16.9.16

The damage of liberal elitism to the Philippines

my Trade Tripper column in this 6-7 August 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

And I’m not talking about the wealthy oligarchy, a completely different topic altogether. No. Am focusing on this country’s so-called “intelligentsia,” of the academe and the professions, particularly of law (which I’m most familiar with), from those exclusive few universities convinced only they are entitled to influence others and make the decisions simply because (so they believe) they’re smarter than all of us.

Which is really annoying considering how utterly without basis their thinking is.

I remember one former Supreme Court justice pointedly (but quite correctly) telling a graduating central Manila law school class (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Be proud of yourselves, don’t be intimidated by the elite universities. Remember, at least your school hasn’t produced corrupt leaders, plunderers, and traitors that plague this country.”

So when I hear the self-congratulatory prattle of academics, lawyers, policy makers from those hallowed halls of learning, the humble bragging about their progressiveness (and they usually do describe themselves as “progressives” or “liberals”) supposedly making a difference to the country, I get baffled: have you seen the Philippines lately?

However, in fairness to the present administration, let’s agree it’s really too early days to tell how Bedans fair in governance. Full disclosure, I’m a Bedan.

In any event, beyond the corruption and mismanagement our intellectual class brought down upon us, the greater danger is the thought homogeny permeating our top schools.

This leads to two distressing consequences, both observable priorly from the United States, which we’re seemingly determined to copy.

The first is hostility to dissenting opinions: anyone with a conservative viewpoint will surely be labeled as “medieval,” “racist,” “bigoted,” or “uninformed.” And these occur in a range of topics: from sexual ethics to immigration to national security.

Thus, if you dare question the concept of “the other” (the latest buzzword favored by progressives), you are “xenophobic.”

If you ask about the merit of allowing transgenders their choice of restrooms, you are “bigoted.”

And God help you if you ever utter the word “God” in an “intellectual” conversation.

All this renders learning inutile.

As Nicholas Kristof (New York Times, “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance”, Nicholas Kristof, May 7, 2016) puts it, “the stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself. When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards -- and we all lose.”

Finally, we seem to be aping the US’ obsession (at least from the academic standpoint) with national guilt. In their case, it’s about race and slavery. In ours, the alleged historical baggage the Philippines has vis-à-vis the Bangsamoro concept.

There’s also the academic and social media “thought leaders” fashionable passion to seek out and help (again to use those words) “the other” (usually minority refugees), with nary a nod to national security or economic viability.

But intellectual elite actions also led to the (likely intended) consequence Janet Daley (The Telegraph; “The US elite abandoned the American dream -- Trump is the terrifying result”, March 12, 2016) decried as where “love of country is no longer instilled in the children of every generation as it once was.”

So with the Philippines.

Most of our so-called intelligentsia took post-graduate studies from foreign universities, many from the Ivy League, again usually “progressive,” and it’s interesting how naively oblivious they are about the damage the ideas coming from those schools wrought upon the rest of the world.

For example, the liberal freak-out over “Brexit”: “Over the past decade, elites broke the world, and were unrepentant about their failure. They created the conditions for the worst economic crisis in nearly a century, and made sure that their elite friends at the top would scoop up the post-crisis gains, stranding the vast majority of people. They decided their project of globalization and liberalization mattered more than democracy.” (The American Prospect, David Dayen, “Who’s to Blame for ‘Brexit?’ The Elites,” June 24, 2016)

Another: elites at the IMF fostering “groupthink and intellectual capture” resulted in unmindful cheerleading “for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory.” (The Telegraph, “IMF admits disastrous love affair with the euro and apologizes for the immolation of Greece,” July 29, 2016)

This article, make no mistake, is not a call against experts. Rather, it’s a plea for people to be accepting of dissenting ideas and to be more democratic in the sourcing of varying thoughts.

For the Philippines, certainly expanding the bench from where we get our analytical input could only be helpful.

We know that because our continued insistence in narrow intellectual sourcing from an exclusive set of families and schools has definitely not worked for the country.

Deconstructive composition on current political discourse

my Trade Tripper column in this 23-24 July 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

It perhaps represents the inevitability of competing societal structures that the hegemonic inoperability of geopolitical necessities predicate a kinetic union, a polysemic space if you will, of the risks involved in resorting to binary prevarications with which social constructs are simultaneously articulated and textualized.

Even then, the probability of descending into absolutist historiography, highly questioned -- albeit not in frontal operative fashion -- by American pragmatists, be it James or Dewey, and finds renewed voice in their quite esteemed successor, the German Habermas -- seems to have disconcertingly found a heteroglossic frame in today’s paradoxically cacophonic auto-ethnographical narrative.

For indeed, the Other now represents the empiricist embodiment of the Kafkaesque, indicating progression away from the communitarian framework Hesse elegantly formulated: “Wenn wir einen Menschen hassen, so hassen wir in seinem Bild etwas, was in uns selber sitzt. Was nicht in uns selber ist, das regt uns nicht auf.

But that is neither here nor there.

For the problem lies in an anachronism: of the discarded but annoyingly resilient Westphalian view of nationalism, an über-nationalistic prism, that resists the pluralist universality by which the new cosmopolitan is tolerantly and freely engaging communities across the globe.

To frame aspirationally, the “Other” is the “We” from which an interpenetration, an intercourse within the “Self,” which between (or the “Between”) the dissonant undercurrents from which fascism or totalitarianism draws its élan vital, makes possible the creation of a true international community in a post-Westphalian modernity.

But is that really the case?

I remember the time, entangled in salubrious thoughts, essentializing caffeine into a bloodstream wearied by night that followed day, of the difficulty delineating heuristically the varying contesting leitmotifs of sucrose empirically possible in existence.

For my act of choosing constitutes an act of quotidian violence, mutually constitutive with other social issues confronting our consciousness. Critical pedagogy invites to the avoidance of discrimination. But exactly making a judgment (rationality is beside the point) effectively makes that particular sucrosic sachet a part of my individuality and the remaining unchosen now identifiable as the “Other?”

Faced with the ethically indefensible, I opted instead to take the café in the plainest of noir. And yet, even then, such singular iteration is a metonymic positionality which Foucault reveals to us as a catch-22 problématique, the opposite of reconceptualizing civil society within imperialist patriarchal or phalocentric performatives.

And so it goes.

Verily, a post-colonial model avoidance of gender dislocation presents a nexus of contestation with public administration theory. It is vaguely Weberian, even Gramscian. Hegel himself was wont to say:

Eine Idee ist immer eine Verallgemeinerung, und Verallgemeinerung ist eine Eigenschaft des Denkens. Verallgemeinert Mittel zu denken.

But the phenomenology of Hegel perhaps breaks down into a series of post-industrial dialectics. But is that what he is really saying? And is that what we really want?

For if nation states are to transcend the postulated Westphalian thinking, this occludes the need for shared interests there being no Self to rearticulate that interest. That, from the cosmopolitan viewpoint, would be the ideal, leaving as it does the outdated Kirkian or Buckleyian ideas of statehood, which certainly has no place left in the post-modern world that we allege to inhabit.

But what of the new normal that is terrorism? The answer lies in the fact that such does not exist. There is merely the idea of terrorism, a product of potential social reality that canonically creates all categories of human contact.

Here, Derrida (as well as Lacan) demonstrates such to be a residue of the coercive neo/post-realism of Huntington. Of course, he cannot be right. Tautology (along with Marxist, feminist, and queer transnational studies) tells us categorically there is no “clash of civilizations.” Because there isn’t. Period.

The deontologicalism of metaphorical thoughts, Kantian as it may seem, is actually challenging in an intersubjective cognitive sense. Thus, the shootings in Dallas, the coup attempt in Turkey, “Brexit,” the tragedy in Nice, all calibrate a collective redefining, perhaps remapping, of diasporic democracy.

Indeed, a nuanced post-humanist reading of the varying multiplicity of diplomatic, legal, conflict resolution, or remedial options constitute a post neo-liberal line of inquiry addressed as a uniformly paradigmatic schema depending on the hermeneutic: a politico-historical approach or at best structural realism? Or post-post-structural modernistic realism?

Perhaps what is needed is an alter/meta-narrative to the nation-state, one that offers a systemic diffusion of the temporality and modalities of belonging.

Indeed, a precision-based model grounded on institutionalism is radically affective towards governance if tempered with the rejection of the bellicosal, substituted by overlapping subjectivities, cultural diplomacy and integrated soft power.

The foregoing would then result in the positive redefinition of Kant’s hardline philosophy of morals, whereby society’s desires and ends are categorically subjected to imperative criteria. Here, John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle” serves as a lucid guide, although not more so when normatively considered in the Popperian sense of societal openness contextually understood...

And... I ran out of crap to write.

50 years of Miranda

my Trade Tripper column in this 23-24 July 2015 issue of BusinessWorld:

It’s a familiar movie scene: a fugitive running from the police. After a thrilling chase, he is apprehended, pinned violently against a car, and then someone, the usual maverick detective hero, would swaggeringly mutter: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

Those words expressly embody the “Miranda rights” and last June 13, 2016 was the 50thanniversary of the US Supreme Court ruling that instituted those rights into law.

The whole thing started on March 13, 1963, when 22-year-old laborer Ernesto Arturo Miranda (already possessed of a rap sheet that included including robbery and sex offenses), pointed out by a witness, was arrested by the police for the kidnapping and rape of Lois Ann Jameson.

After two hours of interrogation, Miranda confessed -- freely giving details, identified his victim and the victim identified him back. He was promptly convicted and sentenced to 20-30 years imprisonment.

On appeal, Miranda argued that he had no lawyer at the time he made his confession and was therefore unaware of his right to remain silent. According to his lawyer, this amounted to an invalid involuntary confession.

This despite the fact that the 5th and 6thamendments of the US Constitution never mentioned the requirement to inform a suspect:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”

There is, after all, also the rule of “ignorantia legis neminem excusat.” Even our 1935 (and 1973) Constitution didn’t require informing a culprit. Hence, Article IV, Sec. 19 of the 1935 Constitution merely provides that: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to have a speedy, impartial, and public trial, to meet the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence in his behalf.”

Nevertheless, Chief Justice Earl Warren pointed out that, due to the coercive nature of “custodial” investigations, for a confession to be admissible a waiver of the right to remain silent should be made by the culprit only after he was informed of his rights.

The Philippines would embody Miranda expressly in Article III, Section 12 of the 1987 Constitution: “Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.”

Note that Miranda rights apply only during the “custodial” phase of a criminal proceeding, described in Philippine jurisdiction as beginning when “the investigation ceases to be a general inquiry into an unsolved crime and direction is then aimed upon a particular suspect who has been taken into custody and to whom the police would then direct interrogatory question which tend to elicit incriminating statements.” (People vs. Dela Cruz, 1997).

As for Ernesto Miranda himself, he would be retried and convicted after the 1966 ruling; the police dropping his confession and (along with other evidence) relied instead on the testimony of a woman Miranda was cohabiting with and who claimed he admitted to her of committing the rape. After being paroled in 1972, Miranda -- aged 34 -- would be killed four years later in a bar fight.

Suggested changes to the Constitution

my Trade Tripper column in this 16-17 July 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

Almost two months after the last elections, perhaps now may be a good time to start exploring and assessing the merits of amending the Constitution. Some of the following suggestions have long been made by myself (naturally, with many others), although a number have been brought about by the peculiar circumstances of May 2016, and still others by taking advantage of the experiences of other democratic countries.

PRESIDENTIAL TANDEMS
Constitutionally, the president and vice-president should be voted together as a team, with the choice of the vice-presidential candidate left to the presidential candidate. Yes, the reason for the voting separately rule is to ostensibly make the process more “democratic,” the people being allowed to directly elect the top two officials of the land. The problem with that, as we’ve seen repeatedly, is it just results in too much conflict and politicking. The executive branch already has the two other branches to contend with, why add another source of hostilities within the branch itself? Besides, the choice of a vice-president would be a good first indicator of the presidential candidate’s decision-making abilities. And by choosing someone he likes, the vice-president will presumably be in the loop for many of the administration’s programs, thus making that vice-president better prepared to assume office should something indeed happen to the president.

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Presidents should be constitutionally required to have a majority of votes cast, with a run-off election if need be. One way of minimizing the need for runoffs is to have the two parties with the highest number of votes in a preceding election be the only ones named in the ballot (the rest falling under category of “others”). This encourages the institutionalization of parties while avoiding the Comelec’s unconstitutional act of disqualifying candidates possessing the qualifications contained in the Constitution.

VICE-PRESIDENTIAL WORK
The Vice-President currently has a monthly salary of P100,000 (plus other benefits), so it’s ridiculous for this public official to not have any specifically designated work. Constitutionally make the VP, at least, the Senate presiding officer, with voting power available in case of ties. This makes sense as the Senate currently has an even number of senators. Or at least reserve a Cabinet position, preferably Finance (as that would be a serious training ground for one who should be ready anytime to assume the presidency).

THE SENATE
The elections for the Senate should constitutionally be converted to a regional or provincial (including autonomous regions) rather than national basis. That reason of trying to make the Senate have a more expansive outlook clearly doesn’t work in reality. It just makes the Senate a petulant body unaccountable to no one. At least by electing the Senate on a more localized basis, greater equal representation is effected. And to make the Senate even more responsive to their region (or province), it’s suggested further that Senate members be appointed by the respective Provincial Boards; thus, making the senators accountable to that Board (and, hence, region or province) directly.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Local government units can be further strengthened by simply amending the Local Government Code (not necessarily through the Constitution). The power to make investment regulations should be devolved to a per provincial basis, rather than centralized through the Board of Investments. International trade (and customs) can be a coordinated program between the national government and the LGU, with revenues proportionally shared between the two; provided, that the LGU be the main accountable entity for attracting and processing importations (tariff setting could arguably be delegated by Congress to the LGU’s), with security being the responsibility of the national government. Prime responsibility for exports and identifying market access should be with the LGU, with the Department of Trade being merely coordinative (including processing trade remedy complaints).

As it is now, all earnings of the LGU should still remain with that LGU but with the consequence of no longer being entitled to any further share in the national budget. The latter would be now left to the discretion of the national government. Additionally, the LGU’s should also be made primarily responsible for all education, welfare, and health functions, with the national government merely giving assistance, and the Departments of education, welfare, and health relegated to mere coordinating agencies.

CIVIL SERVICE
The structure should be amended (and this can be done through revising the civil service code rather than constitutional amendment) so that only department secretaries can be appointed by the president, with the rest (i.e., undersecretaries down) being permanent employees of the government. This has the advantage of a more stable, professional, and politically neutral civil service system with better institutional memory.

COURT OF APPEALS
Finally, the Congress can legislate to have the different divisions of the Court of Appeals assigned jurisdictionally and physically to different regions or provinces. There really is no reason to bunch up most of the CA in Manila.

So let change come indeed.

Trump and the continuing ignorance on trade

my Trade Tripper column in this 9-10 July 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

You know how messed up the Left is when it’s getting what it wants and yet remains angry.

After all, last week brought forth finally a global figure willing to say what Leftists have been saying for so long:

“We do not need to enter into another massive international agreement that ties us up and binds us down.” We have a “leadership class that worships globalism.” And finally, “globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very, very wealthy... but it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.”

This personality promises to keep jobs domestically (rather than being shipped abroad), to apply protective tariffs so that local industries are freed from foreign competition, and to keep his country away from signing into new trade agreements.

And yet the Left has been strangely silent as far as Donald Trump’s trade policies are concerned.

After railing for so long against international trade, globalization, and multinational corporations, one would think that Donald Trump is the change the Left has been looking for -- the one who speaks truth to power.

It’s an interesting study in politics and psychology really.

In the end, there’s the bind, with the Left forced to contradictorily respond to Trump’s trade pronouncements by relying on the fallacy of lack of charity (akin to ad hominem): since Trump said it, then something must be wrong.

But the thing is, no matter who said it, such criticisms of trade (and globalization) are just plain mistaken. Period.

Such ignores the benefits of trade in a globalized economy: lower prices, improved quality products, greater transparency in government procurement and investment rules, increased resources for environmental protection, better labor standards, as well as larger market access for developing countries (like the Philippines), thus translating to higher incomes and more jobs.

And Trump is utterly ignorant, as David French (Free trade isn’t a burden, March 17, 2016, National Review) points out, of the fact that the US “largely embraced free trade not for the sake of the few but because it has benefited the many. Families benefit from less expensive goods. We enjoy affordable access to technology unthinkable ten short years ago, with even poor families owning smartphones and televisions that couldn’t be bought for any sum of money even last decade. By virtually every measure of material progress, we have access to more for less than ever before -- so much so that our primary national spiritual challenges include consumerism and materialism.”

The great thing about trade is the utter democratic attitude behind it: people run trade, not governments. Governments rarely buy and sell with each other. If ever, governments buy from the private sector, whether local or foreign. And international trade helps put a spotlight on such transactions by applying transparency rules present in most trade agreements.

It’s the people themselves that trade: from the multinational to the local cooperative to the small home business, exercising their freedoms to buy and sell goods and services with each other, except this time the exchange is done not merely amongst neighbors within a village but on a much bigger scale.

And the benefits of trade are enormous, extending beyond the simple numbers of economics. Countries get to know other cultures, bring peoples together, and -- quite notably -- provide a disincentive for resorting to armed conflict.

But sadly, if it can get away with it, government hinders trade through tariffs, quotas and non-tariff measures.

As I pointed in a previous column, Jonah Goldberg (Arguments against Free Trade are Deeply Flawed; April 2016) nails it: protectionists are “wrong philosophically. Countries don’t trade with other countries; businesses and consumers transact with other businesses and consumers. Protectionism is corporate welfare by other means.”

What it means is that every time regulations are imposed on trade, it is never the ordinary citizen that benefits. Prices go up (because tariffs and license fees essentially make up additional costs), the choices (and quality) amongst available products go down, and the incentive to create and produce is dissipated (thus lessening opportunities for more jobs).

Instead, who benefits are government bureaucrats squeezing businesses and consumers to shell out more money, entrenched interests (including elite families) that can now do whatever they want because they are babied away from competition, and the corrupt because regulations strongly provide incentives for those cheating the system.

In short, stopping international trade helps the old rich, prevents the creation of new wealth, and hurts the poor.

Arguably, there would be some dislocations or problems that accompany trading between countries but “the solution isn’t to rip up trade agreements or impose barriers that could trigger a trade war. The solution is to help workers maintain their standard of living through retraining, relocation or retirement if necessary.” (Counting the Ways That Trump Is Wrong on Trade; Paula Dwyer, Bloomberg, March 23, 2016).

Hopefully, the new Duterte administration brings a consistent, effective policy on international trade.

‘Brexit’ and the progressive mental meltdown

my Trade Tripper column in this 2-3 July 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

Progressives make it sound like “sovereignty” is a bad thing. But if they’re right, then efforts by the Philippines to protect our territory against China, reject hazardous wastes from Japan, or protest alleged political interference by the US are therefore -- all logically -- wrong.

As it is, the very Filipinos in social media and academe that previously screamed “freedom,” “democracy,” “vox populi, vox dei,” and “sovereignty” now urge -- in robotic conformity with the rest of the international progressive community -- that the British people’s vote to leave the European Union be disregarded.

Instead, it’s suggested -- and again this coming not only from supposedly cosmopolitan liberals but also their clones from the local academe and media -- that the sovereign British people follow unquestioningly the dictates of politicians, the elites, academics, and foreign bureaucrats.

To see how ridiculously odious that is, try imagining the Philippines being dictated upon -- on matters including taxation, immigration, and agricultural policy -- by Indonesian, Thai, Malaysian or Singaporean bureaucrats in ASEAN.

Stop claiming national sovereignty if you find that acceptable.

What progressives try to ignore (and any one who loves reason has to really relish this part) is that the British essentially spoke truth to power. Since the Left loves nothing more than “sticking it to the man,” the fact that they’re so bitter and angry at “Brexit’s” electoral success is bizarrely ironic. Probably because “the man” (i.e., the EU officials) are progressives themselves.

Indeed. “Brexit” revealed the authoritarian mindset of those in the academic or political class: thinking they’re better than others, quickly labeling anyone disagreeing with them as xenophobic, stupid, uninformed, shortsighted, selfish, or intolerant.

Hence why writers like Olivia Goldhill pontificate that “Brexiters” didn’t really understand the philosophy of freedom, forgetting all the while that the right definition of freedom is what conservatives have been encouraging liberals to understand during the debates on same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and abortion.

So, as Ian Tuttle (“Liberal Cosmopolitans Lash Out at the Shattering of Their Worldview,” June 25 2016) points out, “both sides of the Atlantic are dominated by liberal cosmopolitans who are no longer able to acknowledge the validity of any other worldview than their own. The anti-‘Brexit’ crowd cannot acknowledge that those who voted to leave may have done so out of legitimate concerns about sovereignty or economic opportunity or security -- that is, that they may have drawn rational conclusions and voted accordingly.”

But, “if ‘Brexit’ critics are right, the European Union should be glad to be rid of the United Kingdom.” Instead, the anger of EU anti-“Brexit” people is so thick you can spread it on bread like Marmite.

And it’s really hypocritical at how easy progressives feel about rejecting the democratic process, concluding it hijacked by “populists” or “demagogues,” and instead advocate for the rule of a small, thinking elite (i.e., themselves). Simply because they didn’t get their way.

Hence you have academics and commentators desperately suggesting that the British people’s vote be ignored, hold another plebiscite, another general election, or wait for something terrible to happen. Anything. Except admit that the British people have the right to chart their own destiny.

Michael Sandel is correct: Much of the energy animating the “Brexit” sentiment is born of the failure of elites to speak directly to people’s aspiration to feel they have some meaningful say in shaping the forces that govern their lives.

The fact is, despite their intellectual pretensions or “credentials,” the anti-“Brexits” just cheapened public discourse, making the opposing sides dig deeper into their positions.

Ivory tower academics make much of the idea that there should be no “others.” Which is naive. There will always be “another” to “others”. That is reality.

Rather than imposing the idea of peoples or countries having no separate identity or differences, acknowledgement instead should be made of that “otherness,” allowing us the space to embrace it and respect it.

Not forcing people (as self-proclaimed “real experts” want) to make our individual existences uniform and, thus, inconsequential and meaningless.

The favorite game now, of course, for progressives is predicting Britain’s doom. But no political scientist or commentator can foretell how “Brexit” will play out. Anyone doing that is a fraud.

The thing is, if history taught us anything: no small select group can ever handle people’s lives better than the people themselves. “We can’t predict what will happen. But one thing I do know -- history never truly had a ‘side.’ Instead, it is the story of action and reaction, and no outcome is inevitable.” (David French, “Brexit and the End of International Progressive Inevitability,” June 25 2016)

Finally, any parallel between “Brexit” and the secessionist movement in Mindanao is completely without basis. The former is about an independent sovereign State being demanded that it allow itself to be dictated upon by unelected foreigners.

Of the so-called “Bangsamoro” issue, simply stated, international law does not allow secession or self-determination rights for religious, linguistic, cultural, or ethnic groups within a sovereign State.

12.9.16

Go south, grow Mindanao

my Trade Tripper column in this 26-27 June 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

If ever there’s a set of numbers Filipinos should know it’s this: Mindanao -- blessed with so many resources that it provides 60% of our agricultural exports, not to mention minerals and fisheries -- has a land area of 135,627 km2 Singapore has only 719.1 km2, with practically no natural resource whatsoever. And yet, the latter beats the former on a GDP per capita basis of around 60:1.

Ironic, really.

Set aside agriculture, Mindanao also represents the Philippines’ biggest reserves in gold, copper, iron, and aluminum. Yet to be verified is Wikileaks claim of Mindanao’s untapped $1 trillion oil and mineral reserve.

There is also Mindanao’s strategic position, businesswise: unlike Luzon (separated from the Asian mainland by huge amounts of sea), Mindanao is practically next door neighbors with Indonesia and Timor-Leste, with Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, and Thailand just further down, then New Guinea.

Which should therefore make every Filipino scandalized that 11 of the Philippines’ 20 poorest provinces are in Mindanao.

One reason is the woeful neglect in infrastructure, with Mindanao’s near daily power interruptions symptomatic of that.

But Mindanao should be the obvious choice for a marine transport system, what with trade and tourism opportunities that a fully functioning Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) could bring.

That, on top of the vaunted 600 million market population of ASEAN integration.

The island also proved, so long as it can keep its peace and order situation to a reasonable minimum, its export growth rate capabilities could be double of the country’s.

As it stands, the World Bank declared Mindanao presently needing a continuous P350-billion inflow annually in investments, particularly for agriculture, infrastructure, health, and education.

Of infrastructure (aside from roads, irrigation, potable water, power generation, ports, and airports), focus should be on constructing more police stations and judicial offices.

Again, this should not be treated as a hurdle.

According to a McKinsey report, most infrastructure spending has been down particularly for developing countries. Yet, as the Wall Street Journal commentary on the report says: “Governments don’t have to be the only source of new money for projects, the report found. Worldwide, banks and institutional investors such as pension funds and university endowments have about $120 trillion in assets that could be invested in infrastructure. Making it easier to connect that money with projects could close the gap, Mr. Jan Mischke [a senior fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute and one of the report’s authors] said. ‘It’s really a fundamentally quite solvable problem.’”

Another opportunity area would be on international trade.

Interestingly, most of Mindanao’s current top trading partners are not its geographical neighbors: the US, Japan, China, Netherlands, South Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Germany.

Here, the development of small and medium enterprises -- bolstered by easy credit and effective contract/property protection, as well as marginalizing the Armalite happy -- would be a big help.

According to the WTO: “Globally, SMEs make up over 95% of all firms, account for approximately 50% of value added and 60% of total employment. Micro enterprises, the smallest component of the SME sector, are increasingly the largest sources of employment in many developing countries, especially for women and youth.”

Unfortunately, SME’s are very much affected by trade barriers; hence the importance of arrangements like BIMP-EAGA, IMT-GT, and ASEAN.

Agriculture, while an obvious source of Mindanao’s pride, is actually illustrative of its present shortcoming.

Or its great potential.

The reason is that despite its stature, relatively speaking in terms of overall Philippine export trade, Mindanao agriculture is -- to exaggerate for effect -- actually quite pathetic.

This can be seen from Mindanao’s contribution to the country’s GDP: just meagerly above 14%, while desperately needing 12.7% of the nation’s budget (P380.9 billion) for its maintenance.

According to the World Bank, only 11% of its farmers can be considered producing for a marketable surplus, with 89% classifiable as “subsistence” (or “near subsistence”) farming.

Another is that most of Mindanao’s agriculture exports are in “raw” form. Which leaves the potential for value adding or processing, thus opening the possibility of greater income for its farmers.

“The value of farm products can be increased in endless ways: by cleaning and cooling, packaging, processing, distributing, cooking, combining, churning, culturing, grinding, hulling, extracting, drying, smoking, handcrafting, spinning, weaving, labeling, or packaging.” Accordingly, “value-added products can open new markets, create recognition for a farm, expand the market season.” (ATTRA, Adding Value To Farm Products, 2006).

Finally, there is taxation: there is no constitutional reason why Congress can’t make an income and corporate tax system allowing for special and differential treatment for Mindanao.

This should encourage more investments in the area and de-clog Luzon’s population of 50 million plus (in an area of just around 12,000 square kilometers more than Mindanao) vis-à-vis the latter’s 25 million.

Ultimately, whatever change comes to Mindanao could, should, and must be for the country’s unified good.