Silence and solitude

In this age of instant celebrity, regardless of merit (or lack of it), of Facebook and Twitter by which everyone imagines himself a star, of publicly airing views without contemplation or discipline, when people's actions and thoughts are disjointed and incoherent, when the fake is preferred over the real thing, in an age when unrestrained displays of emotion is the norm, one can sometimes think that the lunatics have taken control of the asylum. These words, however, do provide some solace that a little sanity is still out there:

"When you keep going anxiously to the mailbox in the hope that someone 'out there' has thought about you; when you keep wondering if and what your friends are thinking of you; when you keep having hidden desires to be a somewhat exceptional person in this community; when you keep having fantasies about guests mentioning your name; when you keep looking for special attention from the abbot or any one of the monks; when you keep hoping for more interesting work and more stimulating events – then you know that you haven’t even started to create a little place for God in your heart.

When nobody writes anymore; when hardly anyone even thinks of you or wonders how you are doing; when you are just one of the brothers doing the same things as they are doing, not better or worse; when you have been forgotten by people – maybe then your heart and mind have become empty enough to give God a real chance to let his presence be known to you." (from The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen)

A Catholic intellectual

Here's a New York Times profile on Robert P. George, Princeton professor of law and Catholic thinker:

"At the center of the event was Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a Roman Catholic who is this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker. Dressed in his usual uniform of three-piece suit, New College, Oxford cuff links and rimless glasses­, George convened the meeting with a note of thanks and a reminder of its purpose. Alarmed at the liberal takeover of Washington and an apparent leadership vacuum among the Christian right, the group had come together to warn the country’s secular powers that the culture wars had not ended. As a starting point, George had drafted a 4,700-word manifesto that promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage."

For copy of the Manhattan Manifesto, click here. Sign up and make it your Christmas gift to your kids and loved ones.


Olaf: the other reindeer

. . . is the topic of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Got to thinking about this reindeer Olaf. He’s "the other reindeer." And the one that exposes the darker side of Santa’s entourage, the price of fame, etc. The fact that these reflections come with dollops of double blue Stolich (or was it the half gallon of FIC’s durian ice cream?) does not detract from the pointed grimness of the story that is Olaf.

Everybody knows the eight reindeers: Dasher (the dashing one), Donner (who directed "Superman 2"), Comet (the athletic one), Cupid (well ... we know where his talents lie. Thus, the term "horns on a reindeer"), Dancer and Prancer and Vixen (the triumvirate who produced Queer as Folk and the majestic, sublime, classic -- simply no adjective could do justice to -- The L Word), and Blitzen (the secretive reindeer in charge of Santa’s security).

And then, of course, the most famous reindeer of them all: Rudolph. The origins of Rudolph are as murky as Blitzen’s activities. There is that famous Rankin/Bass hagiography of Rudolph, projecting him as the warm cuddly friend of Clarice, the female reindeer. The movie conveniently forgets that Rudolph was previously known as Rudolf, who in his wild youth, relentlessly dealt in drugs, hence his lifelong friendship with Sam the Snowman (and the movie conveniently brushes aside the reason why he is called "the Snowman"; the movie The Falcon and the Snowman was based partly on his exploits as a turncoat for the Russians. Sam would later sue the Washington Post for libel but the courts threw out his case).

In any event, these reflections are with regard to Olaf. Where is he now? Nobody knows. All we know is that, perhaps in trying to hide common fears relating to globalization and the immigrant influx into the North Pole community, "he used to laugh and call [Rudolph] names," even to the point of excluding him from "reindeer games." Rudolph, however, was the last person Olaf should have antagonized. Rudolph relentlessly read the 48 Laws of Power and, which is even more impressive, actually understood it and got the joke at the end of Law 48. Afterward, he decided to watch marathons of 30 Rock, while eating garlic peanuts. And plotting continuously.

It was Santa who gave him that chance. All of us know that in one "foggy Christmas eve," Rudolph, aka Rudolf (nicknamed in his Siberian hometown as the "Russian Carlito Brigante"), got his break. After that, the rest of the reindeers had no choice but to love him, even to the point of "shouting out with Glee" (Glee being the PR consultant hired by Rudolph to burnish his image and hide his past).

Anyway, from that point, there would be no talk of the ruthless mobster that is Rudolf. From now, it would be Rudolph, the shy reindeer. With the media machinations of Glee (Rudolph would even publish two bestselling books ghostwritten by Glee: The Tipping Blink and The Audacity of the Assault on Reason) and the somewhat unorthodox methods of Blitzen, we came to accept Rudolph as going down in "history." It may have been a slip, nevertheless, but when Bart Simpson sang the Rudolph song, when he got to the part "you’ll go down in history," he added "like Attila the Hun." It was at that point that Homer started choking him. Was Homer under Rudolph’s payroll? Or had Blitzen gotten to him?

Santa (aka St. Nicolas, aka alleged senior Coke executive) would still occasionally use Rudolph, always in "foggy" nights, in cohorts with the shady Blitzen. The rest of the time ... well ... reportedly Rudolph gets into his drunken haze, womanizing and gambling, forgetting that Clarice is back home turning into a raging alcoholic, until Santa would get Blizten to come for him and use his special "red nose" talents. Glee, of course, would then be ready with the press releases and photographs, lauding the "heroic" accomplishments of Rudolph.

But of Olaf, we know nothing of anymore. Some say he went into hiding, terrified of what Rudolph might do by way of vengeance. Others believe he has merely reinvented himself, composing Lady Gaga’s hit "Poker Face" to counter the popularity of Rudolph’s jingle. Historians would do well in getting to the bottom of Olaf’s story. After all, the world benefited from knowing what a bare-faced liar Obi Wan Kenobi is (nobody in his right mind would think that the words "I ... hate ... you ...," uttered by someone suffering from incredible lava burns after a vicious light saber duel, are meant to imply "your father wanted you to have this [light saber]).

Like any of mankind’s greatest mysteries: the Marie Celeste, the Yeti and Loch Ness monster, the existence of the remains of Noah’s ark, the qualifications of Noynoy, uncovering the fate of Olaf, the other reindeer, should serve as a challenge to everyone.

That’s it for 2009. A Merry Christmas and a better New Year to all.

Pope Benedict on laws

Pope Benedict XVI, wisely and correctly, speaking on why natural law must guide positive law:

"... only those laws are equitable that protect the sanctity of human life and reject the legalization of abortion, euthanasia and limitless genetic experimentation, those laws that respect the dignity of matrimony between a man and a woman, that are inspired in a correct secularity of state -- secularity that always includes the protection of religious liberty -- and that pursue subsidiarity and solidarity at the national and international level.

If not, what John of Salisbury calls the 'tyranny of the sovereign' or, what we would call 'the dictatorship of relativism,' ends up taking over -- a relativism that, as I recalled some years ago, 'recognizes nothing as definitive and that has as its measure only the self and its desires' (Misa pro eligendo Romano Pontifice, homily, April 19, 2005)".

For a full text of the translation of the address Pope Benedict XVI gave last 16 December 2009 at the general audience in Paul VI Hall click here.


Tea with the TT: Sherlock Holmes

. . . is the topic of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpt:

"Considering he has had occasion to work on cases involving high international politics, what does he think of the Philippines? 'Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius,' he says quite enigmatically. He was getting bored. I ask if there is anything he wishes to add. 'Yes,' he said with a twinkle in his eye, 'to the curious incident of Noynoy Aquino’s record before he ran for president.' So what is it that Noynoy did before running for president, ask I. 'That,' he says, stubbing his cigarette and taking leave, 'was the curious incident.'"


64 squares

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"19. e5! Qxa1+ 20. Ke2 Na6 My personal favorite is Tigran Petrosian. His penchant of eliminating chance and decimating his opponent’s moves is really quite interesting. Prophylaxis is cool. Although the sharp aggressive style of Alekhine is profoundly fascinating as well. I’ve always had the highest respect for people fanatical about their devotion to their profession and Alexander Alekhine is certainly one of them. "What I do is not play, but struggle," he was once heard saying.

21. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+! Nxf6 Filipino Wesley So just beat Ivanchuk and Gata Kamsky. His victories represent the best of Filipino achievements. It demonstrates our capability for intellect and mental toughness, and the benefits of having our creativity focused by discipline and method. If the Philippines doesn’t support and nurture this kid, then this country has truly lost its way."

Unfortunately, as reported in the New York Times:

"Among the players who lost in Round 4 were Wesley So of the Philippines, No. 59, who had beaten Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine, No. 6, in Round 2 and then Gata Kamsky of the United States, No. 27, in Round 3. Kamsky was the defending champion, so his defeat was somewhat surprising, but less than Ivanchuk’s, which was shocking and left Ivanchuk so despondent that he reportedly briefly considered retiring (an outburst that has added to Ivanchuk’s reputation as a mercurial person). So lost to Malakhov in a playoff, but he is only 16 and is clearly a rapidly rising star."

Clearly, the Philippines has to take care of So, otherwise other countries (such as the US or China) will. Who knows, they may even perhaps offer citizenship to him. And we would have lost another jewel to another country.


Autumn in Geneva

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"The benefits of a concluded Doha Round remain enormous. Different studies predicted that should the desired outcomes of Doha do come into play, there should be an expected increase in global welfare of $287 billion to $574 billion, global income could increase annually by more than $3000 billion (of which $2500 billion should go to developing countries). Interestingly, DG Lamy provided the more modest estimate, predicting an increase of $130 billion. All this must be placed in the context that, since 1995 (the birth year of the WTO), growth in trade of goods and services among developing countries averaged around 7.5%, with richer countries registering 7.2% average growth. In both instances, both were higher than such countries’ average rate of GDP growth. An even better reason for concluding Doha successfully is that although tariffs imposed on manufactured goods from developing countries are four times higher than in developed countries, nevertheless, 70% of such tariffs are actually imposed on products from other developing countries.

However, as I wrote in my column two weeks ago, the probability of Doha being closed out in 2010 is quite an iffy proposition. Amidst the still uncertain global economic situation, some significant players will be distracted by local politics and populist vote-getting rhetoric: Britain will have a general election that year and the US its midterm elections. US President Obama’s administration has actually been very disappointing, clearly unwilling to show leadership regarding trade and instead preferring to sue its trading partners.

And so, with the IMF predicting that global trade will merely recover by 2.5% in 2010 from its decline by 11.9% in 2009 (with Philippine exports currently down 18.3% year on year), it will be a little bit more gratifying if our presidential candidates put some priority into this rather politically unsexy but important subject."

Additionally, it should be noted that Philippine growth for this quarter was a mere .8% (as reported by BusinessWorld), following a dismal performance by the manufacturing sector. This should be read alongside the news that the proposed tariff cuts for the Philippines will continue.


The call to holiness

Here's a very good article and makes the valid point that 'a lack of concern for holiness resides at the very heart of what’s gone wrong in our Nation. It is vital that we recognize the need to seek, return to, and embrace holiness.'

While the author, F. K. Bartels, is writing with the US in mind, his views are highly applicable here, particularly when he writes that 'the issue of Catholic or other Christian politicians who are obstinately fixed in their "pro-choice" conviction – bear in mind these same politicians were elected by a people who largely claim to be Christian.'

If people, and politicians, can't mean what they say or hold some sort of consistency with their actions to their beliefs, then you can see why the country is indeed losing its way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On November 21, 1964, Vatican II promulgated the ‘Dogmatic Constitution On The Church’. In this document, Lumen Gentium, there is a wealth of fruitful information with which every Christian ought to be familiar. Chapter V is titled ‘The Call To Holiness’, which is of particular relevance, especially in light of a society rife with moral issues. It is vital that we recognize the need to seek, return to, and embrace a life directed toward holiness; for lack of concern for holiness resides at the very heart of what’s gone wrong in our Nation.

Consider for a moment the issue of the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. While a pro-life momentum has developed in the U.S., – one which has resulted in the majority favoring a reduction in the number of abortions – the country is, nevertheless, according to a 2009 Pew Forum survey, "evenly divided on the question" as to whether abortion should remain legal (pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=441). It is quite revealing to find that so many men and women who certainly value their own lives remain convinced that there are others whose lives are of no value whatsoever. Can we say that these people take the call to holiness seriously?

Further, let us examine the issue of Catholic or other Christian politicians who are obstinately fixed in their "pro-choice" conviction – bear in mind these same politicians were elected by a people who largely claim to be Christian. These anti-life adherents voice many excuses for their actions: "I’m opposed to abortion, but I can’t deny a woman’s right to choose"; or, "I understand your concerns, but we have to find common ground." I doubt our little unborn brothers and sisters found comfort in the morally bankrupt ramifications of "common ground" when they were surgically dismembered or poisoned in the womb, violently evicted from their first home, and harshly discarded without even a decent burial.

One has only to glance at the moral state of our Nation, considering what people hold dear, emphasize, talk about, and vote for, in order to conclude that many have failed to recognize the obligation to seek holiness. And it is truly an obligation; that is, the call to holiness is not merely an option for those who desire to love God. We either love God or we love "the earthly city" built "by love of self to the exclusion of God", as St. Augustine wrote. The call to holiness is a universal call from Christ himself; the avoidance or rejection of such a call is to erect an earthly city made of the mud and dirt of the world, one which is unholy and unacceptable to God.

"Brothers, I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2).

We need to "renew" our minds, embracing a holy way – distinct from the baseness of the world – of thinking and perceiving, directing our thoughts and actions toward the will of Christ; we need to assent to the light of truth, which is to intently, with fervor and love, focus on holiness. Christ calls us to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). We are called to perfection. We are obliged to holiness.

In 1993, in his Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendour of Truth), John Paul II noted the necessity of being obedient to the truth in order to become holy: "Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ ‘the true light that enlightens everyone’ (Jn 1:9), people become ‘light in the Lord’ and ‘children of light’ (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by ‘obedience to the truth’" (1 Pet 1:22; VS, introduction).

To be obedient to the truth is to be obedient to all that Christ uttered, it is to believe and live by what the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles; it is to assent with one’s mind and heart to Sacred Tradition, Holy Scripture, and the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Catholic Church which God willed should exist. Holiness calls for obedience; and, to be sure, holiness is a way of life; it is to gaze upon the Holy Spirit each moment, intently, uniting our will to the will of God. Those who thirst for holiness exercise great care in living by love: they love Christ, they love the Catholic Church he founded two-thousand years ago, and they cherish deeply the words of truth transmitted to the nations by that Church. Lumen Gentium teaches that, as the Church is unfailingly holy, all Christians in the Church are called to holiness.

"The Church, . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her (cf. Eph. 5:25-26); he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. Therefore all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness, according to the apostle’s saying: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’" (1 Th. 4:3; cf. Eph. 1:4; LG, 39).

Vatican II reminds us of the obligations of submission to authentic teaching and practicing the Faith in our daily lives: "For [the] bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice" (LG, 25; emphasis added).

A true return to authentic holiness is the answer to the many ailments which plague us. Holiness is the remedy which heals, strengthens, bonds, and brings about a great measure of the peace for which our hearts so ardently long; for in holiness we embrace Christ. A community whose will is directed toward holiness is one moving into greater union with God, the source of all happiness. Uniting our wills to God’s brings about the "fullness of Christian life" and "the perfection of love", which is, in reality, the truly "human manner of life"; that is, we are not fully human unless we live steeped in the call to holiness.

"It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society" (LG, 40).

Holiness requires obedience to the truth; therefore it is certain that a prerequisite for holiness is obedience to the fullness of truth found in the Catholic Church. One cannot be holy and, at the same time, live in dissent with Christ’s Bride. Rejecting the Church while we sail along on our journey toward holiness is akin to blasting a hole in the bottom of the very ship in which we are sailing! Yet, while we know in our hearts that we must live by the truth, many find such a way of life difficult or unpalatable. The late Pope John Paul II reminds us of the need to combat disobedience, lest we exchange "the truth about God for a lie".

"This obedience is not always easy. As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is "a liar and the father of lies" (Jn 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thes 1:9), exchanging "the truth about God for a lie" (Rom 1:25). Man's capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism (cf. Jn 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself" (VS, introduction).

Further, it is not by our own strength that we achieve any measure of holiness, but by giving ourselves entirely to Christ. Our Lord is our strength: it is from the Vine that we gather nourishment. It is by uniting our will to God that we walk along in perfection, as the Lord Jesus is the "divine teacher and model of all perfection" (cf. LG, 40).

"The followers of Christ, called by God not in virtue of their works but by his design and grace, and justified in the Lord Jesus, have been made sons of God in the baptism of faith and partakers of the divine nature, and so are truly sanctified. They must therefore hold on to and perfect in their lives that sanctification which they have received from God. They are told by the apostle to live ‘as is fitting among saints’ (Eph. 5:3), and to put on ‘as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience’ (Col. 3:12), to have the fruits of the Spirit for their sanctification" (cf. Gal. 5:22; Rom. 6:22).

Through his Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection Christ has given us many unfathomable gifts. One could spend an entire lifetime contemplating such wonders and yet barely scratch the surface of their loving dimensions. We have indeed been elevated to an exalted status by the special grace of Christ. Justice demands that we love our Lord for what he has done, for who he is, for his gifts freely given.

"All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged." (LG, 14).

We are called to holiness. To attain it requires that we respond to Christ’s grace. Love whispers, Love beckons, Love rains down from the heights, showering God’s children with spiritual nourishment and consolation, that they may attain to sanctity; that they may hear, embrace, and live the call to holiness.

"The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one – that sanctity which is cultivated by all who act under God’s Spirit and, obeying the Father’s voice and adoring God the Father in spirit and truth, follow Christ, poor, humble and cross-bearing, that they may deserve to be partakers of his glory" (LG, 41).


Calibrating protectionism

. . . is the topic of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"One thing nevertheless is clear: protectionism is not the answer. In fact, protectionism, like economic nationalism, is a lie. It protects nothing, not consumers, competitiveness for industries, not proper employment, and not a country’s growth or real incomes. A reversion to protectionism would be self-defeating and would only exacerbate the global downturn.

This perspective is equally relevant particularly when analyzing probabilities of any country resort, due to policy capture, of any protectionist measure. It would seem that the only realistic option is to use, to the maximum extent possible, any legal economic mechanisms that are already available. Although international or multilateral pledges to refrain from resorting to protectionism seems to be the norm, it is equally true that such pledges are easily forgotten, most unfortunately by the developed countries who should actually be leading any rational progress toward greater economic momentum.

Interestingly, it is indeed observable that any credible possibility of legally retaliating against others’ protectionism should not necessarily arise from or be initiated by collective action (although multilateral promises to avoid new trade barriers seems to be the rule). Should a significant trading partner resort to retaliation, it inevitably invites others to follow suit. Should a major trading power be actually motivated to enforce the idea that protectionism by other countries will result in prolonging the delay of any longed-for economic recovery, then categorical proclamations against protectionism should be accompanied by a firm determination to hold transgressors accountable through legal dispute mechanisms allowed under the global trading system. In some instances, unilateral self-help in this regard could even be explored.

In fine, the clear idea that could make the national leadership of any country reconsider any resort to protectionist measures for purposes of short-term, specific constituencies’ satisfaction, is the probability that such could actually end up costing the country more in terms of greater political and real economic damage. Indeed, declarations by countries to use available legal mechanisms that are allowed under the multilateral trading system for purposes of correcting any measure by another country that results in loss of benefits for another will definitely be effective both in the short term and in the longer term institutional sense."


Trade amidst the elections

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"With local news being dominated by the presidential elections that are yet to happen in six month’s time, on who will run as running mate of who, the constant public reports of somebody’s honeymoon that is supposed to be in no way related to politics, and whether or not some kid who shouldn’t be president will decide to run for president, trade around the world goes on.

x x x

On top of all this, the WTO is expected to have a Ministerial in Geneva in the last week of November. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy reportedly called the meeting for members to engage in stocktaking regarding the status of the Doha Round. Interestingly, while Mr. Lamy has repeatedly said that a successful conclusion of Doha would inject greater trade worldwide, the IMF nevertheless estimated that global trade will go down 11.9% for 2009 before going up by 2.5% in 2010. In any event, with Britain’s Gordon Brown facing a general election soon, the EU in the midst of a leadership search for its president and foreign policy chief, and the US having midterm elections next year, the probability of Doha coming to a close this year or next seems to be slimming as the months go on. Simply put, the WTO missed a great opportunity to close the deal within the short window of euphoria after Barack Obama’s election to the US presidency.

As for the Philippines, exports went down 18.3% year on year, with electronics remaining, as expected, in the doldrums, falling 13.2% compared to last year. Copper, garments, and furniture also fell. Nevertheless, surprisingly but gratifyingly, the World Bank stated that remittances from OFWs in proportion to GDP remained at its level for the past six years and continues to serve as fuel for the country’s continued consumer spending. However, this must be put into the context of still-to-be expected growth of our trading partners, along with the quite sluggish jobs growth of the US. The US, in fact, reported a further loss of 203,000 private sector jobs for October 2009 alone and this despite the massive amount of stimulus applied by the Obama administration.

All of which tells us this: that while we bafflingly insist that our politics remain local, economics simply is international whether we like it or not."


What it means to be Catholic

Below is a copy of the letter that Bishop Tobin sent to Rep. Kennedy that essentially discusses what it means to be a Catholic. The letter was published recently in the Rhode Island Catholic. Although the discussion works around the issue of abortion, nevertheless, the same could be applied to those who take positions relating to contraception. In fine, it is not the Catholic Church that is inconsistent and confused about the issue, it's those who oppose the Church that are.

* * * * * * * * * *
Dear Congressman Kennedy

Since our recent correspondence has been rather public, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few reflections about your practice of the faith in this public forum. I usually wouldn’t do that – that is speak about someone’s faith in a public setting – but in our well-documented exchange of letters about health care and abortion, it has emerged as an issue. I also share these words publicly with the thought that they might be instructive to other Catholics, including those in prominent positions of leadership.

For the moment I’d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it’s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn’t choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents.

For example, the “Code of Canon Law” says, “Lay persons are bound by an obligation and possess the right to acquire a knowledge of Christian doctrine adapted to their capacity and condition so that they can live in accord with that doctrine.” (Canon 229, #1)

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)

Or consider this statement of the Church: “It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002)

There’s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”

But let’s get down to a more practical question; let’s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?

Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.

Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?

In your letter you say that you “embrace your faith.” Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?

Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity” – as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail.

Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category – it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.

Congressman Kennedy, I write these words not to embarrass you or to judge the state of your conscience or soul. That’s ultimately between you and God. But your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged. I invite you, as your bishop and brother in Christ, to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance. It’s not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church, redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic “profile in courage,” especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children. And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas J. Tobin
Bishop of Providence


Education, the young, and Chiz

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"The relationship of the teacher with the student should not be there with the object of hand-holding and letting him know that 'it’ll be alright.'

And this is where a number of teachers fail. There is just way too much gratification of egos and the self nowadays, self-expression has run amuck, and everybody wants to be treated as special, as an exception to the rule, as if the world owes him everything. Personally, I’ve witnessed a law school lecturer once tell his class, not for purposes of encouragement but for purposes of being labeled 'cool,' that the particular law subject they’re studying is easy and could be discussed while having a party. Unfortunately, the subject is not easy and to unduly raise the ego of those students without their having done anything yet is doing them a disservice.

The teacher-student relationship (along with the parent-children relationship) is there to inculcate on the student the things that must be done, the habits and work ethic that they should have, and the persevering attitude of never quitting homework just because the servers are down and they can’t 'google' their way out of it. It is education’s function now to teach the young to restrain their egos and instead strengthen that which is lacking in our nation today: character.

Parents and teachers don’t need additional funding to teach the young about the subordination of one’s self and the compulsion for immediate gratification in favor of duty and the greater good. Good education also teaches us that words and actions have consequences. Just because you’re free to air your views on Facebook doesn’t mean you should. It also teaches us that while it is fashionable today to act and look cynical, the same merely betrays a facade for brainlessness.

Education isn’t there merely to transmit information. If that’s all there is then why go to school in the first place? Just go to Fully Booked or Powerbooks. It’s cheaper. But we enroll in school for much much more than acquiring information.

Every society, as well as every profession, would have its own rules. Politicians, journalists, artists, and (surprisingly) even lawyers do. We go to school to know the rules of how to do what we’re supposed to do. It’s the way you research, study, listen, and take notes. The way to debate without being a jerk. To have self-discipline and restraint. To be able to express oneself coherently, with logic and correct grammar. To commit oneself to words spoken. To couple creativity with craftsmanship. To motivate oneself without attention grabbing chick flick moments. To know how to handle pressure gracefully. Law students nowadays loudly whine about being harassed during recitation, saying that they can’t think while someone is yelling at them. And they think it’s easier in an actual courtroom?

Education teaches us (or should be teaching us) the necessary habits, attitudes, and practices. Considering that great men and women also went through the same things, education, while keeping in mind the respect for what the students are, should also emphasize to students respect for what they must do.

If our educational system isn’t doing that, then it’s failing.

In the end, however, there is something the young can’t be taught and which they have to learn on their own: the desire to learn and to better themselves. If they can’t do that, then, fine, might as well let Chiz become president."



Interestingly enough, the French are now being pushed to learn English (see article here). I wonder what De Gaulle would have thought of that. We've seen Koreans here do it. The Japanese and the Chinese are determined about this. But really, for France's Sarkozy to to say that French students should learn English (or try being "trilingual' even) is something. Everybody seems intent in doing whatever is needed to tackle the demands of globalization.

Everybody except us, that is. The Philippines, predictably, is going the other way. I remember reading something about the analytical skills of fresh graduates going down as well. Anybody who teaches a post-graduate course or who does job interviews would probably know that. Obviously our educational system needs fixing but kids themselves would also have to have that desire to learn, as well as accept the fact that a big part of learning entails discipline and restraint on their part.

Right now, it's just increased noise and words but without coherence and substance. But what can you expect when you have a youth vote that gravitates almost without deliberation towards loquacious but substance -less rich kid Chiz Escudero or I-have-famous-parents-therefore-I-should-be-president Noynoy?

It figures.


The horror of public interest

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpt:

"Was thinking about writing something in relation to Halloween and horror movies but decided not to. Instead, here’s something even more boringly scarifying: the intricacies behind the concept of 'public interest' in trade remedy measures."


Our president and theirs

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"It must be emphasized that we should treat these academic credentials and past experiences as the minimum requirements. On top of that, we need a leader who has integrity, judgment, genuine love of country, and a clear idea of where he wants to lead this country to.

It’s up to the voters of today if they want to settle for less and continue the practice of the past by voting for the least common denominator. Or take the time and effort to look for somebody we can rightly trust the presidency with.

It’s quite true, really: people get the leaders they deserve. If we compromise or set low standards or (worse) are corrupt, then we shouldn’t complain if those are the characteristics of the leaders we get."

Of course there's the lie going around nowadays that credentials and achievements and experience doesn't matter. Which is ridiculous. For how else would we know if that person can achieve the promises he gives if it weren't for the indications that his background brings? If the presidents of academic and executive experience in the past somehow didn't live up to expectations, then our response should be is to be even more stringent and demanding in our standards and not to do away with it all together.

Besides, with today's global economy, the job just got much harder and gentlemen leaders from the 'elite' (if there is such a thing) can't realistically be expected to handle it with a mere sense of noblesse oblige as their sole qualification. If there's one thing that's quite obvious from the backgrounds of world leaders I surveyed is that one senses a long and arduous preparation for the job. They went through rigorous academic training and then a series of ministerial or executive positions (some of which involving stints with the military, which gives excellent training on organization) before landing the top job. Even men like Lee Hsien Loong, who would have been expected to be handed the job simply because he is the son of Lee Kuan Yew, actually had a perceivably methodical and purposeful training before he got the prime minister position of Singapore.

Those are the kind of people we should be looking for to fill leadership spots. Not some rich kid who happened to have his mother die and whose main outstanding trait seems to be his inoffensiveness or some articulate rich kid who happens to be the lookalike of a lead singer of a local band.

Change, real change, isn't really pretty and usually isn't nice. We need somebody we trust can get the job done and done with integrity and love of country.


Taxing liquor

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"It would be interesting to see how that turns out. The dispute is formally lodged as Philippines — Taxes on Distilled Spirits (docketed as DS396). There have been three (only three) liquor tax disputes that went through the gauntlet of the WTO dispute settlement system and all three were resolved in favor of the complainants. For avid students of trade legal history, all three cases included the EC as complainant. Although, theoretically, stare decisis is not followed in international law, recent empirical studies have shown that complainants in WTO disputes remarkably win over 90% of the cases that go into litigation. This is a win-rate far above that of any domestic tribunal. Nevertheless, the Philippines certainly has deep expertise on its side as our very own (and founding WTO Appellate Body member) Justice Florentino Feliciano sat as a judge in the three-man tribunal for the second case (on Korean liquor taxes) and presided over the third (Chilean liquor taxes)."


Trade on top

Trade wins over protectionism (as it should). This is what Dani Rodrik seems to be saying in this quite appreciated article:

"There was a dog that didn’t bark during the financial crisis: protectionism. Despite much hue and cry about it, governments have, in fact, imposed remarkably few trade barriers on imports. Indeed, the world economy remains as open as it was before the crisis struck."

The reasons for international trade's triumph is laid out in the article as well:

"The reality is that the international trade regime has passed its greatest test since the Great Depression with flying colours. Trade economists who complain about minor instances of protectionism sound like a child whining about a damaged toy in the wake of an earthquake that killed thousands.

Three things explain this remarkable resilience: ideas, politics and institutions.

Economists have been extraordinarily successful in conveying their message to policymakers—even if ordinary people still regard imports with considerable suspicion. Nothing reflects this better than how “protection” and “protectionists” have become terms of derision. After all, governments are generally expected to provide protection to their citizens. But if you say that you favour protection “from imports”, you are painted into a corner with Reed Smoot and Willis C. Hawley, authors of the infamous 1930 US tariff bill.

But economists’ ideas would not have gone very far without significant changes in the underlying configuration of political interests in favour of open trade. For every worker and firm affected by import competition, there is one or more worker and firm expecting to reap the benefits of access to markets abroad."

Now if only local protectionists could be exposed for their intellectual bankruptcy, the sooner the Philippines could get economic competitiveness.


About work

Here's a very good article (A Philosophical Proposal for the Sanctification of Work) by Maria Pia Chirinos of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Excerpts:

"Although the newness of this message has already been the object of a number of insightful studies, it is worthwhile considering once again the cultural parameters that made it hard for people to grasp the unity between work, virtue and contemplation during the early decades of the twentieth century.

A first answer comes from the history of Catholic spiritual theology. It is here that the separation (and at times the opposition) between the contemplative and active life presented a strong impediment to accepting this innovation. At the same time, it is also true that the topic of work had already found an echo in the concern of the Church’s magisterium for social questions. Nevertheless, although the timeliness of the topic of work was clear, the cultural parameters also included philosophical, economic and social outlooks that impeded a positive approach to work and an adequate anthropological grounding."


RP-EC trade row

BusinessWorld reports that the consultations held last 08 October 2009 (erroneously reported as last Friday) still left unresolved the ongoing dispute (DS396) between the Philippines and the EC over the former's liquor taxes:

"Talks aimed at resolving a trade dispute over Philippine taxes on imported liquor failed to deliver a compromise last week, an official of the Western bloc said.

No decision has yet been made as to whether the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be asked to step in, although the European Commission (EC) is no longer interested in continuing the bilateral negotiations, the official said.

The Philippines, however, hopes further talks will still be held, representatives said.

Consultations were held last Thursday and Friday in Manila after the EC complained that Republic Act 9334 unfairly increased excise tax rates by 50% for imported spirits, compared to only 30% for locally made spirits. Officials from the US, another major liquor exporter, attended the meeting as well.

'A solution was not found, but we remain open to a proposal from the Philippines removing the discrimination so as to avoid the need for the next step in the WTO litigation process,' Gabriel Munuera Vinals, commercial counselor of the EC delegation to the Philippines, said in an e-mail on Friday. 'The EC does not intend to request a second round of formal consultations.'"


Dumping, China, and penalties

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpt:

"Anti-dumping proceedings were initiated against China and Indonesia last week, alleging that companies from the two countries had been dumping tons of shiny, coated paper (the kind used in car brochures or annual reports) and that imports of the same grew by a whopping 40%. The anti-dumping petition itself seemed to be a massive effort, composed of four separate petitions totaling more than 2,000 pages."


Trade, Doha, and governance

. . . is the topic of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"However, considering the looming election year for the Philippines, it would be a pity if those seeking office would resort to populist rhetoric in favor of sounder and more beneficial trading policies. Because aside from the expected trade benefits that a developing country like the Philippines could expect from a successful conclusion of the Round, one little known expected after effect of a successful Doha Round is something that most people here are clamoring after and for which a lot of perceived candidates are spouting motherhood statements about: 'governance.'

Governance could be looked at in two ways, global and country governance. Andrew D. Mitchell (Melbourne Law School) and Elizabeth Sheargold (University of Melbourne) look at trade and governance from the latter perspective. They examined WTO’s contribution to governance from both administrative and democratic viewpoints. Interestingly, they look at how the WTO’s dispute settlement process contributes to better governance. The other is the WTO’s insistence that laws be applied 'in a uniform, impartial and reasonable manner.'

More directly, Daniel Sokol (University of Florida) looked at how government regulations 'intentionally or unintentionally generate restraints that reduce competition.' Keeping in mind that the Philippines have recently been found to have a high degree of red tape, Sokol’s 'public restraints' findings have considerable relevance. Public restraints seemingly allow 'a business to cloak its action in government authority' and allow private businesses to 'misuse the government’s grant of antitrust immunity to facilitate behavior that benefits businesses at consumers’ expense.' To local proponents of competition policy laws (such as myself), Sokol depressingly notes that 'domestic institutions seem ill-equipped to adequately limit these restraints.'"


The Liturgy of the Hours

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"One thing that immediately becomes obvious when praying the Liturgy of the Hours is that each of the 'Hours' has its own 'personality.' The morning prayers tend to have a bright, cheerful tone, the daytime prayers are more contemplative and focusing on trust in the Lord, and the evening prayers, as we’ve seen from above, a bit reflective of what has gone in the day and leads to a reminder of our need to surrender ourselves to His care.

In addition to the daily rhythm provided in its four-week Psalter, the Liturgy of the Hours, like the Mass, changes according to the seasons contained in the liturgical year and the calendar of the Saints. As I said, it’s complicated. But definitely never boring."


Of drinking and national treatment

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"Interestingly, in a communiqué dated Aug. 12, 2009, our largest trading partner declared that it is 'the desire of the United States to be joined in these consultations .... As a leading producer and exporter of spirits, the United States has a substantial trade interest in these consultations. Over the period 2004-2008, US exports of spirits worldwide averaged over $970 million, making the United States one of the world’s largest exporters of spirits.'

It would be fascinating to see how this case turns out. As BusinessWorld reported — correctly — last Monday, the 'EU and US have jointly filed cases against three other WTO members over liquor taxes — Chile, Japan and Korea — all of which were decided in favor of the two major exporters, dispute archives show. In the Korea case, for instance, arbiters decided that soju, an indigenous beverage which enjoyed lower tax rates than its foreign counterparts, was ’directly competitive and substitutable with imported distilled alcoholic beverages’. Korea had to comply with the WTO ruling in 1999, amending its tax laws to instead require flat rates on all liquor products.' To the foregoing is added recent research findings, most notably Andrew Guzman’s of the University of California, Berkeley, in his paper The Political Economy of Litigation and Settlement at the WTO (corroborated in recent empirical analysis by Juscelino Colares of Syracuse University), which showed that complainant countries in WTO disputes win their cases almost 90% of the time.

People might need to go for a drink after this."


Who I won't vote for

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

"People have expressed so much emotion over a recent 'sacrifice' that it’s annoying. They seem to refuse to realize that our history is one long series of missed chances and unlearned lessons. For example: an unexamined politician arouses public support for the presidency merely because of the perceived unpopularity in the National Capital Region of the sitting president.

Or an inexperienced and unexamined individual from an old political family suddenly thrust into the limelight and asked to run for president due to sentimental momentum generated upon the death of a revered family member (including the withdrawal from the race of a better trained politician in favor of party unity). Haven’t we seen all that before?

But the first time around, what happened in terms of governance, corruption, and national security? Didn’t daylong blackouts occur, our streets dug up and left looking like war zones, shipping vessels sunk with thousands dead, our finances dwindling to nothing, investors fleeing to other countries, farmers killed in Mendiola or ejected from their lands, our educational system continuing to deteriorate, saw our own president rallying to keep US bases here, and respect for our public institutions further dwindled? What makes people think that by doing the same thing all over again with regard to choosing our leaders different results will happen.

Rereading Sandra Burton’s Impossible Dream over the weekend, I was struck by how those in power are so related or linked to each other. If Burton’s account is accurate: it was a Laurel who acquitted Ferdinand Marcos of murder, a Roxas who liberated him from a US army brig, a Quezon who urged him to be in public life, a Macapagal who awarded him half of his war medals, and a Magsaysay who served as godfather to his wedding. Marcos had Ninoy Aquino as a fraternity brother. And before Aquino married Cory, he was actually dating, guess who? Imelda Romualdez.

Which again reiterates what I’ve long been saying: any reading of our history would show that the same names in government and business appear over and over and over again. The same names or families that would side with the Spanish against the Katipunan, whisper to Aguinaldo against Mabini, collaborate with the Americans or the Japanese (then see their kind give pardon to the collaborators), preside over increasing corruption and stagnation in the Third Republic, and then exploit (either in government or in opposition) the Marcos era, People Power, and Edsa Dos. And now still the same names in Congress, Malacañang, and the business elite. In the 100 or so years of our nation, these same people — by their corruption, decadence, incompetence, and hypocrisy — have pushed our country into ever lower depths.

So even though it’s quite bizarre that a mere 23 years after people emotionally threw out the Marcoses from Malacañang, it perhaps becomes understandable why they are again appearing in the Tatler and other society glossies, why people are eager to have them as guests or be their guests at parties, and why BongBong Marcos is slated to run for high office (for president even, if Imelda Marcos has her way). It also becomes understandable why Estrada is presently topping the presidential polls. People in power now are just all part of one exclusive club so that it doesn’t matter anymore if you have principles or merit. What matters is that the club accepts you.

However, it is simply crazy to keep relying on the same people and methods (or lack of it) and expect different results. For me, I’ll never vote or support any politician who or (whose family) benefited from betraying the Katipunan, collaborated with the Japanese during World War II, or took advantage of martial law, People Power, or Edsa Dos. People should be made accountable for the harm they did to our country. I won’t vote for or support anybody who is part of or has a relationship with the oligarchy, certainly not somebody whose family blew so many chances to do good for the country. Definitely not somebody from an old political family who sees his town or province mired in poverty. If he can’t improve his backyard, what more the country? I will not vote for somebody who does not follow the doctrines of his faith (whether it be Islam, Christianity, etc.). If he’s Catholic, he’s lost my vote if he’s in favor of contraception. I shall never vote for or support any politician who doesn’t uphold a consistent principle. And, finally, I’ll never vote or support somebody who hasn’t worked for a living and can run for office just because he had the dumb luck of having a family member for a politician.

This probably disqualifies most of those running but that’s fine by me. I’ve compromised too long. Real change has got to start no matter how futile it presently seems. At 80 million people, I’m sure we can find better leaders."


Our President and theirs

Reading this article from the Inquirer (This is not your average presidential bet), it would be interesting to see how Noynoy Aquino matches up against other country leaders assuming he's no longer a bet but actually is the president (remember, he'd be leading and representing our country):

First, from the original ASEAN members - -

Abhisit Vejjajiva, prime minister of Thailand - educated at Eton, with degrees in economics from Oxford (with First Class Honors). Taught economics at Thammasat University. Member of parliament since 1992, leader of party 2005.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia - educated at Magelang Military Academy, US Army Command and General Staff College, and Webster University. A retired general, he was a member of the military since 1973, led troops as commander in the 330th Airborne Battalion, a lecturer at the Army Staff College, and known as the "thinking general"

Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, prime minister of Malaysia - educated at Malvern College, Worcestershire, England, and University of Nottingham, with degree in industrial economics. Worked in banking and petroleum industries. Member of parliament since 1976. First held cabinet position at the age of 25, becoming youngest deputy prime minister, and minister for defense, education, finance, and culture.

Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister of Singapore - studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge (with First Class Honors) and Master of Public Administration in Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Member of the military since 1971 and became Brigadier General. Served as minister for trade, finance, and defense, and deputy prime minister.

(*to complete the ASEAN 5, we include somebody born to the job) Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, sultan of Brunei - attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, with honorary degrees from Oxford, the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, Chulalongkorn University of Thailand, and National University of Singapore.

Then our main trading partners - -

Hu Jintao, president of China - graduated with a degree in hydraulic engineering, Tsinghua University. Worked as an engineer and for a hydro-power station while also managing Party affairs for the local branch of the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power. Held various governmental posts, some in impoverished areas of China.

Yukio Hatoyama, prime minister of Japan - educated at University of Tokyo and received a Ph.D. in managerial engineering from Stanford University. Worked as a research assistant at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Senshu University and was promoted to assistant professor. Long time party leader, he is a member of parliament since 1986.

Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France - practicing business lawyer, graduate of Paris X University Nanterre. In public office since the age of 22, he was formerly minister of the interior and finance.

Gordon Brown, prime minister of UK - an academic graduating with honors (and a Ph.D) from Edinburgh University, television journalist, member of parliament since 1983, and was for many years the chancellor of the exchequer.

Angela Dorothea Merkel, chancellor of Germany - academic, studying physics at University of Leipzig, worked and studied (and getting a doctorate) at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof. Held leadership positions in opposition and was cabinet minister.

Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, president of Russia - graduated from the Law Department of Leningrad State University and in 1990 received a Ph.D in private law. Worked in various positions in government and the private sector (as well as academe, publishing several articles) as legal expert, became Putin's Presidential Chief of Staff and then First Deputy Prime Minister.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil - working since the age of 12, a union leader since 1978, and held public office since 1986.

Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India - completed D.Phil, studied at Punjab University, Cambridge, and Oxford, and worked for UNCTAD. Taught at the University of Delhi and worked for the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Was Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India. Was also finance minister and member of parliament since 1991.

and, finally,

Barack Obama, president of the US - graduate of Columbia University and a Harvard lawyer, Chicago constitutional law professor and community organizer, former senator, and best selling author.

Waiting in the wings, randomly selected, are Anwar Ibrahim (Malaysia), David Cameron or David Miliband (UK), and Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, Rob Portman (US).

And we have Noynoy, son of Cory and Ninoy Aquino.


Work, prayer, and the bar exams

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"But the best reason to work one’s best (particularly if you’re Catholic) is that a) whatever it is you’re doing comes with the fact that you’re there because God meant you to be there, and b) as we’ve been constantly taught during our school days — work is indeed prayer. Your work is a gift you offer to God (if you’re a student, your study is your work). Indeed, since you’d never offer a sloppy gift, in an ungracious and uncheerful manner, to your spouse, parents, children, or friends, why would you do so to God?

And note that Jesus, unlike most of our politicians, didn’t only just talk, He worked. He actually worked for a living. He worked rather than preached for most of His adult life. He wasn’t just some loquacious rich kid running for office merely because he had the dumb luck of having a father (or mother) for a politician. Before He taught, He worked. And He did great work, whether it be carpentry or preaching. Thus, it was said of Jesus: 'bene omnia fecit' ('He did all things well'; Mk 7:37). Remember that Jesus even got pissed off at the fruitless fig tree."


The practice of law and iel

I always had a certain idea of what the legal profession is and such idea and passion has been magnified ever since I started focusing on international economic law.

Every lawyer worth the name sees the legal profession - and indubitably himself - in light of Thomas More's characterization in A Man for All Seasons, Al Pacino's idealistic lawyer in ... And Justice For All, or Jeremy Northam's brilliant and sedate barrister in The Winslow Boy. There has or always is that picture kept in every one of us of justifying our membership in the profession by doing what the profession was designed to do, which is - as succinctly put in The Winslow Boy: that right be done. Usually that concept of right is identified with helping the poor, the downtrodden, the helpless. Thus, Northam's character’s plea near the end of The Winslow Boy has always brought a special resonance through the years and serves as a call to most lawyers: "you shall not side with the great against the powerless."

Indeed. That is why it is almost heartbreaking to see the state of the legal practice in recent times. Although to say "in recent times" may be carrying it too far. For one could always say or think that the present state of the legal profession is but an extension of the practice as it has accumulated through the years. Not to discuss the practice in terms of the corruption that everybody talks about, publicly abhorred but oftentimes privately encouraged. One only needs to look at the state of intellectual mastery and discipline exhibited by a number of lawyers (and law students) today.

Lawyering now seems to be relegated to a matter of flashiness, presentation, of glibness and marketability. Of blackberries and laptops, of designer suits and fashionable parties. Gone seemingly are the days when the law has been described "as a lonely passion", of the rumpled solitary individual buried beneath his files and his books. At least in the olden days, despite the corruption that even then has been complained of, eloquence and purpose was apparent. Today, even that has gone. I have had students who could talk your ears off in highly voluble and fashionably phrased social conversations but who could not create, in speech or in writing, a decently coherent, in style and substance, piece of argumentation. These lawyers could talk to you of shoes by Manolo Blahnik, the latest trends in pop psychology, their takes on deconstruction by Derida but could not - in class or in practice - summon the appropriate craftsmanship necessary to defend their clients' interest in court that would be upheld if were left in the light of day.

One reason perhaps is that our society is so generously forgiving and becoming more and more so to the point of unreasonableness. Personal flaws, weaknesses, and failures are readily understood and accepted. While such may be good for the benefit of the individual concerned, they do not redound to the good of society as a whole and the future of our country. The need to better oneself is not there, goaded undoubtedly by the lack of its demand.

Which leads me to think of this field that I utterly love and that is international economic law. I could go on and on, talking of its intellectual depth and breadth, its purity, elegance, and sophistication, combining as it does an understanding of private domestic law, public international law, economics, government, and diplomacy. At the least.

But this incredibly beautiful field is also demanding and, more to the point, unforgiving. It does not suffer fools well. If you do not work, study, think in the level required then your country suffers. Not merely an individual client or corporation but the country. Simple as that. One only has to talk to our coconut or rice farmers and unemployed factory or garments workers. Furthermore, unlike in local jurisdictions, where allegations of “friendly” judges or courts go around, international economic law is a field that generally wouldn’t suffer such charges and wouldn’t work with such shortcuts.

It is for all these reasons that I love the field. It is lawyering as it was meant to be. Incidentally, international trade itself, by its very nature, would require one to be systematic, cold, detached, patient, strategic in thinking, and highly rational. It also requires strong and effective institutional structures, where decision making is based on a formal and set process, where institutional memory (a must) is developed and kept, and where accountability is clearly identified. Lack of accountability in our government officers is wrong and encourages sloppy thinking. Our recent experience in a trade treaty is a demonstration of that.

In any event, IEL is a beautiful field of law that, done properly and given enough time, could contribute immensely to making this country what it should be: competitive, prosperous, and meritocratic.


Dispute and the odds

. . . is the topic of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"Thus, it would be interesting to see what inputs game theory could provide on the probable outcome of the said cases. This is because, while normally one would think that the moment a dispute comes before a panel then chances are 50-50 for either party. This apparently is not so, according to the 2002 findings of Andrew Guzman of the University of California, Berkeley, in his paper 'The Political Economy of Litigation and Settlement at the WTO.' He found that complainant countries (or countries that complain against other countries’ trade barriers) in WTO disputes have almost a 90% chance of winning. These findings were corroborated in A Theory of WTO Adjudication by Juscelino Colares of Syracuse University, which made use of empirical analysis of WTO adjudication from 1995 through 2007, revealing again a high disparity between complainant and respondent countries’ success rates: Complainants do win 90% of the time. This rather unfortunate statistic is obviously well above the 'win rate' of any domestic legal system (or any other international dispute system for that matter).

Which perhaps underlines another important thing: international trade disputes are really no places for domestic industries involved to engage in flaky thinking or grandstanding."


Trade policy and the trade rep

. . . is the topic of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"Anyway, with regard to trade policy, Section 6.a of the consolidated Senate Bill (similar to Section 5.a of SB 252) states that the RPTR shall 'formulate the Philippine trade position.' This, I believe, places a rather profound burden on the RPTR. Even though certain bureaus or offices from different government departments or agencies may be carved out to serve in the RPTR, still, it must be said, that (particularly in the early years) such departments or agencies will retain a considerable advantage in terms of expertise, resources, experience, and network. Furthermore, contrary to the claims that the nature of the trade system requires placing entirely in the RPTR the policymaking function, it is precisely the multi-disciplinary and complex nature of trade policy itself that justifies the need to have the different departments and agencies of the government providing input in the development of trade policy.

No practical reason exists as to why the TRM process under EO 230 (s. 1987) should not continue to exist in formulating trade policy, which it must be remembered is merely a subset of overall economic policy. The danger of 'policy capture' by certain narrow sectors is also minimized as the theoretical risk of only having one office to "pressure" by unscrupulous parties, if any, when formulating policy is not present."


One deadly place

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpt:

"I’m talking about Midsomer, an English county that apparently has around 20 murders a year, with the past decade seeing a total of more than 200 murders, all premeditated. This does not include the assortment of accidental deaths and suicides. This is amazing when you consider that New York averages eight murders a year for every 100,000 individuals. To give an even better idea of the murder rate of Midsomer county, one published account noted that the likelihood of being murdered in London is .007% (per 100,000 people) whereas Midsomer is a shocking 27.4%. To paraphrase a line from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, it’s like Bosnia on a bad day. The body count is simply staggering — for a place that is not a war zone, it racked up three kills a week for the past 12 years. "



This is an interesting article and discusses the point (of which I agree with) that the concept of self-determination is rather more limited than what people believe and definitely does not support a secessionist agenda:

"In the contemporary times nationalistic/secessionist self-determination is discouraged and every State with minority population offers a procedural remedy from internal self-determination perspective to maintain its territorial integrity. It is significant to mention though procedural remedy to peoples claim to self-determination is not always the answer, what worked for Hong Kong was not a solution for Kosovo."


Win rates at the WTO

Came across this interesting piece of information: complainant countries (or countries that complain against other countries’ trade barriers) in the WTO has almost a 90% chance of winning its case. This statistic is obviously well above the “win rate” of any domestic legal system (or any other international dispute system for that matter (see Political Economy of Litigation and Settlement at the WTO by Andrew Guzman of Berkeley). Simon Lester of World Trade Law came with a more exact figure 88.14% win rate for those complainants reaching WTO panel or Appellate Body levels (click here).

These findings were corroborated in "A Theory of WTO Adjudication: From Empirical Analysis to Biased Rule Development," by Juscelino Colares of the Syracuse University - College of Law, which made use of empirical analysis of WTO adjudication from 1995 through 2007, still revealing a high disparity between Complainant and Respondent success rates: Complainants win roughly ninety percent of the disputes. This statistic is obviously well above the “win rate” of any domestic legal system (or any other international dispute system for that matter). Greenwald (JIEL, 2003, 113-124) also notes that: “Countries that complain about other countries’ trade barriers have a ‘win rate’ of between 80-90 percent before WTO panels and the Appellate Body (and nearly 100 percent in cases challenging anti-dumping, countervailing and safeguard measures) . . . The complainant has won all but one of the anti-dumping, countervailing duty, safeguard measure challenges.”

Compare that statistic with the Philippine win rate: 0%. We were complainants (not counting third party complaints) in four cases. We lost in the big case (really big case, still discussed in trade law courses) of dessicated coconuts. Nothing came about with the US prohibition on shrimp case. And the Australians are still cheerily waiting if we are up to proceeding on two cases we filed way back in 2002: on fruits and vegetables, and pineapples. We are the complainants in the currently ongoing Thai cigarettes II, as well as a possible respondent against the EC for our excise taxes on certain alcoholic beverages.


Searching for a competition law

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"It is probably a logical progression from the fact that since imports are down then concern must be made with regard to the state of competition within the Philippines. Senate Bill 3197 (Competition Act of 2009) seems to be doing just that and the momentum with which the bill is being propelled over the past few months is a testament to its authors’ concern over the competitive environment existing within the Philippines. This article is no way intended to be a detailed analysis of the bill but rather seeks to merely point out some areas of interest that could perhaps lead to further discussion on the matter.

Section 3 of SB 3197 interestingly describes the enforceability of the intended law to be "within the territory of the Republic of the Philippines and shall apply to all areas of trade, industry and commercial economic activity. It shall likewise be applicable to international trade having substantial effects in the Republic of the Philippines including those that result from acts done outside the Republic of the Philippines." The fact that jurisdiction is had over offenses committed within the Philippines is par for the course — territoriality being a long accepted jurisdictional premise within Philippine law. However, the latter portion of Section 3 is fascinating, flirting as it does with the probability of jurisdiction being extended by reason of either the protective principle or the passive personality principle of jurisdiction (the former being embodied, as an exception within our body of criminal law and jurisprudence, in Article 2 of the Revised Penal Code). It could also be indicative of Philippine acceptance of the emerging "effects doctrine" (more like that of objective territoriality doctrine), which is being increasingly employed by the US (e.g., the Helms-Burton and Sarbox laws, as well as the strange case of US vs. Alvarez-Machain)."


Books to read

Looked good to the FT, looks good for me: the books I must have:

> The Idea of Justice: In this intricate, endlessly thought-provoking book, Amartya Sen brings the full force of his formidable mind and his moral sense to show how specific questions – of chronic malnourishment, ill-health, demographic gender imbalance – must be analysed in terms of justice.

> The Case for God: What Religion Really Means: WB Yeats wrote that our ideas about God are all “trash and tinsel”, like a tawdry wedding dress hiding the truth that lies beneath. Karen Armstrong, one of our best living writers on religion, agrees. But in her latest book, The Case for God, she argues that there was a time when people understood God better.

> Lords of Finance: 1929, The Great Depression – and the Bankers Who Broke the World By Liaquat Ahamed: A former World Bank economist, Ahamed revisits the great crash of 1929 and details how the work of revered central bankers led to disaster. A salutary warning from the past about the unexpected consequences of policy mistakes at the highest level. Historical but topical.

> Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters For Global Capitalism
By George Akerlof and Robert Shiller: Behavioural economics, once regarded with deep suspicion, is winning more advocates. Akerlof is a Nobel laureate while Shiller teaches at Yale. Its title echoes Keynes, while its analysis forces readers to consider how irrational human behaviour impinges on neat economic models.

> False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World By Alan Beattie: The FT’s world trade editor reveals why some economies flourish while others fail, even when they appear to be equally blessed with natural resources and opportunities to prosper. A commentary on the often mysterious world of global economic mega-trends.

> The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better By Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: Two distinguished academics explain how consumerism and gross income inequality can harm general well-being. And this inequality seems to be bad news for rich and poor alike. The alternative? Collaboration and greater human kindness. A well-timed and exhaustively researched attack on the “greed is good” ethos.

> God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World By John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge: In their latest book, the Economist’s editor-in-chief and US editors seek to address liberal incomprehension of the religious beliefs that animate hundreds of millions of people. Their focus is on Christianity with an American accent and its harnessing of modernity.

and, finally, of course:

> How to Drink By Victoria Moore: You might think drinking is one thing we do know how to do but Moore’s thesis is that drinking has suffered in comparison to eating. An unsnobbish and eclectic but knowledgeable series of tips on what to drink, when and with what.


Dumping is good

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"That’s why the WTO’s 2009 World Trade Report is getting much discussion among trade law practitioners. Because ironically, according to the report, considering the increase of anti-dumping cases, dumping apparently is good for the importing country:

'What are the effects of dumping on the economic welfare of the importing country? Economic theory suggests that, with the possible exception of predatory dumping, all other instances of dumping either increase, or at worst, have an ambiguous effect on, the economic welfare of the importing country. Of course, for the most part, economic literature has treated dumping as an example of the exercise of market power. But within this context of imperfectly competitive markets, dumping may increase efficiency in resource allocation. In most circumstances, the welfare of the importing country increases as a result of dumping, as consumers and users of the product benefit from lower import prices, even though the reason for the reduction in price (the dumping) may vary.'"


No, it's not okay

. . . (that we lower our standards) is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"No. It’s not okay. We don’t want to be Fiddle and Faddle’s friends, we don’t want a lesson on the correct way to pronounce gyro’s, we don’t want the free coffee from next door, and we certainly don’t want any more vapid smiles. We just want our lunch, served, properly, cleanly, and correctly. This is not nuclear science.

We had a good lunch at the nearby Tsoko.Nut Batirol instead. The waiting staff was quietly efficient, informed, and (thankfully) reserved.

Somebody in a local magazine wrote a few weeks back that not only waiters but also customers should do their part in having a good dining experience. True. But people who get paid to do something (with the customer’s hard-earned money) better make sure they’re doing their jobs first. Nobody deserves something for nothing. Customers (and everybody else for that matter) should do their part by not letting standards slip. And — incidentally — that is why nobody should boorishly go to restaurants or any public place in shorts or sandos just because one has money to spend. Far richer people in far more sophisticated countries than ours still discipline themselves by being courteous in dress and manner.

This lowering of expectations is what’s destroying this country. If anybody wants to know one reason why the Philippines is going down, one just has to look at the smiling work of the friendly Fiddle and Faddle."


Trade in the NY Times

The New York Times gets trade conscious, with these two articles: one on Doha and the other on farm subsidies.

Shuffling amidst the slog

. . . that is the global economy is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"Having said that, protectionism, particularly of the 'creeping' kind, seems to be keeping a steady presence. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy recently declared that there seems to be "further slippage" as far as protectionism is concerned. The WTO indeed found that in the period March to mid-June of this year, 119 new trade measures were instituted, of which 83 were classified as trade restricting. These figures do not yet include measures implemented in response or related to the H1N1 outbreak.

However, of the most recent kinds of protectionist measures, the one with the most profound effect on global attitude toward trade seem to be the 'buy local' provisions, particularly that enacted by the US. The US law provides that no funds appropriated under the law shall be used for a project for the construction or repair of a public work unless all of the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used in the project are produced in the US."


WTO, IP, and Caritas in Veritate

Interestingly, at the WIPO Conference on Intellectual Property and Public Policy Issues on 14 July 2009, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy's statement that “the international intellectual property system cannot operate in isolation from broader public policy questions such as how to meet human needs as basic health, food and a clean environment,” closely follows Pope Benedict XVI's brilliant encyclical Caritas in Veritate, wherein it is written: "On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care."

What must be noted are the different emphasis between the two "statements": one is technical, the other moral. Lamy goes on to discuss the focus on technical matters:

"The effective use of the IP system and of TRIPS flexibilities is important, but does not stand alone: IP law and policy must be harnessed with drug procurement policies, pro-competition safeguards, and regulation of drugs for safety and quality. Again, no one international agency has a monopoly on these diverse areas of expertise, and the challenge of ensuring practical access to medicines requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary effort."

The encyclical has this to say:

“Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the ‘economy’ of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practiced in the light of truth. In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living. This is a matter of no small account today, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence.” (2)

“The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interactions of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development. Only in charity, illumined by the light of reason and faith, is it possible to pursue development goals that possess a more humane and humanizing value. The sharing of goods and resources, from which authentic development proceeds, is not guaranteed by merely technical progress and relationships of utility, but by the potential of love that overcomes evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), opening up the path towards reciprocity of conscience and liberties.” (9)

“The world’s wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of ‘superdevelopment’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation.” (22)


Caritas in Veritate

Here's an interesting piece by the New York Times' Ross Douthat on Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical:

"'Caritas in Veritate' promotes a vision of economic solidarity rooted in moral conservatism. It links the dignity of labor to the sanctity of marriage. It praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos."

For copy of the encyclical, click here.


Country tariff data

Here's a nice useful WTO page. Users can research on bound and applied tariff rates of different WTO members. For Philippine data, click here.


On dignity

David Brooks' column today at the New York Times is about In Search Of Dignity. Every Filipino should read this. Our rapidly deteriorating country really needs a huge shot of dignity in the arm right now. Anyway, here are excerpts from Brooks' article:

"The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested — to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded its followers to be reticent — to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate — to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm.

Remnants of the dignity code lasted for decades. For most of American history, politicians did not publicly campaign for president. It was thought that the act of publicly promoting oneself was ruinously corrupting. For most of American history, memoirists passed over the intimacies of private life. Even in the 19th century, people were appalled that journalists might pollute a wedding by covering it in the press.

Today, Americans still lavishly admire people who are naturally dignified, whether they are in sports (Joe DiMaggio and Tom Landry), entertainment (Lauren Bacall and Tom Hanks) or politics (Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr.).

x x x

The old dignity code has not survived modern life. The costs of its demise are there for all to see. Every week there are new scandals featuring people who simply do not know how to act."