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Tag: Grassroots & Governance

More funding and power to LGUs

One of the major initiatives of President Cory Aquino in restoring our democratic institutions was pushing for and signing the Local Government Code of 1991. The idea was to bring the government closer to the people. She had already succeeded in restoring free elections, the Congress and local governments. There was a new Constitution in place. During the Marcos era, the government was so centralized that often people would go to Manila and implore then-Minister of Human Settlements Imelda Marcos to give them a water well. Local governments have indeed gained more power. It is 30 years since then; yet many of the decentralization provisions have not been complied with.

Misapplied overzealousness

I don’t remember who said that military intelligence is an oxymoron, or a contradiction in terms.

Our damaged culture

In 1987, American journalist James Fallows won an award for writing a long piece in the Atlantic Monthly about the Philippines, where he had spent six weeks as an investigative reporter after the EDSA Revolution. He concluded that our main problem was the lack of nationalism, which would deter progress for our country. He correctly predicted that Korea and our neighbors Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia would do better because of a sense of nationalism. Perhaps he is right in many ways.

Technology innovators and drivers as heroes

I guess you could say that the kind of people and nation we become is largely determined by the kind of people we admire. Because of the power of the media, in general, our people tend to look up to celebrities, whether famous or notorious. This can be seen in the kind of leaders we elect, and the kind of careers our children aspire for.

Dealing with red-tagging paranoia

When I was in college, I heard an Englishwoman say at a university symposium that if you are not left-leaning when you are 20 years old, you have no heart.

Ombudsman Martires sabotages his own office

In his recent statements before Congress, Ombudsman Samuel Martires has sabotaged his own awesome powers and responsibilities as provided by Article XI of the Philippine Constitution. The Article provides for Accountability of public officials, and opens with the sentence “Public Office is a public trust.”

Word of honor

In Jolo a few days ago, a tired-looking Rodrigo Duterte lauded Lapu-Lapu whom he said was actually a Tausug who had migrated to Cebu as the first Filipino to fight an invader. Just a few minutes later, I came upon part of a TV coverage of a kempt Duterte speaking at a conference of the Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce. In that speech two years ago, our President actually and quite literally stated his wish that the country which he leads could become “a province of China.” Just like Fujian, he said. This had the Chinese ambassador who was in the audience smiling from ear to ear. Of course, Malacañang later claimed, as usual, that the President was only joking.

No to death penalty

Early in his presidency, Rodrigo Roa Duterte threatened to “kill” Peter Lim of Cebu whom he identified as a drug lord. Many months later, the PNP in Cebu, then headed by Diebold Sinas of “Mañanita” fame, announced that they were going to arrest Peter Lim. This announcement was made for several days until one day the PNP admitted that Peter Lim had left the country, or at least had disappeared. I considered this an outright insult to our intelligence. What, publicly announcing their plans for days, then failing to nail him?

NAIA: Testament to a hero’s courage

A comrade during my politically active EDSA Revolution days reminded me once to keep in mind that we Filipinos have such short memories. How right he was. Barely a generation has passed and already a bill has been filed in Congress by no less than the son of the President to nullify a gesture made by our country to honor a martyred hero on the very site of his assassination, our international airport.

For whom is the press?

For the third time, I watched, intensely engrossed, the Steven Spielberg movie The Post. Aside from the truly award-winning performances by the cast led by Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson and others, what struck the deepest chord in me was a quotation cited towards the end of the film. US Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black was quoted as saying in his majority opinion allowing the Washington Post and the New York Times to publish their Pentagon Papers stories that “the press is to serve the governed, not the governors.”

Post-COVID-19 wish list

When the pandemic has fizzled out, what will be the new normal?

Memories of three outstanding public servants

The news yesterday about the passing of Mon Jimenez was such a shock; I guess because he was so much younger than me. He had invited me to lunch at Rockwell last year when he heard that I was on a visit to Manila. Aside from being from the same (advertising) industry, his Dad and my Dad both came from Tacloban, so we had some shared memories. On a visit to his Department of Tourism office a few years ago when he was Secretary, I had only asked for a 30-minute interview; but he spent two hours chatting and reminiscing with me. He also shared some of his ideas for enhancing a tourism “culture” among our people in the communities.

Barangay governance: Toward small is beautiful

The pandemic crisis has reminded me of our foreign exchange shortage in the 1970s, during the Martial Law era, when we experienced rationing. This was the time when I first encountered and appreciated barangay governance. I was then living in a tiny street in Barangay Poblacion in Makati, right behind the old church and the then-Makati Catholic School (now St. Paul’s). I was renting the second floor of what I liked to refer to as a “pandemonium.”

You’ve come a long way, Filipina

A foreigner was once quoted as publicly saying that the best man in the Philippines is the Filipino woman. It is not surprising therefore that an international accrediting organization has ranked the Philippines as number one in the world in percentage of women in senior executive positions, many of them actually being CEOs. Although we have had two women presidents, a distinction the richest nation in the world has not achieved, the fact is the women presidents have gotten there through derived credentials: Cory Aquino’s husband who was martyred was presidential timbre, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s father was president.

Déjà vu: Legacy of EDSA

Where are we now, 34 years or just a bare generation after we triumphantly ousted the dictatorial and corrupt Marcos regime? The Marcoses are back and in power. Ferdinand Marcos has been interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Congress is behaving like a presidential rubber stamp, with the exception of a few courageous non-conformists. Media entities are under threat and beleaguered. Graft and corruption among politicians and bureaucrats are running wild.

Bully statesmanship

Perhaps his dosage of the powerful pain killer Fentanyl has peaked, because it looks like President Rodrigo Duterte has gone on a wild rampage of using his powers to demonstrate his machismo against icons in business and international politics. First, it was against the water concessionaires: the Ayalas’ Manila Water and Metro Pacific’s Maynilad Water. This was followed soon enough by his foreign policy statement when the US visa of his friend Bato de la Rosa was canceled, that he would abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement, a part of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States of America. Rappler, the online independent media company, continues to be under threat. And now, it is the ABS-CBN franchise which he has vowed to cancel.

Parochial foreign policy

Newly minted senator and former police chief Bato de la Rosa must be smiling with glee at the President’s declaration that he will revoke the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the USA if they do not issue a US visa to his good friend and fellow Davaeño Bato de la Rosa. OMG, a huge foreign policy switch on behalf of his friend who wants to make a personal, not official, visit to the USA.

Don’t underestimate VP Leni Robredo

Although I have met Vice-President Leni Robredo a few times, I have never had a lengthy conversation with her. Nevertheless, she has always struck me as having a strong backbone. Her uncanny ability to make bold but well-considered decisions and to stick to them was demonstrated when, after giving it a few days of thought and reflection, she accepted the Liberal Party’s left-field offer to run for vice-president. She then worked herself to the bone all over the country, and amazingly won the post and got confirmed by the Comelec. I guess her daughter had solid basis for saying that we should not underestimate their mother’s influence on their late father, Jesse Robredo, who had been my choice for next president after PNoy.

Learning how to think

One of my first jobs right after college was teaching in a Franciscan missionary school in Baybay, Leyte. All of my schooling was done in private schools run by foreign missionaries; and since English was also a prime lingua franca within my family, it seems to me that I not only spoke in English, I thought in English.

Shooting from his misogynist, parochial hip

Rodrigo Duterte’s management style -- if you can call it that -- seems to be an extension of his parochial authoritarianism as long-time mayor of Davao City. His focus on crime fighting, which seems to have been the main problem when he became mayor may have worked well at the time. However, to run a whole country of over a hundred million people, in almost a hundred provinces and almost 2,000 towns requires more thinking and strategizing since there are a myriad more stakeholders and competing interests. And whether he cares to pay attention to it or not, a more complex national and global environment. But Rodrigo Duterte has the habit of talking before he thinks; and because as president his word is considered a decision or policy statement, he has to backtrack every so often. Or his minions need to reinterpret his language the next day to the point of absurdity.

On entering the lion’s den

I guess she caught us all off guard. I had been sharing reactions with friends and associates; and we all seemed to agree that President Rodrigo Duterte’s macho challenge to Vice-President Leni Robredo to take over the “drug war” was really a trap. After all, he was the more seasoned politician. And after all, she was only a girl.

Barely a whimper: the new normal

It was an encouraging surprise to find human rights activist Etta Rosales being interviewed on TV and pointing out the ridiculousness of the Sandiganbayan decision to dismiss still another one of the Marcos graft cases, this time worth P168 million. Rosales raised the issue of what this could have done to help alleviate poverty among our rural people. It could have paid for the enhancement of irrigation systems and fertilizer subsidies, and both investments could have made food more accessible to the majority of our people, both rich and poor.

Decide VP protest case now

There are three years left in President Duterte’s term, and to this day, the Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has yet to decide on the protest filed by defeated vice-presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos. Finally, after almost three years, the recount in the “pilot” areas chosen by the losing candidate’s camp has been completed; showing that in fact, in these three pilot areas (Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Occidental), Vice-President Leni Robredo has gained about 15,000 verified votes to add to her 263,473, or about 6% more.

Defending our democratic space

This anniversary week for our martial law experience under Marcos is a reminder of how as our historical experience has confirmed that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Dying delicadeza

One of many Filipino values that is sadly disappearing, or has been forgotten these days, is delicadeza. It is one of the traits long held dear by our forebears as a mark of breeding, and of civilized, ethical, and responsible behavior. Recently there seem to be more and more displays of brazenness among our public officials, whether executive, legislative, or judiciary.

Leader or demagogue

Because of his populist approach to governance, it is possible for Rodrigo Roa Duterte to leave some beneficial legacies out of his presidency. Perhaps poverty incidence will decline somewhat, universal health insurance may almost be attained, thanks partially to legislative initiatives by the opposition, which, by the grace of God, he signed into law, and of course, a decline in crime rates resulting from his brutal “war on drugs.”

Understanding the Filipino voter

It has become fashionable to wring our hands and acknowledge that the atrocious kind of leaders we have today is the fault of the Filipino voter. Assuming that the elections have been honest (though this is also under question), here is an attempt at understanding why we seem to elect so many undesirables.

Lame brained and overtaken by events

To be fair, many of the populist policies of the Duterte Administration are laudable, including bills he signed such as for expanded PhilHealth coverage and the free college tuition, which were at least partly an initiative of the opposition. But I am still smarting with dismay at the lame brained foreign policy with respect to the West Philippine Sea. Duterte’s ridiculous attempts in his SONA (State of the National Address) to justify his position on the issue just made me more frustrated, and even angry.

Why not a Department of Agribusiness?

It seems that as often happens, Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s announced “transfer” of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to the Mindanao Development Authority is on hold following the announcement by Senator Bong “Rasputin” Go that Piñol is still staying in his Cabinet post because “he has performed well.” I wonder what the basis for this assessment is since all the statistics (contribution to GDP, growth rate, etc.) indicate the dismal state of Philippine agriculture, on which 30% of our families basically depend, and to which most of our poverty incidence belongs.

Historically courageous people toadying up to China

If he hasn’t acquired one yet, perhaps someone should give Rodrigo Roa Duterte a Jetski so he can fulfill his campaign promise to ride one to the Spratleys where he would plant a Filipino flag. So far, our president has, contrary to our 1987 Constitution’s mandate that “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens,” been shamefully second guessing China’s positions on the issues raised and already set aside in the UN Arbitral court.

Understanding China

Although my maternal grandfather was born and raised in China, my half-breed mother, who grew up with a childless Visayan aunt, never learned to speak Chinese. I was, however, exposed to some relatives in the Chinese community in my hometown. I guess this encouraged my lifelong curiosity about my latent “Chineseness.” In fact, I spent three years after office hours learning and practicing T’ai Chi in Chinatown, Binondo, Manila. In a way, this helped me appreciate concepts like “using the force of your opponent to defeat him,” and “resorting to indirect, not direct confrontation to confuse the enemy” and “investing in loss.”

What now, going forward?

Over a week has passed since the dismal, disheartening results of the mid-term elections, for both local and national posts. Having done all that hand-wringing, finger-pointing and resolves to henceforth stay away from politics, it is time for situation analysis. Why did that happen, and what can we do, going forward, to help our people choose better and worthier leaders?

Alleluiah, we can increase our shrinking democratic space

It only takes a couple of courageous souls, despite their advanced years, to rouse us out of our passiveness and despair. Look at what retired ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario have inspired with their audacious action of filing a case in the International Criminal Court against Xi Jinping, one of the most powerful men in the world and the leader for life of growing world power China, whom our national government has been too timid to contradict. The case was filed by the daring duo in behalf of the fisherfolk in the Philippine marine territories which have been literally taken over by China, thus depriving the fishers and their families and buyers of their precious livelihood and nutrition.

Underrated crisis in agriculture and fisheries

Year after year -- in fact, government after government -- we get piecemeal revelations about our dismal food production. Agriculture and fisheries consistently contribute a measly part of our gross domestic product. And productivity in fisheries, except for the time when Malcolm Sarmiento was director of the Bureau of Fisheries, has been anemic, or in decline. Poverty incidence is highest among the people who produce our food; and incredibly, so is involuntary hunger.

Presidential orders to kill

We could be the only country in the world where the head of state gives public orders to the bureaucracy to “kill” suspected criminals (e.g., drug addicts, pushers, not necessarily drug lords, and lately, smugglers). He has gone further. Rodrigo Duterte has publicly mandated the Customs officials to arm themselves (specifically with Gluck brand pistols) and “to learn the art of assassination.” As far as I know, the presidential spokesman has yet to explain this away as just another “joke.”

Cognitive dissonance

A recent report from Social Weather Stations reveals that majority of voting age Filipinos say that they do not want to vote for candidates who are corrupt. This probably has the public confused because the list of leading candidates in the public opinion polls includes controversial characters like Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, Lito Lapid, and Imee Marcos, all of whom have been associated with issues of corruption, with the latter perhaps merely a beneficiary of her father’s well known and proven massive corruption, based on judicial decisions here and abroad.

Blurring right versus wrong

To be fair, the Duterte administration will leave some positive legacies, perhaps on the economics side, because the President has made a few creditable appointments to govern this sector. To name a few, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, NEDA Secretary General Ernesto Pernia, and the late Nestor Espenilla of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. I guess because he expressly values utang ng loob as a high value, he basically gives Dominguez, the leader of this group, a lot of leeway, and basic policy autonomy. Dominguez, after all, is from Davao, and was one of his early campaign supporters. Besides, Dominguez did not accept the job right away; and reports indicate that President Duterte practically begged him to take the job.

What is wrong with leftist thinking?

When I was a student, I heard an Englishwoman make a statement at a forum that I remember to this day. She said, “If you do not have leftist leanings before the age of 25, you have no heart; but if you still have leftist leanings after the age of 25, you have no head.” Why then does the chairman of our National Youth Commission demand that government scholars who become leftist activists be deprived of their scholarships? And why should uniformed officers go after students and teachers who espouse “leftist” ideologies, however they may define this?

All hands on deck for voter education

The late controversial politician Ernie Maceda seems to have been right. Any publicity, favorable or unfavorable is good for politicians. The list of leading senatorial candidates in the latest polls affirms this sad reality. Several notorious candidates are ahead of the “good guys.” Ex-detainees on plunder charges Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla are in the likely to win top 12. So, it seems, will Bato dela Rosa of the drug suspect killing sprees. Meanwhile, serious legislators like Bam Aquino and even JV Ejercito are barely making it And Erin Tañada and Gary Alejano are dangling down there. Even Lito Lapid who, last I heard, had not passed a single legislation in all his forgettable senate days is up there among the topnotchers.

Challenging opportunities in agribusiness

Agrarian reform should not be a hindrance to corporate farming. Agribusiness does not require ownership of land. Modern corporations such as Del Monte developed contractual relationships with small holder farmers which supplied produce which the corporate agribusiness venture turned into packaged consumer goods through value-adding technologies. Given the aging population of our farmers, who are now reported to be 60 years on the average, government should seriously take a look at the situation; and sooner rather than later take steps to make it easier for corporate investors to risk good money in agribusiness.

Mainstreaming the creative economy

A study for the British Council reveals that the creative industries, including commercial and not-for-profit (i.e. culture and art for art’s sake) activities are one of the global economic success stories of the last 20 years. Great Britain has benefited from its creative industries, such as film and the phenomenal Beatles. From 2000 to 2010, according to an UNCTAD study, the creative industries grew annually more than twice that of the service industries overall, and more than quadruple that of manufacturing in many OECD and developing countries. The UNCTAD report cited reveals exports were recorded at $171 billion in 2001. Creative industries are estimated to contribute from 3% to 12% of global GDP, depending on how creative industries are defined.

Iconoclastic, destructive leadership

The appointment of Lucas Bersamin as chief justice of the Philippines is yet another blasphemy committed against one of our sacred institutions, the last bastion of justice in our country. Let us be kind. In his inaugural talk to his people, delivered during the flag-raising ceremony, Bersamin betrayed his small-mindedness. The presidential appointment came at about the same time as when our national leader bad-mouthed the Catholic Church and its leaders in no uncertain terms. Rodrigo Duterte seems to be on a rampage, weakening institutions that help ensure a sense of justice, civility, and of right and wrong among our increasingly confused people. Even Filipino women, regarded worldwide as competent, kind and fine human beings -- from nurses and nannies, doctors to musicians, artists and designers -- are not spared from his insults.

Need for lateral thinking

It’s about time. At long last, the government has embarked on a bold initiative to address our inability to produce enough rice for our own needs. The plan to work with the government of Papua New Guinea to cultivate rice and transfer rice production technology is promising. Papua New Guinea is reported to have fertile soil and lots of wetlands to make rice production effective, since it is expected to be more cost efficient. So, we are finally recognizing that despite our decades of obsession with attaining self-sufficiency in rice, we can’t seem to make it work. There is of course, climate change, with unpredictable weather conditions, exceedingly high price of fertilizers, our aging farmers (average age now estimated at 60 years) and lack of interest of the younger generations in grueling farm work, and, of course, the usual widespread corruption all the way down to agricultural field technicians.

Machismo games

President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest rants against saints is, to my mind, just another instance of his continuing campaign to express his machismo; still another effort to demonstrate his manliness in terms of iconoclasm against all things held sacred, even by religious tradition.

Our teachers, our treasures

Because I was probably promoted too fast in my earlier schooling and am a natural rebel, I was not always an exemplary student. However, because I was blessed to have been sent to exemplary schools, and gifted with many extraordinary teachers, I was fortunate nonetheless to have learned from the best. To this day, I often think of my dedicated teachers all the way back to my kindergarten days, to whom I owe so much.