Survival mode

GMA in the U.S.A., not in Portugal.


SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan
Monday, July 28, 2008
The Philippine Star

In her State of the Nation Address today, President Arroyo will reject calls to scrap the value-added tax on oil imports. This is the SONA part where she will stand against populist moves, as Palace officials put it yesterday.

The President will then announce the many subsidies, mainly for the poorest of the poor, that will be funded from VAT collections. This is the “caring administration” part – reportedly the theme of the SONA.

She is expected to promise that the nation will survive the food and fuel crunch, which she thinks is worse than the Asian financial crisis that struck in 1997.

There is no doubt that the country will survive. Filipinos are a resilient people, and it takes so little to make us happy. We have perfected the art of grinning and bearing suffering.

The question is where the country will be situated in the Asian economic hierarchy by the time noon of June 30, 2010 rolls around.

We have been on a protracted survival mode. Under the watch of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, our national competitiveness has steadily dropped in all international surveys. Under her watch the country has dropped far behind Thailand and now even Indonesia and Vietnam in attracting foreign direct investments (FDI).

This situation continued in the first six months of the year, with FDI dropping by nearly 50 percent, according to official records. Cambodia, whose tourism industry is booming and which is competing with China in offering low-cost manufacturing, may one day overtake us in luring FDI and in economic growth.

Under the President’s watch, the number of Filipinos working overseas has also reached a record high, with more continuing to pursue the Filipino dream of leaving their own country.

The billions of dollars remitted annually by those workers make the peso strong and account for a hefty chunk of economic growth figures. But the continuing exodus is also one of the biggest indicators of economic hardships; the benefits of economic growth are not trickling down.

All is not rosy in this exodus. The country is now suffering from a continuing brain drain. We’re running out of doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, pilots, workers with specialized skills for many industries – the human resources needed for economic development.

The Philippine diaspora also has its social costs: children growing up without parents, OFWs traumatized by abuse at the hands of employers, broken families.

* * *

It surely isn’t just coincidence that in recent years, the Philippines has consistently ranked low in all international surveys on transparency.

The administration likes to point out that all the corruption allegations under President Arroyo’s watch have yet to be conclusively established in court. But this does not prove innocence, and is largely due to the weakness of the country’s judicial system. Also, those behind the Corruption Index take the Philippine government to task not for engaging in specific cases of corruption, which could take decades to prove with finality in this country, but for not doing enough to promote transparency.

When she does what she does best – namely implementing fiscal discipline and tackling economic problems – Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can show conviction and leadership. This is the no-nonsense workaholic on whom the nation pinned such high hopes for change when she replaced Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Too bad even the nation’s best and brightest eventually get swallowed up by a system that rewards fealty rather than merit. This is a system where the best players learn quickly that if you’re going to steal, you better steal big, because then you have a bigger chance of getting away with it.

This is another thing that has been institutionalized over the past seven years: the failure to hold public officials accountable for official acts. Sure, an anomalous project gets scrapped here, a public official resigns there. But overall the failure to instill accountability in government has developed a culture of impunity that will take years to eradicate.

Patronage politics, the absence of a merit-based social system and the rule of law, crony capitalism and the corruption of weak democratic institutions are likely to put the country near the bottom of the Asian totem pole, ahead of only Laos and Myanmar.

* * *

The task of cleaning up after nine years of this administration will be enormous. The Chief Executive, who had hoped to be remembered simply as a “good” president, will instead be remembered for “Hello, Garci,” the fertilizer scam, ZTE and Northrail, unexplained killings and disappearances.

There are the smaller matters: an unknown company with paid-up capital of about P65,000 bagging a coal supply deal worth almost P1 billion, thriving businesses in used vehicle importations as well as smuggling of oil and motorcycles.

The investment climate is so bad one of the country’s top industrialists is downscaling operations in all his companies and setting his sights on further expansion instead in China.

Another top industrialist as well as a banker and real estate developer have moved many of their assets to Australia.

The buzz is that certain individuals implicated in large-scale corruption are also preparing to relocate to hospitable countries in 2010, taking their money with them.

They will be carrying on a tradition of pillage, started by the Spanish bureaucrats who were sent here during the colonial period, enriching themselves and then returning to their country to enjoy their wealth amassed from Filipino suffering.

The tradition was continued by the Marcos regime, which stashed its billions in overseas accounts.

Instead of transparency, we have a perverted application of executive privilege, upheld by no less than the Supreme Court. Even our culture of mendicancy has become tainted with corruption: foreign aid, where auditing and accountability requirements are relaxed, has become a favored source of fat commissions.

We are giving democracy a bad name. As surveys have shown, many Filipinos would leave the country if they see a good opportunity.

This is the state of the nation today. Can President Arroyo still make a difference?



Image from Pelikula 76

Column by Lito Banayo
Ang Pahayagang Malaya

Ayan na. Kahit gaano kalaki at kakintab ang tarpaulin, kahit gaano karami ang nakakalat nito sa Metro, imbyerna pa rin ang mga tao. Tama si National Artist for Literature and Theater Rolando S. Tinio: “Hindi naman talaga tanga ang mga mahihirap. Naghihintay lang sila ng tamang panahon para rumesbak.” At eto na nga ang resbak: – 38 percent sa SWS survey, the lowest of the lowest of the lowest, since the time of Herr Ferdinand Marcos.

And wait, just you wait, for the full fury of the people’s anger when the 2010 elections come. And then you will see how pure, how magnificent, the people’s anger would be! — Danton


Doña Gloria’s net satisfaction rating dives to negative 38, and the indictment cuts through all regions, all ages, all social strata. Nothing she does ever seems to be right by her people.

Her imperious executive secretary says it’s not the surveys, but the people who should judge his president. The poor who are benefitting from her subsidies should be the ones to judge her, Eduardo Ermita says.

When she was running in the 2004 elections, surveys that showed a neck-to-neck race between her and FPJ were bible truth to Malacañang. When the same surveys showed at the tail-end of the campaign that their Boss Woman had overtaken the movie king, they were ululating with joy. “Happy times are here to go on and on and on,” they chorused among themselves. The surveys had given perfect cover for what the shadows at the Comelec headed by Virgilio Garcillano and Roque Bello, with the imprimatur of Ben Abalos, were about to commit.

Before, surveys were the perfect gauge of vox populi. Now Eduardo Ermita seeks in vain for another vox populi. Tell you what, Mr. Ermita – try manufacturing hao shiao surveys. With your money, you could even put up some. But who will you fool but yourselves?

Rep. Joseph Santiago of the lone district of Catanduanes wants Sulpicio Lines, and all other shipping companies that ferry more than a hundred passengers in their vessels, to seek a franchise from Congress before they can operate.

As if a franchise would prevent sea accidents and disasters.

All it will make certain is that legislators, especially those in the committee on franchises, will laugh all the way to the bank.

What the Malacañang boys cannot seem to accept is that their boss woman’s dissatisfaction rating has gone down to 56 even in the Visayas. “The heartland is lost?” Cerge Remonde of Cebu asks in anguish. This Wednesday, his Doña will go to her political heartland, and will try to woo the Cebuanos back to the fold. Of course Gwen and Tommy and maybe even some clerics will be there to assist, but whether in Bantayan to its north or Oslob in the south, or Pardo and Tabunok in the city, the question that persists is “nganong gigutom na kita?”

Neither Gwen nor Tommy, nor Raul or Eddie Gul, not even Pabling Garcia, can give the right answers. Unsa’y ilang itubag? “Mag-antos lang kamo ug dyutay, kay nagpalambo na ang atong ekonomiya kang GMA?”

He, he, he. Wala mo kuyapi?

As Erap keeps saying, “hungry stomach knows no law”.

As an economist, the Doña must know that an extremely huge population would be a drag on the economy’s ability to grow and develop, and to distribute properly the fruits of any growth. That’s in the Economics 102 course.

But the economist in her yields to the politics of appeasing the princes of the Roman Catholic Church, who, whether they themselves believe in their heart of hearts the logic or reason of the Vatican position on population planning, simply have to obey. It is a question of dogma, and the Pope is infallible when he speaks of faith and morals. Before this latest konfrontasi, she was throwing the matter of population management to the discretion of local government units. So Pangasinan under Vic Agbayani and Butuan City under Boy Daku Plaza made strides in lowering the growth rate in their constituencies. But in Lito Atienza’s Manila, condoms and pills were verboten for a straight nine years. Go to Parola and Isla Puting Bato and see the results of Atienza’s policy of the more the merrier.

Sa madaling salita, para kay Donya Gloria, basta’t hindi siya ang gumagawa, at hindi siya ang tinatamaan, okay lang ang population control. But now that the bishops are putting the squeeze, and they are propping up her wobbly control over the State, she kow-tows.

What a hypocrite.

Thus does FVR twit her lack of political will. “She is the president of all Filipinos, not only the Catholics,” FVR reminds her.

It’s not a question of political will, Mr. President. It’s a lack of any sincerity on anything.

Ang tagal mo namang magi-sing, sir!

This bigot from Ozamis, Bishop Jesus Dosado, threatens denial of the sacred host to those who push what his Church keeps deliberately mislabelling as an “abortion” bill.

I wonder, at the height of the Kuratong Baleleng depredations, did the Ozamis bishop deny communion to the well-known Baleleng masters who controlled then, and control even now, the underground economy of his diocese? Or perhaps they contributed generously to the diocese? Robin Hood kasi ang papel nila, di ba, Señor Obispo? Just like the Pinedas of Lubao, di ba, Bishop Paciano Aniceto?

And may I pray ask, if denial of the sacred host is to be made against legislators pushing for sane population management, how about denying the host to unrepentant and hopelessly irredeemable crooks and plunderers in government? That, as a Roman Catholic, I would wholeheartedly applaud.

Till death do them part

By Lito Banayo
Ang Pahayagang Malaya

Gloria needs a reality check


I went to a meeting in Manila last Sunday and took the LRT. At the Doroteo Jose station, the huge tarpaulin of GMA — “Ramdam na ramdan ang kaunlaran” — has two fangs drawn on her mouth. Am sure Anthony Golez will not be happy about this. In the show of Ted Failon and Korina Sanchez, he claimed that GMA is the only President who did a lifestyle check on her Cabinet. Hellow!? Liar, liar pants on fire! Even Ferdinand Marcos was already doing that in the 1980s. Kawawa naman ang gobyernong ito. GMA did everything that Marcos did — and never succeeded. No guts, no glory, no originality. — Danton


On reports that inflation hit 11.4 percent in June, the highest in 14 years, Malacañang said the price surge was expected and the government is looking at measures to soften its impact.

Is looking at measures? What kind of statement was that? Do they mean to tell us they were twiddling their thumbs all the while when the signs have long pointing at the approaching perfect storm of surging fuel and food prices?

The Palace said among the measures are a stepped-up program to expand production to answer the food problem and energy conservation, tapping of alternative energy sources and intensified search for oil in response to runaway global crude prices.

Let’s look at these proposed measures to ease the impact of spiraling fuel cost. Conservation of energy will come by itself and not through government effort. With gas at P60 a liter, there will be fewer private vehicles on the road. Public utility vehicles will have to rationalize their operations, plying their routes only when assured of full capacity (no more empty buses careening on EDSA during off-rush hours). Households and business will also be forced to cut costs as a matter of survival.

The Palace should not promise the people pie in the sky in the form of biofuels, solar and wind powered generating plants which will take years to put in place and at a probably higher cost than hydrocarbon-based energy sources.

Food production, on the other hand, is indeed quickly responsive to expansion of areas under irrigation, introduction of high-yielding seeds and liberal use of fertilizers and insecticides. Rice has a cycle of three months from planting to harvest. So bigger investment in farms now will yield dividends in a relatively short time.

Is the government putting extra-ordinary efforts to boost food output? The way we are hearing it from Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, rice production is no longer a problem. The last summer harvest was bigger than last year’s. The main October harvest is expected to post another record-breaking yield. But didn’t we hear the same thing sometime in March just before prices of rice shot up from P24 to P34 a kilo?

The public needs convincing. Instead of admitting the country faces a crisis, the first step toward crafting a workable response, the Arroyo, however, continues to live in the never never land where “ramdam na ramdam ang kaunlaran.”

We need a 180-degree turn on how we will surmount the crisis. Let’s forget about grandiose blueprints on how to pole vault to First World status in 2020. Let us first ensure that our people can fill their stomachs. We succeed in licking hunger, pulling ourselves by the bootstraps to the status of a developed country will follow as a matter of course.