Anatomy of a dispute

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

"Disputes are normally initiated if a WTO member considers that any benefit accruing to it directly or indirectly under the WTO agreements are being 'nullified or impaired or that the attainment of any objective [thereof] is being impeded as the result of (a) the failure of another contracting party to carry out its obligations under th[e WTO agreements], or (b) the application by another contracting party of any measure, whether or not it conflicts with the provisions of th[e WTO agreements], or (c) the existence of any other situation.' Which is a long, convoluted way of saying that WTO members can file cases anytime they feel like it."


Asia's laggard

Here's a perceptive Newsweek article by Ruchir Sharma on the Philippines, excerpt:

"The agenda for a new government is fairly clear-cut. Investment has long been the missing component in the growth equation, so the government needs to begin by creating a better environment for investment. This means stronger contract enforcement, less judicial interference, and breaking up the stranglehold of some oligarchs in key businesses." (emphasis supplied)


Tama na, sobra na, palitan na

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

"Amartya Sen makes a very lucid point in his book The Idea of Justice: that justice may be considered by people to exist if a connection between the efforts made and the rewards given is traceable. If somebody, therefore, is getting a reward that is disproportionately generous to the effort exerted to get that reward, then you know that an injustice has been done. Though Sen may not be thinking of the Philippines, the application of his thought to this country is easily apparent.

Consider the fact that through the decades, the statistic that around 10% of the population owns around 80% of the nations wealth remains roughly true. What is even more disturbing, save for the huge immigration influx that was done during the Marcos years (particularly in the 1970’s) the families that make up that wealthy 10% have not changed through the years. This accounts for a profoundly stagnant social mobility, thus making it more bizarre for our voting population to actually be giving somebody, who has nothing to credit him but his parents’ names, an indecent shot at the presidency. By adding to this the fact that somewhere around 30-40% of the country’s 80 million citizens are under the poverty line, then one can see how obscene a 10% wealthy figure is. Indeed, the attitude of the elite seems to be: it’s alright to help the poor so long as they know their place … and stay there.

Joe Studwell, in his Asian Godfathers, made an analysis on the Philippines that is particularly relevant:

'The old political elite, restored by godfather progeny Corazon Aquino after Marcos’ departure in 1986, appears as entrenched as ever. The current president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – herself the daughter of a former president – spends much of her time fending off congressional attempts to impeach her because of the possibly unconstitutional manner in which she ousted her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, 2001, and allegations of vote-rigging in her own election victory in 2004. x x x Faith in the political process is falling, communist insurgency is present in most provinces, and the local elite remains the most selfish and self-serving in the region. The Philippines best known living author, Francisco Sionil Jose, lamented in the Far Eastern Economic Review in December 2004: ‘We are poor because our elites have no sense of nation. They collaborate with whoever rules – the Spaniards, the Japanese, the Americans and, in recent times, Marcos. Our elites imbibed the values of the colonizer.’ The Philippines, in short, has never moved on from the colonial era and the patterns of amoral elite dominance that it created.' (Asian Godfathers, 2007, pp.180-181)

A reading of Sandra Burton’s Impossible Dream shows how those in power are so related or linked to each other that our history is seemingly like one long sequence political rigodon. 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.

Obviously, every country has an elite. Nevertheless, developed countries’ healthy economy and social conditions would indicate a more fluid social mobility rate than that being demonstrated by the Philippines. A cursory look at our history would show the same families, the same surnames, continuously lording it over Philippine affairs. History would also show, however, that they consistently failed the country. In the end, while a country indeed gets the leaders it deserves, it must also be considered that in our case the electorate has had a history of poor quality to choose from.
This, then, in sum is our nation’s problem: the monopolization of political and economic power by a narrow minded and incompetent oligarchy.

Interestingly, most of the political class (which, it must be remembered, also constitutes the wealthy end of our social spectrum) would point to corruption as the problem. No, it’s not. It’s the elite who are the problem. Commentators from apparently different ends of the globalization debate converge on this point: from Walden Bello (in his The Anti-development State) to Federico Macaranas and Scott Thompson (in their great Democracy and Discipline), to other books by different authors (The Rulemakers, Booty Capitalism, Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society, Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic, and Anarchy of Families).

Let us encourage the Filipino voter to not vote for anybody coming from the old political families, not matter how good their branding or packaging may be. They’re all part of the group that created the problems of our country. They’ve had their chance. And they sucked big time. 

Tama na, sobra na, palitan na iyang mga lumang pamilya."


CBCP Catechism on Family and Life for the 2010 Elections

Here's a call by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines for us not to be 'cafeteria Catholics', particularly in regard to the upcoming elections:

A Catechism on Family and Life for the 2010 Elections

CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life
December 8, 2009

1. Why is a Catechism for the 2010 Elections necessary?

We are going to face serious challenges in the 2010 Elections that are not only political but also clearly and profoundly moral. We are a nation that values family and life and yet for years our elected leaders have been attempting to make laws that pose a grave threat to these values. So once again we find the opportune occasion for the Church to exercise its teaching authority to guide us in carrying out their political responsibilities in a faithful citizenship.

The family has always been among the Church’s urgent concerns because it is both the Domestic Church and the Basic Unit of Society. A strong family is the only assurance to having a strong society.

In the 2004 and 2007 elections, the CBCP encouraged the faithful to exercise their Christian responsibility to be involved in politics in the conscientious selection of candidates, among others. We have consistently spoken out in defense of life and family. We do so again at this historic juncture in our national life.

As Catholic voters, we understand that to protect our society from the invasion of anti-life and anti-family values, we have to form our conscience well. This will enable us to use the power of our vote to demand accountability and coherence from our candidates. We would like to ensure that we have a democracy that is firmly founded on a consistent moral framework that will strengthen the foundation of our society and protect its weakest and most vulnerable members.

This Catechism is written primarily for the Family and Life Ministries of the different dioceses in the Philippines, which fall under the care of this Episcopal Commission. This is also intended as a reference for all families. The aim of this Catechism is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth with regards to family, life and responsible parenthood. It will help to make their faith operative when it comes to living their life in the Church and in society. The intention is not to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.

This Catechism cannot be read with a casuistic mentality, of one searching for a fine line dividing mortal sin from venial sin. Rather, it should be read from a magnanimous perspective of one who strives to ask how to best serve the Filipino, the Filipino family and the country.

2. Will this Catechism on family and life concerns not violate the separation of Church and State?

The separation of Church and State prohibits the State from interfering in Church matters, and prohibits the State from having a State religion. It does not imply a division between belief and public actions, between moral principles and political choices. In fact, the freedom of religion upheld by our Constitution protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life.

The Church has the duty to teach Catholics about the importance of taking their Faith with them in all their endeavors, including voting. Catholics must live their faith in order to integrate God into their lives. For faith to be genuine, it must be evident not only in Church activities, but in all aspects of life, at work, at home, and in politics as well. The Constitution guarantees the right of each citizen to exercise his or her religion. Catholics who bring their moral convictions into public life do not threaten democracy or pluralism but rather enrich the nation and its political life.

Every Catholic is both a faithful of the Church and a citizen of our beloved Philippines. The exercise of this faithful citizenship means that when they go to the polls to vote they should not leave God outside. They should take with them, among others:

>A renewed understanding of how God views life: “God created male and female, in the divine image He created them” and “found them to be very good.” (Gen 1:27. 31).

>A remembrance that God created marriage and “that is why man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). It is not a lifestyle choice that the law can remake into something that God never intended it to be.

>Knowledge of what their beliefs as Catholics are and vote with a well-formed conscience.

3. Shouldn’t the Church be limited to the spiritual and religious realms alone?

The obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of our society is a basic part of the mission which the Church received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The Second Vatican Council teaches that Christ, the Word made flesh, in showing us the Father’s love, also shows us what it truly means to be human (Gaudium et Spes
22). Christ’s love for us allows us to see our human dignity in full clarity and compels us to love our neighbors as he has loved us. Christ, the Teacher, shows us what is true and good, that is, what is in accord with our human nature as free, intelligent beings created in God’s image and likeness and endowed by the Creator with dignity and rights.

We Catholics share the same respect for the dignity of every person in common with many non-Catholics who accept these truths which are self-evident through the gift of reason. But undeniably what our Catholic faith teaches about the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life helps us to see more clearly these same truths because these are at the very core of the Catholic moral and social teaching. Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square. Church authorities exercise their teaching function also by reminding Catholic civil leaders of their moral obligations, especially in matters related to family and life.

4. How do we Catholics enrich the democratic process this way?

Our manner of active involvement in the democratic process means that we will use the power of the vote, as citizens of the Republic, to elect political leaders who will uphold and promote the dignity of human life and the sanctity of family and marriage. Through our active participation in the democratic process, including voting, we contribute to ensuring that our democracy firmly underpins moral and ethical values and standards. In the absence of ethical values and standards democracy will become the totalitarian rule of the rich and the powerful who can trample on the rights of the weak and vulnerable, such as the unborn babies, mothers, the elderly and the poor families.

A law-making process that is based simply on the will of the majority and not on ethical principles can easily lead to unjust laws because the will of the majority can be manipulated by powerful interest groups, leaving the weak and vulnerable unprotected.

5. On family and life issues, including reproductive health, some Catholics justify their support for positions that are clearly against Church teachings by saying that they “simply follow their conscience.” Should we not follow our conscience?

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains to us that “moral conscience, present in the heart of the person, is a judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins him to do good and to avoid evil… When attentive to moral conscience, the prudent person can hear the voice of God who speaks to him or her” (no. 372). Conscience is thus not the same as one’s opinions or feelings.

One must always follow one’s conscience. But one also has the obligation to form one’s conscience, because of the possibility of having an erroneous conscience. “One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience” (no. 376).

6. As Catholics, how do we correctly form our conscience?

The same Compendium of the Catechism tells us that “an upright and true moral conscience is formed by education and by assimilating the Word of God and the teaching of the Church. It is supported by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and helped by the advice of wise people. Prayer and an examination of conscience can also greatly assist one’s moral formation” (no. 374).

The Church’s teaching authority, also known as the “Magisterium,” endowed by Christ Himself, assists us Catholics in understanding God’s will in specific issues. The Church, as our Mother and Teacher, takes into account what is happening in society and the data offered by the sciences and other fields of knowledge and offers us clear guidelines on certain specific questions.

Thus, for example, we should not think that “abortion is wrong because the Church says so,” but rather, “abortion is wrong because it kills a human being who is one of us, and the Church reminds us of its wrongness.” Indeed, whether the Church says so or not, abortion is always a most violent, unjust and inhumane act committed against the most harmless, defenseless, and weakest member of our society –the baby– and committed by those who have the greatest duty to care for, love and defend him or her most –the mother, father, doctors and other health care professionals.

Similarly, the intrauterine device (IUD) is not wrong because the Church says so. Rather it is wrong in itself whether the Church says so or not, because the IUD can kill a 5-day old baby by preventing him or her from implanting in the mother’s womb. In fact, it is medical literature and not Church dogma that describes the IUD’s modes of action, and it is from these sources that the Church bases her defense of the 5-day old baby. We were once like this 5-day old human being, and he or she, if not killed, would grow to become like us.

Through prayerful reflection of the Word of God and a careful study of Church teachings on family and life (as in other matters), we strive to live out our faith in the world. A well-formed conscience is always formed according to the mind of the Church, which Christ Himself instituted to guide us.

7. What does the Church teach regarding “responsible parenthood”?

The profound link between the conjugal union and the gift of life gives married couples a vocation to give life, as long as they can responsibly care for the children they beget. Hence, responsible parenthood calls for an understanding of the reproductive processes of the spouses’ bodies, including the woman’s fertility cycle. And as with any other passion (anger, fear, love for food, desire for more, etc.), the sexual drive should be placed under the control of the intellect and the will, through the exercise of virtues, rendering the sexual faculties truly and exclusively expressive of conjugal love and the self-giving of persons.

Responsible parenthood further involves the decision either (1) to generously raise a numerous family if the couple is capable of doing so, or (2) if there are serious reasons (health, economic, social, psychological, etc.), not to have another child for the time being or indefinitely ( Humanae Vitae

Thus, responsible parenthood has nothing to do with encouraging individuals to use contraceptives as what reproductive health programs do. The sexual union is appropriate only within the context of marital love, which must always be faithful, permanent, and exclusive between one man and one woman that is open to the gift of new life.

Responsible parenthood also has nothing to do with encouraging or coercing couples whether directly or indirectly to have only one or two children. It is not a population control program. Neither the government nor the Church may tell couples how many children to have, for the decision to have either a small or a large family rests on the couple themselves.

8. What is the difference between procreation and reproduction?

Reproduction is the process by which living things replicate, to assure the continuity of their species. It is necessary for the species, but not for the individual. Reproduction, as in the case of plants and animals, does not require any bond between persons. On the other hand, procreation is the proper term for human generation as it refers to a loving act between spouses which prepares for a possible creation by God of a new person. Procreation points to a collaboration of parents with God as the ultimate source of this new life. None of these characteristics of human procreation may be found in plant and animal reproduction.

The conjugal act is like a language with two meanings: the unitive and the procreative. Through their union in the conjugal act, a man and a woman give themselves totally to each other in and through their bodies. They are telling each other: “I give myself totally to you, and I love and accept you totally; we are one flesh.” That is the unitive meaning.

Furthermore, the structures and functions of the male and female reproductive systems are such that when a sexual act is performed, there is a possibility of new life to be formed. This gives a procreative meaning to the sexual union. Thus, to accept each other totally includes saying, “since I love and accept you totally as you are, including your bodily functions, I also totally accept the possibility of our love bearing fruit, the gift of a new child.” Thus, the unitive and the procreative meanings of the sexual act cannot be separated from each other.

Textbooks consistently using the term “reproduction” instead of “procreation,” even if intended for Catholic schools, should be thoroughly checked for the contraceptive mentality. They may confuse the students on the Church’s clear teaching on family and life. Presenting the views of dissenting theologians as being on equal authority with Church documents would bring about such confusion.

9. Why is contraception morally wrong?

Contraception is any action taken before, during or after the conjugal act which is aimed at impeding the process or the possible fruit of conception. In contraception, it is like the spouses telling each other, “I love you as long as we do not give birth.” In short, contraception makes the conjugal act a lie. It expresses not a total love, but rather a merely conditional or partial love. Contraception separates the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act.

Since many contraceptives have also been shown by medical science to have various ill effects, their use could signify further contradictions and lies. It endangers then the physical well-being of the wife as well as the spiritual health of the marriage.

10. Why are natural methods of birth control not contraception?

The natural methods simply enable the wife to ascertain when she is fertile and when she is infertile. It is scientific information placed at the service of either a procreative decision or a non-procreative decision by the spouses. In this case couples do not do anything to prevent the normal consequences of the marital act from taking place. Rather, they make use of the wife’s God-given cycle in their decision whether to have another child or not for the time being.

11. What is reproductive health?

The UN defines reproductive health as the state of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. It states that people have the right to a “satisfying and safe sex life.” The conjugal union is natural and proper in marriage, but in contrast, reproductive health disposes all people, including children and adolescents, to the sexual act and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to reproduce, provided that these are not against the law. (Cairo, Program of Action).

Following this definition, if having a satisfying sex life results in an unwanted pregnancy, the mental anguish this causes will negatively affect the person’s mental and social well-being unless one has access to contraception and abortion. This is the convoluted reasoning behind UN agencies’ insistence that reproductive health necessarily presupposes access to contraception and abortion.

Furthermore, the Reproductive Health bill (House Bill 5043), which carries the same definition of reproductive health, will penalize with one to six months imprisonment, and/or 10-50 thousand pesos fine, parents who for example prevent their grade school and high school children from using contraceptives, and having satisfying and safe sex. This item, along with the fact that certain contraceptives actually cause the abortion of 5-day old babies, is often ignored in supposedly unbiased and scientific surveys on the acceptability of the Reproductive Health bill.

All these are in the name of reproductive health and rights. What about the rights of parents? And the rights of the unborn?

12. What are some experiences in other countries in relation to reproductive health and related to family and life issues?

Family and Life workers and families in the Philippines, to whom this Catechism is primarily directed, could easily and clearly see the probable goals of reproductive health and rights advocates in the country, by looking at what is happening abroad. In some countries, school clinics are required to inform parents if their child has been treated for a minor scratch; on the other hand, the same school clinics are PROHIBITED from informing parents if their child seeks treatment for abdominal pains caused by a recent abortion. In other places, children are required to obtain parental consent for a tattoo, but not for an abortion.

A high-ranking official of a foreign country massively funding reproductive health services in the Philippines categorically stated last April that, “We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health, and reproductive health includes access to abortion.” A local columnist rejoiced in November 2008 that “In Mexico City… the long struggle for reproductive health and rights culminated in the recent passage of a law lifting all restrictions on abortion.” Countries all over the world and the United Nations agencies work for reproductive health and rights until they have fully facilitated access to abortion.

Underlying this concept of reproductive or sexual health and rights is a view that radically separates sexuality, procreation and the complementariness between men and women. It is a view that identifies pleasure as the ultimate goal of sexuality and reduces procreation as a function of the health care systems. It also implies that men and women relate in temporary and modifiable unions that are a far cry from the beauty of conjugal love that is fully human, total, faithful, exclusive and open to life.

Men and women are persons before all else, and for this reason sexual behavior cannot be used only for pleasure. Otherwise it would mean using a person simply as an object.

13. In defending family and life, do we Catholics not impose our beliefs on others and violate the principles of tolerance and dialogue?

Many Protestants, Moslems, believers of other religions, and even non-believers share our belief in the dignity and value of human life. Tolerance means respect for the right of other persons to profess a different opinion and belief. However, tolerance cannot be understood as believing that other peoples’ points of view are equally good as one’s own, since this would blur the lines between good and evil and renounce the judgment of a sound and well-informed conscience.

In fact, publicly proclaiming one’s own beliefs is a service for dialogue, because through this way others can know exactly what and how one thinks. One offers one’s thoughts for reflection to others while respecting their beliefs, but without assuming that all beliefs are equally valid.

Attempts to enact legislation promoting anti-family programs receive huge financial assistance and provide alluring incentives to persuade our politicians to commit themselves to their advocacy. Foreign-funded lobby groups have been operating for more than a decade to openly advocate for the enactment of population control laws, as well as abortion-friendly laws in pursuit of the UN Cairo Conference objective of universal abortion rights. It makes one wonder why countries with below replacement fertility rates, desperate for babies and spending huge sums of money to encourage their own citizens to bear more children, contradict themselves by spending huge sums of money to suppress our population growth.

All these are consistent with the 1974 National Security Study Memorandum 200 entitled “Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for US Security and Overseas Interest” which identified the increase in world population as inimical to the interest of West. This document has been coming out in recent public debates on reproductive health policies, and is available on the internet. Do not reproductive health advocates bow down to their impositions? Is it not more correct to say that they are the ones imposing their policies on our country?

14. Is it morally acceptable to vote for an anti-family candidate?

With the foregoing considerations, it would not be morally permissible to vote for candidates who support anti-family policies, including reproductive health (in the particular understanding being presented in the recent debates, which includes, among others, promotion of abortifacients, penalties on parents who do not allow their adolescent children to engage in sexual acts, etc.), or any other moral evil such as abortion, divorce, assisted suicide and euthanasia. Otherwise one becomes an accomplice to the moral evil in question.

The gravity of these questions allows for no political maneuvering. They strike at the heart of the human person and the family and are non-negotiable. Supporting them renders a candidate unacceptable regardless of his position on other matters. The right to life is a paramount issue and hence cannot be placed on the same plane of discernment as the candidate’s positions on the environment, unemployment, health care, or others. This is because, as Pope John Paul II says, the right to life is “the first right, on which all the others are based, and which cannot be recuperated once it is lost.” It is also because the family is the basic unit of society. A candidate lays down the ground for refusing solidarity with anyone if he refuses solidarity with the unborn in the first few days or months of life, or with the dying. Why should anyone vote for such a candidate?

15. How should we Catholics engage questions related to family and life similar to the ones discussed in this Catechism?

Whenever we explain our desire to further strengthen the Filipino family, we should base our arguments primarily on legal, medical, economic, educational, psychological, sociological and other scientific data rather than on religious teachings alone. This translation of our faith into legitimate inputs to the policy making process helps our elected officials see more clearly the reasonableness of our advocacy.

For example, factual demographic data from the UN Population Division showing rapid ageing and collapse of the world population in 40 years, or the drop of Philippine fertility below replacement rate in 15 years, are reasonable grounds to encourage elected officials to instead opt to file bills banning contraceptive attempts to bring fertility down. The fact that artificial contraceptives are also abortifacient and cancerous reinforces this argument. This way elected officials will see that those who promote family and life (including in their opposition to the Reproductive Health bill) are not only the Bishops, as the mass media frequently portray, but above all parents, whether Catholics or not, who truly understand the issues, not only as taught by the Church, but as supported by data from the different fields of knowledge.

We Catholics should always remember that we are not only members of God’s People, but of Philippine society as well. Hence when it comes to voting in the 2010 Elections and even beyond, and holding dialogues with our political leaders, we should carry out our responsibilities and demand our rights as citizens. When we speak with our Honorable Senators, Congressmen, Governors, Mayors and other officials, let us highlight our place of residence in provinces and barangays rather than our parishes, our membership in civic groups rather than Church organizations, and our occupation as office workers, businessmen, farmers, firsherfolk, bus or tricycle drivers, vendors, youth and women advocates, and others. Let us emphasize to them that we are their constituents –citizens, taxpayers and voters– who have put them into office, and
demand that laws protecting the Filipino Family be firmly upheld.


Obama: one year on

Interesting article from The Economist:

"In his first 12 months in office Mr Obama has overseen the stabilising of the economy, is on the point of bringing affordable health care to virtually every American citizen, has ended the era of torture, is robustly prosecuting the war in Afghanistan while gradually disengaging from Iraq; and perhaps more precious than any of these, he has cleared away much of the cloud of hatred and fear through which so much of the world saw the United States during George Bush’s presidency."

But really, would Mr. Obama have been able to do all that if George Bush had not risked and fought that "cloud of hatred and fear"? Methinks Obama is just reaping what George Bush had worked for and sown.

One good counterpoint to the above article is Newsweek's take on Obama, particularly on terrorism: "His antiterror policies are essentially those of Bush's second term."


China crisis

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

"Indeed, whether it be in terms of regional security and the economy, as well as the Philippine°s standing in the world, it has always seemed to me that the better proposition for the Philippines would be to maintain, nurture, and focus on its traditional security and trading partners. This is based on a number of factors, of course, some of them historical and cultural. Frankly, one good reason is that at least our traditional partners are known entities, for which a certain degree of knowledge, it is hoped, is there. But quite pragmatically, one would think that the Philippines is better off betting on its traditional partners for the simple reason that the emerging power that is China, no matter how highly celebrated, may not have enough gas (including youth and women) in its tank."


Character and the presidency

Reading Manolo Quezon's blog entry today Three Aspects of the Presidency, which ends with this paragraph:

"In that sense, character is paramount: a president who recognizes no limits, or for whom everything is negotiable, cannot become a teacher, nation-builder, or transformative leader. In that sense, too, past accomplishments require greater scrutiny, for they have to be understood in terms of whether or not these accomplishments were accompanied by demonstrations of character, of integrity, by the leader; and whether the leader turned achievement into teaching moments for subordinates and peers; and whether these accomplishments contributed to nation-building or merely personal, political or financial advantage."

Of which I couldn't agree more. Particularly, the fact that "past accomplishments require greater security". Which necessitates that there be actually accomplishments to scrutinize. And for which accomplishments mean "accomplishments", giving an indication of responsibilities, targets set, goals achieved, problems solved, people managed, things learned.

Indubitably, the greater the accomplishments, the greater the possibility of mistakes or even regrettable instances happening but such must be read in context. As the adage goes, those who don't risk failure never gets anything done. The danger is that people may confuse the absence of such mistakes or regrettable failures as an asset if such is not placed within the context of the accomplishments made. The latter actually, offhand, represents two downsides: of electing somebody whose character we really don't know or haven't scrutinized, and, secondly, somebody who doesn't know how to get things done.

The aspects of the presidency that Manolo writes of Dr. Abueva pointing out (great teacher, nation builder, transforming leader) is essentially not new. Ferdinand Marcos even alludes to his presidency as the "teaching presidency". But the fact that in order for a president to fulfill these three aspects of the presidency requires the appropriate character must indeed be emphasized again and again. And the ability to identify that character cannot be made to depend on whether or not we know his parents or that he carries a popular name or (most lame of all) because he did not do anything in the past worth mentioning. We cannot elect a person just because he seems to act as some sort of blank page for which we can pin our hopes or aspirations.

In the end, the president is a leader and it is his ability to lead that we need to determine, along, of course, with that other important matter, with determining where exactly does this person intend to lead us to.

That is why, rather than pinning our hopes on somebody who has not made any mistakes or failures simply because he hasn't done anything in the past, we should look for somebody (as a minimum) that actually has made mistakes, learned from them, got beaten down and got up again, overcome obstacles, and is simply able to get things done. But as I said, as a minimum. From that point and only from that point, do we then start to discern that person's character, values, and ethics, his capacity to lead and where does he want to lead us to.

We get the leader we deserve. If we don't know what we seek in that leader, we cannot expect our leader to know how to lead us and where.


Trade in 2010

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

And work begins ... Anyway! Considering the times, considering the elections, it is most likely that the last thing anyone wants to talk about this year is international trade. In a time when presidential candidates are reveling in their lack of qualifications (by that, I mean Noynoy), the subject of international trade, whether it be on the multilateral, regional, or bilateral level, seems to have taken the farthest back seat.

Unfortunately, no matter how some would like to ignore that fact, trade plays a necessary part of our lives. While most businessmen here are blithely and blissfully unaware that management capabilities played a significant part in the Philippine’s lowered competitiveness (as recent competitiveness reports show), more innovative (and richer) businessmen from other countries are looking outward, paradoxically at our direction. Whatever we do regarding trade, either collectively as a country or individually, after the elections is something that, ironically enough perhaps for some, has to be thought of now.

Regarding the WTO, Director-General Pascal Lamy indicated that the last week of March shall be the date for which considerable stocktaking is to be made. The point here is to conclude the Doha Round by 2010, a goal which, for this Trade Tripper, is highly dubious. As was written previously, the UK will have its elections this year to confirm whether or not David Cameron will be the next prime minister (and whether David Miliband will have the stuff to bring Labour to power in the following general elections). More significantly (despite European commentators’ statement to the contrary), the US will also be holding its mid-term elections, which will most definitely be taken as a sort of referendum on Barack Obama’s accomplishments (or more likely the lack of it).

The big news, of course, at the start of the year (courtesy of the best local business newspaper: BusinessWorld, of course) is that 2010 will see Philippine tariffs on practically all imports from the original ASEAN five drop to 0%. Add to this an assortment of products coming from China, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and Japan. While definitely good news for consumers, businessmen here (particularly for the automotive and electronics sectors) are trying to put a brave face to an otherwise more competitive (and definitely, for the Philippines as a whole, welcome) situation. Reportedly, the likely gainers would be hog exporters and soap makers. The rest would most probably find themselves vulnerable to foreign competition, which is really all the better for the Philippines.

China, under the ASEAN-China free trade deal, should remove tariffs on 90% of goods from the Philippines. Various stages of tariff reductions are also in the works for Philippine goods exported to Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and Korea. Whether local business will actually be able to take advantage of the tariff reductions and produce as needed by demand is another matter.

Lest people forget, the Philippines is still locked in the midst of several significant trade disputes. There is DS371, formally designated as Thailand -- Customs and Fiscal Measures on Cigarettes from the Philippines. The dispute’s primary question is whether the Thai dual licensing requirement leads to discriminatory treatment against Philippine cigarette exports and thus a probable violation of the provisions of Articles 1 and 4 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding, Article XXII:1 of GATT 1994, and Article 19 of the Customs Valuation Agreement.

Then there are the two complaints we filed way back in 2002 against Australia (DS270 and DS271) due to its alleged discriminatory treatment of our fruit and vegetable exports. Interestingly enough, nobody seems to be inclined to proceed with this long-pending case, with not even a panel being formed (despite taunts hurled our way). We’re also third-party complainants in DS375/376/377-EC Measures on certain ITA Products.

Then there’s the dispute formally lodged as Philippines -- Taxes on Distilled Spirits (docketed as DS396). The EC’s complaint against the Philippines in this case centers on whether Philippine excise taxes on distilled liquor (as imposed by RA 9334) discriminate against imports and in favor of domestic products. It would be really interesting how this case turns out. As BusinessWorld previously reported, 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." This is to be read in the context of empirical studies that showed complainant countries in WTO disputes winning their cases almost 90% of the time.

And, finally, whatever happened to the competition policy bills pending in the Senate last year? One hopes it has not met the same fate as the sadly mangled (beyond intelligent usefulness) Trade Representative Office bill.

Thus, while some bafflingly insist on having brazenly unqualified people to high office, it should be remembered that although our politics focus on the local, economics -- whether we like it or not -- is international.