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Economic reforms should be the center of legislative agenda

For two straight quarters, the Philippine economy has not grown as projected by its economic managers. The 5.5% gross domestic product growth in the second quarter of the year is considered the lowest in the past 17 quarters. This should be a wake-up call for lawmakers and economic managers; we are in “challenging times,” as economic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia put it.

Smart regulations to save agriculture

Agriculture has long been the backbone of civilizations, nations, and communes. Empires are built on the foundations of food security and access to livestock, poultry, and grains. Modern society would interpret this as the common foundation of developing nations whose industries rose from the shadows of farmers cultivating crops and livestock by developing the necessary value chains that fuel communities. From the Indus Valley to the Mekong Delta, the world would not have progressed the way it did if it weren’t for agriculture.

Mobilizing resources vs. dengue

According to the latest situational report released by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), several provinces and municipalities, particularly in regions IV-A, IV-B, VI, VIII and XII, are now under a state of calamity due to the continuous surge of dengue cases.

Enabling energy efficient systems in the Philippines

All eyes and ears were on President Rodrigo R. Duterte as he delivered his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday, July 22. The speech was noteworthy as it came halfway into his term.

State of sound and fury

It was after the first five minutes of watching the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the President that I got confused — wondering whether I was watching a live telecast or, perhaps, due to some technical glitches, I was transported to the SONAs of previous years. But, the image of Congressman Allan Peter Cayetano in the seat of the Speaker of the House gave it away. I knew that I was watching this year’s SONA. After all, the power struggle among representatives as to who would be the Speaker of the House was a public spectacle for a couple of weeks, making it hard to miss Cayetano in the Speaker’s seat.

Cognitive Dissonance, False Dichotomies, and the West Philippine Sea

Over the past few days, a lot has been said regarding the 3rd anniversary of the Hague ruling favoring the Philippines in its stance against China on the West Philippine Sea dispute. Three years ago, it was a highly celebrated victory headed by former Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and then Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. The ruling was considered by many as a marquee case that reinforced the salience of international law as a diplomatic equalizer between state actors; primarily pitting a small island state against an international power and eventually winning versus a seemingly “formidable” adversary. Nonetheless, it was the poster child for the efficacy of non-lethal avenues in settling conflicts between nation-states.

A Triennial Victory

The undulation of Philippine sovereignty in the historically labeled South China Sea is becoming more turbulent. And as the Duterte presidency reaches its three-year mark, the arbitral ruling on the contested waters is also approaching its triennial.

The June 9 Reed Bank Incident: Chinese gray zone operation in...

The warm waters of the South China Sea are rich, which make them highly contested fishing grounds. China is the largest littoral state around this body of water, and it has a huge population to feed. It has built several supporting harbors and infrastructure in the last few years in the area, enabling it to deploy the largest fishing fleet in the South China Sea. The Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) leads and protects China’s huge armada of fishing vessels.

Hitting the infrastructure halfway mark

Time is of the essence for the rollout of infrastructure projects as President Rodrigo R. Duterte hits the halfway mark into his six-year term that ends in 2022. As soon as he assumed office in 2016, the government introduced the “Build, Build, Build” program, which aims to reduce the infrastructure gap in the country.

World without waste: a transformational initiative

The last two months have been replete with small victories related to the Philippines’ waste problem. After languishing in our ports for years, shipping containers of garbage -- plastics, household kitchen waste, shredded electronic wastes, and contaminated trash -- were recently shipped back to their places of origin. Whether it was low business costs, ineffective checks, or regulatory oversight that led these piles of garbage to our shores, using another country as a dumping ground is an utterly deplorable practice.

Mr. President, we can make an explosion

Our situation in the South China Sea evokes an image of a child who gets his pants pulled down on the playground at lunchtime. This is normally followed by physical harm such as repeated hitting, kicking, pushing, and the like. And, to make the physical intimidation more credible, the bullies usually outnumber the victim, and more often than not, have a visible physical advantage.

No going back

27.8 million learners are starting the 2019-2020 school year during what could be considered a relatively propitious time marked by four positive events.

Weighing the cost of appeasing china

In diplomacy and foreign relations, appeasement refers to a state’s effort to mollify or pacify, but not necessarily align with, a revisionist power. An appeasing state could extend diplomatic concessions to a revisionist power without necessarily aligning or subordinating its foreign policy with the latter’s. Appeasement can either complement a bandwagoning policy because a weak power is vulnerable to external pressure and has little capacity to confront the threatening power. Alternatively, it can supplement a state’s balancing strategies, in the same way that “talking tough” and leveling coercive threats can accompany or preclude taking concrete measures to improve one’s power relative to the threatening state.

The big story of the 2019 elections

The post-election period is of many things -- grudging, irregularities, media hyping, protests, and celebration. Today, however, the major current has shifted toward electoral stability, improvement and reforms.

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.