Political endorsements that can do more harm than good

Posted in Manuel Buencamino by uniffors on the April 30th, 2013

Two weeks before election and my list is done. Who are my senators? Secret. Because revealing my preferences might be taken as an endorsement and you and I know all too well that some endorsements can do more harm than good.

Let’s start with clerical endorsements, Team Buhay and the self-proclaimed pro-life Catholic vote movement. What do they want?

They want legislators who will oppose laws that do not strictly adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church. They want a Congress that takes dictation from bishops who get their cues and orders from the Vatican. They want a republic where the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) exercises veto power over laws and policies not aligned with Catholic doctrine.

Now here you are, a senatorial candidate who also opposes the RH (Reproductive Health) Law but not necessarily on the same doctrinal grounds as the so-called pro-lifers. You are against the RH law for a number of other reasons—maybe you believe the money for RH should be spent elsewhere or maybe you believe artificial contraceptives are unhealthy. Whatever. But your name has been included in the pro-life senatorial ticket and you are now identified with those who believe that what belongs to Caesar belongs to the Vatican. How will you fare with the overwhelming number of voters who believe otherwise? You could lose their vote. The bishops endorsed you and that marked you as a candidate obedient to their wishes. Some endorsements can do more harm than good.

Let’s go to secular endorsements. An endorsement from a politician with command votes is good but it can also be a liability. For example, Romeo Jalosjos is backing UNA in Zamboanga, his bailiwick. Will his endorsement help UNA with a national audience that only knows Jalosjos as the convicted child-rapist and pedophile that Gloria Arroyo pardoned? Jalosjos is not the only sketchy trapo supporting UNA. There are a dizzying number of them, all working for an overwhelming UNA victory. Why are trapos pinning their hopes on UNA?

In fairness to UNA, they claim they are also for Daang Matuwid. But the problem remains, there are too many crooked trapos endorsing them. UNA is the Trapos’ Choice. Some endorsements can do more harm than good.

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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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Indentured athletes

Posted in Manuel Buencamino by uniffors on the April 21st, 2013

Bad day for athletes who transfer from one University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) member school to another. They will have to sit through the two-year residency requirement that the UAAP board of trustees imposed on them. Note that it is the UAAP board and not the receiving school that imposes residency on a transferee. That makes all the difference, as you will see.

One school representative to the UAAP board said,

    “This is to protect the school that made efforts in recruitment… to protect the time spent on the athlete and to keep them in their alma mater.”

Another reasoned similarly,

    “The new residency rule is to protect the league because we can’t allow other schools to pirate the best available homegrown players…We took everything into consideration and we’re not depriving anyone of their rights.”

Say what!?!

There are no guaranteed investments on this planet. An investment is always a gamble. There is no certainty that the recruited athlete will become a star even with all the coaching, training, financial and moral support from the school’s sports department, there is no assurance that the athlete will not suffer a career-ending injury in the course of playing for the school, there is no telling whether or not the athlete will lose interest in sports. Recruiting, training, and coaching an athlete is a gamble. No one pointed a gun at the school to force it to recruit a particular athlete. And so it must live with the risk of losing an athlete for one reason or another, especially to a more attractive team or school.

A UAAP-imposed residency requirement is a penalty on the athlete who chooses to transfer to another school. A school-imposed residency requirement is not a penalty, it provides a necessary period of adjustment to the transferee. I can still recall basketball games where some transferees were subjected to merciless booing and cries of traidor from their old alma mater every time they held the ball.

If a school wants to keep an athlete then it better make itself so attractive that its best athletes will never want to play for another school. Debt bondage is not the way to do it. Indenture is a practice that is totally unacceptable in a free and competitive society.

Why do I call the residency rule imposed by the UAAP a form of debt bondage?

The Princeton University website defines debt bondage as “an arrangement whereby a person is forced to pay off a loan with direct labor in place of currency, over an agreed or obscure period of time. When a debtor is tricked or trapped into working for very little or no pay, or when the value of their work is significantly greater than the original sum of money borrowed, some consider the arrangement to be a form of unfree labor or debt slavery.”

The “investment” the school made is the “loan” the athlete must pay off through direct labor i.e. playing for the school team. The period of time for working off the “debt” is open-ended because it is the school alone, through the UAAP, that decides when the debt is fully paid. The athlete may not have been tricked into signing on but with the new UAAP ruling he is now trapped by the school that originally recruited him. And look at what a Keifer Ravena may have “borrowed” from his school compared to the payback that the school got from him.

Let’s say the athlete was recruited to play for the high school team. Why does the athlete’s obligation extend to playing for the school’s varsity team? Why does the debt extend even beyond the school year that the athlete played, was the year’s debt not paid with direct labor? Do schools have the right to tell their athletes you will keep playing for us until we decide that our investment in you is fully paid? Read again the arguments of the UAAP board, tell me that their residency rule is not just another form of indenture, and I’ll lend you some money in exchange for your labor.

The UAAP’s new rule is meant to protect the investment of its member schools. Period. It has no interest in the welfare of the student athlete, in fact it punishes the exercise of the right to choose where to pursue higher education.

The UAAP would be wise to withdraw its residency rule before government steps in and does it for them. As Sen Pia Cayetano told the UAAP, “Sorry, but when rights are affected, [government] can step in to protect its citizens.” As it should.

The UAAP also claims the new rule is meant to maintain competitiveness. How can the practice of having indentured athletes maintain competitiveness? More importantly, why is the UAAP placing the burden of keeping the league competitive only on the players? Is it the athlete’s fault if one school is more attractive than another? The burden of keeping the league competitive is on the UAAP board of trustees, they shouldn’t earn their keep on the backs of student athletes.

The UAAP may have forgotten that the U in UAAP stands for universities. Likewise some universities may have forgotten that they are educational institutions to begin with and excellence in sports is only a part of their mission. Yes, trophies bring money that can be used for the improvement of the school in terms of teachers and facilities but sports departments are not ends in themselves. Education is the end that trophies serve and not the other way around. The sports department of schools, through the UAAP, cannot be allowed to dictate where student athletes go for their education.

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A realistic appraisal of North Korea from The Atlantic

Posted in Manuel Buencamino by uniffors on the April 8th, 2013

Kim Jong-un built nuclear weapons and delivery systems, tested them, and now he says he will use them. Maybe Kim wants to see if nukes will live up to their reputation. Maybe he took seriously what humorist philosopher Jack Handy suggested many years ago, “Instead of building newer and larger weapons of mass destruction, I think mankind should try to get more use out of the ones we have”. Maybe he’s just kidding. Maybe he just wants Dennis Rodman and the NBA All Stars to come back. Who knows?

At any rate, what were once considered empty threats are now being taken seriously by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He announced the deployment of a missile defense system in Guam, “They have nuclear capacity now, they have missile delivery capacity now. We take those threats seriously, we have to take those threats seriously.”

The question now is how to get North Korea off its war footing. In order to do that one must first go beyond the caricature of Kim Jong-un as the crazy boy dictator of a hermit kingdom.

The Atlantic, an American weekly that has maintained its intellectual integrity and credibility for over a hundred years, enumerated five myths about North Korea, myths that get in the way of understanding what makes North Korea “tick”, myths that can lead to simplified analysis and its sorry consequences.

What are those myths?

First, the young Kim and his team are crazy. He is not. They are not. Kim’s response to the new sanctions imposed on his country following its latest weapons tests plus the US-Sokor war games is the logical reaction of any leader whose country’s peace with a neighboring country is held together only by an armistice, not a peace treaty. Furthermore, North Korea is surrounded by allies of South Korea, what is Kim supposed to say or do about what’s happening? He can surrender or defend his country, what would a rational leader do?

Two, North Korea is a failed state. It is not.

The Atlantic, “It came close to being a failed state during the 1990s because of mass starvation. But Pyongyang weathered that storm…The economy has stabilized and even improved. Despite sanctions, trade has expanded significantly, not just with China but also with South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Europe to the point where the North may have even enjoyed a current account surplus in 2011.”

North Korea, the Atlantic adds, is not comparable to developed countries but “it fits in if compared to developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.” (See also CIA World Factbook to see North Korea’s ranking compared to other states.)

Three, North Korea is a hermit kingdom. It is not. It may not have much to do with the US but it engages not only illicit arms trades with other countries, it also has legitimate business transactions with the rest of the world.

The Atlantic, “Did you know that North Korea sends hundreds of students overseas for educational and business training? Thousands of North Koreans work in China, in Mongolia where they produce goods for popular British clothing brands, in Kuwait where they work on construction projects, and in Russia where they labor in logging camps. A North Korean construction company is currently completing a museum near Cambodia’s famed Angkor temples featuring computer-generated simulations of the ancient monuments. Inside North Korea, just to give a few examples, the information technology sector is an outsourcing destination for other countries, even developing software and apps for the iPhone. Pyongyang’s sophisticated cartoon industry is reported to have been involved in the production of “The Lion King.” The German Kempinski group has been hired to operate Pyongyang’s largest hotel expected to open this spring. And residents and visitors to Pyongyang can now find Viennese coffee at the appropriately named “Viennese Coffee Restaurant.” Of course, North Korea is not an integral part of the international community, but neither is it a “hermit kingdom.””

Four, North Korea cheats on agreements. The short answer is “yes and no.” It cheats when it can. That’s pretty much what every other country guided by national interest would do.

Finally, there’s the myth that China is North Korea’s puppet master. It is not.

The Atlantic, “There are important limits on what China can and cannot do. Having influence is one thing, being the North’s puppet-master another. Hundreds of years of bad history between Korea and China, plus decades of dealing with a giant communist neighbor have taught the North how to manipulate China. Moreover, Beijing may be unhappy with the North’s bad behavior. But it cannot just throw Pyongyang to the American and South Korean wolves since maintaining quiet, stable borders to facilitate its own economic development is a critical priority.”

A realistic appraisal of Kim Jong-un is the first step towards a peaceful outcome to the impassé. Kim is not a cartoon character. He is a real person with nuclear weapons at his disposal. A nuclear exchange between North Korea and the US could lead to a bigger war. An errant missile could be interpreted by another country as aggression. Who knows who else will join the fray for whatever reason once nuclear missiles start flying?

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File the case and move on

Posted in Manuel Buencamino by uniffors on the April 1st, 2013

Over the Holy Week, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda announced that the president was going to study Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s legal brief on the Sabah claim.

According to De Lima the main considerations of her legal brief are, “Is the claim strong or not and should it be pursued before an appropriate tribunal, and what are the options in light of the current situation?”

Obviously, President Aquino has not abandoned the Philippine government’s claim of sovereignty over Sabah. And he will be looking for the best peaceful way to pursue the claim.

The president does not have to spend too much time on the De Lima report. He can just go ahead and file the claim before the UN and declare that the Philippines will accept unconditionally whatever decision the UN makes. Let a credible third party decide who is right. That will put an end to all the internal squabbling over the legitimacy of our sovereignty claim. (The property claim of the Kiram’s is a private matter separate from our sovereignty claim. One should not conflate the two into one issue.)

Media also reported that Lacierda announced the possibility of hiring a foreign law firm to handle the Sabah claim. That would be a big mistake. Okay, the government uses private lawyers, foreign or local, whenever needed but in this particular case hiring foreign lawyers in lieu of natives will only lead to more controversies and all sorts of jingoist criticisms from saber-rattling patriots.

The correct course of action will be to ask all those patriotic native lawyers who have been vociferously claiming that our sovereignty claim is strong to represent us. Let them present the case in court and not in the media.

The Palace could scour media, get the names of all the lawyers who gave media a legal opinion on the legality of our claim and invite them to form a team to represent the country. Sila ang mga nagmamarunong eh di sila ang humarap sa hukuman.

If they lose, they will have no one to blame except themselves. If they win then good for all of us. Doubly good that it was Filipino legal minds that won. Either way the legal squabbling, all the know it all punditry, and all the beating of war drums will stop.

What if Malaysia refuses to submit to the jurisdiction of an international tribunal? Then that’s for the international tribunal to decide once we submit our case.

This Sabah business has to end. Once and for all, sooner rather than later. File the case, submit to the court’s decision whatever it may be, and move on. We should busy ourselves with building a nation, not dreaming of lost kingdoms.

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