome” is the tendency of some, particularly the foreign commentators, to compare the Philippines’ poor response to that of advanced countries like Japan. In other words, we ought to be doing what Japan is doing. Again, that is the ideal, but far from real. How can we become a Japan that soon?

This reminds me of the weakness of the most incisive analysis of Douglass North on the role of institutions, which earned him the Nobel laureate. North and his colleagues distinguish between countries (developing ones) that have limit access orders—characterized by corruption, rent-seeking and oligarchic rule—and countries (the advanced market economies) that have open access orders. So what ought to be for developing countries is to achieve open access orders. But North et al. so far cannot provide the concrete answers how to get there.

When next time, we say government must do this and must do that, we better exercise prudence and caution. Let us be sensitive to the constraints. Let us also acknowledge our own constraint that we ourselves do not have enough information that will be the basis of the most appropriate response.

But below is one example where our commentary can be most helpful to the relief and rehabilitation effort. Note that the writer EJ Galang, a young, internationally awarded creative professional, avoids saying we must do this or must do that.

To my friends in government, I know it’s a tall order, but can we expect a transparency report, an accounting of the donations that are meant for relief. I know it’s a hard task but this recent expose made the people lose its confidence on how the government keeps track of the people’s money. It will do the government good if you can restore a little bit of that trust.

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Scrapping pork

Posted in Brownman's Posts,Economic Affairs by uniffors on the October 9th, 2013

Scrapping pork
By Mario M. Galang

The second Million People March held last October 4, 2013 at Ayala Avenue had all the looks of rage reined in. The scrap-pork marchers have far little to show by way of numbers, but there is some to offer in terms of reason. The riftt among them was real, but restrained – for how long, that is the question.

It started as an overwhelmingly spontaneous action on August 26 at the Luneta, sparked by a 10 billion-peso scam involving a pork barrel item named Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). The crowd was without a leader, individual or group, and it was largely unorganized. Ground rules governed the event, ensuring that no one ruled over anybody: imaginary cordons confined each organized group within its assigned area, and kept the organized from the unorganized; you could speak to a crowd but only in your group. You raised your own call, brought your own demands, showed your own placards—all about pork. Nobody could speak on behalf of the whole crowd.

Festive and playful but never flippant, it was an action of Filipinos flying into a rage. The arrow flew as the bow released its tension, but it was an arrow without a head.

The second, October 4 event saw the ground rules changed, lending it the features of a unified action, a political rally in the classic sense. Speaker after speaker took center stage in their turn addressing a common crowd. Its number would depend on your bias, but falling within the range of 3 to 10 thousand.

After more than a month since August 26 the pork busters have finally come around to agreeing on what they want – the arrow has seemed to find its head. Put forward during the rally was the #ScrapPork Network’s “consolidated” set of eight demands.

Looking quickly at the list, four demands address the Congress (as taken up below); one addresses presumably the Ombudsman, “To have all cases against the lawmakers involved in the pork barrel scam filed no later than 5 pm on Dec 6, 2013;” another one the COA (Commission on Audit), “to release its audit of presidential funds under Aquino’s term;” and one addresses civil society organizations, “to be involved in the budget process of local government units.”

Let me take up selectively those demands that I feel are most problematic.

One of the four demands addressed to the Congress calls on the “Senate to remove all forms of pork barrel from the 2014 budget.” “Pork barrel” as used here, may mean, in its narrow sense, the ex-PDAF item. But the #ScrapPork Network’s definition covers a far broader meaning, as set out in its Unity Statement 2.0, like this: “We define pork barrel as all state funds subject to discretionary use and/or allocation by officials in all branches and in all levels of the government.”

The definition singles out “discretionary” fund because it is assumed vulnerable to corruption, which is correct. But correcting for vulnerability does not instantly demand scrapping the fund altogether; clarifying accountability, transparency, or stricter monitoring may in fact do the job. (The demand for the Congress “to pass the People’s Freedom of Information bill” is relevant here.)“Discretion” is given to allow for management flexibility. Which of the funds serve the purpose and which do not, will never be known by looking for all discretionary funds, labeling them “pork”, and throwing them all into a pit.

Another demand asks the “legislative branch of government to create an independent commission to review all laws and orders creating lump-sums in the government budget for specific purposes, and check the efficiency of these allocations.” Like discretionary fund, lump-sum fund is singled out because of vulnerability, but this demand avoids arbitrariness by merely calling for a “review” of all laws creating lump-sums. Its problem lies elsewhere. Both Houses of the Congress have respective permanent committees in charge of the annual budget, so what’s the need for an “independent commission” to do the job? Besides, unless you need a law to create this commission (in which case, why?), the “legislative branch” is not the proper body to do it.

Presumably addressed also to the Congress is the demand to “realign the President’s Social Fund and Special Purpose Funds to line agencies.” Why zero in on these funds? I think for at least three reasons, each known by its key word: presidential, discretionary and lump-sum. If so, why waste time going through the motion that the two preceding demands are expected to set into? This demand suffers again from the indiscriminate habit of some budget experts to shovel all funds into one heap because these are lump-sums and under the discretion of the President, and call them “presidential pork”. They confuse propaganda with policy.

Finally, calling on “the Aquino administration to open the bicameral budget deliberations to the public,” is a good one but misplaced: “bicameral” is bicameral, not presidential.

The arrow head looks blunt.

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Press briefing by President Aquino on Zamboanga City, September 19, 2013

Posted in Brownman's Posts by uniffors on the September 20th, 2013

Q: Alam naman po namin na hindi nagbibigay ng timeline para sa mga ganitong operasyon pero madami po ang nagtatanong, may kasiguruhan po ba na matatapos ito o hindi na ito aabot sa susunod na linggo?

President Aquino: Siguro ang dapat na tanong doon: Importante ba ‘yung oras kung kailan tatapusin ‘to o importante ba ‘yung hostages na natitira pa? At sa aking pananaw, importante ‘yung buhay. So magdidikta ng kailan matatapos ito: ‘yung kakayahan natin, ‘yung intelligence information natin, ‘yung abilidad natin na mailayo sa kapahamakan yung mga hostages na natitira. So iyon ang first priority. Kung puro kalaban ang nandoon, siyempre ibang usapan ‘yon, pero mayroon pa ring hostages.

Q: As we speak, sir, ilang hostages po ba ngayon ‘yong hawak pa?

President Aquino: About 20.

Q: Sir, ano na po ang naging impact ng krisis na ito, hindi lamang sa Zamboanga City, kundi sa bansa natin?

President Aquino: Well, bago nito ‘no, ‘yong sa English, “posturing” ni Misuari parang medyo, parang ang hirap unawain. Nagtawag ng independence pero nagsabing ituloy ‘yong peace process. ‘Pag nag-a-assemble, tinatawag nilang “peaceful rally.” Dito, sinubukan nilang i-push ‘yong envelope–’yong tolerance ng gobyerno. Maglalakad sa ibang hindi naman kabilang ng ARMM, armado. Hindi pwede ‘yon. ‘Pag binibigyan mo ng lagim o binibigyan mo ng dahilan para matakot ang mga mamamayang nananahimik, tutugunan ka ng gobyerno.

Q: Sir, how involved are you in the decision making in order to solve this crisis here in Zamboanga?

President Aquino: I’m both Commander-in-chief and President. Therefore, at the end of the day, everything is my responsibility. So, I’m very involved. From everything, to getting briefed and putting some of my inputs into the security operations. Mayroon din ‘yong others who make the effects of the crisis less; that means ‘yong DSWD, I get briefed, I asked them what is needed etc.; authorized the releases of funds; to talk to Bangko Sentral to ensure that the cash supply–’yong physical cash supply, is present; to tell DTI, DOTC, and DA to ensure that basic food stuffs are available, from the time before I left Manila to the present, to include not just Zamboanga City but BASULTA.

Q: Sir, kamusta po ‘yong war room? Balita kasi namin parang madaling araw kayo nagigising, talagang nagco-command kayo sa different heads in order to solve this crisis?

President Aquino: Mahirap naman siguro magbigay ng image na nagma-micromanage ako. Hindi. In-assign natin bawat tao sa puwesto dahil may paniniwala tayo na may kakayahan sila na tugunan ang kanilang responsibilidad. Kung minsan, mayroon tayong katanungan, hinihingan natin ng clarification, at sinisigurado rin natin, kaya nagpunta din tayo dito… Alam mo noong bago ako umabot dito, Friday, nag-uusap kami, telepono, may video conferencing na kailangan i-improve, medyo ‘yong layo baka magkaroon ng hindi klaro na pag-unawa doon sa ating mga kautusan. So nagpunta tayo dito para mas mabilis ‘yong pagbigay ng impormasyon at pagbigay din ng desisyon, at iklaro ang anuman ang kailangang klaruhin, either doon sa mga konsepto o doon sa desisyon na ating pinaiiral.

Q: Sir, sa kabila po ng patuloy na ginagawang operasyon, may ginagawa pa rin po ba ang pamahalaan na negosasyon sa MNLF?

President Aquino: Mayroon. Kaya nga nililiwanag natin na itong katunggali natin sa kasalulukyan ‘yong MNLF na Misuari na grupo. Mayroong mga ibang grupo ng MNLF. Siguro ang dapat naman nating ipaalala ulit sa sambayanan na sila mismo, ‘yung mga ibang pakasyon, ay nagkondena nitong kasalukuyang pangyayari mula noong umpisa pa. So ‘yung patakaran natin, ‘yung handang makipag-usap ng mapayapa at makipagdiyalogo ay talagang haharapin, ine-encourage natin.

‘Yung tao namang maglalagay sa lahat ng mamamayan sa panganib ay talaga namang haharapin din ng estado. So kung mapayapa kang haharap, mapayapa kang haharapin ng gobyerno para magkaroon ng kaayusan. At ‘yung, sa English, ‘yung “permanent peace.” Pero kung ang gusto mo naman ay pairalin lang ‘yung sa iyo at maghahasik ka ng lagim sa nakararami, hindi rin papayagan ng gobyerno ‘yon.

Q: Sa ngayon, sir, makikipag-usap pa ba tayo sa kanila o sila makikipagusap pa rin ba sa pamahalaan?

President Aquino: Well, nitong linggong ito, mayroon dapat sa Indonesia eh. At sa totoo lang, inaasahan natin na sana natuloy ‘yon kaya lang dumating ito at tumitibay ang ebidensya na may kinalaman si Chairman Misuari dito. So, isa dapat siya sa kausap sa Indonesia, at biglang nagbago siya at ang kanyang track. O di siyempre mayroon tayong necessary reaction doon.

Q: Hindi na po mangyayari ‘yung sa Indonesia na usapan?

President Aquino: Hahamunin pa rin natin dahil doon sa mga paksyon sa MNLF na talaga namang gustong tapusin ang process, eh bakit natin ititigil? Pero doon naman sa talagang gustong manggulo, eh hindi rin natin papayagan. Kaso ang diretsahang tugon sa tanong mo, nasa kanila ‘yan kung saan ang gusto nilang puntahan, pero tayo handang makipagusap ng kapayapaan pero handa rin tayong kumilos kung sila nga ay nagbigay ng kapahamakan sa ibang mamamayan.

Q: Mr. President, buenas tardes.

President Aquino: Buenas tardes.

Q: Mr. President, marami na pong krisis na pinagdaanan ‘yong Zamboanga, at ito pong krisis na ito daang libong Zamboangeños po ang na-displace. Tanong po ng lahat, tanong po ng Zamboangeños: Kailan po ito matatapos at ano po ang katiyakang maibibigay ninyo sa mga Zamboangeños na hindi na po ito mauulit pang muli? Thank you po. Muchos gracias.

President Aquino: “Hindi na mauulit muli.” Alam ninyo, uulitin ko, saan tayo nagmula: Nagsalita ng independence ‘pag tinanong mo kung sino ang nakarinig or mayroon ba tayong photographic evidence, recordings, videographic evidence na he declared independence. Ang balik sa atin ng ating intelligence community walang diretsahang nagsabi nag-declare siya ng independence. Ang mga nagsasabi lang ay ‘yong mga taong nakarinig diumano sa kanya. ‘Pag dumating doon sa specifics ano ba ang ibig sabihin nitong declaration of independence, ang sabi n’ya tuloy ‘yung peace process, ‘yung tripartite review–lahat n’on. Tinanggal n’ya ‘yong elements ng sedition at rebellion na calling for an armed uprising at saka depriving the government of authority over its territory. Itong biglang ginawa nila, malalaman natin later on na after matapos ng lahat ng ito: Ito ba talagang pumoporma lang kayo o talagang ang intensyon n’yo ay sumubok talagang magkalat ng kaguluhan sa napakaraming lugar?

Anong assurance sa ating hindi na mauulit ito? Siyempre pagbubutihin pa natin lalo na ang ating intel services. Siguro dapat makita natin dito, noong umusbong na ang krisis, handa na ang security forces pero more significantly, ‘yung sinabi ko nga sa inyo marami ring puwersa nang nag-umpisa, nang nagbakbakan sa dagat hindi pa sa lupa, nagkalat-kalat ‘yong kanilang tinatayang dalawang daang puwersa–hindi nakamask. Pero the following day nakuha nating mailipat lahat ng forces para magkaroon ng overwhelming force laban sa kanila. Kaya ulit, nakita naman natin, imbes na mapalawak ‘yong teritoryong nababalot sa dilim, eh napaliit nang napaliit mula noong unang araw.

So, eto siguro–paano natin masasabing “wala nang mangyayaring ganito?” Number one, bawas ‘yong puwersa nila. Number two, may demonstration kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng gobyerno ‘pag sinabi niyang handa at tutugunan o haharapin kung anuman ang pagsubok na gagawin sa kanya. Dito siguro baka nag-isip silang mahabang magda-drama tayo na parang may somewhat of a balance. Dito palagay ko dinemonstrate [demonstrate] ng estado na mabigat ang puwersa ng estado at handang gamitin at gagamitin ‘to. So ‘yong iba na nag-iisip ng ganitong kilos, mapapag-isip. Gagawin ba n’yo ‘to? ‘Di naman kayo magkakaroon ng publicity for a day. Talagang nandyan na–ano ba sa Tagalog ‘yun–encirlced na kayo at pinakitang hindi kayo ganoong kalakas na pwersa.

Ngayon, puwede ko bang sabihin na may guarantee ‘yung walang terrorist activities? Palagay ko walang bansang puwedeng maggarantiya na walang terrorism. Pero mapapangako ko sa inyo, talagang pinipilit natin na, number one, madagdagan ‘yung puwersa ng ating kasundaluhan-kapulisan. May kakulangan tayo talaga doon. Naalala n’yo ‘yung sinabi ko naman sa inyo noong araw. ‘Yong ating kapulisan-kasundauhan eh eksato ang bilang noong panahon ng EDSA. EDSA, ‘yung 250,000 natin nagbabantay sa 50 million. Ngayon ‘yong 250,000 nagbabantay sa 95 million. Mayroon pa tayong problema sa ating territorial waters, amongst other things.

So, ayaw naman nating bigyan ng mission ang sinuman na mahirap gawin so bibigyan natin ang kaukulanga–binigyan at bibigyan ng kakulangang kasangkapan at tauhan para magampanan ang kanilang mission. At the end of the day, ‘yong pakikipagtulungan ng publiko ang malaking bagay na madadagdagan ‘yung kakayahan ng ating gobyerno.

Mayroong mga reports na parang pinaghandaan ito ng one year. Mayroong nagsasabing baka nag-smuggle sila dito sa Zamboanga City nang medyo mahaba-habang panahon. Siyempre ang aking mga katanungan: Paano nakapaghanda nang ganyang katagal na hindi napansin? Siguro naman mayroong mga nakapansin ng ibang bagay dito at diyan, at sana napaalam sa kaukulang otoridad. Pero hindi nangyari ‘yon. So gusto ko ring malaman paano ba natin matatakpan ang ganyang sitwasyon.

Q: Ano po ang maibibigay n’yong tulong sa mga Zamboangeños?

President Aquino: Doon muna tayo sa mga nasunog na bahay. Siyempre nakikipag-ugnayan kami kay Mayor Climaco dahil mayroon mga nagsasabi sa atin na hindi pwedeng ilikas lang sila sa ibang lugar. Mayroong mga pangangailangan na tabi ng dagat, etc. Mayroong nagsasabi na marami dito sa mga napinsala ang bahay ay informal settler. So ‘yung lupa, etc..

Naggagawa ng plano pero so far ang tinataya nating gastusin dito… ‘Yong pupuntahan kasi nito na bahay, continuing relief assistance. ‘Yong gustong makabalik sa kanilang pinanggalingan, educational assistance sa mga estudyante na walang trabaho sa kasalukuyan ‘yung mga magulang, cash-for- work, supplementary feeding program, temporary na bunkhouses habang ginagawa ‘yung mga bahay na permanente, shelter assistance, livelihood assistance–ang figure is roughly about 3.9 billion. Between the contingency and the calamity fund, which I might add, the lump sum fund na kini-criticize kamakailan lang, we have about 6.1, presently, billion. So ang tinataya sa kasalukuyan, siyempre hindi pa tapos, tapos tatapusin ang plano; sino bang itatayo ulit diyan, sino bang ililipat ng lugar, bibilhin ba natin ang lupa doon, lupa na ba ng gobyerno–lahat ng detalyeng ‘yon. Ulit, 3.89 billion ang tinatayang kailangan nating gastusin, mayroon na tayong nakahanda na 6.1 billion. So may sobra pa. Pati ‘yung, siguro balikan lang natin, noong [bagyong] Pablo, tinataya about 11 billion e, pero ‘yung Pablo kasi, maraming nasira na kalsada, tulay, eskuwelahan, etc. Dito, ine-envision natin na ‘yung mga community na formal settlers nga, e mailalagay, tulad ng mga ibang informal settler program natin na mas maganda na mga komunidad na may kumpletong mga pasilidad, tulad ng mga classroom, tulad ng health center, tulad ng, ‘yung mga common spaces na tinatawag na sa pagkakaintindi ko at least mga basketball court, other sports facilities. In a sense, baka puwede pang mas maging planned ‘yong community dahil sa nangyaring ito. Now, this is just a rough estimate, and what I would like to assure the people is that we have the necessary funds on hand already to take care of that. I’m sure the DSWD, NHA, and the local government unit under our Mayor Climaco have already started discussing, and pagkakaintindi ko kahapon may na-identify nang site. But again, [there are] people who do not want to be distant from the coastline so that will have to be taken into consideration. Ano ba ang kakayahan natin? Siyempre sa coastline mayroon ding tinatawag na easement, at mayroon ding nakatira on the water itself, which I don’t think we can do. So ‘yung makiipag-usap, makipagdiyalogo sa tao para ma-meet ‘yung pangangailangan nila, pero ilagay natin sila sa maayos na kalagayan.

Q: Good afternoon, sir. Follow up lang, kasi kahapon, marami kaming nakausap na mga residente at gusto na talaga nilang umuwi sa kanilang kabahayan. Pero ang tanong ko na lang, sir, kasi ‘yung iba nasagot n’yo na: Mayroon po ba kayo sa kanilang mensahe, lalo na po iyong mga nandoon sa evacuation centers para po maibsan ho nang kahit kaunti ang kanilang paghihirap; as in sobrang dami na ho ng paghihirap nila?

President Aquino: Number one, naiintindihan natin talaga kung saan sila nanggagaling. Palagay ko, tignan naman po ninyo ang nagawa ng gobyerno: Over a hundred-thousand individuals na matagal nating pinakiusapan na umalis sa mga lugar kung saan pwedeng mailagay sila sa peligro. Kung anuman ang bulusok pagdating doon sa evacuation center, ang report sa akin ay natutugunan both ng DSWD, ng DOH–Secretary Ona was here yesterday–amongst others, at talagang handa tayong pangalagaan sila. Unang-unang pakay, at obligasyon natin sa ilalim ng Saligang Batas, ‘yung welfare, o ‘yung general welfare.

Naiintindihan natin na gusto nilang bumalik. Iyong bahay ba nila sigurado tayong wala nang mga ammunitions na naiwan doon? Sigurado ba tayo na, kunyari may mga mortar na inarm [armed] noong tumakbo, naiwan? Kapag may nakakita ba nitong mortar round na ito, anong gagawin ng tao? So parang may kakulangan sa panig ng gobyerno kung pahintulutan nating, “Sige, pumunta na kayo diyan” na hindi man lang natin nasuri kung safe na ‘yung lugar. So humihingi ako ng paumanhin sa inyo. Alam naman ninyo kung gaano kalawak: limang barangay ang pinag-uusapan natin dito. Mayroon pang action na natitira, pero pagkatapos noon, kailangan din ng oras naman ng ating security forces para masigurado [na] pagbalik doon sa mga bahay na nakatayo pa, eh safe at hindi ka ilalagay sa panganib, dahil ‘pag mayroong mangyari sa inyo kung kailan natapos ang kaguluhan, palagay ko naman lalong malaki ang sising aabutin namin.

Q: Sir, parang napansin ko lahat na ho ng opisyales ay nandito sa Zamboanga. Hanggang kailan n’yo po sasamahan ang mga taga-Zamboanga?

President Aquino: Well, pilitin ko hanggang matapos itong immediate na crisis. Palagay ko, babalik ako kapag natapos iyong plano para maipaliwanag ang detalye kung ano ang gagawin ng gobyerno para kanino, saan, kailan. I don’t expect that to take too long.

Pero balikan ko lang nga: Siguro gusto ko lang iwan sa mga nakikinig po sa atin sa kasalukuyan na handa ang gobyernong tumugon sa lahat ng suliranin. Ito, palagay ko, in a sense, unique, ‘no? Nailikas mo ang daang libo, at hindi kami humingi ng… o hindi kami gumawa ng excuses kung hindi mapakain, kung hindi matugunan ang pangagagamot. Siguro, patunay iyon na ready sila. Kapag may nagsasabi sa akin na “parang ang cool mo?” Sabi ko, ‘pag heto ang mga kasamahan mo, na lahat ay ginagampanan iyong kailangan nilang gawin na hindi mo na kailangang utusang gampanan, at kung anumang pagsubok na palaki nang palaki ay natutugunan pa rin, ay talaga namang napapahanga ako sa kanila, at doon nagmumula iyong kompiyansa na malalampasan natin kung anuman ang pagsubok dito.

Siguro as a last thing na lang: Hindi pa huli ang lahat. Doon sa mga natitira na puwersa ng kalaban: Sa akin, mahalaga ng buhay. Baka naman gusto ninyong tignan kung mahalaga rin ang buhay ninyo, at hindi pa huli ang lahat, para tapusin ito, nang mabawasan iyong namamatay o nasusugatan. Nasa inyong kamay iyan.

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What’s really happening in the GPH-MNLF peace process?

Posted in Brownman's Posts by uniffors on the September 17th, 2013
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Phony Pork

Posted in Brownman's Posts by uniffors on the September 9th, 2013

Phony pork
By Mario M. Galang
Pork again. For sheer size, the so-called presidential, PNoy pork is worth a second, closer look.

The alleged amount is hefty at 1.3 Trillion pesos: about one-third of the national budget for 2004.Coming out with a staggering amount with a “PNoy pork” label stuck on it is a politically clever move: it pushes the Executive into the same line of fire heretofore aimed only at the Legislature and projects an image of a double-talking PNoy. The trick is in redefining “pork” your way.

My own digital dictionary defines “pork barrel” with a sense so simple that it means only “the use of government funds for projects designed to please voters or legislators and win votes.” And so to the world’s pork lexicon, the more intelligent among us added their own definition, such that “pork” is now any or all of the following:

1.      A lump-sum item in the budget;
2.      Funds allocated and released at the Executive’s sole discretion.

A definition is only worth its function in your own scheme of things. Our new “pork” so defined now covers more than a trillion pesos worth of budget items, in place of a measly P25 billion for PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund). What does it gain thereby, aside from our attention? It seems to impress on us its concern about corruption, and points to its choice of budget items as those prone to misuse. Thus, its advocates want them abolished.

Is the Trillion-Peso list warranted? Try these items from the list.

Internal Revenue Allotment or IRA – The annual share of local government units in the national internal revenue taxes which is automatically released to them,  in accord with the Local Government Code of 1991. IRA is lump-sum, ergo it must be PNoypork. So what? What do we get from calling it pork? The IRA is released to each LGU directly, as the Code provides, without need of any further action, and “which shall not be subject to any lien or holdback that may be imposed by the national government for whatever purpose.”The alleged amount for 2014 is P341.5 Billion. On what account is it vulnerable to Executive corruption?

Debt Service Fund – An amount that is automatically budgeted to pay public debt, as the law, Executive Order No. 292, provided. The same law builds a fence around the fund by providing that it shall be used only for debt payment. The alleged amount is P352.7 Billion.Lump-sum, ergo pork. But does calling it so change anything?
(Incidentally, another lump-sum item, Budget For School Buildings, allegedly amounts to P200 Billion for 2014. The problem is a budget item under this label does not exist. The amount would seem even more farcical if you know that 200 billion is almost as big as the entire 2013 budget of the Department of Education.)
Lump-sums are necessities borne by the very nature of budgeting itself, which is “primarily forecasting of revenues and expenditure for government programs and projects.” Forecasts fall short of what’s expected and you allow for the unexpected by setting aside lump-sum amounts.

The Trillion-Peso Pork idea also qualifies as “pork” any fund that is used at the “sole discretion” of the Executive, where “discretion” means the freedom to decide on what to do in a given situation.
Bias blinds. How you look at discretion depends on your purpose. If your crusade is against corruption, discretion is a liability. You’d adhere to the belief that equates discretion with corruption, such that, less or more discretion yields less or more corruption, in direct fashion.  If the reasoning looks rigidly linear, it’s because it is assuming a world where no counter-check to the side effects of discretion exists.

But corruption comes in complex ways, in varying conditions, for different reasons. In real life, greater and clearer accountability may keep discretion from growing into corruption. Experts are also wont to say that corruption is a crime of calculation, not of passion. When the risk of getting caught is low, the penalties mild, and the rewards great – people tend to get corrupted. Crowd vigilance, free access to information, the right motivation may serve as counter-check

The focus on corruption comes at a cost, largely at the expense of public service. It tends to lead to centralization, command-and-control mode of management, by-the-book compliance with procedures, red tape. If you change your seat and look again, you’ll find that discretion actually confers some wonder. Good performance needs ample room and time to move around and move quickly; it presupposes the right degree of flexibility, or discretion. Discretion is a tool for quick decision and action.

My overall point is lump-sum and discretionary budget items are not by themselves bad: how you look at them depends on your purpose. The Trillion-Peso list may have served its propaganda purpose, but not clarity.
Its pork is phony.

Galang is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph).

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PNoy, Deng, and LeBron

Posted in Brownman's Posts by uniffors on the July 7th, 2013

PNoy, Deng, and LeBron
by Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III

Obviously, what Noynoy Aquino, Deng Xiaoping, and LeBron James have in common is leadership. Their fans claim they are not only leaders; they are heroes, they are superstars.

The successes of the Philippines (the recent big reforms), China (the economic miracle) and Miami Heat (its back-to-back championship) are attributed to PNoy, Deng, and LeBron, respectively.

Well, we need heroes. To quote the sociologist Charles Horton Cooley, “to have no heroes is to have no aspiration.”

We thus have Rizal and Bonifacio. The US has Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Football has Pele, Zidane, and Messi. Basketball has Bill Russell, Jordan and LeBron. And the bandits have Bonnie and Clyde.

Iconic worship tends to attribute all the deeds to the leader. But as a working paper from the Harvard Kennedy School argues, we have to be careful about singling out the role of heroes. Matt Andrews in his paper titled “Going beyond heroic leaders in development” (June 2013) criticizes the “hero orthodoxy.” His arguments are capsulized as follows: “Heroes often end up being less than heroic; contextual factors shape opportunities for leadership and development; and multi-agent groups typically lead, not solitary heroes.”

To illustrate, Deng unleashed the productive forces, which have made China grow exponentially. But Deng was also responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of students at Tiananmen Square.

Deng’s reforms—expressed famously in his slogan “it doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice—arose from the context of the tragic outcomes of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). These man-made catastrophes led him to take a different socialist path. His trip to France, as the GPCR was winding down, left him a lasting impression on how a social market economy can bring about modernity and prosperity. These are some of the contextual factors that led him to rebuild “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” characterized by “an overwhelming abundance of material wealth.”

Which brings us to the role of “multi-agent groups.” Without the collective leadership of the post-Mao Chinese Communist Party, Deng’s vision would not have been realized. Hua Guofeng succeeded Mao, cracked down on the hardliners and opened the path for reforms. While Deng, provided the vision, the likes of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang engineered the crossing of the river by “feeling the stones.” Moreover, the ascendancy of Deng’s line would not have happened without Mao’s thoughts being a counterpoint.

The circumstances of LeBron’s heroism are similar to Deng’s. LeBron’s personality is less than heroic. He is said to be arrogant and narcissistic. Notwithstanding his nasty traits, LeBron has won two consecutive National Basketball Association champions, and captured two finals most valuable player awards, to boot.

Even then, LeBron’s talent would not have sufficed to win the 2013 championship. He could have become the goat when he missed a clutch shot in the dying seconds of Game 6. Luckily his teammate Chris Bosh grabbed the rebound and found Rey Allen who calmly sank a three-pointer, forcing overtime, and paving the way for Miami’s winning Games 6 and 7. Again, this is a story of how different players, not a single hero, contributed to a spectacular victory.

Nate Silver, the econometrician who accurately predicted the outcomes of the US 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, played with stats to find out whether LeBron can match Michael Jordan’s winning six championships. He noted that both Le Bron and Michael won their two championships at the same age—the first when they were 27 years old and the second when they were 28.

His estimate of the odds is four chances out of thirteen, or roughly 30 percent. That LeBron is still at his peak suggests that chances are good next year to bag another championship. But in a few years, LeBron will no longer be at his best, and the odds against winning a championship are greater.

For LeBron to obtain four more titles, he has to recognize that sometime in the future, the team will not be built around him. He has to suppress his ego and join a high-caliber team where he will no longer play the stellar role.
Finally, we talk about PNoy’s leadership. We use the passage of the sin tax as an instructive example.

Much has been said about the leadership and political will of PNoy in having the sin tax passed. Indeed without his endorsement and intervention in critical junctures, it would have been far more difficult for Congress to have the sin tax legislated. The President’s support gave the champions the animating spirit and courage to fight for the bill.

Nevertheless, other factors explain the sin tax victory. The imposing yet charming presence of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares disarmed the bill’s opponents. Representative Sid Ungab used his obscurity—and his intelligence and wits—to outmaneuver the many pro-tobacco congressmen. Senator Frank Drilon had a hard time dealing with the Senate’s crafty bigwigs, but his political skills—uniting the many and turning the tables on the few sly ones—helped secure the bill’s passage. Last but not the least, civil society groups created a lot of noise and pressure that severely weakened pro-tobacco legislators like Senator Ralph Recto who was forced to resign from the chairmanship of the Senate Ways and Means committee.

The conditions also favored the sin tax measure. Government has to address a very low tax effort. Tobacco control has gained ground, as indicated by the country’s adherence to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. A new political force has emerged; the white army of doctors and nurses. Their message is the sin tax first and foremost serves health.

The lesson for those advocating reforms in the new Congress is this: The leadership of PNoy is essential. But everyone has to do his homework and work hard. The context and timing, the strategy, and the multi-agent coalitions likewise matter.

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Who are PNoy’s Reliable Candidates?

Posted in Brownman's Posts by uniffors on the April 29th, 2013

Who are PNoy’s Reliable Candidates?
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III

Manila Bulletin is not the first choice for a Philippine newspaper. It can be boring, and it suffers from its image of being associated with the pro-martial law brand of journalism. But being a humdrum paper also has an advantage: It reports without sensationalism, which the leading dailies are prone to. It thus pays to buy the Bulletin occasionally, particularly its Saturday edition, which includes a supplement of the erudite New York Times International Weekly.

The Bulletin’s 27 April 2013 edition has a well-written inside-page story written by Genalyn Kabiling titled “PNoy Seeks Reform Allies, Assistance.”

I like the writing style, which grabs the reader’s attention. Take the lead sentence: “He is not a superhero; he is human and needs all the help he can get.”

The non-superhero is PNoy. Indeed, PNoy cannot be compared to Iron Man although he and Tony Stark share the same traits of being drawn to attractive women and being moved to fight evil.

Good writing and a good story are anchored on the subject. The writer quotes PNoy lengthily:

“Hindi naman tayo superhero, at kahit kayod marino, wala [nang] tulog, wala pang kain at wala na rin bakasyon maski ano po ang gawin kung nag-iisa kukulangin ang lakas ko upang tugunan ang lahat ng minana nating problema, pati na ang dumarating pang mga pagsubok.”

And spicing his comment with humor, PNoy says: “Pakiusap ko lang ho huwag naman ninyo ipapasan sa akin mag-isa, at baka naman ho dumating ang panahon magkita tayo hindi na ninyo ako makilala dahil baka pareho na kami ni Bembol Roco. Idolo ko po iyon sa acting pero hindi sa hairstyle.”

Thus, PNoy asks the electorate to vote the Team PNoy candidates. PNoy needs more allies to advance and speed up the reforms for daang matuwid. The observation is that the second half of the administration is a difficult period for the Executive to have Congress pass controversial but necessary legislative reforms. The politicians in Congress tend to dismiss the presidency as already lame duck (a consequence of a weak party system and the prohibition of a second-term presidency). An antidote is to have an expanded and solid group of allies in Congress.

The surveys indicate that Team PNoy will win decisively. That’s good news. But here’s the rub: We are not sure that some of the winners from Team PNoy will become reliable allies for reforms.

The case of the passage of the sin tax law illustrates the predicament that PNoy faces. The sin tax is a good example of a hard reform that has long-term impact on the economy and on institutions. It can thus be a proxy of how politicians will behave when faced with a similar reform in the next Congress.

The Senate was able to ratify the bicameral conference bill on the sin tax, but only by eking out a one-vote majority. The sin tax reform was nearly lost because several senators who are considered PNoy’s allies did not show up for the vote or worse, opposed the bill.

Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Loren Legarda (Team PNoy candidates who will surely win), Manuel Villar (the husband of Team PNoy candidate Cynthia Villar, who will likewise win) and TG Guingona (a Liberal Party stalwart) were absent during the crucial vote. And Senator Francis Escudero (another popular Team PNoy candidate) voted against the bill.

At the same time, the anti-reformers (again, using the sin tax as a representation) like Gringo Honasan and the son of Juan Ponce Enrile are threatening to barge into the winning column.

In short, PNoy’s fear that his “hair style” will completely become a Bembol Roco is real. To prevent that from happening, the voters must reject the likes of Honasan, Enrile, and Zubiri, and vote the most reliable reformers in Team PNoy. Further, the candidates belonging to Team PNoy who have a spotty record must show a pre-commitment that should literally tie them to PNoy’s reform agenda.

In Greek mythology, Ulysses made a pre-commitment by asking his crew to fill their ears with wax to make them deaf and bind him to the ship’s mast once they reached the land of the beautiful sirens. If not for this pre-commitment, Ulysses and company would have succumbed to the sirens’ naked beauty and alluring voices, but leading them to their decay and death.

Among criminals, having a tattoo of Sige-Sige or Oxo is a pre-commitment that they will stay forever with the gang.

PNoy can make a reasonable request to his former “crush,” Loren Legarda, to allow her foot to be chained in the Senate session hall whenever a crucial vote occurs, thus preventing a disappearing act. PNoy can also ask his friend Chiz to have one of his cheeks tattooed, with the lettering: “I luv Heart and PNoy.”

What is worrisome is that the most reliable allies of PNoy are trailing. They are Jun Magsaysay, Risa Hontiveros, and Jamby Madrigal.

Not only is Jun Magsaysay the real Magsaysay (not Mitos who is merely married to a Magsaysay and not necessarily a good Magsaysay) but more importantly, he has a solid track record as a politician in championing economic and political reforms. He is a friend of the farmers, a champion of agriculture. He was the key in exposing and condemning the fertilizer scam during the Gloria Arroyo regime.

Risa Hontiveros is the most progressive among the candidates. Her presence in the Senate will threaten its trapo culture.

And even though some might ridicule Jamby Madrigal as another Miriam Santiago, the fact is PNoy needs another Miriam Santiago type of politician who will be resolute and outspoken in fighting for the hard bills. And let it be known that Jamby, despite being a Madrigal is as left wing as Risa. She takes pride in having the DNA of her lolo, Pedro Abad Santos, the founder of the Philippine Socialist Party.

And so, if we want to help PNoy save his hairline, let us get a pre-commitment from some of his not-so-reliable candidates, vote for the consistent ones who are trailing, and reject the incorrigibles like Honasan, Enrile, and Zubiri.

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