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The day before Valentine’s Day, red roses were selling briskly at P5,000 per dozen/per bouquet at a small flower stand in a Makati mall. What a waste, the dumpy old widow grumbled to herself -- whoever guy is giving that near-wilting bunch of flowers to his lady love would do better to give her the cash.
Perhaps the question to be asked is not simplistically whether the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is good for us or bad for us, but rather do we need a defense treaty with the US at this time, regardless of feelings over the fact that the US has some strategic advantage for itself by bonding with us? We have to be realistic about our status and capabilities before we thump our chests and bellow to be left alone to our own little devices against the big, cruel world.
On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global public health emergency due to the rapid spread of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that originated in a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan City (population: 11 million), in the province of Hubei (population: 50 million), in China. As of Saturday, varying television news reports said there are now close to 10,000 infected persons worldwide, with 200+ dead from the virus, for which a vaccine is still being developed. Novel Coronavirus -- nCoV -- has spread to 22 countries and regions, according to the WHO.
The volcano might have been upset when the Augustinian friars first came in 1572 to establish a township on the shores of the lake in Batangas province. She erupted, most likely not in welcome, and blew her top in obvious agitation of disturbed peace and the intrusion into her sacred territory. “Ta-al” was what the natives called the volcano-island, “sin ta-as ng langit” (high as the sky) and queen in their primitive Nature-worship.
Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, Commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. and acknowledged second most powerful man to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was killed by a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Baghdad International Airport Road in Iraq on Jan. 3.
The traffic problem is real -- we have seen it with 20/20 vision and experienced it in hours spent in the slow movement from home to work to home or to wherever in Metro Manila and in major cities. They say it is because of the lack of planning by generations of lazy politicians and bureaucrats with no vision.
It is not likely that US President Donald Trump will have a Merry Christmas. On Dec. 18, the House of Representatives voted along party lines (232--196) to impeach Trump for criminal bribery and wire fraud charges as part of the abuse of power charge of an alleged quid pro quo deal with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, The New York Times reported the next day. Trump’s troubles started in September, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated an impeachment inquiry presenting a whistleblower and alleging that Trump may have abused the power of the presidency by withholding military aid as a means of pressuring newly elected Zelensky to pursue investigations on Trump’s likely re-election rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter on their business dealings in Ukraine, and to investigate a conspiracy theory that Ukraine (not Trump’s friend Russia), was behind interference in the 2016 presidential election (NPR.org, Sept. 26, 2019). The US Senate, which is Republican-dominated, will make their decision on Trump’s impeachment in early 2020.
The story starts with Martial Law President Ferdinand Marcos. When he became president in 1965, the total external debt was $600 million; by the time he was ousted in 1986, it had ballooned to $26 billion -- a 4,300% rise, according to the Ibon Databank, cited in an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer of Nov. 24, 2016.
“PHL lags in global education survey,” read BusinessWorld’s front page banner story on Dec. 5. A one-fourth page graph showed the latest results of the education survey by Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The trending verbal joust between the administration and the oppositionists started from a piece of criticism by Senator Franklin Drilon at the Senate review of the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program of President Rodrigo Duterte. As quoted in the Philippine Star of Nov. 14, Drilon said that “the program was a ‘dismal failure’ because only nine of 75 flagship projects have been completed three years into the six-year term of the Duterte administration.” Salvador Panelo, the president’s spokesperson, immediately sequestered national TV airtime to publicly shame the opposition: “The Aquino administration had built not a single infrastructure project,” he declared with damning finality.
“The most important decision you have to make in your life is whom you’re going to marry. That decision will dictate the rest of your life, whether you will have a happy life or a miserable one,” billionaire taipan John Gokongwei, Jr., then already second richest man in the Philippines, told his only son and successor-apparent Lance, when young Lance was just was starting to look at girls -- or rather, when girls were starting to look at extremely good-looking Lance. The son, now happily married, relates this anecdote in his book Lessons from Dad, his tribute on his father’s 90th birthday in 2016.
With evident pride of accomplishment, economic ministers announced a 6.2% growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in the July-September period (third quarter) compared to the disappointing second quarter growth of 5.5%. It was explained that the second quarter was weighed down by the late enactment of this year’s (2019) national budget and a ban on new public works 45 days before the May 13 midterm elections. “The Duterte administration’s catch-up (spending) plan is working,” enthused Central Bank Governor Benjamin Diokno, former Budget Secretary and chief crafter of the 2019 budget -- which was delayed because of alleged “insertions” of reported certain allocations to some government officials’ interests.
“Inchoate” means imperfectly formed or formulated: formless, incoherent, the Merriam-Webster dictionary says, to which the Cambridge dictionary adds, “not completely developed or clear.” When Sanjoy Chakravorty, professor of global studies at Temple University, Pennsylvania, called the fever of street protests around the world in 2019 “inchoate displays of anger,” “inchoate” can only mean futile and desperate.
The Social Weather Survey (SWS) announced a “recovery” in October of self-rated poverty to 42% compared to September’s 45% from March’s “awesome” (according to SWS) 38% which was 12 points better than the 50% of December 2018. These are distressing statistics for bleeding hearts. There is no “improvement” in poverty. There is no “less poor” or “more poor” but only “poor.” In a deeply religious and morally demonstrative country like the Philippines, expression of empathy more than just lip-service sympathy is expected for the poor from those who have more in life.
It was a joint membership meeting of the Makati Business Club (MBC), the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, the Judicial Reform Initiative, the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, and the Management Association of the Philippines last Friday, Oct. 18, at the New World Hotel in Makati. The testimonial to Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio was not jubilation for yet another career trophy won, nor was it a sad goodbye, for he will be retiring after 18 years in the Judiciary and eight days as Acting Chief Justice.
“Comme ci, comme ça,” the critical and exacting French would say for something that would not meet the superlatives of quality and aesthetics they are generally attributed with. In English, its idem sonans (sounds-like) is “cum si, cum sa,” like if someone asks you, “how are you?” you might reply, “cum si, cum sa,” meaning you are feeling not good, not bad, just average. “Cum si, cum sa” means “so-so.”
The entire Hong Kong subway network -- which carries some four million passengers a day -- was suspended on Friday night, leaving protesters, locals, and tourists stranded. “Shopping malls were closed, supermarket chains said they would not open and many mainland Chinese banks, which were targeted in Friday night’s violence, stayed shuttered, their façades sprayed with graffiti. In some locations, long lines formed at supermarkets as residents stocked up, fearing further clashes,” Agence France Presse News (AFP) reported.
It was Jan. 15, 1973, the day Lim Seng -- a Chinese drug lord found to have had in his possession some 34.75 pounds of heroin worth P3 million in September 1972 -- was to be executed by firing squad as ordered by newly self-installed martial law president Ferdinand Marcos in his declared Drug War. Some 5,000 curious civilian on-lookers, roped off from the Known Distance Range, and they say another 10,000 at the Fort Bonifacio entrance, waited for the spectacle to start.
The small Vauxhall sedan had the EDSA highway practically all to itself, Mang Maldo, the family driver, repeatedly gushed to “Ma’am,” the grandma, and to the daughter, the young mother who held Ma’am’s precious baby grandchild in her arms. Why was it so eerily quiet?
The “holistic approach” to child development was the reason for this jack-in-the-box treat for school children: House Bill (HB) No. 3611 filed by House Deputy Speaker Evelina Escudero proposes to remove homework as a requirement for Kinder to Grade 12 students and prohibit students from taking textbooks home in order to “lighten their physical burden” and to do academic activities solely within school premises; and HB No. 3883 filed by Quezon City Representative Alfred Vargas, which seeks to “promote and protect the physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being of the youth” and prohibits elementary and high school teachers from assigning take-home assignments to students for the weekend. Senator Grace Poe filed Senate Bill No. 966 to establish a no-homework policy for all primary and secondary schools in the country, according to a GMA News report on Aug. 30.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte started the cauldron bubbling when on Aug. 9, during the celebration of the 118th police service anniversary at Camp Crame, he said that he believes police officers should accept gifts if these are given out of gratitude or generosity. “Well, if you’re given a gift, accept it. It cannot be bribery because it is allowed by law. What I mean if there is generosity in them, the anti-graft law says you cannot accept gifts. (Kalokohan ’yan) That’s nonsense,” he was quoted by The Philippine Star as saying in its Aug. 11 issue.
Last week Commissioner Ephyro Luis B. Amatong announced that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is now looking at mandating a 20-25% Minimum Public Offering (MPO) range for listed companies, against the November 2017 order for these public companies to hit 15% MPO within three years, then another two years for the final 20% MPO.
On Monday last week, 15 economists polled by BusinessWorld -- 11 from banks and financial institutions and four from the academe -- were sure gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the second quarter (April to June) would have leaped to 5.9% from the nasty fall in the first quarter to 5.6% (the lowest in four years) after the hopeful 6.3% quarter-growth at year end 2018. Perhaps they were encouraged by Secretary of Socio-Economic Planning Ernesto M. Pernia’s assurance last June that though the second-quarter growth will “not be as strong as the third quarter would be,” a 6.5% GDP growth for the year would be “attainable.”
Call it an in-your-face taunt that Facebook, the social media platform for some 2.38 billion worldwide users -- while beleaguered by seemingly never-ending privacy issues with the US Federal Trade Commission in its 15 years of existence -- has launched its own cryptocurrency, much to the Federal Reserve Bank’s dismay. It is probably the ultimate face-off between today’s 10-year-old high-tech cryptocurrency and traditional money as first recorded in Sumerian cuneiform tablets of 4,000 BCE.
“You know, I cannot go there even to bring the Coast Guard to drive them away. China also claims the property and he is in possession. ’Yan ang problema. Sila ’yung (That is the problem. They are the ones) in possession and claiming all the resources there as an owner.” -- President Rodrigo R. Duterte said that quite clearly in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 22, at the opening of the 18th Congress.
“I get to punch a senator in the face,” Keith Thurman said of Manny Pacquiao days before their welterweight championship boxing match on Saturday in Las Vegas. It was a TKO, even before the undefeated 30-year-old American WBA (Super) Welterweight World Champion climbed into the ring to exchange fisticuffs with Filipino boxing icon and reigning WBA (Regular) Welterweight World Champion, boxing’s only eight-division world champion, 40-year-old Senator Emmanuel “Manny/Pacman” Pacquiao.
“Marriage is the death penalty.” This is a statement that might be heard at a bachelor’s party. Perverted comic relief, of course, because here in the Philippines, marriage is “till death do us part” -- there is no divorce. But things will change; macho guys are in charge in government now, and the Divorce Law will probably be finally passed in this 18th Congress. Ironically, the Death Penalty Bill will also probably be filed on the opening day of Congress.
In the sustained anxiety of society from three years of relentless fault-finding and finger pointing on the past mistakes and sins of previous political administrations (plural), fate has taunted all with still more alleged anomalies, scams, even possible crimes -- recidivist, it would seem, to “past” wrong doing. Alas, Philippine politics is like that.
A REIT -- or Real Estate Investment Trust -- is a 33%-publicly owned listed company which uses pooled funds of investors to purchase, lease, re-sell, and manage income-generating real estate assets such as malls, offices, condominiums, warehouses, and other infrastructure. The REIT Law of 2009 that formally established the REITs is meant to help develop and democratize the capital markets, with prospects for even the small investors to earn regular income and long-term capital appreciation, much like participating in mutual funds.
“Republic Act 10351, or the Sin Tax Reform Law, is one of the landmark legislations under the Aquino Administration. It is primarily a health measure with revenue implications, but more fundamentally, it is a good governance measure. The Sin Tax Law helps finance the Universal Health Care program of the government, simplified the current excise tax system on alcohol and tobacco products and fixed long standing structural weaknesses, and addresses public health issues relating to alcohol and tobacco consumption” (www.dof.gov.ph/index.php/advocacies/sin-tax-reform).
At the BusinessWorld Economic Forum 2019 last week, keynote speaker Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, “JAZA”, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Ayala Corporation made it clear: “Businesses should realize that what brought us success in the past will not be the same issues or factors that will bring us success in the future” (BusinessWorld May 31, 2019). He shared how the Ayala group has consistently embraced innovation, enabling it to remain in business for the last 185 years.
It may summon lurid thoughts of a clandestine tryst at some secluded nest, where forbidden lovers unleash steamy passion. It must be very secret -- imagine if the wronged wife (or husband) discovered and witnessed the unfaithfulness. “In flagrante delicto,” meaning seeing the crime in flagrant commission, would justify killing of the illicit lovers by the betrayed. Possibly a lugubrious picture of a “meet-me-room,” in some prurient minds, for want of any connectivity of the word with some staid common usage.
The unpaid household chores and care work rendered by women is valued at 20% of the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP), according to Research Fellow Michael M. Abrigo of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (BusinessWorld April 2, 2019). This is quantified at nearly P2 trillion. According to 2015 data, only 2% of males help out with the house and care work of their spouses and mothers (Ibid.).
Just for nostalgia: what was done on May 1, Labor Day, in Martial Law? From the National Library archives, “The President’s Week in Review: April 27 – May 3, 1981,” President Ferdinand Marcos in his Labor Day speech said he “will ask the Batasang Pambansa for early approval of a bill restoring the right of workers to strike.” (officialgazette.gov.ph/1981/05/04). Marcos had just “lifted” martial law in January, and was unraveling what had gone on for nine years as what he called a “benevolent dictatorship.”
A solo bassoon moans a prolonged melancholy cry, as of a dull pain inside the soul. Its plaintive aching and hurting seems from some broken heart whose fears are magnified in the steady thumping of the basses -- bows thrust over strings stayed by numbed fingers on the bridge -- in repetitive pulses like anxiety gripping the throat. The drums could have pounded the insistent rhythm, but they only offer muffled sympathy.
Today, April 15, is the deadline for payment of 2018 income taxes. There is no extension -- better file your income tax returns (ITR) or else, for even one day later, you suffer the one-time 25% penalty/surcharge plus 20% interest per annum until payment. You must pay income taxes through a BIR-accredited agent bank (AAB) who will credit BIR with your payment. Mind that whether you have taxable income or none, or if you have a computer or access to a computer or not, you have to separately file an electronic ITR, to immediately and officially register your filing with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). You can go to any BIR “E-lounge” for assistance and guidance on the filing of your ITR, but you will still have to pay first (if you have any tax to pay) through an AAB before electronic filing. No escape except death (though your heirs cannot escape inheritance taxes either).
A colonoscopy cum endoscopy at a private hospital cost a total of P67,500: P5,000 for the ultrasound, P25,000 for the hospital procedures, P25,000 for the doctor and P12,500 for the anesthesiologist. The self-employed young professional with no special health insurance (only PhilHealth) could hardly afford this. PhilHealth stepped in for P5,400 deductible from the patient’s bill, 8% of total, but that did not go to her. The 30% of P5,400 is for refund to the doctor of Professional Fees (PF) over what was billed to the patient and 70% is refunded to the hospital on top of what was charged to the patient. For surgical cases, it would be 40% for PF and 60% for hospital costs. Crazy, but it feels like PhilHealth is for doctors and hospitals, and not for patients, because patients don’t see, feel and touch the PhilHealth “refund.” It is like a flat “commission” paid for services rendered by doctors and hospitals -- while they would still have the freedom to charge higher than the PhilHealth maximum base rates per the immutable chart of coverable diseases and procedures. Since September 2011, PhilHealth started implementing its policy of paying fixed rates or fixed amounts to accredited hospitals and clinics for 11 medical cases and 11 surgical cases charted under its reimbursement scheme called Case Rates Payment (workingpinoy.com June 2, 2014). Refunds have been cut down drastically from 2003, since deductibles (purportedly for the patient, but actually a “bonus” to doctors and hospitals) have been whittled down. Poor patient!