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The living spirit of our democracy

When I think of Filipinos who suffer from poverty, hunger, and inequality, the more I value my democratic duty to vote and have my will as a Filipino be counted thru the ballot. Free elections are the living spirit of all democracies. Clean and honest elections bestow the people’s trust to legitimately govern and serve the interest of the people.

Elections and democracy

The conduct of electoral contests has been a defining element of a democratic life. As a litmus test for democracy, elections bring into the fore the power of the ballot and the sanctity of the vote.

A layman’s take on labor contractualization

Still of particular interest in the Labor Day discussions is the issue on the contractualization of labor. More popularly known as “endo” or the 5-5-5 arrangement, this practice started in the mid-70s as a response to alarming unemployment. For the uninitiated, the term “endo” was coined from “end of contract.” On the other hand, 5-5-5 stands for three cycles of five-month contracts, a cunning ploy that makes workers in every contract a month shy from being regularized into the company, given the mandate of the law to make workers who have stayed for six months permanent. Right off the bat, you can understand why this is such a controversial issue.

The pernicious effects of the reenacted budget

President Duterte finally signed the 2019 General Appropriations Act, after almost four months of operating on a reenacted budget, two months since lawmakers supposedly ratified the bill, and eight years since the budget was last reenacted. This concluded a tumultuous year punctuated by standoffs and squabbles, as lawmakers wrestled over taxpayers’ money.

State sovereignty, the ICC, and the South China Sea submission

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has made headlines in the past month. The withdrawal of the Philippines from the Rome Statute took effect on March 17. This prevents the court from potentially investigating drug-related killings committed after this date, and would find it more challenging to continue its current preliminary examination activities.

A call for energy transparency

Aside from the rising temperature brought about by the summer season and the heated debates of candidates in the May 2019 elections, another hot topic is the concern over the Philippine power supply situation.

Challenging populist politics

The election spirit is in the air!

Infrastructure maintenance matters too

There is so much attention and discussion on the “Build, Build, Build” program of the Duterte administration. On one side, you have his drumbeaters extolling this administration’s infrastructure spending, presenting numbers that show that the country never had it this good. On the other hand, critics are zeroing in on how this program has given China an inroad into our socio-economic affairs through the loans to fund these projects, not to mention the extended welcome to the labor market our government has given to their citizens.

Rendering the Mutual Defense Treaty into ‘scrap paper’

In December 2018, Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana declared that he wanted a review of the 1951 Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). He stated that it is high time for the two allies to examine the treaty’s provision in light of the growing tension in the South China Sea. According to him, the DND wanted Washington’s definitive stance on whether or not Manila could depend on its ally to come to its assistance in case of a confrontation with outside powers in the nine land features that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) occupies in the South China Sea. In a yearend news briefing, Secretary Lorenzana admitted that his call for a review has been triggered by China’s challenging the Philippine occupation of these islets and rocks by aggressively building fortified military facilities on the reclaimed islands it created in the South China Sea. He said that the review of the MDT is needed to make the alliance stronger as the US remains the Philippines’ only formal treaty ally.

Corrosive Foreign Direct Investments: The case of Offshore Gaming

President Duterte may have flip-flopped on his stance on several issues, but he has been consistent in his accommodation of Chinese investments and loans. And understandably so. Chinese money has filled the gap vacated by Westerners and has covered the funding requirements of developing nations. Critics, however, argue that China may use its economic foothold to gain political influence in its host country.

UHC Act:The role of Health Technology

The Universal Health Care (UHC) Act, also known as Republic Act 11223, was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on February 20. Under this landmark legislation, all citizens, including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), will be automatically enrolled into the National Health Insurance Program (NHIP), either as direct or indirect contributors, who will be eligible and have access to preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative care for medical, dental, mental and emergency health services.

Averting a poultry industry panic

The Philippine poultry industry again faces a challenge after the much-dreaded avian influenza outbreak, or “bird flu,” a few years back: the lifting of the price-based special safeguard duty imposition (SSG) on imported chicken meat and products, which led to a sharp increase in importation to the detriment of the local poultry sector.

Choose champions for economic reforms

The campaign season officially kicked off last week, marking the start of a three-month period that will no doubt be filled with theatrics and mudslinging. After all, the outcome of the midterm election is, in some ways, a litmus test for the popular support for this administration. Other than re-electionists, at least three hopefuls closely associated with President Duterte are vying for a seat in the senate. And in the latest Pulse Asia Senatorial Preferences survey, the former Special Assistant to the President finally broke into the coveted twelve spots, overtaking even more seasoned politicians.

Democratizing the electoral contest

In both colonial and post-colonial periods, political contestation in Philippine society has always been dynamic, in which elites and the masses engage in a particular exercise called elections.

Regaining the public trust in immunization

On January 24, another criminal complaint related to the anti-dengue vaccine was filed with the Department of Justice (DoJ). The mother of a 39-year-old physician, Dr. Kendrick Gotoc, who was inoculated by the vaccine three times prior to his death on April 22, 2018, filed cases of obstruction of justice, reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, torture, and violation of the Consumer Act against Health Secretary Francisco Duque, former DoH chief Janette Garin, and 37 others.

How the Philippines is failing its children

House Bill No. 8858 has rightly elicited public outrage for proposing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to between 9 to 12 years old. The move is consistent with President Duterte’s 2016 campaign promise to widen the coverage for criminal prosecution in another aggressive effort to wage his “war on drugs.” The logic goes like this -- because drug syndicates use children to traffic illegal drugs, lowering the MACR to cover more children would cripple the operations of these drug syndicates.

The $23-Billion FDI potential

The Philippine government is displaying an ambitious goal of speeding up infrastructure development through its “Build, Build, Build” program. The initiative is anchored on the goal of making economic growth more inclusive and pro-poor. While its first tax reform package, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, and increased and new taxes can be a positive fiscal measure to support it, transforming the economy may need something more.

Easing inflation rate: A hopeful start to 2019?

Duterte’s economic managers finally got a much-needed reprieve at the start of 2019. After months of struggling to contain increasing commodity prices, the inflation rate finally showed signs of slowing down. First, it clocked in at 6% in November, before easing further to 5.1% in December, recording a month-on-month deceleration of -0.3% and -0.4%, respectively. This is the lowest inflation rate since June. The latest inflation figure puts the full-year average at 5.2%, matching the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) 2018 forecast but exceeding its 4% target.

How transparent is our National Budget?

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) lists eight major characteristics of good governance -- participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and follows the rule of law.

Déjà vu budget

In the olden days, houses had electrical fuses. A fuse is a safety mechanism with a metal strip inside that melts when overheated from excessive current in the circuit. When a fuse blows, it stops the flow of electricity, preventing what could be an electrical fire. Nowadays, homes mostly have circuit breakers. While they work differently from fuses, they are intended for the same purpose.

To protect our rights, we must protect our institutions

Since martial law, the Philippines has come a long way when it comes to protecting human rights. On paper, our human rights regime is robust. The 1987 Constitution is a legal framework motivated by human rights, its drafting having been framed by our experience of martial law. We have ratified human rights conventions and enacted legislation to further protect us from state abuse and atrocious crimes such as torture, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

A Christmas wish for all electricity consumers

The greatest Christmas gift that all consumers could get is affordable electricity prices. As the Christmas shopping season reaches its peak, consumers would much rather spend their hard-earned bonuses on their loved ones rather than on increased electricity bills.

Inflexible labor regulations have negative consequences

After more than two years in office, the Duterte administration has not fulfilled its promise to end contractualization. Reports indicate that there are an estimated 1.3 million Filipinos who are contractually employed in the country. The efforts of the Office of the President and the Department of Labor and Employment had not been able to resolve the perennial problem of job insecurity. The President himself admitted that the Executive Order he issued last year was not enough and it’s Congress that should pass a legislation to ensure security of tenure for laborers.

It’s about expanding the mining tax base

Globally recognized, the Philippines is one of the most mineral-rich countries, with an estimated $840 billion worth of untapped mineral wealth. But unknown to most, it is subject to doubled excise taxes when the Tax Reform for Inclusion and Acceleration (TRAIN) Law took effect. Along with other local and national regulations and taxes from excise tax, royalty-mineral reservation, local business tax to registration fee, withholding tax and VAT, among others, it is a heavily taxed industry.

Vietnam fostering ties with the Philippines amid rapprochement with China

In August 2018, President Duterte conveyed to his countrymen that he expected China would be fair on the South China Sea dispute and that they should accept Beijing as a good neighbor. He told his fellow Filipinos: “I am sure that in the end, China will be fair and the equity will be distributed.” He predicted that “in the days to come, we would realize that China…is really a good neighbor.”

Continuing struggle to craft democracy through elections

We have a deeply rooted, overwhelming governance problem. What surveys show as the citizen’s waxing and waning support for the national leadership has a continuously dark undertone -- the people have a generalized distrust of government. This is unsurprising as most of those in power are not merely ineffective, they are dysfunctional. They are not merely incompetent as rule enforcers, they are distorting the rules.

Navigating a new chapter in the US-Philippines’ ‘Long Friendship’

In the Philippines, nearly a year after President Trump first sketched his Free and Open Indo-Pacific policy at the 2017 APEC CEO Summit, uncertainty about how the United States will operationalize its vision lingers. Beijing’s vaunted infusion of capital, and influence across all dimensions of Philippine society, including through its multi-billion dollar investments into key Build, Build, Build infrastructure projects, has amplified this uncertainty. Indeed, the common refrain in Manila is that while the United States remains a good friend, China will always be the Philippines’ watchful, at times menacing, northern neighbor.

The Politics of Electoral Contestation

Political contestation is one of the major components of a democratic setup. It involves challenging the position of incumbent and outgoing leaders of government at the national, congressional, and local levels. In particular, electoral contestation has been recognized as the regular form of political contest and has been recognized to represent electoral democracy.

Reforming the PPP Model

Responding to concerns of alienating the private sector, Secretary Dominguez III said the administration welcomes unsolicited proposals, since the private sector would have a better grasp in identifying potential problems and offering better solutions to these problems. Unsurprisingly, the more welcome attitude towards unsolicited proposals has led to a surge in submissions from the private sector.

Inflation Jam

It is said that it takes at least five years to see either the benefits and/or the ill effects of a particular legislation. However, now that we are in an inflation jam, it only took six months to see the very negative effects from the imposition of more taxes.

Powering development through proper energy policies

Last week, consumer group CitizenWatch Philippines, in partnership with Stratbase ADR Institute, hosted an energy stakeholder’s forum entitled “Energy Outlook: Supplying Rising Demand at Lower Cost.” The forum aimed to provide different stakeholders in the power industry a conducive venue to tackle the key issues affecting the real cost of electricity in view of price fluctuations, market volatility and rising energy demand.

A regressive approach to the mining fiscal regime

Eight months since the first phase of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law was implemented, inflation hit a near-decade-high 6.4%, well beyond government forecasts and, more crucially, something that may upend years’ worth of significant economic growth.

Facing the Guns versus Butter Dilemma: Kilo Class Submarines for the...

The Philippine government, for the first time since 1946, released a national security strategy (NSS) doctrine in July 2018. Entitled “Security and Development for Transformational Change and Well-being for the Filipino People,” the 59-page NSS provides a realistic assessment of the Indo-Pacific region as marked by “increased uncertainty and unpredictability.” It identifies the rivalry of the major powers as the “most important (regional) strategic concern” and notes that the Philippines’ geography is both a source of strength and vulnerability as it provides a strong temptation to expansionist powers. Learning from the lesson of history, the NSS emphasizes the need to increase the size and capability of the Philippine Navy (PN) and the Philippine Air Force (PAF) as quickly as possible. This is to enable these two armed services to be country’s external deterrence in the face of an uncertain and potentially dangerous Indo-Pacific region.

The inflation fiasco: Scrambling to find the right solution

IN August, inflation clocked in at 6.4%, once again exceeding official targets and market expectations. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) projected inflation to be within 5.5% to 6.2%. Last month’s inflation also marked the highest increase in almost a decade. Month-on-month inflation also picked up to 0.9% in August from 0.5% in July, after it started losing its momentum in the last few months. For the first eight months of the year, inflation already averaged at 4.8 %, exceeding central bank’s upper end target of 4% for 2018.

Balancing price fluctuations, meeting the economy’s growing demand

THE inflation rate has made a considerable jump this year from 3.8% in January to 5.7% this July. This brings inflation beyond the upper end of the 2 to 4% target of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and already within the full-year forecast of the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) at 4.5%.

Nationwide cancer control needs urgent legislative action

IN a show of force by the Philippine cancer patient community, representatives from over 150 cancer patient support groups and network organizations gathered recently to prioritize the passage of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act.

Civility in International Relations

States do not act in isolation from other states. As they attempt to achieve political and economic goals, it is foreign policy that keeps them interactive and engaged with regional and international actors. In so doing, some “rules,” both formal and informal, have emerged and developed and eventually became the way toward international relations.

China’s Stratagem in the Framework Negotiations for a Code of Conduct...

AFTER meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore last week, the regional bloc and China announced a breakthrough in the drafting for the framework for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, which would form the basis for future negotiations regarding an eventual COC.

Casting doubts on the integrity of a successful elections

Our nation had taken great strides towards the improvement of our elections by shifting to automation. Arguably, traditional modes of electoral cheating and electoral violence have been prevented and minimized since its implementation. This time, Philippine democracy has been given importance through the delivery of faster election results. We have reached the stage wherein we have finally adjusted from the horrors of manual counting, tallying, and canvassing that will only resurface the evils that our society relates too well -- electoral cheating and violence, where transitions of leaders will cause instability and questionable legitimacy.

What’s next after the TRAIN?

In what was a surprising deviation from his usual off-the-cuff remarks, President Duterte stuck to his script as he delivered his third State of the Nation Address (SONA). Echoing his economic managers, he fended off criticisms of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) and asserted that it has made funds available to build infrastructure and develop human capital. The President extolled the seven-month-old law, claiming that it is already helping poor families and senior citizens cope with rising prices. He added that the government has set aside P149 billion worth of subsidies this year, a figure that will increase by P20 billion by next year. He also enumerated measures that the government has rolled out so far, including unconditional cash transfers, discounts in gas stations, and fuel vouchers for public utility vehicles, without mentioning the delayed implementation of these social mitigating measures. As he closed his segment on tax reform, the President urged Congress to pass the succeeding tax proposals.

SONA’s health care agenda missed integrated cancer control

During the President’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA), he raised a number of issues, that span political and economic reforms.

Filipinos clamor to uphold the Arbitral ruling

As we commemorate the second anniversary of our nation’s victory in the Arbitral Tribunal, we reflect on how the Philippine government has used this landmark ruling to generate support from the international community and to uphold our claims over the West Philippine Sea.

What territory are you referring to President Xi?

During US Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s three-day visit to China, President Xi Jinping bluntly told the visiting American defense official: “Our stance is steadfast and clear-cut when it comes to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, we can’t lose even an inch of territory inherited from our ancestors, and China won`t take anything that belongs to others. Beijing has no colonial ambition but will never shy away from defending every each of its territory.”

PhilSys: One card to rule them all

It is only a matter of time before President Duterte signs into law the bill that will put citizens and aliens under a National Identification System, to be known as Philippine Identification System or PhilSys.

Digital transformation for Filipinos

Just last week, the National Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Summit was held, with a good mix of participants from the public and private sectors.