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.

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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.