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."