The good goals of the RH Bill

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

One of the fascinating things to see is how full the churches were last weekend, what with the celebration of Easter Sunday. But what’s sad to note is that behind the facade of apparent devoutness lies a certain lukewarmness, perhaps even ignorance, of the significance of Holy Week and Easter. At worst, hypocrisy.

The events we commemorate last week are not dead events. They were meant to teach us how to lead our lives. Of the many significant events of the last week of Jesus, let us take three to ponder upon. The first had to do with Judas’ betrayal. Certainly, his motivations for turning traitor were not mentioned in the Gospels (except for John’s laconic reference of Satan entering Judas after the latter dipped bread with Christ). Some commentators claim, however, that Judas felt disappointed with Jesus when it became clearer by the day that He was not leading a political revolution. Jesus’ somewhat weird statement that His followers should eat His body and drink His blood (which actually caused a number of His disciples to leave) may also have something to do with it.

The second event is Peter’s denial. This came after Peter chopped off an ear of one of the arresting soldiers. Before that, Peter had made loud declarations of his willingness to die for Christ. However, in Peter’s zeal to be near the developments, in his eagerness to be part of the events, he pushed too much into the crowd and there he was identified as a follower of Christ. This set the stage for his denial. Upon being recognized (by servant girls no less), Peter, the supposedly bold brave man, started to fear for himself and denied knowing Jesus three times. Which resulted in him forever being depicted with a rooster on his shoulder. But I digress ...

The third event is when Pilate asked the crowd to choose between Jesus and Barabbas. This was a profound choice. Barabbas, contrary to common knowledge, was no common thief. He was a revolutionary, a rebel, who was not above using violent means to achieve what are arguably good intentions. The name of Barabbas himself gives us a clue as to his identity. Barabbas means "Son of the Father." In effect, what Pilate presented to the crowd were two Messianic figures. But the differences between the two could not be greater. The crowd, of course, chose Barabbas.

What is the point? The point is that in all three situations, Judas, Peter, and the crowd were given a choice. That choice is something we also confront every day, every single day, of our lives. The choice presented was: do we rely primarily on our expectations, plans, abilities, knowledge, and understanding? Or do we first put our trust in Him?

Judas and the crowd essentially thought that Jesus was too otherworldly, too impractical, when what was needed was decisive human action. Pilate, incidentally, was another pragmatist, who knowingly allowed an innocent man crucified to save his career. Peter, on the other hand, was too eager for action that he forgot the teachings of Christ that he made himself vulnerable to turning away from Him.

Obviously, I’m writing this article in relation to the RH Bill (now re-named Responsible Parenthood Bill). We are seemingly so eager to rely on our abilities, our intelligence, our plans that we forget to have the humility of remembering that we don’t know as much as we think we do. To solve poverty, to care for maternal health, to reduce teen pregnancy and abortions, these are all good intentions. But the means with which we seek to solve them, the reliance on contraception, are not in line with the faith that we profess as Catholics and the facts we know through human experience.

The interesting thing about this is that in the zeal of RH Bill proponents to defend the indefensible, they even essentially started resorting to that line of Pilate: "what is truth?" Because it is the truth itself that is now being questioned to justify the use of condoms: the authority of the Papal office, the primacy of natural law, the teachings of saints Jerome, Augustine, and De Sales, to Popes Pius XI, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, the apostolic duty of bishops, religious freedom and the right to proselytize, the diversion of tax money from education and necessary medicines, the carcinogenic nature of many contraceptives, the fact that contraceptive use resulted in the increase of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted disease, have weakened societies, and with no proven correlation to alleviating poverty. All this has to be wrong to make contraception right.

Yes, there are problems that the RH Bill seeks to address. But the RH Bill will never be the solution. Human action unrooted in a morality, ethic, or faith will always be futile. Judas, Peter, and the crowd that chose Barabbas taught us that.


How globalization and trade created the Philippines

(published in Billionaire, December 2010)

One interesting thing about all those discussions regarding trade and globalization is how they actually created a country. Not shaped or influenced or changed its course but actually created. And the Philippines was that country.

Really, when one looks at the Philippines, there is nothing about it that has not come about due to globalization and trade: the prevailing religions, its language, its attires and costumes, traditions and ethics and etiquettes, its food, its form of government, literature, music, movies, sports. In other words, it is
a mix of Christian or of Muslim faiths (with a touch of animism thrown in), of a Republican government, of English or Spanish speech, of Asian, American, and Spanish cuisines, of fiestas, of rock and pop, of a people of mixed descents, of Hollywood and basketball. The Philippines, simply put, is the true child of globalization. Notably, the last time Filipinos ever really got together as a nation was when Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino who practices a sport invented in the West, fought and beat up a Brit, in the United States, through live television broadcasted through a combination of Japanese, American, and German technology.

Rice mix

Of course, not everybody would be happy with that. I once went to the National Museum’s Rice exhibit and saw its take on the “kaingin”. According to the exhibit, the kaingin was not the harmful practice that it actually was but only became so because of the demands of “the land hungry and increasingly globalized commerce”. That comment, to put it politely, was interesting.

Never mind the fact that the Philippine population increased because of better diets, better access to better medicines, better medical attention, better access to better communications (in case of emergencies). If ever kaingin became phased out as an agricultural method it was simply because it inefficiently dealt with the demands of a growing society and of change. And change - like death and taxes - is a constant and certain thing in life. Globalization doesn’t really create change, it merely offers it.

Changes demand innovation and creativity, which then breeds more changes, and so on. Changes in life patterns, culture, politics, science, philosophy, and even religion, are inevitable. Globalization doesn’t necessarily create those changes. It just makes the products of change a whole lot more accessible to a whole lot more people.

Indeed, by the exhibit’s logic, people should use horse drawn carriages and not cars (a foreign invention). Or people should start making their own clothes by needle and thread, instead of buying them from malls. Or write using pens instead of tapping away at computers. And write by candlelight (ala Rizal) and not through fluorescent. But the problem is that even such old fashioned alternatives are all products, one way or another, of globalization.

In any event, as we shall see, Filipinos should be the last people on earth to treat globalization and trade as villains. In fact, globalization and trade are the true parents of the Philippines.

A silken trade

The thing started when Magellan arrived in (not discovered) the Philippines in 1521. Due to his incompetent preparation, he was promptly killed by Lapu Lapu in the battle of Mactan. The seeds of Spanish colonization, however, was already set and, upon the founding of Manila in 1579, the Spaniards easily beat off American or other European efforts at sericulture due to the Spanish’s access advantage to South China.

As William J. Bernstein reports (in his excellent A Splendid Exchange, Grove Press, 2008):

“… two ships [in 1565] from another Spanish expedition – one under the command of Alfonso de Arellano, and another, two months later, under Friar Andres de Urdaneta – became the first ride the west-to-east system across the northern Pacific in the course of their twelve-thousand journeys from Manila to Acapulco.”

“These two ships were the forerunners of the annual ‘Manila Galleon.’ Once a year, a treasure flotilla from Mexico, usually consisting of two large merchantmen, weighed down with silver and guarded by a heavily armed galleon, ventured westward along the equatorial route, pioneered by Magellan, to Manila. The silver was exchanged for oriental luxury goods, mainly high-quality Chinese silk, which had been brought in junks from the southern coast of the Ming Empire to the Philippines, and then shipped on the Manila galleon east to Acapulco.”

“Trade diasporas soon formed around the Filipino-Mexican trade in silk and silver. Silk merchants from both the Philippines and Mexico crossed the Pacific to establish trade colonies. Those who had settled in the Philippines, called Manileños, struck first, sailing east to Mexico and making vast middleman profits from their warehouses in Acapulco and the capital.”

The volume and value of the Manila galleon trade can perhaps be best seen from the fact that, as Bernstein notes, that the viceroy in Mexico City even petitioned Spain (unsuccessfully) to have the Manila galleon trade be “forbidden entirely.”

An offer one can’t refuse

This is not to say that globalization and trade does not have a dark side. Far from it. Writing for the Financial Times (9 August 2008), Hugh Carnegy notes that:

“What is striking is that for much of history, trade was built on conquest and often violently enforced monopolies – not least when Europeans were involved. The urge to ‘truck, barter and exchange’, as Adam Smith described it, is all very well. But until recently, the much stronger urge was to grab and control by force the trade in goods needed either for basic economic and military needs or for the accumulation of wealth. Even what Bernstein calls the Pax Islamica – some seven centuries of Arab supremacy that established a settled and sophisticated trading empire from the east Mediterranean to the Far East – was built on naval supremacy and bold military action. This ended in 1498 when Vasco da Gama sailed round the southern tip of Africa to reopen European access to the Indian Ocean and beyond. ‘Free trade’ was hardly his aim: he was a greedy, religious bigot prepared to rob, murder and kidnap to get his hands on the spices and other exotica that would make a fortune for him and his Portuguese masters.

Brutality was a vital element in the development of trade and the successive empires built upon it – Roman, Arab, Mongol, Spanish, Dutch, British – culminating in the 18th- and 19th-century slave trade. Equally compelling is the sheer doggedness, courage and skill that characterised the pioneers of trade. Vasco da Gama set sail in 1497 with three tiny ships; they didn’t see land for 95 days as they battled round the Cape of Good Hope;”

Indeed, as Nick Joaquin's book Manila, My Manila makes clear, far from the idyllic scene pictured in museum diorama’s, the day "the Manila of Soliman became the Manila of Legazpi", 19 May 1571, emphasized military might. That day Miguel Lopez de Legazpi took formal possession of Manila by holding his sword in his hand and yelling "in a voice of fury, 'I have founded the City of Manila in the name of the King. If there be any there who would challenge this, let him come forward and I will measure my sword with his.'"

By that time, of course, Rajah Soliman had been soundly beaten. It must be remembered though that our repeated colonization weren’t brought about due to any moral or intellectual superiority or even due to the benignity of any foreigner but because simply the Philippines had not much use for and thus not much good at organized violence. When one looks at it, another thing, really, for the Philippines to be proud of.

‘Pistaym’ and the independence movement

In any event, globalization and trade, having driven the colonization of the Philippines, eventually fueled its independence because by
the late 1920s and the early 1930s, the campaign for Philippine independence was nudged along by the fact that a lot of Philippine exports to the United States - through then existing free trade arrangements - were beating American domestic products.

Philippine sugarcane produce, cigars, coconut oil, cordage, and labor were causing worry to American domestic industries (particularly beet sugar, cottonseed oil, dairy, and cordage industries). American businessmen were therefore forced to "encourage" their US Congress to grant Philippine independence or at least grant it autonomous status, for which higher tariff rates (or quotas) could then be imposed on Philippine products.

As Carlos Quirino writes (in Quezon: Paladin of Philippine Freedom):

“In an effort to lighten their financial misery [under the Great Depression], American interests hurt by the competition of Philippine products increasingly supported the proposal to give the islands their independence. Dairy, cordage, cottonseed oil, and domestic sugar interests appeared before Congressional committees on tariff and asked for either the limitation of duty-free insular products or the abolition of all tariff concessions.” “[However], but as long as the Philippines remained a possession of the United States, a great majority of Americans themselves realized that they could not impose unfair restrictions on the Filipinos.”

Of course, it could be looked at in two perspectives: that its "comparative advantage" in the aforementioned export industries helped the cause of Philippine independence or it was American protectionist attitudes that did.
Either way, Philippine participation in international trade in the 1920s and '30s helped it achieve independence.

Giving as good as it gets

That should be it then, this little meditation on how globalization and trade created the Philippines. Instead, an interesting fact (from Wiki, of all places) popped up:

“The first Austronesian speakers are believed to have originated on the island of Taiwan x x x [From there] settlers landed in northern Luzon in the Philippines. x x x their descendants started to spread south to the rest of the Philippine islands, Celebes (modern-day Sulawesi), northern Borneo, Moluccas (modern-day Maluku), and Java.

The settlers in Moluccas sailed eastward and began to spread to the islands of Melanesia and Micronesia between 1200 B.C. and 500 B.C. respectively. Those that spread westward reached Sumatra, the Malay peninsula and southern Vietnam by 500 B.C.

The oceanic Austronesians had reached Remote Polynesia by 1000 B.C and spread to its three extremities Hawaii by 400 A.D. New Zealand by 1300 A.D. and Easter Island between 300 A.D. In the Indian Ocean they reached Madagascar.”

From the above one can see that it was the Philippines that gave a number of countries the basis for their language and perhaps culture. And then something should also dawn upon the reader – the implications of which are clear and the significance clearly inspiring: for while indeed globalization and trade created the Philippines, the Philippines also created globalization and trade. While the Philippines could not have existed were it not for globalization, the same could also be said that globalization could not have happened without the Philippines. From the galleon trade, to involving the US in the Philippine’s war of independence against Spain, to its trade with a United States dealing with the Great Depression of the 1930’s, to its vital strategic importance in World War II, to being the first Christians in Asia, the first in Asia to have a democratic form of government (not to mention the first in Asia to have an airline), the first to give the world a bloodless form of revolution in People Power advocates, and to our continuing enrichment of the world through our OFWs, overseas managers, workers and nurses, the Philippines keeps giving to the world and the world keeps on becoming the better for it.

Policymakers have always thought that so the world goes, the Philippines will eventually follow. However, perhaps there is a corollary to that thought. After all, the Philippines, the first and true child of globalization, has become, through its language, history, culture, and psyche, the very epitome of globalization itself. So while indeed where the world goes so goes the Philippines, perhaps it would be also be a safe bet to say that where the Philippines goes so goes the world.


Lending ourselves to Lent

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

Holy Week will be upon us next week and with it the usual dramatic, sometimes hokey, practices that come with the season. But there are a lot of misunderstood things about it, particularly with regard to the matter of penances. This article, albeit a tad late (and borrowing heavily from apologist Jimmy Akin), will discuss some of the penitential practices for Lent.

Lent actually will end this Holy Thursday, which then signals the start of the Triduum. Of course, Lent began (when else?) the midnight ushering in Ash Wednesday. For the mathematically inclined, while traditionally considered to last for 40 days, Lent really is 44 days long (technically, a little less than 44 as it ends on the evening of Holy Thursday).

Within the season of Lent, if you are between the ages of 18-60 (unless you have a medical condition making fasting hazardous), there is the obligation to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Children, of course, are not required to fast. Nevertheless, parents are duty bound to instruct their kids on the tenets of the faith (and this includes preparing them for fasting when they’re of age). To fast means to eat only one full meal a day, plus two smaller meals. The two smaller meals should not equal into one full meal. The problem then becomes the size of the meals. But really, one should not get hung up on the latter requirement (regarding the smaller meals). If one checks the 1966 Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, particularly Norm III.2, it says: "The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing -- as far as quantity and quality are concerned -- approved local custom." But then some wise guy would ask: how is the total to be determined, by units, weight, or calories? However, that would be ridiculous. As I’ve said, people should not get hung up on this -- the important thing is the intent. As we shall see, we do this not really just to comply with a set of rules. Lent is essentially a love story.

To "fast" is different from "abstention" or "to abstain." For Catholics who are above 14 years of age and not suffering from a medical condition that will be sorely aggravated by the abstinence, it is an obligation to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, every Friday of Lent, and Good Friday. The basis for this (aside from the Code of Canon Law, CIC 1251) is again the 1966 Apostolic constitution Paenitemini. Norm III.1 says: "The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat." By "meat" is meant the flesh of land-dwelling mammals and birds. Fish is, therefore, permitted. By dint of statutory construction on Church documents, soups made from meat are now apparently not covered by the rules on abstinence.

Now don’t ask me why (this is just way too much research) but the opinion of learned theologians say that abstinence would not cover reptiles, amphibians, or insects. So to eat frog legs (particularly the yummy ones from Coral Garden) is allowed. It’s also actually okay to eat whales (unendangered ones please!) or dolphins, being water-based mammals. Gravies (which are essentially made of meat juices) are fine, as well as those made from parts (not the actual meat) of land-dwelling animals such as milk, cheese, and eggs. Jell-O (made from horse’s hooves) can be eaten during Lent.

Apparently, you can give yourself a break during the Sundays of Lent. However, it is imperative that at least once between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday we receive Communion (obviously, while in a state of grace, i.e., free from mortal sin by taking the sacrament of Confession).

But, again, one should not view the foregoing as a series of rules but rather acts we do out of love, to share in His suffering, Him who loves us unconditionally, who taught us to love others as He loved us. The words of one priest serve as a good reminder on how to actually approach the spirit of penance not only in this season of Lent but for every day of the year: "Penance is fulfilling exactly the timetable you have fixed for yourself ... Penance means being very charitable at all times toward those around you, starting with the members of your own family ... It is to give patient answers to people who are boring and annoying ... Penance consists in putting up good-humouredly with the thousand and one little pinpricks of each day; in not abandoning your job ... For parents and, in general, for those whose work involves supervision or teaching, penance is to correct whenever it is necessary."

Indeed, Lent, the Holy Week, and the spirit of penance teaches us that the better kind of love is that directed toward others rather than merely toward ourselves.


Gokongwei: Reciprocity will bring in the tourists

Here’s a good speech by Lance Gokongwei (click here) on the Open Skies issue and the need for reciprocity. Excerpt:

"Examples of lack of reciprocity

Now, let me cite a few examples of the consequences of non-reciprocity:

  • Seat limitations skewed to favor foreign carriers over local carriers.

The existing agreement between the Philippines and Hong Kong limits local carriers to only 2,500 seats per week on the Hong Kong-Cebu route; Hong Kong carriers get the same number. Under EO 29, Philippine carriers will still be limited to 2,500 per week but all Hong Kong carriers can now fly this route without any limit.

  • Exhaustion of air rights in major destinations and routes.

An early EO in 2008 declaring "open skies" sans reciprocity in Clark resulted in Hong Kong Express flying into Clark without limitations. CEB was unable to compete because air rights to Hong Kong were fully utilized at that time. CEB could not use Clark unless it reduced its HK services from Cebu. This was solved only after subsequent bilateral air talks resulted in additional air rights. This undue delay in CEB’s ability to compete with a foreign carrier should not have happened if reciprocity was in place. CEB has been flying to HK every day since and offering the lowest fares out of Clark.

  • Inability to offer lower fares to potential high yield tourist markets.
Japan has always been considered a major tourism market. Currently CEB flies to Osaka three times weekly. We have been asking for additional flights to Osaka which the Philippines is entitled to under the current Philippine-Japan Air Services Agreement. However our request, to this day, has not been approved. In the meantime, All Nippon Airways (ANA) was recently allowed to come in and operate flights from Tokyo to Manila under the very same Air Services Agreement. This is another example of the lack of reciprocity."

The problem is, how can we now effectively negotiate for reciprocity when we’ve unilaterally opened up our skies already? Who would pay for something that they already got for free? A better way of making policy should be had rather than this.

Told you so!

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

Nobody likes a gloater. I definitely don’t, either. But there are always exceptions, right? And this is one of the few times I’m allowing myself that. The reason being is that our inability to see through China somehow disturbingly betrays perhaps a certain frailty in the national character that needs to be improved -- that money isn’t everything and a display of weakness will always lead to further abuse.

The reason why I write this has nothing to do with the three Filipino criminals that were executed by China. In that regard, China’s steadfast adherence to its own laws is to be commended and is a welcome lesson for Filipinos in learning the price of having an orderly society. This instead has to do with the Philippines standing up for its interests, as well as its (alleged) democratic and human rights values. As stated by the Wall Street Journal over the last weekend: "Appeasing a rising hegemon carries a risk that one’s national interest will disappear down its maw. This is a lesson the Philippines is only now beginning to learn."

This point has gained relevance as the Philippines seems to be increasingly servile when it comes to China. When China went hysterical over a harmless Sept. 24, 2010, joint statement between ASEAN and the US reaffirming "the importance of regional peace and stability," the Philippines was less than its normally loquacious self in defending the joint statement. The Philippines afterward famously failed to send a representative to the Nobel Peace Prize when China called for a boycott of the same. Then the Philippines decided to anger Taiwan by extraditing 14 Taiwanese citizens to China. Finally, when China aggressively violated our waters last March 2, 2011, our government obsequiously sent a representative to Beijing to discuss (explain?) the incident, rather than making China justify her actions. This was, by the way, after China pointedly snubbed our diplomatic protest.

Of course, the question is, are we actually learning that lesson? As the WSJ correctly pointed out, compared to our Asian neighbors (which "have been busy bolstering military capabilities and, more importantly, re-building diplomatic bridges with the U.S."), "Manila has been slower on the uptake." The WSJ, however, was being kind indeed to the Philippines when it noted recent "assertiveness" on the part of the Philippines. But this assertiveness must be credited instead to our military, which bravely shooed away Chinese intrusion over the Spratly islands.

And the WSJ was indeed being kind when it excused our not being the sharpest tool in the shed to the fact that we don’t share land borders with China, as well as a "post-colonial chip on the shoulder of some Filipinos that makes it more difficult for their leaders to forge closer ties with America." While that may be true, nevertheless, money plays a large part in the calculus as well. Our inability to appreciate long-term and national gain over short-term individual benefits definitely plays a part. To this must be added our peculiar insecurity when faced with other cultures, as well as our uncertainty with regard to the correctness of our values and beliefs.

In any event, all this would be beside the point if only people can overcome our seeming revulsion to admitting mistakes and correcting ourselves. In this case, whether the Philippines can sufficiently create a more stable and trusting relationship with the US. Say what you will, the reality is still there and it’s something that this writer has been positing for years and for which the WSJ recently emphasized: "the geopolitical reality of the day -- America is the only country that can preserve the status quo in Asia."

In the meantime, the best way to deal with China in a manner protective of our national interests is by simply implementing our laws. Firstly, it would be good to really clamp down on smuggling. Not the so-called "technical smuggling," which in any event at least involves goods for which tariffs are paid (albeit in smaller amounts), but on smuggling itself. Items and agricultural products that illegally enter the country, harming our farmers and at the same time posing potential hazards to health, should be stopped. This is all the more significant when one considers that our economic growth is now already showing signs of slowing down.

Another would be stricter application of our immigration rules. Reports of foreigners surreptitiously entering our country should be investigated and prosecuted vigorously. Considering the rising unemployment in our country, to stop the entry of illegal aliens should be a priority.

Finally, our foreign and trade relations should be done not only with the view to financial gain but also to advancing human rights, labor standards, environmental protection, and democratic values. Why? Because we say we believe in them! It would be quite hypocritical of us to loudly pontificate on such only to forget them the moment some vulgarian dangles money in front of us.