Thoughts on a double vodka

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

It was James Thurber who once insightfully said: “One martini is alright, two are too many, and three are not enough.” And this being a somewhat wettish December, this adage also comes to mind: “I must get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.”

The article last week (“A very significant announcement,” BusinessWorld, 23 December 2011) was not based on this writer’s imaginings, much as I’d like to take credit for it. The details were culled from various sources, among which are the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, the non-canonical gospel according to James, historians account of the environment and economy of Nazareth, and -- of course -- the Gospels according to Sts. Matthew and Luke.

Incidentally, the story pushed around by secular media that Jesus was not born on December 25 and that the said date was actually a pagan festival co-opted by the Catholic Church has been shown to be a lie by Biblical scholars. As Rev. Dwight Longenecker explains: “In 386, St. John Chrysostom preached a sermon linking the date for Christmas to the date of the Annunciation. He does so in a way that suggests that this was already an established belief. The date of the Annunciation was based on a Jewish tradition that the world was created on March 25, or Nisan 15, according to the Jewish calendar. The Jews also believed that a great man would die on the same day as his conception. The early Christians [who were of course Jews] therefore concluded that Jesus had been conceived on March 25. This made it the date of the world’s creation, and the start of the world’s redemption [and therefore the new creation]. It’s easy. If the Lord Jesus Christ was conceived on March 25, then he was born nine months later on December 25.”

In relation to which, it must be noted that Pope Benedict XVI restored the tradition of chanting the “Kalenda,” which proclaims the birth of Christ: “Today, the twenty-fifth day of December... is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.” One has to love this Pope, uncompromising regarding the faith and simply always the smartest man in the room, whoever else may be in that room.

Speaking of smart people, Germany’s Merkel has a Phd in physics, UK’s Cameron is an Etonian and (unfortunately) Oxonian, US’ Obama is Harvard, Indonesia’s Yudhoyono studied at the US Army Command and General Staff College and Webster University, Malaysia’s Mohd Najib from Nottingham, Singapore’s Lee is a Cantabian (as all truly smart people are), while India’s Singh is an Oxbridge man. Of course, we have the most prepared and best of all possible leaders in Noynoy, and this is shown in his soaring popularity and satisfaction ratings. I’m sure those affected by Sendong are utterly grateful that he is at this country’s helm.

And speaking of Noynoy, there have been some really brainless, even insane arguments, and Pro-RH ranks highest among these. The arguments have so much condom in the brain, these guys are no longer able to think straight. Besides, how much of a free thinker can they be if they’re actually accepting the fact they’re ruled by mere advertising, compulsions, and neuroses? Perhaps if the politicians and public commentators supporting RH would admit to a purer, if less benign reason, such as the fact that they actually just want to get their hands on the millions of dollars supposedly waiting at the Millennium Development Fund, then their arguments would have a little more logic (and reality).

This leads to the depressing thought that teaching law is increasingly becoming a futile exercise. After all, how useful can legal education be when everybody, by which I mean the top officials of the land, brazenly disregard our Constitutional principles and precepts? How responsible would it be for me to encourage law students to study and work hard when our leaders insist in hiring the most mediocre of lawyers? As it stands, today’s law students are better off partying with the sons of politicians, as well as dropping by Welfareville for a dose of insanity (which seems a prerequisite for those who want to make it good nowadays).

Which then makes me think of the country’s recent loss at the WTO in the Distilled Spirits case. The Appellate Body ruling gives the impression of being an English language lesson, what with it’s protracted discussions on “like,” “similar,” “directly competing,” and “substitutable” products. But which also emphasized how basic the issues were. And, more importantly, what was the point of our defense again? Sheeesh.

In the end, as always, it is Frank Sinatra, quoting General Irving Lincoln, at the great Sands concert with Count Basie, who puts it best: “I pity those who don’t drink because when they get up in the morning that’s as good as they’re going to feel for the rest of the day.”


A very significant announcement

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

The morning air blazed insistently and the sun seemed to have come out earlier than usual. The young girl stretched her arms and let out a slight yawn. She could hear her mother in the kitchen, her father packing his satchel to go to the temple. Mary sat on the edge of the bed, gathering her thoughts, letting the sleep get out of her head.

Anna, Mary’s mother, pokes her head into the bedroom. “Get up Mary. What’s wrong with you?” Mary lets out an impish grin and lies back again in bed. “Awww... I want to sleep more,” she teases. Anna grabs Mary’s arms and playfully pulls her. “No, get up,” she says, “I have to go to the market. I want you to fill the vats with water before I get back.” Mary follows her mother out of the room. A slice of bread was on the table and she washes her face with water. “Mary, stop splashing water all over the place!” her mother yells. “You clean that up, get more water from the well, and don’t forget to feed the chickens!” Anna continues, stepping out of the house, her words almost muffled by the shawl she wrapped around her. “Buy me figs, Mama!” Mary called out. “Yes,” was Anna’s weary reply. Joachim, Mary’s father, rushes out of his study. He kisses Mary on the forehead, gives her a hug, and runs after Anna so they could walk together.

Alone, Mary shuffles around the quiet stone house, munching on her bread, and played a little with her dolls by annoying the family cat with it. The cat runs away. Mary shrugs. Just over a year ago her life was vastly different. She worked in the temple and her daily routine alternated between service to the temple elders and study. But there was also lots of playtime with girls her age. It was a good life and Mary had no complaints. She even got to see her father at work every day. And since Nazareth was near the trade routes, there was always interesting news from Egyptian and Mesopotamian travellers who dropped by the temple.

Then she turned 12 years old. “Look here, my favorite daughter,” her father teasingly said, as she happened to be Joachim’s and Anna’s only child, “we’ll have to marry you off.” Several suitors immediately turned up. But it was the quiet Joseph, who dealt with good humor a pesky dove who insisted on sitting on Joachim’s head that sealed the deal. Joseph, however, had to go away on business for a year. In the meantime, Mary waited at her parents’ house.

Water and chicken chores done, she decided to cool off a little bit in her bedroom. It was while she was reminiscing over her favorite cousin Elizabeth, elderly but always ready with the jokes and now amazingly pregnant, that it happened.

There was a flash of white light and then there he suddenly was. He looked young, thought Mary of the strange visitor. It took her a while before she decided it was a boy she was talking to, well he seemed like a boy -- very fine features and his hair a bouncy blond. He tightly held a little trumpet. Even so, Mary had to admit feeling a little bit scared of this somewhat adorable, albeit odd, intruder. It was when he spoke, however, that cold terror hit her: Mary, you are to conceive by the Holy Spirit, give birth to a boy, you shall call him Jesus.

It took a while and a fair bit of frantic cajoling by the youth, but Mary eventually settled down. She began to think: is this kid for real? He seemed quite detailed, even giving me the baby’s name. But if I get pregnant as he described it my parents would be dishonored. Joseph too and he’d leave me. Who’d take care of me? I’d be disgraced, an outcast; assuming I don’t get stoned to death. And yet ...

Gabriel would later say it was the most nerve wracking assignment he ever had. And he was used to big jobs: engineering John the Baptist’s birth, supervising the seraphims and cherubims, and he even has the task of declaring the start of the apocalypse. But this, this waiting for the answer of a girl just approaching her teens, made him sweat. “I tell you,” he would later say with a laugh to Michael and Raphael, “my heart stopped when she was about to open her mouth and give her decision.” Actually, what Gabriel didn’t realize, because he was so nervous, was that the whole of creation, including time, actually did stop, waiting in equally great trepidation the choice that Mary was about to make. Simply put, the fate of everything created now depended on the answer of this simple unassuming girl.

Then it came: “Be it done to me according to your word.”


Gay rights and marriage

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

The problem when one wants to put into public query and analysis anything related to gay rights, particularly as to marriage, is that one nearly always runs into the inevitable accusations of intolerance, bigotry, or even stupidity. But the stupidity lies actually in not questioning and objectively examining popularly held presumptions, particularly when such have widely acquired favor in media or among the so-called fashionable circles.

But it would be good to proceed from a position that I’m sure nobody would find reason to disagree with: that the family is a very important basic social unit and to allow the deterioration of this important institution would lead to a consequent depreciation of society. As Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson found: “Family structure is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, predictor of variations in urban violence across cities in the United States.” Thus, where the institution of the family goes, so goes a country. That is why our Constitution -- wisely -- mandated that the State “protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.”

So proceeding on the importance of the family as a basic institution of society, the comment by Rick Fitzgibbons, director of Comprehensive Counseling Services and one who practiced psychiatry for 35 years, is pertinent: “The most important issue is the welfare of the child. Social science research has repeatedly demonstrated the vital importance of both a father and a mother for the healthy development of children and the serious risks that they face if they are raised without a mother or a father. Mothers and fathers bring unique gifts that are essential to the health of a child.”

It must be considered that the objections posited here place no reliance on religious doctrine, Catholic or otherwise. The need to reject homosexual unions finds its basis in natural law. As Princeton’s Robert P. George (Sex and the Empire State, 28 June 2011) says: “... once one buys into the ideology of sexual liberalism, the reality that has traditionally been denominated as ‘marriage’ loses all intelligibility. That is true whether one regards oneself politically as a liberal or a conservative. For people who have absorbed the central premises of sexual liberation (whether formally and explicitly, as liberals tend to do, or merely implicitly as those conservatives who have gone in for it tend to do), marriage simply cannot function as the central principle or standard of rectitude in sexual conduct x x x The idea that sexual intercourse (the behavioral component of reproduction) consummates and actualizes marriage as a one-flesh union of sexually complementary spouses naturally ordered to the good of procreation loses its force and even its sense. x x x As a result, to the extent that one is in the grip of sexual-liberationist ideology, one will find no reason of moral principle why people oughtn’t to engage in sexual relations prior to marriage, cohabit in non-marital sexual partnerships, form same-sex sexual partnerships, or confine their sexual partnerships to two persons, rather than three or more in polyamorous sexual ensembles.”

Hence the need for greater reflection regarding any expansion of gay rights. Senate Bill No. 2814 and House Bill No. 1483 are two draft laws that ostensibly appear harmless, even necessary at the outset, asking as they do for the outlawing of discrimination based on “sexual orientation.” But it is highly important that people be given the time to scrutinize and ponder over the proposed legislations and their consequences. While no bill presently seeks to allow marriage between people of the same sex, nevertheless the probability of it happening through “creeping” legislation is there. Notably, HB No. 1483 even demands unconditional employment for homosexuals in the military and educational institutions (regardless if the school is a nursery or kindergarten).

However, as George notes, “... people should care because the whole edifice of sexual-liberationist ideology is built on damaging and dehumanizing falsehoods. It has already done enormous harm -- harm that falls on everybody, but disproportionately on those in the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of our society. If you doubt that, have a look at Myron Magnet’s great book The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass, or some of the writings of Kay Hymowitz and other serious people who have examined the social consequences for the poor of the embrace of sexual liberalism by celebrities and other cultural elites.”

A distinction must be emphatically made between the person, and the inclination and related action. As regards every individual, respect, tolerance, and charity should indeed be given. However, natural law tells us that the homosexual inclination is “disordered,” the same (along with the action) being at variance with the basic “human goods” determined by right reason. Accordingly, same sex marriages are to be denied, it inevitably not conforming with the unitive and procreative aspects that make marriage what it is and for its consequent effect on the family and society.


The still-unconvincing ICC

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

Thursday last week I had the honor of being invited to talk as reactor at the Regional Forum on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court organized by LAWASIA Philippines and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. There I again raised my doubts -- not as to the need for the ICC (which is a different issue all its own) but on the wisdom of the Philippines joining it at this time.

To reiterate, the ICC is a permanent institution, exercising jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern. Envisioned to operate similarly to the International Court of Justice, the Court instead exercises jurisdiction over individuals committing the crimes of genocide, aggression, serious violations of laws and customs applicable to armed conflict, crimes against humanity, and other such crimes.

Note that the Philippines signed into the Rome Statute on 28 December 2000. The Senate gave its concurrence to this on 30 August 2011, with Philippine membership effectively starting on 1 November 2011. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it must also be remembered, entered into force on 1 July 2002. The ICC, like any criminal court, however, works prospectively. Thus, any statement (assuming the local advocates for the ICC were actually serious when they said it) that with the ICC former President Gloria Arroyo can be held accountable for whatever or that the alleged human rights victims during the Marcos administration can get justice or Japan can now be made to pay further reparations to the comfort women are clearly ridiculous.

Furthermore, it must be emphasized that the Philippines is not involved in any international armed conflict. The Philippines, definitely under legal definitions that we should be espousing for the sake of national interest, is also not engaged in any internal armed conflict. The chances of the Philippines, therefore, in making use of the ICC to protect its citizens is minimal. Notably, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, or China (our co-claimants to the Spratly or Kalayaan islands) or Libya, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, or Pakistan (where a lot of our OFWs are) are not parties to the ICC. This means that we can’t even use the ICC to protect our soldiers defending our interests or OFW rights. In any event, there are other avenues available to the Philippines in that regard.

A further reason for the nonnecessity of the Philippines joining the ICC is the enactment of RA 9851 or the “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.” While another ill-conceived and sloppily thought-out law, nevertheless, it does make Philippine membership in the ICC a completely un-urgent matter (if not a redundancy). In any event, we should not be distracted from the fact that any incident that occurs within the Philippines could validly and satisfactorily be dealt with by simply implementing our Constitution and domestic laws. At most, 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.

Which leads me to my biggest concern regarding our joining the ICC: the possibility that international criminal cases can be hurled against our police or military officers, even public officials, upon the mere instigation by any foreign or local individual. There is simply no safeguard against the probability that prosecutions can be made against our public or military officials due to ideological or foreign funded interests. Which directs us to issues of national security and national interests. Assuming that the Philippines want to assert its rights in relation to territorial integrity, particularly in Mindanao, our public and military officials will now be working warily under the cloud that at any moment they could be hauled off to and imprisoned by an international court just because charges were filed by some domestic crusading lawyer out to make a name for himself.

That is why Sudan, Israel, and the US have “unsigned” from the Rome Statute. And that is why African countries are now thinking of doing the same, frustrated as they are that the ICC, after being in operation for nine years, seems only interested in prosecuting Africans, thus raising suspicions of Western or racial bias. Hence my insistence: yes, human rights in this country should be aggressively protected. But to do so is a matter I would trust fellow Filipinos with, who knows our particular circumstances (eccentric they may be) rather than some foreigner at The Hague.

Frankly, I find it profoundly bizarre that the government is openly contemptuous of our very own Supreme Court and yet display huge confidence in a foreign “international” court. I also find it disappointing that, rather than make policies designed to advance national interests, our government instead prefers to stoop down and satisfy a single politician’s wish of joining an international tribunal.


Anti-trust and corruption

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

If there’s one thing that foreign businesses hope to pass through Congress without much fuss then it must be the long-sought competition law. Which probably means Congress (and the rest of country) should indeed make a fuss about it. The fact that the imports/exports situation of our country remains uncertain up to the next year is no reason to rush any competition/anti-trust legislation. The question is not whether we should have a competition law (we should) but rather to have a competition law that will work primarily for the interests of Filipinos.

As I’ve continuously written, Filipinos should be more discerning about the strong possibility of foreign corporations sneaking up in acquiring Filipino companies or influence to the point that monopoly powers are exercised from beyond Philippine jurisdiction, constricting Filipino entrepreneurial efforts and damaging local consumer interests. Seemingly, Section 3 of Senate Bill 3197 (Competition Act of 2009) interestingly describes the enforceability of the intended law to be “within the territory of the Republic of the Philippines x x x including those that result from acts done outside the Republic of the Philippines.”

The fact that jurisdiction is had over offenses committed within the Philippines is par for the course -- territoriality being a long accepted jurisdictional premise within Philippine law. However, the latter portion of Section 3 is fascinating, flirting as it does with the probability of jurisdiction being extended by reason of either the protective principle or the passive personality principle of jurisdiction (the former being embodied, as an exception within our body of criminal law and jurisprudence, in Article 2 of the Revised Penal Code). It could also be indicative of Philippine acceptance of the emerging “effects doctrine” (more like that of objective territoriality doctrine), which is being increasingly employed by the US (e.g. the Helms-Burton and Sarbox laws, as well as the strange case of US vs. Alvarez-Machain).

Continuing from this line of thought would be the relationship of competition law with corruption. Competition policy, in its simplest form, primarily deals with the state of competition internally, that is, with regard to the state of competition within a country’s borders. However, the economic situation of the country is a bit different from, say US or the EU. There, the people who lead in business would not be the same people who comprise government. While undoubtedly relationships exists between the two groups in any country, that is a far cry from having the same families actually in control of both business and government. Which is the case in the Philippines: any cursory reading of our history would show that the same names in government and business appear over and over and over and over again. The same families would side with the Spanish against the Katipunan, collaborate with the Americans, then collaborate with the Japanese, then collaborate with each other in utter disregard of the interests of the country. It is no accident that the most heinous and damaging instances of corruption in the country were at the instigation or committed by these so-called “elite” families.

Thus, the use of the term “historic accident” in SB 3197 is curious for a law that should be forward looking. Also interesting is that when one looks at three domestic industries which are under varying degrees of trade remedy protection from the government -- if recent trade remedy petitions data are accurate, the local ceramics industry has around 50% local market share, float glass (85%), and soap raw materials such as STPP (90%) -- are, apparently under SB 3197, “monopolies.” Note that Section 6 of SB 3197 provides that: “It shall be unlawful for any firm to willfully monopolize, or knowingly attempt to monopolize, x x x Provided, That, a firm that has at least fifty percent (50%) of the relevant market as found and certified by the Department of Trade and Industry or the Concerned regulatory agency shall be deemed a monopoly.”

While there remains the fact that (as found by law professors David Trubek and Alvaro Santos) “the connection between eliminating corruption and ‘development’ remains obscure” -- thus demonstrating the idiocy of basing a government program on a slogan -- nevertheless, corruption is clearly not a victimless crime. Vast amounts of money that could have been used for education or health are instead diverted to less altruistic enterprises. It may have even diverted potential investments away from the country. Deloitte’s 4th annual “Look Before You Leap” found that “63 percent of respondents reported that the FCPA and anti-corruption issues caused their companies to renegotiate or pull out of planned business relationships, mergers or acquisitions over the last three years.”

The point here is that while indeed a competition law could be a valuable tool for the country’s development, we should take care it doesn’t get wasted due to lack of vigilance. For all we know, the proper targets of such a law are those publicly and loudly advocating for it.


Speechless spokesmen preferred

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

At the outset, let me say that I believe in the importance and authority of the Supreme Court. Whatever one may say regarding the individual justices that comprise it, the fact remains that it is the institution granted by our Constitution with the power to make final interpretations regarding our laws. To disregard such would be to self-arrogate a power reserved for another and thus renders oneself (as well as the country) vulnerable (perhaps even more so) to the tempestuous and passing passions of the day. The blatant disobedience to the Court, no matter what the reason (and reasons are easy to make) is an unfortunate display of political immaturity and utter lack of statesmanship.

However, the past days also made it clear how fragile the power of the Court really is. Freshman law school teaches that the Court is the most passive of the three co-equal branches of government, unable to act except for “justiciable matters.” The Court has no army (unlike the Executive branch) and by nature (quite dissimilar to the Legislative branch) it cannot make public pronouncements unless required to do so by a case brought before it. The power of the Court, therefore, lies in its reticence, the mystique brought about by its rare presence in public life, and of making every word that it utters count.

And it is within this context that we inquire into the curious active public presence of the Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez. The Supreme Court should -- must -- only speak through its rulings. The Court should not be made to explain its decisions because the decision itself should categorically stand as the best form with which the Court expressed its decision and legal reasoning. The Court should not defend its decisions because to do so would be to mitigate the prestige upon which a lot of its power is based. As Sir Igor Judge, previous Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the head of the English judiciary, once said “I do not want the decision justified other than by the judge. The judge has the responsibility of making clear why he has reached the decision that he has.”

The very public visibility of the present Court administrator and (acting) chief of the Public Information Office is therefore quite peculiar. Considering indeed that the Supreme Court should not be made to explain or defend its rulings, then his act of doing so purportedly on behalf of the Court is superfluous at best. His pronouncements could not be considered as addendums or extensions of Court rulings (as no provision of law would support this). And if he were doing so on his own account, then it would have to be determined what special qualification does he have to entitle him to “explain” the decision of the Court. The credentials and thus right to clarify such Court decisions to the public by a Fr. Joaquin Bernas or Dean Amado Valdez or a Dean Sedfrey Candelaria I can understand. But as to the Court spokesman, the same is not quite so clear.

The said pronouncements by the Court spokesman have even led to complications. Last week, Justice Meilou Sereno “advised” Atty. Marquez “to be careful not to go beyond his role in such offices and that he has no authority to interpret any of our judicial issuances, including the present Resolution, a function he never had from the beginning.” Atty. Marquez then responded by reminding the public that Justice Sereno was speaking through her “dissenting” opinion, which is “merely” a dissent. While Atty. Marquez may be right in classifying Justice Sereno’s comment as a dissent, nevertheless, it does raise the uncomfortable spectacle of a Justice of the Supreme Court being engaged in a public disagreement and essentially being reminded by someone who is unquestionably a subordinate within the judiciary.

And this is not even an isolated one-time thing. Last March, as reported by Newsbreak: “SC spokesman Midas Marquez has been asked to ‘make the necessary correction to media’ surrounding the voting last September 14 of the status quo ante order stopping the House impeachment proceeding against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.” In this instance, the “senior justice was referring to Marquez’s statements that the justices were given copies of Gutierrez’s 60-page petition before they took a vote on the stay order.” And just this November, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares felt compelled to make a public clarification regarding certain “PEACe Bonds” in reaction to statements by Atty. Marquez. Which raises the question whether Atty. Marquez’s actual legal authority merits such a response from the BIR commissioner (or of any public official, for that matter).

These days, self-restraint in public life is a very rare thing indeed and therefore a virtue to be prized. The Court spokesman is respectfully encouraged to exhibit such restraint, confining himself to merely notifying the public as to when decisions are to be released and to provide copies of such decisions.


Stupid is the new sexy

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

“There’s something of the mudslide about you. You bring everything down.” It’s one of my favorite movie lines, delivered icily by John Malkovitch (as Tom Ripley) in Ripley’s Game. For some reason, it reminds me of my long unanswered query: is there something in our water that makes people here dumber by the minute?

A marble monument? Cover it with paint. A beautiful road? Put billboards and dig big holes. A nice lake view? Put a huge Batangas sign. A welcoming park? Trash it and allow tacky little stores to squat. A historical site? Put McDonald’s. And ensure that everywhere there’s noise and the ugly mug of some politician and his family.

This freakish mentality is creeping into our services. Which is disconcerting as our economy runs on the service industry. Readers of this column may remember my friend who was shooed away by a Makati building security guard because “bawal tumingin sa directory.” Well, I once wanted to eat at Conti’s. After parking my car a guard comes up and menacingly asks: “Saan kayo?” As I was parked directly in front of Conti’s, I said: “Sa tingin mo saan??”

This idiotic behaviour happens every day. And I strongly disagree that poverty or education accounts for the stupidity: A friend went to KFC. The waitress was spaced out and was more intent in flirting with her co-workers than attending to customers. She was actually pissed off that she had to attend to customers. KFC is one of the worst: never getting delivery orders right, lines at the cashier are always long, and the waiters get angry or confused if you can’t give them the coins they want. Same with Chow King. Idiots.

In Red Ribbon, a friend of mine politely asked for an official receipt. The waiter grumpily replied that the machine dispensing receipts was broken. When my friend insisted, the waiter retaliated by asking for my friend’s name and TIN number and took 30 long slow minutes just to copy the details. The waitresses in Cyma can never remember the orders taken. The S&R meat section people are spaced out and clueless. Shell attendants just mindlessly talk and talk. Example -- Me: “P1,000 unleaded please (as I hand over the money).” Shell guy: “Sir, would you like Citibank card blah blah blah.” Me: “No, thank you.” Shell guy (without pausing to listen to my reply): “Sir, V-Power blah blah blah; sir, cash or card?” Me: “Huh?? High ka ba?? Hawak hawak mo na nga pera ko eh!!” Idiots.

In French Baker, another friend asked for carbonara. The waitress asked what type of pasta she wanted. My friend said she preferred spaghetti. The waitress cheerily replied (and notice that a lot of service providers here are very cheerful when they’re telling you that you can’t have what you want) there’s no spaghetti, only fettucine. My friend said that’s ok. The waitress then proceeded to confirm the entire order, saying “carbonara with spaghetti pasta.” When my friend pointed out that she previously said they’re out of spaghetti, the waitress just shrugged. When the order came, it was carbonara with spinach fettucine. Idiot.

A friend wanted to have Globe Internet. Globe responded by saying they don’t have available connection. Incredibly in the middle of Metro Manila. When it got finally connected, the Internet service kept fizzling out. Another friend went to PLDT, where he was pestered for immediate deposit before they install anything. He promptly paid, got lousy service, asked for his money back. The reimbursement took three weeks to be released. It has to be noted that prompt payments don’t matter much. Inadvertently miss a payment, disconnections are made and demand letters issued. But ask for service and they’re quite talented in making excuses. The same with Meralco, whose repairmen are always nowhere to be found but their disconnection people are incredibly determined workaholics. Idiots.

Cebu Pacific? Never on time. And they think that everything can be smoothed over with that stupid on-air games of theirs. Every flight delay, every re-seating, every chaotic check-in, every malfunctioning online reservation, every rough landing is accompanied by “sir, ok lang?” Siempre hindi! “We hope to make it up to you.” What the %•@# gave you the idea you’re capable of doing that!? Idiots.

Which is perhaps why it’s very hard to find a good martini here. A martini is like our adobo, simple ingredients but easy to louse up. M Cafe’s are disappointing. Mandarin’s Martinis is stingy. Stock Market’s and the rest of Serendra’s are abominations. And that I guess sums it all up. The secret to a good martini, like anything else in life, is simply the care put in making it. Apparently, a lot here just don’t care.

Filipino consumers should be more demanding. And uncompromising. Money is hard to come by in the Philippines for honest folks. There’s no reason why we should part with it for lousy crappy service.


Class war

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

Amid the sloganeering of the Occupy mob regarding the hated 1% were proper calls for restraint. Firstly, the Occupy Wall Street crowd actually is part of the 1%, income-wise if one takes that in the context of incomes made by individuals globally. But more importantly, to target the rich is mindless prejudice against men that would normally include the likes of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet. These are guys who built their wealth on sheer talent, intelligence, hard work, and - most importantly - without receiving an iota of goverment subsidy or bailout.

Thus, calls for class warfare in the US (or even Britain, Germany, and the rest of Europe) is uncalled for, even idiotic. The declaration by US President Barack Obama that the taxation of the rich is "not class warfare. It's math" is ingenuous at best. The Economist (Hunting The Rich, 24 September 2011) got it right (when has it not?) by calling for a more studied approach in taxing the rich, ensuring that shouts for undue redistribution be not indulged in, and yet recognizing that a more equitable sharing of the burdens of the economy should be made. In short, avoid class warfare. Nevertheless, Filipinos should be encouraged to read such within proper contexts. If one is to be asked if class warfare is to be applied in the Philippines, then there is a decidedly and hugely reasonable ground to answer in the affirmative.

The difference lies in the nature of their rich. The US and other Western countries have an incredibly healthy social mobility. Forbes' annual 400 richest Americans ranking points to the fact that the list of the richest men in 1990's US is far different from the list of 2011. This indicates a robust and effective competitive business environment, where talent (and not one's surname) is what matters. Another significant difference is that the people who lead in business would not be the same people who comprise government. While undoubtedly relationships exists between the two groups in any country, that is a far cry from having the same families actually in control of both business and government.

The Philippines obviously has a circumstance very different from the context with which The Economist placed its analysis. Social mobility here is non-existent. Any cursory reading of our history would show that the same names in government and business appear over and over and over and over again. The same names, the same families, would side with the Spanish against the Katipunan, collaborate with the Americans, collaborate with the Japanese, then see their kind give pardon to the collaborators, preside over ever increasing corruption and stagnation in the Third Republic, and then exploit (either in government or in opposition) the Marcos era, People Power, and Edsa Dos.

As Tony Lopez of BizNewsAsia once wrote: "In the last quarter century ... Filipinos must note: 1. The Philippines became the slowest growing economy in Asia in terms of per capita income ... 2. The same families who ruled today are the very same families who have ruled the country in the last 25 years. So if nothing happens to Filipinos, blame these dynastic families.” Ditto Elmer Ordonez of the Manila Times: "Self-interest and conspicuous consumption appear to be the oligarchy’s guiding lights. x x x Events like EDSA 1 and 2 are sometimes described as 'revolutionary' but they are actually transfers of political power from one set of oligarchs to another." The idea being peddled by the political class (which, it must be remembered, also constitutes the wealthy end of our social spectrum) pointing to corruption as the problem is misleading. It’s the elite families who are the problem. Commentators from vastly different ends of the political spectrum converge on this point.

That's why books or biographies about our "great" families or men are simply laughable. Claims of having succeeded out of nothing, through wars or poverty, or against political enemies all conveniently forget that their relatives or in-laws (or classmates) own the banks from which they get behest loans, or are part of governments that generously gives them subsidies, protectionist treatment, allowed war profiteering, or simply looks the other way when enforcing laws.

Albert Einstein once said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.” Well, it's insanity to have these same families ruling over and over again over the Philippines. We need laws and policies that directly address this insanity: stronger and more comprehensive estate taxes, taxes that focus on property (akin to Britain's Liberal Democrats' proposed "mansion taxes") rather than on wages or salaries, strong competition laws that restrains family control rather than the companies themselves, consistent and sustained liberalization of trade and the economy, controlled election spending, and an overhauled, stricter educational system.

To borrow US President Obama's line (for a more Philippine appropriate context): This is not class warfare; it's nation building.


Philippines ICSID’d

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

When people talk about the World Bank, they’re actually talking about a family of institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (otherwise known as the IBRD, otherwise known as the World Bank), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, the International Finance Corporation, the International Development Association, and -- most importantly right now for the Philippines -- the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.

The ICSID first came to (relative) public view when the German company Fraport sued the Philippine government for P18 billion in relation to its investment in NAIA3. After a much publicized victory by the government, the whole thing became a downer when the said “victory” was later overturned and the case was ordered to start, essentially, at the very beginning.

For students of public international law, the ICSID represents a huge development in that it allows entities normally considered as “objects” in international law to sue a State. As basic constitutional law declares, private individuals or entities are not allowed to sue the State on the basis of immunity, unless, that is, if the State gives its consent to be sued. The ICSID short circuits these obstacles and allows such private entities to protect their investments that they made in a foreign country.

So, for the purpose of encouraging investments among countries, the ICSID scheme was devised by the IBRD, thus accounting for the ICSID’s seat at the IBRD headquarters in Washington, DC. The jurisdiction of the ICSID is set out in Article 25 of the Washington Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention):

“The jurisdiction of the Centre shall extend to any legal dispute arising directly out of an investment, between a Contracting State (or any constituent subdivision or agency of a Contracting State designated to the Centre by that State) and a national of another Contracting State, which the parties to the dispute consent in writing to submit to the Centre. When the parties have given their consent, no party may withdraw its consent unilaterally.”

The ICSID has capacity for conciliation and arbitration. Conciliation requests are rare but arbitration is more common. However, very much like the Permanent Court of Arbitration (which international lawyers affectionately keep referring to as neither being “permanent” nor a “court” nor “arbitrates”), the ICSID is not a tribunal but rather a “framework.” The ICSID maintains a list (panel) of people who can act as conciliation or arbitrators.

It must be emphasized that ICSID proceedings are self-contained: no appeals to local courts, no diplomatic protection and once ICSID is engaged all other remedies are deemed excluded. The ICSID Convention obliges each contracting State to recognize and enforce pecuniary obligations imposed by awards of ICSID tribunals as if they were final judgments of the State’s own courts. Note that State immunity may still hold, but then that State will have to answer for possible treaty violation.

As it stands, the Philippines has two pending cases at the ICSID, with a potential for a third. As mentioned above, there is Fraport AG Frankfurt Airport Services Worldwide vs. Republic of the Philippines (docketed as ARB/11/12). This case, which practically signals a mere beginning (or all back to square one), is taking place after the government had reportedly already spent P2 billion in legal costs. But, as ruled by the ICSID just a little before Christmas Day last year, the original decision (made August 2007) favoring the Philippines was annulled when a second set of arbitrators was said to have found a procedural lapse. Apparently, Fraport was improperly disallowed by the first set of arbitrators from producing evidence relating to alleged agreements among Piatco shareholders as to managerial control of the subject airport.

The second case is Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon NV vs. Republic of the Philippines (docketed as ARB/11/27). This is a P4 billion suit against the present government when the latter unilaterally terminated the contract with Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon NV for the proposed Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project for being allegedly a “midnight deal” of the past administration. Reportedly, that conclusion was reached due to a Cabinet secretary making the utterly laughable claim that a unilateral termination of the contract can be done without penalty to the government. The Belgian company subsequently shut down its operations, with an official of it being quoted in the newspapers as saying that it’s “impossible to do business in the Philippines.” Evidently, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme wrote a letter to our government expressing his concern. The latter has yet to reply.

Another ICSID case could come if renegotiations fail after a contract with another foreign company has been unilaterally terminated. It’s really interesting that the government’s intensity in fighting with foreign investors (as well as fighting with the Supreme Court and the Catholic Church, and even the military) is inversely proportional to its determination to defend the State against the MILF or resist China’s Kalayaan advances.



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

As I wrote years back, the Wall Street Journal came out with an article that sought to dispute the claim that “there’s no good food [in the Philippines]!” This reminded me of another moronic comment, that Filipino cuisine is just Chinese food with Spanish names. Thankfully, WSJ’s Robyn Eckhardt was way smarter than that, giving gracious reviews of our cuisine, taking a food trip from Milky Way to Salcedo Village’s Saturday market to Café Adriatico, seeking to at least “convince just one Philippine food naysayer (and there are way too many out there) to give the nation’s cuisine another look.”

The problem is that we allow people to look down on Filipino food. The sorry thing about it is that the “naysayers” are led by some of our countrymen. Whether it be out of insecurity, ignorance, or both, some Filipinos readily resort to dissing what is theirs. I remember one former co-worker of mine who, when asked by a visiting Thai which is better, Filipino or Thai fish sauce, without batting an eyelash, in full pseudo-American accent, answered: Thai. Which is weird considering she’s never been to Thailand before and has never been seen using Thai fish sauce.

The cause of advancing Philippine cuisine is certainly not helped when you have the alleged elite of our society pathetically serving Spanish, Italian, or French food in their dinner parties because of their belief that Filipino food “isn’t classy enough.” It is. It’s they who aren’t. And it definitely doesn’t do well when you have Philippine culinary personalities appear on international TV food shows appearing embarrassed about Filipino food, mutter that it’s the Filipino version of [insert name of foreign country here], or when some lame-o -- bizarrely -- refer to lechon (or litson) as “leytssonne.”

Then there’s the canard that Filipino food is allegedly too salty or too fatty or too whatever. This conveniently ignores the fact that China has one of the highest diabetes or heart disease rates, the French have cirrhosis, or the Americans have an obesity problem, and that Filipinos are still among the happiest people in the world.

I can’t even understand the giggly adoration some of our countrymen have on foreign cuisine. Soufflé? It’s just airy mamon. Pot au feu? It’s beef nilaga. A daube is kaldereta and thom yan is sinigang na hipon and Hainanese chicken is tinola. The list goes on: shnitzel is breaded pork chop, strudel is turon, German pork knuckles is crispy pata, creme caramel is leche flan, ceviche is kilawin, jerk chicken is inasal, blood pudding is dinuguan, haggis is merely bopis, and ratatouile is simply pinakbet.

But it also has to be emphasized that Filipino food generally doesn’t resort to heavy spices or sauces for the simple reason that, unlike other countries, our ingredients come fresh and don’t need any flavor disguises. After all, the initial value of spices and smoking and sauces was to hide the taste of food that had already gone a bit bad. We had no need for such trickery because we’ve always had relatively an abundant and readily available supply of food.

Filipino’s shouldn’t fall for the con that has been continually fostered on us. Take the case of coffee: supposedly, true good coffee can only come from beans grown under the romantic air and sun of Tuscany, due to the magical minerals in its soil, and with water coming from the Alps. But if one believes such ridiculously specific standards, then logically our coffee won’t match it. Try basing good coffee on whether it matches the body, aroma, and acidity of Batangas coffee and see if foreign coffees match that? No, our coffee is as good as any, thank you very much.

We should be be proud of Filipino food simply because it’s Filipino. It’s a part of who we are. I love it also because, quite frankly, it’s incredibly good cuisine. It is food at its en famille, al fresco best. Some people see in our food Spanish, American, Chinese, Indian influences. Fine. But which cuisine didn’t have outside influences? We’ve always been the perfect poster child for the benefits of globalization and our food is no different. Like any of globalization’s offspring, our food, though derived from many sources, still evolved into our own, our Filipino, food.

Parents should ensure that their children take pride in Philippine cuisine, the fact that (unlike pretentious lesser leaders that served pasta, Merlots, or sushi in Malacañang) Magsaysay proudly served basi and lambanog during State dinners, that Rizal missed tuyo while in Spain, Marcos lived on dinengdeng, or that Ramos loved bangus, of the joys of sapinsapin or palitaw, of great regional cuisines like Bicol’s, and that we’ve been enjoying cheese ice cream long before LA kitchens raved about them.

We Filipinos should be proud of our food. What you eat is who you are and what we are we should be proud of.


Occupied Philippines

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

It used to be that the shout of the past was “workers of the world, unite!” Now, very much like the “Avengers, assemble!” battle cry, it’s “idiots, occupy!” I don’t even think these people know what they’re doing or where they’re supposed to be. Using products made by successful corporations, like iPhones, laptops, with postings in Facebook, they go out to rally against such corporations, screaming against Wall Street by marching in the secluded homes of George Soros’ neighbors.

But pretty much like that joke that if Batman is stupid for wearing his underwear on top of his pants, then Robin is dumber for copying Batman, the same can be said of the people shouting “occupy Mendiola” or Makati. Look, what is the point of making a nuisance in those busy places? To protest against poverty and income inequality? Only for these same people, come election time, with tears in their eyes and with all the passion that idiocy can muster, to again elect people from the same elite, rich families who have long proven themselves incompetent failures or traitors, and who caused all this inequality in the first place.

What would’ve been so funny if it weren’t so pathetic is how shameless and unapologetically arrogant these self-righteous activists are. Only 10 years ago, Villar was applauded by these people for passing (as Speaker of the House) the articles of impeachment against Estrada. These people, the elite and their middle-class wannabes (collectively called the “un-civil society”), would disrupt the Senate impeachment proceedings, hysterically rally in the streets, kick Estrada out, and install Gloria Arroyo as president. Now these very same people want us to forget that it was they who put GMA into power and that we should again believe them when they laud the “greatness” of some current officials, push to “occupy” this or that, or advocate for a contraceptive Philippines?

The hypocrisy of all of this is nauseating. When House Representative Pacquiao or Senator Sotto tried to raise the impropriety of the RH/RP Bill, their academic credentials were questioned. Since when has this country cared about university degrees or academic achievements? If it ever did, then how come those who raised the issue of academics in the last elections were derided or treated with contempt? How come the academic qualifications of those running for office were treated as inconsequential, to the point that if one had them it was actually taken against them?

Why do we have a society where a senator of the land had to apologize for resorting to Filipino instead of English, as Senator Lapid recently did? What kind of screwed-up mentality is that when people are actually contemptuous of someone who prefers to speak a native language instead of a foreign one? What’s the acceptable language then? Spanish or English, the language of our past slavery? Or is it Mandarin or Cantonese, the language of our future potential slavery?

This messed-up way of thinking, that educated self-made men are to be treated suspiciously while rich untalented kids of powerful moms and dads are praised even more than the Pope, is what’s putting us where we are: the pits. This is a country that will not vote for a Lincoln, a Mandela, or an Obama even if they landed right in the middle of EDSA simply because they’re self-made successful men.

Corruption is one issue that is truly the height of double standard and hypocrisy: if it’s the old rich who does it, it’s pragmatic and clever business; if it’s the poor or from the poor who does it, it’s corruption. But how much corruption can the poor do? Petty corruption for purposes of “processing” papers in a government office? This is nothing compared to the large-scale methodical corruption done by the alleged elite in our society and that is what truly damaged our country. Remember all the scandals that happened in the past decades? Those weren’t corruption done by the poor or of the poor. They were instigated by the elite, the purported “de buenas familias.” Read the newspapers and then read our history textbooks: it’s the same people and families screwing the country over and over and over again.

Real change will be effected once the ordinary Filipino realizes that. It won’t be done by psuedo-intellectual columnists quoting Rawls, not the foodie socialite who deludedly thinks she works oh so hard, those that don’t know what a Blahnick is, those who cannot afford Bisteca, those who cannot speak fluent English with the put-on accents. Change will be done by those who work for a living, who actually have to work for a living, because they don’t come from wealthy families or are without powerful fathers or grandfathers that would allow their stupid selves to pose as smart sophisticates.

First thing we do is make sure those idiots that now occupy and keep wanting to occupy don’t get to occupy anymore.


Manila, Bangkok agree on cigarette tax reforms

from today's issue of BusinessWorld:

The Philippines and Thailand have agreed on policy reforms required by the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding a trade dispute, won by Manila, involving Bangkok’s cigarette tariffs.

“The Philippines and Thailand mutually agreed to a reasonable time frame for Thailand to comply with the ruling of the WTO. This agreement reflects the effectiveness of the multilateral trading system in resolving trade issues to expand global trade,” Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo yesterday said in a statement.

A WTO document dated Sept. 27 states that both parties agreed that “With respect to the DSB’s (Dispute Settlement Body) recommendations and rulings ... the reasonable period of time to comply shall be 15 months, expiring on 15 October 2012. With respect to ... all other measures, the reasonable period of time to comply shall be 10 months, expiring on 15 May 2012.” By mid-October, the Thai government is expected to resolve its inconsistent application of value-added tax (VAT) rates on locally made and imported cigarettes.

The Philippine government filed a case before the WTO after Thai authorities charged higher duties on cigarette exports by Philip Morris Philippines on suspicion of undervaluation of goods.

A preliminary decision in favor of the Philippines was issued in November last year, which was followed by an appeal by Bangkok last February. A WTO Appellate Body adopted the original panel recommendation in July 15.

Sought for comment, Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing, Inc. (PMPMI) Managing Director Chris Nelson said: “We are very pleased with the Philippines and Thailand having agreed on a clear timetable. Based on my understanding, the first aspect of the reform involves promoting transparency in customs valuation. The second aspect will involve the actual adjustments on tax.”

Exports to Thailand by Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp., a PMPMI merger with Fortune Tobacco Corp., grew by 12.9% to seven billion sticks last year.

The Philippines is the leading cigarette exporter in Thailand, the Trade department noted. It said that last year, local tobacco producers held some two-fifths or $200 million of the Thai market.


Horrible bosses mean losses

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

Not to be a downer but, amidst all the adulation heaped on Steve Jobs the past days, one has to remember that he probably would have hated most of those praising him if they were his employees. Jobs was an absolutely driven, dictatorial, ruthless, and incredibly harsh taskmaster. He would drive employees for days without rest, constantly screaming in their faces, and belittling them if their work do not match his standards. Despite that, I’d forgive him because he was just unconditionally freakishly brilliant.

The problem with that last statement I just made, however, is that it could lead to certain misconceptions, as illustrated by this dialogue in the TV show House:

“Inspector Conway: Okay. The rules exist because 95% of the time, for 95% of the people, they’re the right thing to do.

Dr. Cuddy: And the other 5%?

Inspector Conway: Have to live by the same rules. Because everybody thinks they’re in that 5%.”

The point is that most would still have to accept that they’re not Steve Jobs, that the better bet is for them to live out their lives as courteously and as nicely as they can be to everybody else. Clearly, that is something not recognized by a lot in corporate Philippines, many of whose inhabitants still somehow believe in being “alpha males”. But such is ridiculous. It would be all right if you’re a baboon or a gorilla. But for a human in civilized society to openly act like an alpha male is downright strange. And stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in competition. I wouldn’t be an advocate for liberalized trade if I wasn’t. What I am against is the nonsensical behavior exhibited by alpha male wannabes such as staring, swaggering, boasting, loud talking, and, yes, being an asshole. It’s quite counterproductive as it gives a very public signal to everybody that one is overcompensating for some weakness. Denzel Washington in American Gangster said it best: “the loudest man in the room is the weakest man in the room.”

Indeed, Steve Jobs is a one-off. I’ve been blessed to have worked or studied among the best and the brightest, from Manila to Cambridge to Geneva, men like Justice Ricardo Puno, James Crawford and Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, and DTI Undersecretary Tom Aquino and Asistant Secretary Tong Buencamino, Justice Antonio Nachura and Dean Mariano Magsalin, Jr. They were the nicest, most generous, and smartest people I’ve met. And incredibly low key in behavior. I’ve always had the greatest respect for those people who, despite being at the top of their profession or business, are always punctual, calm, good humored, unhurried, attentive and courteous, and would never dream of boasting of how busy they are.

I have heard though of some bosses who are complete jerks. There’s this one lawyer who’s said to wander around his office swaggering and looking very intense (or constipated). Always wanting to give the appearance of having no time for small talk. But the problem is: he never accomplishes anything. His department has the lowest revenues, his staff turnover counts among the highest in the region, and absolutely nobody respects his absence of expertise (despite corporate pamphlets to the contrary). He boasts of being up at dawn to workout, describing his exercise regime in the most violent of terms: he “hits” the gym or “pounds” the treadmill or “genocides” the pool (I made the last one up). He would have been a mere joke around the office canteen if it weren’t for the fact that he’s not very nice to his people. Nobody looks forward to meetings with him because meetings with him are never fun. I particularly remember one story of how he gathered the junior staff for a breakfast meeting to rouse their morale. Everybody left the meeting depressed. He needlessly cuts people down to size, takes credit for others’ deeds, never gives compliments, and relishes in giving impossible tasks to staff. In the end, for all his bluster, he is just a small sad failed man.

Which reminds me of an insight by Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton famously wrote. But I don’t think he got it quite right: power may corrupt, but absolute power corrupts a lot less than partial power. This thesis is upheld by a new study showing that people who have a little power but don’t have status can behave in nasty ways and get a kick out of demeaning others.” The research is expected to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Bad bosses, horrible bosses, are simply not worth it for the employee or the company. Bob Sutton of Stanford University found that even if the company is earning a profit, in terms of opportunities lost a company is far better off getting rid of bad bosses (he labels them “assholes”).

Bottom line: nice guys do finish first.


Contraception and natural law

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

One argument constantly leveled against the pro-life side (i.e., those against the RH Bill) is that they seek to impose Catholic doctrines on the rest of the country and make others follow their own concept of morality. In a “pluralistic society”, so it is said, we should respect each other’s beliefs and not impose our own beliefs on others. Such contentions, however, are unfortunately misleading.

The pluralism of society must be based on reason and coherence. While indeed we should all respect other’s beliefs, it has to be accepted that to do so would not make those beliefs necessarily correct. To those saying that "nobody has the right to impose one's morality on others," they have to recognize that every law imposes a morality. The only question is which one to impose. Any law that purports to be free of morals is still a law imposing its own kind of morals. And finally, the overarching rationale against contraception is not Catholic doctrine but rather that it violates natural law, which applies to all regardless of religion or culture.

Natural law is an objective standard of right and wrong that any human being can arrive at through the independent use of right reason. Murder and adultery, for example, are all objectively wrong, for which no circumstance can make right (acts done in self-defense or polygamous marriages in cultures that allow it are to be differentiated from murder or adultery). Setting aside discussions on actual application and subjective culpability, such are always wrong regardless of whoever you are.

As explained by Martin Rhonheimer: “Because man is by nature a reasonable being, there exists also a law of reason, which are acts ordered by his practical reason in which man distinguishes good and evil, feeling himself bound to do the good, based on the rational understanding of what is good for man. This function of practical reason, natural in man, constitutes therefore a natural law.”

To emphasize that natural law is not an exclusive Catholic thing, it must be remembered that natural law owes a lot to Aristotle. For him, there is an objective moral order which human reason can figure out. Our free will, on the other hand, allows us to recognize that order or ignore it in favor of our passions or emotion. For those who disagree that there is a natural law, they would have to logically disregard the existence of such objective moral order. Which would then result, as explained by Robert P. George, in accepting a world where there is no “built-in, objective reason for me to choose one goal over another”, the goals of Gandhi would now be of the same weight as the goals of Hitler. One Philippine legal giant, Jorge Coquia, would even declare that: "Most who reject the validity of natural law claim themselves as 'liberal' or 'progressive'. But in its essence, it is a reaction and an easy road to totalitarianism".

Having established, therefore, that there is natural law and that natural law is an objective standard applicable to everyone, the question remaining is how can contraception be said to violate natural law? I will deliberately refrain from addressing that question in detail, this column not being the proper venue or occasion for such a matter related to a significant legal and jurisprudential debate. I will, instead, refer to a truncated description of how Germain Grisez, renowned philosopher and influential “new natural law” exponent, approached the issue.

Grisez listed certain basic human goods that logically could be seen as “integral to human flourishing.” Examples are “friendship,” “knowledge,” “excellence in work and play,” and “life”. Each is an end in itself and not a mere means. From the foregoing, quite analogous to the fact that drunkenness goes against the precepts of self-preservation and robbery contradicts subsidiary norms of being part of society, Grisez would conclude that contraception violated a basic good of “the handing on of new life.” Obviously, Grisez has a more defined and meticulous explanation regarding the matter. And so does John Finnis of Oxford. And so do countless other authorities. These are all publicly available and can be examined by anybody who wants to. Bottomline, contraception violates natural law.

I emphasize to the reader one important fact about the foregoing paragraphs: Not once have I mentioned God nor have I resorted to theology, much more Catholic doctrine. As George would say, natural law invokes “no authority beyond the authority of reason itself”. Hugo Grotius, the father of international law, would even dramatically declare that natural law “would maintain its objective validity even if we should assume the impossible, that there is no God or that he does not care for human affairs.”

Natural law is here and in its light that the RH Bill must be weighed. To those who wish to disregard or deny natural law, Sorbonne’s Etienne Gilson had this to say: "natural law always buries its undertakers."