Hillary's lesson for Noynoy

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

I’m still smarting from the fact that my twin brother David Miliband lost out to (his) brother Ed in the recent Labour leadership vote. While the policy differences between the two seem quite exaggerated, nevertheless, I still believe that in the longer term, things would be far better for Labour and the UK with "Miliband D" at the helm. But that’s how politics go and it would be interesting to see the true mettle of David Miliband if he can bounce back from this undoubtedly crushing defeat.

However, after the sublimity of British politics, I now dwell on the whatever-it-is of Philippine politics. It’s actually quite gratifying to see our President gleefully act like a child, whether it be munching with his mouth open on New York hot dogs or gigglingly play a video game at the Hewlett-Packard offices or meekly not protesting that our flag was hoisted upside down when he met US President Obama.

In any event, one has to admire our President’s self-belief. Noynoy definitely is not one for letting facts or reality guide his actions. One day after receiving $434 million from the US to address poverty in our country (actually negotiated by former President Arroyo), he then goes to the United Nations to lecture the world on how to combat poverty. Even more interesting is that he even encouraged the world to imitate us: "It is my earnest hope, and in the greatest interest of humanity, that we harness the energies of dialogue, solidarity and communal responsibility, so that a global People Power toward equitable progress may be achieved." Latest data shows that around 40% of Filipino kids below 5 years old are severely undernourished, with self-rated poverty (according to the SWS) now at 43% (equivalent to an estimated 8.1 million families). Also from the SWS, 21.2% (about 4 million households) declared not having anything to eat the last three months. An ADB study ("Poverty in the Philippines: Causes, Constraints, and Opportunities") reported that the number of poor Filipinos increased to 27.6 million. The World Bank pegged "the overall incidence of poverty" to an increased 32.9%.

Assuredly, our beloved President declares, "my people have shown that, united, nothing is impossible. We called it People Power." Ah, so that’s what it’s called. And this coming from a guy whose administration just humiliated our country for being unable to act as a team during a hostage crisis.

Noynoy capped off his UN speech with a call to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty, hunger, better health services, and improved educational systems. This from a President whose own Cabinet official admitted that the Philippines is unlikely to meet a commitment to halve poverty levels by 2015, with his government lagging with respect to three critical areas: education, maternal health, and battling HIV/AIDS.

Thankfully for the world, it was reported by one newspaper that there "were only a handful of delegates present when the President spoke." This was justified by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo by saying that Noynoy’s speaking slot was purposely chosen as "the President had many other things to attend to." Like eating hot dogs and playing videogames? Besides, if he truly believed in the importance of his message, shouldn’t Noynoy have angled for a better time slot to speak at the UN?

Which leads us to Secretary Clinton’s choice remarks at the Millennium Challenge Corporation signing ceremony: "But let’s be very honest here. Too many [Filipinos] feel that they cannot progress in their own country. Too many of them feel that the elite in business and politics basically call the shots, and there’s not much room for someone who’s hardworking, but not connected. Too many of them believe that even if they get the best education they can, that there won’t be an opportunity for them, and so they take that education and help build someone else’s economy, very often here in the United States."

Clinton reiterated what commentators Studwell, Sharma, Macaranas, Bello, to books like The Rulemakers, Booty Capitalism, Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society, Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic, and Anarchy of Families have been saying: it’s our elite that’s wrecking this country. And the poster boy for that elite, our President, responded by saying something quite strange: "In the presidential palace in Manila, there is a painting titled the Blood Compact. It portrays the first treaty of friendship between a Filipino ruler and the representative of a foreign power." -- our President bizarrely ignoring the fact that such "compact" led to the invasion of our country.

Noynoy closes off his meeting with Hillary by saying that "we are two nations bound by a shared commitment to the same ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." What constitution or history book does this guy and his speechwriters read?? Weird.

Then Noynoy comes home and in a span of 24 hours flip-flops on the contraception issue. Weird.


The smartest guy in the room

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

Pope Benedict’s recent visit to the UK is justly considered historic and a success. He pulled off a cogent and reasoned position of the Church amongst various issues, particularly on the role of religion in public life. Unfortunately, the visit also highlighted the rising struggle among those who seek to rid religion in all spheres of public discourse, including science and politics. What’s disconcerting is how many Catholics, a substantial number of Filipino Catholics included, actually welcomed the attacks being done against the Church. They act in error.

The significance of the Pope’s visit should be placed within the context of two things. The first is Stephen Hawking’s recent pronouncement that God is unnecessary as physics seem to be able to explain a universe that could come into being and exist without Him. The second is the ongoing dilemma of child abuse allegations.

Regarding the first, the conflict is more apparent than real. The Church never opposed science and many scientific endeavors actually have been undertaken because of the Church’s support. And the Church never claimed the Bible to be a scientific treatise. Obviously, Jesus was not making a scientific pronouncement on whether lilies grow in fields (they don’t) or whether the mustard seed is indeed the smallest seed (it’s not). Laying aside differences that inevitably arise from translation (from the original Aramaic or Greek to Latin or English), the Bible is read from the spiritual view and definitely read within the living tradition of the Church, which takes cognizance of scientific developments. The point is that faith, science, and even politics can and should get along. Pope Benedict put it more directly in his address at Westminster Abbey: “[faith and reason] need one another.” Having said that, Hawking would actually be making logic’s equivalent of a leap of faith if he indeed made the absurd claim that mathematical calculations can determine how God thinks or how He spends His time.

As to the child abuse allegations, this is indeed unfortunate and Pope Benedict has expressed “sorrow” for such “filth” (his words). To claim that the Church is evil or engaged in a cover-up (the Pope included) is downright wrong. The Church has no power to imprison priests who abused children. That was the purview of secular governments, which could have prosecuted, arrested, and imprisoned those responsible. They haven’t and one wonders why such is not being questioned by the media.

The Church certainly did all it could within its authority under existing canon law, including relieving any of the priests that were charged with such heinous acts. Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, never had the mandate to punish abusive priests. His office at the time dealt only on doctrinal issues. To say that the Church engaged in cover-ups is misleading – the Church, refusing to indulge today’s tabloid culture, simply believes in proceeding in a restrained and discreet manner.

Child abuse is really a serious problem. From the Boy Scouts, to the military, the academe, to families (particularly with regard to incest), and other religions, the struggle to deal with this continues. The Church is certainly not alone in having this problem but it’s also equally certain that it has met this issue head on.

The Church never claimed to be pure. It openly acknowledges it is populated by very human sinners (and if you’ve read the history of our Church you’d know it has had some incredibly unbelievable sinners, including some really crazy popes). One should remember that “Church” is not limited to bishops and priests but includes you and me. Also important: at every Sunday mass we profess to believe “in the holy Catholic Church”. This has two significant points: since we declared that we believe in the Church, to then attack it is ridiculous; finally, the Church is not “holy” because of priests or us but because God willed it to be holy. No amount of pervert priests (or sinners like us) will render the Church not holy; it is holy not through our efforts but because of God’s sanctification of it (see Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Finally, we should all be so thankful that at this crucial time in the Church’s history we’ve been blessed with Pope Benedict XVI. Rarely has the papacy had a man of immense intellectual gifts. Experts are almost unanimous in saying that, particularly had Joseph Ratzinger been left alone to write, he is perhaps the greatest theologian of the past 100 years. Writer David Gibson would call him “the smartest man in the room.” Hawking, Dawkins, or Hitchens? On pure brainpower, I’d put my money on Benedict.

So, although it’s indeed fashionable now for a substantial number of Filipinos to support stupidity and incompetence, we should at least make an exception for Pope Benedict XVI. Let’s support and pray for God’s chosen instrument to lead our faith.



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

I miss silence. I miss it. Manila, for all it is to me, unfortunately lacks that one thing in a place that I consider beautiful and that is silence. (Manila also lacks order, but that is another article). Everywhere one is hounded by noise. Natural or unnatural. Good sounds and bad. Noise that is heard and noise that is seen (Buy Now! A must see! Kasama ako sa pagbabago!!!). I miss silence.

What is it with the Filipino and his aversion to silence? One cannot go anywhere in this city without being besieged by sound. Every cafĂ© must have jazz music playing in the background, hotel lobbies have their classical sounds, elevators have their... well, elevator music. And malls just play anything as loudly as possible. And the jeepneys and tricycles! Work in an office and it’s an everyday battle with the secretaries to please tone down their radios.

Is there something about silence that people hate? Admittedly, as anybody who actually experienced true silence knows, it’s not something to be trifled with. I’m not talking here of the silence of spas, what with dripping water and soothing guitar music. I am talking of that true silence knowing that no messages will be received from cellphones, without wifi’s to chat with or receive e-mails from, no cable, and no iPod.

Experience true silence for the first time and one encounters a huge amount of noise. This time, all in your head. One’s fears, insecurities, hatreds, desires all come arguing and screaming. One imagines oneself beating enemies to complete submission, replaying scenes of humiliation, and constructing imaginary scenes of glory. With true silence, one eventually gets to see oneself as one is. One is unable to lie with silence. With silence, one knows oneself.

But perhaps that’s why a lot of people here abhor silence. Because without the external noises, nothing is left to the mind but bare truths. Anxieties, obsessions, and lusts are all exposed so personally by silence’s unmitigated relentless glare. However, the most terrifying thing about silence, true silence, is its ability to expose emptiness. That after all the new cellphones, fancy job titles, new car bought from the company car loan, restaurant hopping with friends, one is brought to the fact that perhaps one is, in the end, empty, nothing.

But to fear silence is a mistake. Silence, as Henri Nouwen once pointed out, acts like a furnace, which melts away the impurities and non-essentials of who we are. Because silence acts like the hit of cold water, a shock to the system that then becomes soothing, refreshing, healthy. Silence disciplines us to introspection, leading us to what is truly important, providing us clarity in our thought, and -- in the end -- clarity within ourselves.

One need not go to the mountains or a monastery to attain silence. Go to a chapel, shut the door of your bedroom, or simply sit still in your cubicle, and turn off all that is in technology that shouts out noise. Or just simply, stop talking.

People nowadays talk too much. They use 20 words when one would do. The blabber of words comes in torrents, stream of consciousness-like that makes me disconcerted at what actually lies in their subconscious. Either because of the call center culture pervading or Oprah’s let’s-share-all mentality, people talk nonstop in bars, coffeeshops, elevators, everywhere. Words now have seemingly no substance, distorting even those virtues previously understood as honesty, discretion, and commitment.

Coming from a lawyer and law lecturer, to stop talking may seem like a strange suggestion, but, frankly, talking is becoming the least favorite activity of mine. It’s not for avoiding mistakes that I dislike talking (although that is a fringe benefit), but the simple act of conversing leaves me with an ill-feeling, a bad taste in the mouth, a feeling of tiredness. It’s perhaps in my life I’ve come to the realization that what is worth doing is better done than talked about and those not worth doing are not worth discussing anyway.

Unfortunately for my students (and my family), I cannot exactly shut up every minute of the day. I don’t recommend, obviously, that you start acting like mute monks. Relating to people is part of our lives. But I do recommend that you spend at least 30 minutes to an hour a day devoted to silence (and its partner -- solitude).

Although silence does bring discipline to your mind (and your being), nevertheless, it also requires a certain amount of discipline to regularly keep that silence on a daily basis. So pick a certain time of the day most amenable to your schedule, call it an appointment with yourself. Talk to yourself, to your journal, to God. Stick to it daily. Shut everything off and just listen to what’s inside of you.

What with all the insanity going around us nowadays, silence is a blessing.


The Pope, governance, and siopao

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

To not put a too fine point to it: where is this country going? The mess is obvious -- public officials are acting like Keystone Cops running around in several directions, the President’s strategic communications team being all "sound and fury signifying nothing," and our President, with fire in his belly, decides to fill it with Emerald siopao instead of leading. Also, considering how serious the country’s problems are, one would have thought that this is the one time not to have officials who would need "on-the-job training." Unfortunately, for the local government, tourism, and even finance areas, "OJTs" seem to be the fashion.

The foregoing also betrays what happens when one has no unity and clarity in thought, principles, and values. One can’t build an entire government platform on the ridiculous propaganda of zero corruption. There must be something greater than that: an idea of what the Philippines stands for. Frankly, one can’t expect that if the person in charge is still in the process of finding out who he is. This goes for his minions too.

Which led me to thinking about Pope Benedict XVI and his Caritas in Veritate. Because here we see a brilliant (if not beautiful) illustration of what happens when one has clarity of thought, continuity, and unity. The Pope in his encyclical drew on a variety of sources from within the Catholic Church and yet demonstrates to us the Church’s entirely coherent unified teaching, consistent with the past but particularly grounded in the present, and yet with an eye to the future.

On justice, Pope Benedict talks about how "every society draws up its own system of justice. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is ‘mine’ to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is ‘his’, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot ‘give’ what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity."

In relation to my field on international economic law, Pope Benedict reminds us that: "The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility."

Like any human endeavor, economics (like politics) "is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner."

Obviously, Pope Benedict’s encyclical is too rich to be discussed within the confines of my 800-word column. But just to give you an idea of his depth of thought, not to mention practical common sense, here is what he says regarding contraception: "If there is lack of respect for the right to life and a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational system and laws do not help them to respect themselves."

The point here is that our values and ethics must be the anchor for our policies and positions. For far too long, we’ve been doing it the other way around. And we cannot continue treating government as the domain of individual fiefdoms. There must be unity in our policies and measures. Otherwise, we’ll end up with, to paraphrase St. Augustine, a government that is "just a bunch of thieves." Or perhaps, equally as disturbing, the Keystone Cops, the Three Stooges, and the boy who likes siopao.


Protecting OFW's

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

While this administration and its civil society henchmen (which includes those unbelievably fanatical ladies who lunch) are still trying to get their stories straight as to who takes the blame for the Quirino hostage blunder (obviously it can never be Noynoy or Robredo but merely those people under their control and supervision), our thoughts turn to those Filipinos working abroad and for whom this fiasco could potentially work against their welfare.

"Services" is obviously a bid deal for the Philippines. Some commentators even go to the extent of saying that if it weren’t for the remittances given by the OFWs this country would have tanked a long time ago. According to the Trade Policy Review conducted by the WTO on the Philippines in 2005:

"The services sector accounted for 60.7% of GDP and well over half of total employment in 2004 (Table I.2). The main sectors are trade (14.1% of GDP in 2004, helped, according to authorities, by entry of foreign retailers), private services (12.5%), government services (8.1%), transport and communications (7.6%), ownership of dwellings and real estate (6.1%), construction (4.5%), finance (4.4%) and electricity, gas, and water (3.2%).

"The Philippines’ commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) included financial services, communications, transport, and tourism and travel-related services. The Philippines significantly expanded commitments on financial services under the WTO financial services negotiations and on basic telecommunications under the WTO negotiations on basic telecommunication services. However, it has not accepted the Fourth (basic telecommunications) or Fifth (financial services) Protocols of the GATS. The Philippines’ GATS commitments have not changed since its previous Review as services negotiations are on-going."

The GATS would be the one international instrument that could most likely be considered crucial for purposes of determining the rights of WTO members with regard to the exchange of services between them. Like other WTO agreements, the GATS is governed by the MFN principle and, under specific conditions, that of national treatment. Thus, Article XVII.1 of the GATS provides: "In the sectors inscribed in its Schedule, and subject to any conditions and qualifications set out therein, each Member shall accord to services and service suppliers of any other Member, in respect of all measures affecting the supply of services, treatment no less favourable than that it accords to its own like services and service suppliers."

The focus, however, that we have considering recent incidents would be the OFWs -- essentially not the services we import but rather the services we export. The "export" of services that we make are generally characterized under WTO practice as the "mode 4" type of services or the "presence of natural persons." For obvious reasons, considering the nature of the export being made, not only are we concerned with regard to the effect of any foreign country measure on the income being remitted by the OFWs but also on the actual effect that any foreign country measure or practice may have on the person or welfare of the OFW themselves.

It had been reported that the Department of Labor and Employment recently issued the implementing rules and regulations for Republic Act 10022. The said law and rules seek to provide protection to OFWs by giving clearer definition of recruitment agencies’ obligations to the same. These include the repatriation, at agencies’ cost, of OFWs for reason of the latter’s safety. However, most of these rules deal with the enforcement should the wrongdoer be the recruitment agencies. These would normally not cover instances where it is the foreign country or citizens who are actually harming the OFWs. Accordingly, it was also reported that plans are being set up to prohibit the recruitment of Filipinos for work to be done in countries which has no bilateral agreement with the Philippines regarding the treatment of OFWs. This, obviously, is a step in the right direction for two reasons: first, because there are apparently 197 countries where OFWs are currently in; and, finally, because the GATS doesn’t seem very helpful for OFWs at present.

Tomer Broude, law lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in his 2007 paper "The WTO/GATS Mode 4: International Labor Migration Regimes and Global Justice," found that: "However, the GATS Mode 4 spectacularly fails to meet any of these criteria. It is as ineffective in the promotion of global distributive justice as it is in the strengthening of migration policy enforcement, and as inadequate in the protection of human rights as it is in the prevention of seriously detrimental effects of labour migration. The establishment of a global labour migration regime that is morally permissible, politically possible and likely to be effective (Rawls: 1999, 89) will no doubt require careful consideration, negotiation and time; but the GATS Mode 4 does not appear to be the appropriate model, in too many senses."

Just another reason to work harder on getting a good Doha conclusion. And why we desperately need truly informed, experienced, intelligent leadership.