Some candidates' platforms

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

Having nothing better to do last weekend, your Trade Tripper decided to play around the Net and see what some presidential candidates have in their respective platforms regarding international trade (and the economy in general). It was annoying actually in certain instances because of the ridiculous difficulty of finding some platforms. Considering that they’re selling themselves and their visions to the Filipino people, some aspirants weirdly prefer to keep their platforms secret. Either that or they just don’t have a plan at all.

Anyway, among the presidential candidates, Manny Villar seems to have the most detailed and well-thought-out plan. At http://www.eleksyon.co.cc/manny-villars-platform/, Villar identifies the nation’s main problem as "widespread poverty and social injustice." This, I believe, is correct. Corruption isn’t really the fundamental problem and is better viewed as a symptom rather than the cause of the nation’s deterioration. Thus, the "main thrust" of his platform is "emancipating the people from poverty and injustice. Self-reliant and sustainable economic development program shall be pursued by implementing agrarian reform, increasing agricultural productivity and developing domestic industries. The problems of environmental destruction, climate change and recurring calamities shall be comprehensively addressed. High priority shall be given to education, health, housing and other basic social services." No sensible person would have a beef with that.

Regarding international trade, Villar unfortunately in one instance dabbled in the language of cuckoos: "The policy of economic liberalization and blind adherence to ’globalization’ must be reviewed." But that statement is tempered by a call for a "foreign policy based on respect for national sovereignty and ensuring mutual benefit," which is really all we could reasonably ask for. He also calls for increased trade with ASEAN countries.

Villar does make a strong pitch for the manufacturing sector and, quite gratifyingly, calls for "a program to promote patriotic awareness among consumers to use and buy locally produced goods" and that "foreign investors are welcome to invest in the Philippines as long as the national patrimony and economy is protected and not compromised."

Noynoy Aquino’s platform (http://www.noynoy.ph), on the other hand, is quite disappointing considering the "expertise" he’s supposed to have at his disposal. His "Social Contract with the Filipino People" seems like an archaic imitation of something Newt Gingrich cooked up almost two decades ago. Gingrich, however, gave something that Aquino does not: details. Nevertheless, Aquino’s "Contract" does have some heartwarming words: "An organized and widely shared rapid expansion of our economy through a government dedicated to honing and mobilizing our people’s skills and energies as well as the responsible harnessing of our natural resources." And he plans to do this by making "changes first in ourselves -- by doing the right things, by giving value to excellence and integrity and rejecting mediocrity and dishonesty, and by giving priority to others over ourselves." And Aquino declares "making education the central strategy for investing in our people, reducing poverty and building national competitiveness." Which is like a basketball coach saying that his plan is for his team to "shoot the ball and play defense."

Joseph Estrada’s platform (http://www.eleksyon.co.cc/joseph-erap-estrada-platform/ and http://erap.ph/) is also bereft of details. It pushes for a "pro-poor platform," and mentions "education, research," "medical missions, render health care services," "livelihood and self-help programs." It sounds like the platform of a guy running for mayor instead of president.

But for platforms composed of sheer motherhood statements, nothing can beat the lawyers. Gilbert Teodoro (http://www.eleksyon.co.cc/gilbert-teodoros-platform/ and wants to strengthen our educational system by developing "technical skills, mathematics, and English." A recommendation sure to be popular is his plan to add "two years to the original six years of elementary." He does promise a "loan system for the less fortunate." Teodoro declares that "the country needs more innovative ideas to fuel the industry and the economy," which should make us think again of the basketball coach analogy. Although in one speech, Teodoro did indicate his focus on the local rather than global: "While the rest of the world awaits the recovery of the global economy, the local economy must be strengthened." And he proffers good government, infrastructure, education, and health as key to economic development.

Richard Gordon’s platform reads like the political manifesto that it calls itself to be (Manifesto for Change; http://www.eleksyon.co.cc/richard-dick-gordons-platform/ and http://www.dickgordon2010.com/go/). The problem is, it doesn’t really say anything in terms of concrete plans. While it commendably (albeit repeatedly) dwells on Gandhi’s oft-repeated theme (sometimes to ad nauseam levels) "be the change you want to see," does he really expect to be elected president for saying something we already know?

A president has been likened to a ship captain: he must have a clear idea of the port he wants to reach and is capable of helming the ship to reach that port. The ability to inspire is nice. But in the end we need somebody who has a concrete idea of what needs to be done and (equally as important) can actually get things done.


Pope Benedict XVI's Ash Wednesday homily

Here is the English version of the homily delivered by Benedict XVI last Ash Wednesday. Excerpt:

"This long time of silence and fasting was for him a complete abandonment to the Father and to his plan of love; it was a 'baptism,' that is, an 'immersion' in his will, and in this sense, an anticipation of the Passion and the Cross. To go into the desert and to stay there a long time, alone, meant to be willingly exposed to the assaults of the enemy, the tempter who made Adam fall and through whose envy death entered the world (cf Wisdom 2:24); it meant engaging in open battle with him, defying him with no other weapons than limitless confidence in the omnipotent love of the Father. Your love suffices me, my food is to do your will (cf John 4:34): This conviction dwelt in the mind and heart of Jesus during that 'Lent' of his. It was not an act of pride, a titanic enterprise, but a decision of humility, consistent with the Incarnation and the Baptism in the Jordan, in the same line of obedience to the merciful love of the Father, who 'so loved the world that he gave his only Son' (John 3:16)."


A second look at 'abstinence' programs

Here's something that advocates of the RH Bill might want to consider:

"It may sound very academic and open-minded to say that we should respect our young people and let them take responsibility for their sexual health, but it's really an indictment on our society as parents and grown-ups who should know better. What is lacking is parenting, not respect. We've confused parenting with simply giving information. We've abdicated our own responsibility to shape their character by teaching right and wrong in favor of 'respecting' their individual choices. We've shrugged off the burden of formation and left our young people to figure it out for themselves according to popular opinion and momentary preference, guided mostly by hormones.

My kids would most likely choose not to eat fruits and vegetables if it were up to them. I regularly give them all the information about how they need to eat veggies for their health and explain all about the vitamins and good stuff veggies contain, yet their inclination is not towards their health. But if they eat nothing but candy and become overweight and undernourished with rotting teeth, at least I can say I gave them all the information and then respected their choice. I gave them the responsibility for their own good health because I respect them so much.

What is needed is for the adults to be adults and stop burdening the children with the 'responsibility' of sex, because we're not actually teaching responsibility; we're just shoving condoms in their hands and telling them how to use each other 'safely.' We simply reinforce the notion that sex is just physical and recreational and if they have sufficient pubic hair then it means the choice is theirs and there isn't much more we can say."

Reexamining FTAs

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

"Your friendly neighborhood Trade Tripper isn’t exactly the biggest fan of free trade agreements or FTAs. Although, pragmatically speaking, I should because with the increase in FTAs comes an increase in complexity in the trade arrangements of the Philippines. And complexity, as the joke goes, is something that any lawyer would love to pin his billings on."


Sex, lies, and the Catholic Church

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

The lie here is the one being circulated that the Catholic Church’s doctrines change and at times even reversed. That is not true. Proponents of the RH Bill, unable to respond to the Church’s expression of certainty on the subject, have now resorted to half-truths to question the Church’s infallibility (and absolute consistency) on matters of morals and faith. And their repeated and only example is that which Pope John Paul II referred to as the "myth" of Galileo Galilei.

The short answer is that the Catholic Church never questioned Galileo Galilei’s right to investigate if indeed the Earth circled the sun. Pope Urban VIII, a friend of Galileo, actually encouraged him to find proof to back up his conclusions precisely because the majority of the scientific community, not the Church, questioned Galileo’s findings. The Church had no problem with Galileo’s scientific work. But it did have a problem when Galileo, unable to prove his theories, started dabbling in theology. Which, understandably, is within the Church’s authority. And despite reasonable Church requests for Galileo to please stop using his erroneous theological interpretations to back up his science, Galileo became belligerent and obnoxious, and even insulted the very pope who wanted to help him. In the end, a specific office within the Church (but not -- and without -- the Church itself pronouncing doctrine) declared his theological pretensions as heretical. Not his science, remember, but his theological arguments. There is a big difference. If Galileo had stuck to science, the Church would have just let him be. And encouraged him the same way it encouraged Copernicus and Kepler. Even then, contrary to another lie, nobody tortured Galileo. The Church (by creditable accounts) treated Galileo very well even though he was spouting heresy.

Incidentally, the Church (and definitely including Pope Pius XII) never condemned Darwin nor his Origin of the Species. Instead, to anybody who actually read Humani Generis, the Church was quite deliberate and cautious in advising the faithful to regard the matter "with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure."

That is why it is misleading to present Pope John Paul II’s "apology" in 2000 with regard to Galileo as an example of a "reversal" of Church doctrine. Pope John Paul II made the apology as an act of charity and to reach out toward those within and without the Church by expressing regret for certain acts (overzealousness perhaps or even misjudgments) done by certain individuals acting for the Church. Pope John Paul II never said that the Church was wrong. And there was no reversal of any infallible doctrine precisely because there was no Church doctrine on the matter. This is clear. For there to be infallibility, a pope must (1) have spoken in his official capacity as St. Peter’s successor; (2) on a matter relating to faith or morals; and (3) he has actually solemnly proclaimed the doctrine as one to be followed by Catholics. All three elements were not present in the Galileo case.

The elements for infallibility, however, are present with regard to the Catholic Church’s stand on contraception. From the Bible’s Genesis and Deuteronomy, to Sts. Jerome, Augustine, and Frances de Sales, Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes, Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio and Theology of the Body lectures, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and as recently as Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate, this amounts to centuries and centuries of consistent, unchanging, and thoroughly reasoned expression of a truth that the Church encourages us to realize.

The Church, furthermore, made no distinctions between the immorality of contraception and the immorality of corruption or plunder, despite some ill-advised statements by some local priests that the local media blew out of proportion. And while not everybody could be as virile and sexy as the proponents of contraception (unlike those "aged" and "celibate" bishops), nevertheless, as some would say, you don’t have to be poor to understand the plight of the poor. Or have a heart attack to know it’s not good for you. Or be a monk to know that to be human is precisely to have control over our desires and compulsions, and not the other way around.

In the end, it becomes a matter of humility. The humility to realize that our intelligence is imperfect and that we have a capacity for self-deception, and that our individual consciences need to be guided by the Bible, holy tradition, and the Church (see Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 95). That, as one saint said, to "obey the pope, in even the smallest things, is to love him. And to love the Holy Father is to love Christ and his Mother, our most holy Mother, Mary." That, finally, Catholics need to live up to what we declare to everyone every Sunday, when during Mass we proclaim that we believe "in the holy Catholic Church."


Contraception: at odds with truth

An article by Catholic writer F. K. Bartels. Excerpts:

It is clear that the use of contraceptives, which is an 'intrinsically evil' act, has led to many other evils. ...

[T]here is an inseparable connection between our actions and God, for we are accountable before God for what we do, for how we live. Too, there is an inseparable connection between the marital act and procreation:

'That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning.'"


The genius of women

"How does imitating the rejected model of male domination qualify as progress for women?" Asks Sonja Corbitt (author and teacher). This quite well thought out article (In Support of Men: The Genius of Women) discusses an intelligent sort of feminism. Excerpts:

"Increasingly, I lack sympathy for women who pontificate about society’s double standards regarding gender while conveniently denying that we women have created it. Women who claim the right to sex without love, marriage, or children, yet bemoan that they can’t get men to respect them, simply reap the whirlwind after sowing the wind. Haven’t we heard the 'old wives' saying, 'Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free'?

Why should men be responsible providers and work to support their families when women are determined to do it or want the government to do it? Why should men marry women who live with them and take care of them in every way outside of marriage? Why should men be responsible fathers when women seek single motherhood through fertility treatment, divorce, and custody rulings?"


An unnecessary law

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

"In the world of international law, one saying that keeps popping up is how the Philippines seems to be 'more popish than the pope.' Really, we have created the very strong impression that we’d rather adhere to international law even over that of our own domestic laws (or interests) on any given subject. We’re probably the only country in this planet like that. The enactment of Republic Act 9851 or the 'Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity' supports that contention.

One thing immediately standing out upon a reading of that law is that the necessity for it, more so the urgency with which such a law was passed, is -- simply put -- not present. The Philippines, generally in its history and definitely at present, is not engaged in any international armed conflict. The Philippines, definitely under definitions that we should be espousing for the sake of national interest, is not engaged in any internal armed conflict. There is simply no historical and factual basis within which to make a proper frame of reference to draft a domestic legislation that would contain provisions that could appropriately apply the international standards that are apparently referred to in RA 9851. In short, we’re needlessly applying international standards to a domestic setting in a manner international law itself does not require.

It must be emphasized that any incidents that occur within the Philippines could validly and satisfactorily be dealt with by the application of the Constitution or current domestic penal or civil law. At most, perhaps the application of international customary human rights law or provisions of international human rights conventions that the Philippines entered into, by way of the utilization of the doctrine of incorporation, as embodied in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, would suffice. There is simply no need for the application of the international law on armed conflict, which is a specific branch of international law and for which the Philippines, factually and by way of wise legal policy, should consider itself in no way engaged for such branch of international law to be made applicable to it.

Indeed, there is a caveat contained in Section 2.g of RA 9851. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that such applies merely to the 'State' (i.e., the Republic of the Philippines). It does not prohibit (and neither can it prohibit) the use of any of the legal qualifications or concepts provided within RA 9851 as evidence by other states or entities recognized by international law or entities that could seek recognition under international law for purposes of granting or achieving the grant of such recognition of rights or status that may be had under international law. At the least, the probable weakening of any government negotiating position vis-a-vis any criminal group or international entity supporting such criminal group is palpable.

Finally, note that the provisions of Sections 3-6 are too general and ambiguous to encourage an effective implementation of the same within our domestic law system. This can be seen by comparing RA 9851 to our Revised Penal Code, the latter backed up as it is by the Code Commentaries of its authors, as well as jurisprudence and analysis accumulated through the years. The reference that RA 9851 makes to international agreements (e.g., Section 3.c, which makes reference to the 1949 Geneva Conventions) is really in practical terms of no help. International agreements are almost always worded in a general manner so as to allow a huge amount of leeway in the settlement of disputes at the state-to-state level. This also allows a state to correct by itself any situation it is involved in due to reasons of respect for and deference to sovereignty. From negotiations all the way up to international litigation, the matter would necessarily involve economic, political, diplomatic, developmental, and all other considerations aside from the legal. The difference, therefore, between the construct of the provisions of international agreements and the construct of provisions of domestic legislation, as well as the difference between state-to-state litigation and that of domestic litigation, is clear.

RA 9851, furthermore, contemplates the application of penal sanctions on individuals and for which quite specific and categorical definition of the elements must be necessarily considered. Considering the vulnerability of government troops or police personnel to litigation under the ambit of RA 9851, the disadvantage that it presents to the state for it to be able to protect itself effectively is too substantial to be ignored. This is considering already that the rewards sought (i.e., giving value to 'the dignity of every human person' and guaranteeing 'full respect for human rights') can be properly achieved, as mentioned above, through the application of our Constitution, and present penal and civil law provisions.

Frankly, what we should be focusing on is the strengthening of our institutions and advancing our interests rather than work for the applause of foreigners."


A proper revolution

A timely call from Jennifer Hartline for restraint, dignity, and common sense. Excerpts:

"The phrase 'safe sex' betrays the fact the there is danger waiting to be encountered. Life-altering, even deadly danger. And yet, the expert counsel is not to make the case for abstinence and actively discourage sexual activity, but to resign ourselves to the cop-out idea that the dangers can't be avoided so we'd best teach them all the tricks we know, even if those tricks are unreliable and fraught with their own inherent dangers. Hey, it's the best we can do, and beyond that, we just cross our fingers and hope for the best (the least amount of damage done).

So great is the need for common sense and maturity to interrupt this circle of asinine thinking! What kind of craziness sends young people into the minefield that is unmarried sexual activity rather than looking them in the eye and saying, 'This might kill you! This could change your life forever! You need to protect yourself by saying NO.'? Condoms are lauded and hailed as 'smart', the Pill is called 'freedom', but abstinence is dismissed as a stupid idea only religious fools support. We don't bother to arm our children with respect, self-control, and the knowledge that they do not have to be slaves to their hormones; instead we bet their futures and their lives on a piece of latex."