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Health before Wealth

“We need to immediately shift to MGCQ (modified general community quarantine, the second loosest quarantine level) for the entire Philippines. Perhaps starting March 1,” Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua told President Rodrigo Duterte during a televised late evening Cabinet meeting last week, according to Philstar.com on Feb. 16.

China’s unilateral nine-dash line

“China unleashes another deadly virus…” retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio called out in his column in the Inquirer, that slow Thursday, Jan. 28. Another deadly virus after the Wuhan virus or COVID-19? That surely gripped the readers’ attention, in this tremulous time of the persistent pandemic.

Must we ‘Cha-cha’ in the pandemic?

In the languor and lassitude forced by the unabating 10 month-long COVID-19 quarantine, it adds insult to injury to make the anxious, near-catatonic people dance like pitiful puppets to the cha-cha-cha of autocratic governance.

COVID-19 tames Competition

I have not worn lipstick for nine months now. I cannot. Lipstick will only smudge under a face mask. Lots of clothes, shoes, bags, and jewelry, fake and real, have been lying around unused. No occasion to show these off. What did I need all those for — before this protracted quarantine against the persistent COVID-19 pandemic?

Children are our future

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, Los Niños Inocentes, the very first martyrs in Christian religions. In Europe it is called Childermas or the Mass for the Children.

Silent Night, Holy Night

It was a silent night when He was born on a manger, in a stable in Bethlehem. Only the gentle lowing of the cows and the muffled braying of the donkey whispered welcome to the world. No crying out in pain by Mary, His Mother, who smiled in ecstatic adoration at the little Child Jesus, the Promised Redeemer of the world. Joseph held back an awed gasp at first sight of Him, whom he knew was his God.

A poverty beyond Poverty

“How are you doing, my friend? I was worried about you there in Naga, in this terrible Typhoon Rolly — hope you are OK?”

Lessons from an election

“STOP THE COUNTING!” Donald Trump said in all-caps in his Twitter account.

Debt at a time of coronavirus

It might have been death by coronavirus as the COVID-19 pandemic choked the economy and strangled many businesses to bankruptcy. But more than the abstraction that is the economy, or the corporate fiction that a business could be, the flesh and blood individual struggling with his threatened physical health even while anxious over dwindling material wealth is COVID’s ultimate victim.

Historical revisionism and fake news

History is always the most revered authority, and the ultimate teacher. It is empirical proof of expected results from conditions and contexts as naturally presented by science or as conjured and executed by minds. What has happened, has happened, and there is always a lesson learned.

Walking on water for the UNCLOS ruling

No, he did not “jetski to a disputed island occupied by China in the West Philippine Sea to plant the Philippine flag and stake the country’s claims” — a campaign promise made in 2016.

A chance for the environment

“No, it is not white sand that is being used to fill up the Manila Bay shoreline,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said when news photos flashed images of heavy machinery on the baywalk dumping what indeed looked like glistening white sand over the stony black murk of muddy sand.

Little Papua dares the giant China

Why should seemingly irrelevant news about Papua New Guinea refusing to pay a loan of $53 million from China be among the opening salvo of posts last Friday on various Viber chats among bored mostly middle class Filipinos quarantined and restricted for five months — and going — in this coronavirus pandemic?

GDP: Down, down, down

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III has always been known for saying it like it is. When he announced a 16.5% decline in the country’s second quarter GDP (gross domestic product) (in real terms, at 2018 prices) compared to last year — the news was shocking, but at least comfortably acceptable because it came from Mr. Dominguez. This is the worst contraction of the Philippine economy since 1981, during the debt crisis in the time of Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law. The country is now undeniably in a recession.

The leaning Tower of Babel

The Cyber Libel Law, or formally, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, has caused more confusion than the clarification it should have given the libel laws of the Philippines through their evolution and refinement since the Revised Penal Code was enacted in the 1930s. The chaos is most pathetic in this restrictive time of the coronavirus pandemic, when limited human communication and interaction has forced people’s concentration on the internet — now the most convenient, and at times the only, means of talking to the outside world from imposed isolation.

A pandemic in numbers

A global recession has been brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. In its latest Global Economic Prospects Report, the World Bank (WB) said in June that the global economy will shrink by 5.2% in 2020, representing “the deepest recession since World War Two.” Developed countries’ economic growth will decline 7%, and that of emerging markets and developing countries by 2.5% — their first contraction as a group in at least 60 years. Per capita incomes will fall by 3.6%, pulling some 60 million people down into extreme poverty, the report said.

What did Rizal die for?

Dr. José Rizal was executed by firing squad by the Spanish colonial government for the crime of rebellion, on Dec. 30, 1896, at Bagumbayan Field in Manila. His 14-stanza poem in Spanish, hitherto only known by its opening verse, “Adios Patria Adorada” (“Farewell Beloved Country”) later titled “Mi último adiós” (“Last Farewell”) was hidden in his gas lamp in his prison cell, and transferred among his personal belongings to his family after his death. He wrote to his best friend and confidant, professor Ferdinand Blumentritt, “Tomorrow at seven, I shall be shot; but I am innocent of the crime of rebellion. I am going to die with a tranquil conscience” (from Teodoro Kalaw, Epistolario Rizalino).

An emerging New Economics

COVID-19 might have killed “supply-side economics” that since its conception in the 1980s boom, created demand from the surfeit of supply, and plumped up consumer-driven economies.

Parallel contagion

“Up to 10 million Filipinos could lose jobs in the Philippines due to COVID-19,” Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III said during a Senate hearing on coronavirus pandemic updates on May 20. He said 2.6 million workers have already been laid off due to temporary closure of business establishments (GMA News, May 20).

Business (un)usual in the new (ab)Normal

Businesses will never be the same after the COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns are relaxed or lifted. Or better said, perhaps -- they will not be the same businesses after the isolations and mobility restrictions of COVID-19 are relaxed or lifted.

The social impact of COVID-19

Our world will never be the same again after this terrible coronavirus experience, we say to each other in feverish exchange of breaking news, web links, quotes from the Bible and from whoever it was, and even in the nervous laughter from “joke time” in Viber and other sharing apps. “Do not panic,” some unseen Big Brother continually buzzes in our ears, but the isolation of quarantine cannot but make us anxious for our vulnerability, which precisely the “stay home” orders insinuate. A vaccine has not yet been found that will give full confidence to end the quarantine and social distancing. Medical researchers estimate it will be a year before the testing and certification of the vaccine will be done. Then there are the uncertainties of the changed environment we will step out into, after the “war” with COVID 19 will have been won. Definitely, the postbellum effect will be that people will be more careful, and risk-averse in decisions and actions.

Get your act together!

Surely the changes of functionaries and point persons for the national crisis cannot be comic relief in this terrifying time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The tomb on Easter morning

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying” (Matthew 28:6).

Urbi et Orbi

“When evening had come...” (Mk 4:35). Pope Francis stood alone on a canopied platform just outside the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica, fronting St. Peter’s Square. He peered into the enveloping dusk, perchance to see the usual throng of some 300,000 or more devotees waiting for the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessings on Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, or on the installation of a new Pope -- like when he first blessed the flock as Pope in March 2013. But previous Urbi et Orbi blessings were given in the clarity of daylight.

Global distancing

COVID-19 said it to the whole world: stay home. With the lockdowns of their communities, countries humbly said yes. It seems it is only in the Philippines that the term “lockdown” has been so fearfully avoided, but call it by whatever name, “enhanced community quarantine” is a lockdown -- both a lock-in and a lock-out, where plain quarantine is simply a lock-in. Whatever, just stay home.

Fear and Trembling

I anguished over the creeping amnesia when it comes to our wrenching from the dictatorship 34 years ago. But Filipinos have no sense of history, my dear confidant and most patient mentor said. And Manong sent me a copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, to re-read and ponder in my mature years what had perhaps gone over my head in my college Literature classes.

The impunity of money laundering

Nulla poena sine lege (Latin for “no penalty without a law”).

Open arms for the Foreign Investments Act

At the AmCham Legislative and Trade & Investment Committees forum last week in Makati, the recommended easing of constitutional restrictions on foreign equity amendments was the hot topic. Hot, because a joint statement of major Chambers of Commerce and business and trade organizations had already been submitted in July, 2019 to the 18th Congress and to President Rodrigo Duterte for their consideration and enactment, recommending a list of priority legislation for business. This included the much-debated, top two laws, the Foreign Investments Act (FIA) and the Retail Trade Act (RTA) that would necessitate amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

The faded glory of a revolution

Tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution that threw out Ferdinand Marcos and ended his 14-year dictatorship. Do you feel the thrill and tingle of remembering how over two million Filipino civilians led by Jaime Cardinal Sin staged a peaceful protest to oust Marcos, from February 22–25, 1986, on the Epifanio de los Santos highway? When the military from nearby General Headquarters, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, led by then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Chief of Staff General Fidel Ramos joined the throngs, it happened so fast -- Marcos and his family and cronies were flown off to Hawaii by US military helicopters.

Between love and making a living

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.

What now?

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.

Novel Coronavirus has the last say

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.

Kiong Hee Huat Tsai

“Congratulations and wishing you prosperity!” -- that is what “Kiong Hee Huat Tsai” conveys in the Hokkien dialect, which is what the majority of...

Taal has lost her patience

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.

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani

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.

20/20 vision in 2020

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.

Whispering Hope for justice and peace

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.

Water: How the story is told

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.

The worst in math, science and reading

“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).

Sexist bullying

We already know, from immersion near drowning in the universal storm for gender equality, that men should respect women and vice versa.

Political bickering and our image

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.

John and Elizabeth Gokongwei, partners forever

“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.

The timid private sector

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 displays of anger

“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.

A bleeding heart for the middle class

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.