The Church and laymen

From the Zenit news service:

Rome, 28 May 2009 - Laypeople are not merely the clergy's collaborators, but rather share in the responsibility of the Church's ministry, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope called on the laity to become more aware of their role when he inaugurated Tuesday an ecclesial conference for the Diocese of Rome on "Church Membership and Pastoral Co-responsibility." The conference is under way through Friday.

"There should be a renewed becoming aware of our being Church and of the pastoral co-responsibility that, in the name of Christ, all of us are called to carry out," the Holy Father said. This co-responsibility should advance "respect for vocations and for the functions of consecrated persons and laypeople," he added.

The Pontiff acknowledged that this requires a "change of mentality," especially regarding laypeople, shifting from "considering themselves collaborators of the clergy to recognizing themselves truly as 'co-responsible' for the being and action of the Church, favoring the consolidation of a mature and committed laity."

The Bishop of Rome suggested that "there is still a tendency to unilaterally identify the Church with the hierarchy, forgetting the common responsibility, the common mission" of all the baptized.

"Up to what point is the pastoral responsibility of everyone, especially the laity, recognized and encouraged," he asked.

Referring to laypeople committed in the service of the Church, the Pope said there should not be "a lessening of the awareness that they are 'Church,' because Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, convokes them and makes them his People."

Benedict XVI thus asked priests to transmit to laypeople a "sense of belonging to the parish community" and the importance of unity. He further encouraged that laypeople draw close to sacred Scripture, through means such as lectio divina, and carry out missionary activity, in first place through living out charity.

The Holy Father contended that preparations for the Jubilee Year 2000 in Rome helped "the ecclesial community to enhance awareness that the command to evangelize is not just for a few, but for all the baptized."

That's how the Church has lived for generations, he added, while "so many baptized" have "dedicated their lives to educating young generations in the faith, to care for the sick and to help the poor."

"This mission is entrusted to us today, in different situations, in a city in which many baptized have lost the way of the Church and those who are not Christians do not know the beauty of our faith," the Pope stated.

On the other hand, he cautioned against a tendency to see the People of God from a "purely sociological" point of view "with an almost exclusively horizontal perspective that excludes the vertical reference to God."

The Pontiff looked at the distinction between "People of God" and "Body of Christ," affirming that both concepts "are complementary and together form the New Testament concept of the Church."

He explained: "While 'People of God' expresses the continuity of the history of the Church, 'Body of Christ' expresses the universality inaugurated on the cross and with the resurrection of the Lord."

"In Christ, we become really the People of God," which, he affirmed, means everyone, "from the Pope to the last child."

"The Church, therefore, is not the result of a sum of individuals, but a unity among those who are nourished by the Word of God and the Bread of Life," the Pontiff noted.

And the Church "grows and develops," he affirmed. "The future of Christianity and the Church of Rome is also the commitment and the testimony of each one of us."

Justice is a lady

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

"Today, the Supreme Court will confer upon Justice Herrera the title 'Founding Chancellor Emeritus' of PHILJA, as well as the Right Honorable Telford Georges’ Award from the CJEI. It’s truly the least that can be awarded upon so admirable and inspirational a lawyer and Filipina. In our presently less than ideal society, where men are failing to be men and women have turned their back on being ladies, Justice Ameurfina A. Melencio Herrera has shown us how real success is achieved: through integrity, consistency, intelligence, and — yes — grace."


ASEAN tariffs

As reported in BusinessWorld:

"The Philippines will make good on its promise to lower Southeast Asian import duties next year, but is mulling using non-tariff measures to shield local industries, a Trade department official said on Friday.

The proposed tactic will be raised in July with other Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) members, Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila said.

This comes as tariffs on the remaining 20% of the country’s goods such as corn, cassava, poultry and swine are slated to fall to 0-5% next year under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Free Trade Area (AFTA) Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) arrangement."

The local industry leaders, predictably, consider such moves as unsatisfactory. For my part, I commented that "the impact of non-tariff measures are unlikely to completely offset tariff cuts. These are legal measures that are part of the trading system which have been anticipated and contemplated. Their effect have been factored in already. Protectionism is obviously not advisable, but not every measure to safeguard interests is protectionist."

In relation to this, you may want to read A Protectionism Fling: Why Tariff Hikes and Other Trade Barriers Will Be Short-Lived by Daniel J. Ikenson (associate director for the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute). For copy of the article, click here.

Of self-determination (again)

. . . was the subject of my latest Trade Tripper column in last Friday-Saturday's issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"With regard to the proper subject of 'self-determination', this logically would presuppose that the people who could validly claim such right indeed had the rights of an independent State at the time of the foreign occupation. Meaning, such 'group' claiming the right must have already possessed even then the elements of a State (as enumerated in the 1933 Montevideo Convention): people, government, territory, and the capacity to enter into relations with other States. The first three elements should be capable of being identified specifically, meaning that a disparate number of tribes, though bound by a similarity in culture or religion, would not be considered a State. First year law students are immediately taught the distinction between 'nations' (an ethnic concept generally having no personality under international law) and 'States' (which does). Therefore, if a people had no such rights of a State before any foreign occupation, it would be unreasonable to claim those rights now that they are working within the framework of an independent State rid of the foreign invaders. This is all the more so if the ethnic or religious group subsequently freely participated through the years in the political activities constituted under the government of the State they are a part of.

In fine, we should stop dwelling on the red herring that is 'self-determination' and instead focus on the real issues in order to actually alleviate the complaints of our fellow citizens. We should definitely stop listening to the prodding of foreigners. We do not need their approval and, although we appreciate whatever concern they may have, this is our country the direction of which should entirely be discussed amongst ourselves. Any ethnic or religious or cultural group definitely deserves the support of the entire Filipino people. Whether it be Muslims or Christians, Ifugaos or Mangyans (and, for that matter, Ilocanos, Bicolanos, Cebuanos, etc.), all have rights under our Constitution and are entitled to be treated as human beings with the respect, dignity, and freedoms everybody is entitled to. However, we should remember that we are still all Filipinos, for which the preservation of our country, its territory, and our way of life (richly diverse as it is), must be paramount."



Will be in Tacloban this Friday to give an MCLE lecture on public international law and international business law.


Electronics, tariffs, semiconductors

BusinessWorld reported today on the ITA dispute, a panel hearing for which was held last week. The Philippines is a third-party complainant to the dispute:

"A WTO panel ended last week the first hearing on tariffs on certain information technology (IT) products, a dispute which pitted the EC against countries like the US, Japan, China and the Philippines. The complainants raised the issue to the multilateral trade group in May last year, charging that the duties EC members imposed on flat panel displays, set top boxes and multifunctional fax machines violated the Information Technology Agreement, a deal which eliminated tariffs on IT goods. A WTO panel, composed of officials from Switzerland, Canada and New Zealand, heard all the parties’ arguments last week and are slated to convene again in July to hear rebuttals, Ambassador Manuel A.J. Teehankee, Manila’s representative to the WTO said in a recent e-mail. If the case is decided in favor of the US and the other complainants, EC members will have to 'bring its policy into line with the ruling or recommendations' or else lower tariffs in other areas as compensation, the WTO said on its Web site."

In the meantime, local manufacturers are demanding (as expected) protectionist measures (click here):

"A local manufacturers’ group has renewed calls for higher import tariffs, saying this will provide domestic industries a respite from impending reductions under a proposed free trade deal.""The Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), in a statement, pointed out that Philippine tariffs were already below those prescribed by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The average bound rate for non-agriculture products which the Philippines committed to at the WTO is 23.4% while the country’s applied rate averages at 7%, it said. '[We should] take advantage of the lull in the ... Doha Round and use the Philippines’ available policy space to raise the tariffs on critical products up to their bound rate limits,' the FPI said."

While the demand is the usual predictable riffraff coming from that bunch, the proposal unfortunately (as is typical from them) has not been thought through. Raising tariffs will not solve the issues confronting local business, which all credible economists and policy makers trace to declining global demand and low local competitiveness. Besides, there are other ways to help competitive local industries other than by way of protectionism.

Compare the manufacturers' stance above with the more positive and commendable attitude from the semiconductor industry (click here):

"The Semiconductor and Electronics Industries of the Philippines Inc. (Seipi) is keeping its forecast of a 20- to 30-percent decline in exports for 2009, even though prospects are now rosier for the rest of the year. Seipi chair Arthur Young said that although demand had started to pick up these past two months, the industry still had a lot to make up for, owing to large declines experienced in the first quarter. 'While the market has been steadily improving since March, and we are seeing month-to-month increases, the drop in the first quarter is a huge one to play catch up [with]. Ask us in end-June and we’ll have a better feel of the markets for the balance of the year,' he said in an interview yesterday. He said all indicators pointed to a better market from this point onward, as the industry had already hit bottom during the January-March period and has 'nowhere to go but up.'”


No to contraception

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

"Why should Catholics support the Pope’s (and, consequently, the Church’s) stand? Because our faith tells us that the Pope is Christ’s vicar here on earth, our direct link to God, and that whatever he binds here on earth is bound in heaven as well (Mt 16:17-19). We believe it because the Church (through the present Pope and as far back as Pope Pius XI in his Casti Connubii, and even further to Sts. Jerome and Augustine of Hippo) had already spoken — infallibly — on contraception as a grave evil. Should we believe the Church’s teachings? Yes, because every Sunday, during Mass, we proclaim to everybody that we believe 'in the holy Catholic Church.' As you say, do.

Can’t it be said that we Catholics should be able to exercise our free will on the matter? Yes, but by analogy, as any first year law student will tell you, the freedoms embodied in our Constitution indicates the freedom to do right and never wrong. Does this mean we can’t refer to our own individual conscience and our own personal interpretation of the Bible? Yes, but note that the truth (for which our consciences are hopefully anchored on) and doctrine on this matter has already been taught to us by the Church. Furthermore, as Catholics, our faith does not lie in the Bible alone, which — incidentally — is to be interpreted properly and intelligently. Our faith rests in the Bible, holy tradition, and the Church (Catechism No. 95), and all have told us the conviction to choose life and reject contraception. Does this mean that we don’t have a say as to what we do with our own bodies? As St. Paul says, our bodies are not our own, for we’ve been purchased at a great price that is Christ’s death on the cross (I Cor. 6:19-20)."


Of tuna and shrimp

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

"Last April 27, 2009, a WTO panel was established for dispute DS381, now referred to as the new 'Tuna-Dolphin' case. The complaint was filed by Mexico, alleging that US dolphin-safe labeling measures are inconsistent with the latter’s WTO obligations. Expectedly, the US defended its measures, saying that such measures are important to the protection of the dolphin population in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean.

The reason why the present case is raising such excitement among WTO practitioners, aside from the fact that they need to get a life, has to do with the original Tuna-Dolphin (and its doppelganger, Shrimp-Turtles") case. Ostensibly a mere trade dispute, the same nevertheless raised profound issues on the nature of sovereignty and state power."


Tax on outsourcing

From the news: "President Barack Obama vowed on Monday to overhaul tax policies that he said reward companies for shifting U.S. jobs overseas and allow wealthy people to evade taxes using offshore accounts. The White House estimated the plan would save $210 billion over the next decade. In one proposal businesses are poised to fight, Obama would tighten tax-code provisions that allow firms to defer paying taxes on profits they make overseas as long as those earnings are plowed back into the foreign subsidiaries."

"The proposals must go through Congress. Several lawmakers, including U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, signaled support for Obama's proposals. But one crucial player, Senator Max Baucus, Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, called for more study of how U.S. businesses would be affected. Currently, U.S. firms are allowed to defer paying taxes on profits earned overseas if they put those profits back into their foreign subsidiaries. Critics say those rules encourage businesses to bolster their foreign operations instead of creating jobs at home."

Question now is, would such revision of their tax laws be WTO compliant? And more importantly, how does that affect our economy and our BPO industry in particular? We should study this development very closely.