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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.
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.
“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.
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?
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 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 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.
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).
“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).
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?