Contracepting common sense

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

The singularly unfortunate consequence of the recent plagiarism issue against Senator Vicente Sotto III is that it clouded the debate surrounding the RH Bill.

In particular, there is one question indeed that begs for clarity: can contraceptive use considerably endanger women’s health or of newborn babies?

This query prompted both sides of the debate to bring forth their own experts, as well as studies intended to fortify their positions. Commentators who lean towards supporting the RH Bill have had their opportunity and this column would like to present the other side of the medical divide.

So, are there grounds to reasonably believe that contraceptives used by their mothers pose a health risk for newborns?

Yes, if one at least considers recent studies on the matter. Thus, among just some of the dangers alleged are neural tube defects (from a study by the Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, China Medical University; 2011), childhood strokes (Christerson, Stromberg, Acta; 2010), and a disturbing hypothesis regarding hypoplastic left heart syndrome and gastroschisis (by Waller, DK., et. al., University of Texas, Houston Health Science Center; 2010).

To women themselves, the dangers arising from contraceptive use are apparently endless: breast cancer, cervical cancer, high blood pressure, heart attacks, venous thrombosis (or blood clotting), excessive bleeding, menstruation difficulties, permanent infertility (making even artificial insemination ineffective), migraines, and bone damage.

To verify this, one can easily look up (or Google) studies by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, US National Cancer Institute, American Association for Cancer Research, and the Mayo Clinic, as well as established publications like the British Medical Journal, Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology, and the Lancet. These studies are all fairly new, released or published from 2002 up.

But don’t just take this man’s word on the matter. Read what Jenn Giroux (longtime commentator on contraception and a registered nurse with decades of experience) has to say:

"Since 1975 there has been a 400% increase in in situ breast cancer among pre-menopausal women under 50 years old. This mirrors the increased use of birth control over these same years.

"A Mayo Clinic study confirms that any young girl or woman who is on hormonal birth control for 4 years prior to their first full term pregnancy increases their breast cancer risk by 52%.

"Women who use hormonal birth control for more than five years are four times more likely to develop cervical cancer.

"The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research arm of the World Health Organization, classifies all forms of hormonal contraception as a Group 1 carcinogen. This group of cancer causing agents also includes cigarettes and asbestos.

"In October 2010 the NY Times carried an article about Hormone Replacement Therapy drugs. It quoted the America Medical Association (AMA) as warning women that these post-menopausal drugs which were originally marketed as keeping a women ‘young and sexy’ were discovered instead to be more likely to cause advanced and deadly breast cancer. It stopped short of making one other startling revelation: The only difference between hormone replacement therapy drugs which cause deadly breast cancer and the hormonal birth control drugs (now mandated by the Obama administration) is that the birth control drugs are six times the dosage -- and are the very same drug!"

Contraceptives are seemingly so dangerous to health that the US Federal Drug Agency, within this year alone, had to either oversee the recall of or order increased warnings on two separate oral contraceptive brands due to the possible serious adverse health problems that they could cause. They are of such grave medical concern that numerous doctors in the United States (see the group One More Soul) have already decided not to prescribe contraceptives to their patients.

The irony of it is, with all the health risks attached to contraceptives, its success rate isn’t even that assuring. As the Illinois Right to Life Committee noted: "The effectiveness of contraceptives is not as high as often claimed. Contraceptive drugs are often claimed to be 99% effective. In fact, statistics show closer to a 7% failure rate for contraceptive drugs. The condom has a 15% failure rate. In contrast, NFP (natural family planning) that many critics claim is not effective has a success rate of 98%. Actually, Mother Teresa trained over 20,000 women in India to use NFP with a 0% failure rate."

Bottom line: in international law, we’re taught the "precautionary principle," which essentially says that if there’s a measure suspected of possibly causing harm to the population or environment, then the State should act according to its duty to protect its citizens or territory (unless substantial evidence can later on reasonably or conclusively prove that the possible dangers have been precluded).

This is just common sense: when your life and your children’s lives are at stake, when in doubt, you say no.

What you don’t do is go ahead and spend P13.7 billion on it.


Who should say what is a "Catholic"?

by Fr. Charles Belmonte

Christ promised his Church personal assistance in her task of the evangelization and salvation of mankind. Ordinarily, he lends that assistance through the pastors who, as his vicars, lead the Church in his name. Christ gave this assistance first to the apostles, then to the bishops, who succeeded them in the pastoral ministry (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 81).

One of the functions that Christ entrusted to the pastors of his Church is the Magisterium, the teaching of the Gospel of Christ in the name of Christ, who is the only teacher and pastor of our souls: “He who hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16).

The Second Vatican Council declared: “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone.” The Magisterium of the Church is an explanatory source of theology because it interprets revelation without adding or removing anything from the deposit of faith. Naturally, the Magisterium is subordinated to Sacred Scripture.

Theology and the Magisterium are complementary Church ministries. They are not opposing forces, representing contrary interests in a dialectical struggle. It would be a serious mistake about the nature of both to think of them as such.

The Magisterium is the contents of the official teaching of the Church as well as the exercise of her teaching role. This role is entrusted exclusively to the Hierarchy of the Church (the pope and the bishops united to him), which was established by Christ and received his pledge of the special assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to prevent any error in the exercise of its magisterial function.

The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. (Second Vatican Council, DV,10)

The Church is a prophetic community that preaches the word of God. As Christ was sent by the Father to be a witness to the truth, so also has the Church been sent by Christ to preach the Gospel to the entire human race, enabling all to believe and be saved. This prophetic nature is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people of God, whereby his children unfailingly adhere to the faith.

To guide the faithful in this growth and to teach the truth, Christ endowed his Church with a living Magisterium (Second Vatican Council, LG, 12; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 785, 888–892). This was the reason why Jesus Christ instituted in the Church a living, authentic, and never failing teaching authority.

“This teaching authority he endowed with his own power; he endowed it with the Spirit of Truth; he authenticated it by miracles; and it was his will and solemn command that the doctrinal precepts of this Church be accepted as his own” (Leo XIII, Enc. Satis Cognitum).

The mission of the Magisterium is not to reveal new truths –revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle– but rather to defend, guard, and interpret the received deposit of faith.

One of the most important historical responsibilities of the Magisterium is composing the Symbols of faith (Creeds) and the Catechisms, which contain and summarize the basic truths of Revelation. The oldest and most revered Symbols are the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes up this subject matter in nos. 185-197).

The Church’s Magisterium even though carried out through human instruments is not a human Magisterium: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).

The mission of the Magisterium is linked with the definitive character of the Covenant between God and his People. To fulfill this service, God made the universal Church infallible; it means that she cannot err in her teachings. The exercise of this charisma has the following characteristics:

·        The Roman Pontiff is infallible when solemnly teaches matters of faith or customs, or in his ordinary Magisterium, when he teaches truths concerning faith or morals which have to be held definitively by all Christians.
·        The College of Bishops under its head, the Pope, is subject of the same infallibility, when gathered together in an Ecumenical Council and exercising their Magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals, definitively declare for the universal Church a doctrine to be held concerning faith or morals; likewise, when the Bishops, dispersed throughout the world but maintaining the bond of union among themselves and with the successor of Peter, together with the same Roman Pontiff authentically teach matters of faith or morals, and are agreed that a particular teaching is definitively to be held.(Code of Canon Law, 749. )
·        The totality of the faithful possess a supernatural sense of faith; they are infallible when they unanimously believe that a truth has been revealed by God. Thus, the holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office. The entire body of the faithful cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the entire people, when, “from the bishops to the last of the faithful” they manifest a universal consensus in matters of faith and morals. (Second Vatican Council, LG, 12).

The ordinary Magisterium of the Pope and of the bishops in communion with the Pope dispersed throughout the world enjoys also Christ’s assistance and is always authentic because it is exercised in the name and with the authority of Christ: “He who hears you, hears me” (Lk 10:16). It proposes infallible definitions when it sets forth truths contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, or when it pronounces itself in a “definitive manner” (i.e., in a conclusive manner) on some truth.

The scope of the Church’s Magisterium covers everything referring in any way to faith and morals. This has the following consequences:
i) The Church has the right and duty to condemn all errors concerning faith and the salvation of souls.
ii) The Church has the right and duty to make judgments, with maximum authority, on social questions. As the Code of Canon Law states in can. 747, 2: “The Church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles, even in respect of the social order, and to make judgments about any human matter in so far as this is required by fundamental human rights or the salvation of souls.”
iii) By divine right, she has the duty to interpret the natural moral law, whose faithful fulfillment is necessary for salvation.
iv) Regarding the interpretation of Holy Scripture, “no one should dare to rely on his own judgment ... and to distort Sacred Scripture to fit meanings of his own that are contrary to the meaning that holy Mother Church has held and now holds; for it is her office to judge about the true sense and interpretation of Sacred Scripture” (Code of Canon Law, 747).

Role of the Theologians
Theologians receive revelation from the Church and receive faith within the Church. (John Paul II, “Homily at the Mass for the Roman Pontifical Universities”: L’Osservatore Romano, Nov. 9, 1981; CCC, 168–169)

At the same time, theology is extremely important for the life of the Church. Besides its scientific value, theology shares in the salvific function of Christian faith. Theologians have a special ecclesial responsibility; they must make sure that the talent they have received—the capacity to penetrate deeper into the deposit of faith with their intelligence—yields fruit for the glory of God and the benefit of souls.

In the Church, theologians are “teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11–12). A good theologian should feel this responsibility and be aware that this scientific work is also a service to the Church: “Theology is an ecclesial science because it grows in the Church and works on the Church. Thus, theology is never the private affair of a specialist, cut off in a kind of ivory tower. Theology is a service of the Church; the theologian should feel himself dynamically involved in the mission of the Church, particularly in her prophetic mission.”  (John Paul II, “Address at the Pontifical Gregorian University”: L’Osservatore Romano, Jan. 21, 1980).
“A deep ecclesial awareness,” teaches Pope John Paul II, “will be the most certain criterion to safeguard you from the risk of building on a foundation other than the one laid by God” (John Paul II, “Homily to the Roman Pontifical Universities”: L’Osservatore Romano, Nov. 9, 1981).

Further, he states, “Nobody can make of theology, as it were, a simple collection of his own personal ideas; everybody must be sure of being in close union with the mission of teaching the truth for which the Church is responsible” (John Paul II, Enc. Redemptor Hominis, 19: L’Osservatore Romano, Mar. 19, 1979).

A clear manifestation of this ecclesial outlook, “feeling with the Church” (sentire cum Ecclesia), is the willingness to correct any personal opinion that may break with the Magisterium of the Church.

“The role of the theologian is geared to the building up of ecclesial communion, so that the people of God may grow in the experience of faith” (Paul VI, “Letter to the Rector of the Louvain University,” Sep. 13, 1975).

“We do not wish that a mistaken suspicion unduly take hold of your mind: that there is a rivalry between two primacies, that of science and that of authority. There is only one primacy in the field of divine doctrine: that of the revealed truth, that of the faith, to which both theology and ecclesiastical Magisterium want to give diverse, though converging, approvals” (Paul VI, “Address to the International Theological Commission,” Oct. 6, 1969) .

Ecclesial Dimensions of Theology
Theology has the capacity and responsibility to enlighten the pastoral activity of the Church and the apostolate and spiritual life of each Christian.

The task of the theologian is an ecclesial mission, a participation in the evangelizing mission of the Church, and a pre-eminent service to the ecclesial community. Hence the grave responsibility of the theologian, who should always have in mind that the People of God—particularly the priests and future priests who will have to educate them in the faith—have the right to have explained to them without ambiguities or reductions the fundamental truths of the Christian faith (John Paul II, “Address to Theology Professors in Salamanca, Spain”: L’Osservatore Romano, Dec. 20, 1982) .

Theologians have great influence in the life of the soul. Therefore, their ecclesial responsibility should lead them to be extremely prudent in the publication and diffusion of their conclusions; they must avoid any scandal or confusion among the faithful in matters of faith or morals.

The faithful have the right not to be troubled by theories and hypotheses that they cannot judge, or that are easily reduced or manipulated by public opinion for ends that are opposed to the truth. On the day of his death, John Paul I stated: “Among the rights of the faithful, one of the greatest is the right to receive God’s word in all its entirety and purity....” (September 28, 1978).

It behooves the theologian to be free, but in that freedom must be openness to the truth and to the light that comes from faith and from fidelity to the Church (John Paul II, “Address at the Catholic University of America”: L’Osservatore Romano, Nov. 5, 1979).

“Aware of the influence that their research and their statements have on catechetical instruction, theologians must take great care not to pass off questions that are matters of opinion or of discussion among experts as certain” (John Paul II, Ap. Ex. Catechesi Tradendae, Oct. 16, 1979, 61 (in More Post-Conciliar Documents, p. 800).

“Those who are teachers of the faith should avoid bewildering people and using confusing language that may lead to ambiguity.

“Theologians and those who work with them should teach the Christian people to understand well the events and situations of doctrinal confusion in which their Christian faith and vocation are placed under practical challenge.… The treatises of theologians should render the faith more lucid; theology is not merely to be consigned to weighty volumes and Summas (however valuable), but to be lived in a simple—I dare say—“popular” fashion” (John Paul II, “Address to Belgian Bishops”: L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 25, 1982).

   A practical consequence of this attitude of humility is that the declarations of the Magisterium will always be received with appreciation and veneration.

Also, if there is sincere humility, the duty of teaching the faith and giving clear orientations to the faithful cannot be seen as a limitation of freedom.
Faithfulness to the Pope includes a clear and definite duty: that of knowing his thought, which he tells us in encyclicals or other documents. We have to do our part to help all Catholics pay attention to the teaching of the Holy Father, and bring their everyday behavior into line with it. This norm especially applies to theologians, who should always be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, support it, and defend it with their science.

Revelation is not a set of impersonal ideas; rather, it is the Creator’s word and invitation to mankind. Theologians must, therefore, pay special attention to his word, and give it the consideration due to the living God.

Thus, theology implies an attitude of prayer, since prayer is the human word uttered in response to the word of God. Prayer is the most effective way to impel, inspire, and verify any understanding of the faith—intellectus fidei. A prayerful theologian imitates St. Mary, Mother of the Church, who kept divine revelation in her heart: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).

 The assent due to the different Magisterial declarations differs, depending on the type of documents involved or whether or not it is proposed in a definitive manner. “By divine and Catholic faith everything that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, and that is proposed by the Church must be believed as a divinely revealed object of belief, be it in a solemn decree or in her ordinary, universal teaching.” (Very well known compilation of the defined truths of Henrico Denzinger, later expanded (32nd ed.) by Adolf Schoenmetzer: Enchiridion Symbolorum, Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum [DS].DS 1507).

Regarding the doctrinal and moral decisions of the ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff and of the Bishops in the exercise of their authentic Magisterium, external silence is not sufficient. One has “to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind.”(DS 3011).

Limits of Theological Pluralism
Theological pluralism does not refer to dogma (dogmatic pluralism) or to doctrines definitively settled by the Church. The truth revealed by God and taught by the Church as such is as immutable as God himself.

In referring to the object of faith, “any meaning of the sacred dogmas that has once been declared by Holy Mother Church must always be retained”(DS 3020).

Questions that are properly de fide are no longer subject to free interpretation; any opinion different from the sense defined by the Church would no longer be a valid theological opinion, but a heresy. “There must never be any deviation from that meaning on the specious ground of a more profound understanding” (Ibid).

“The due freedom of theologians must always be limited by the word of God as it is faithfully preserved and expounded in the Church and taught and explained by the living Magisterium.” (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decl. Mysterium Ecclesiae, June 24, 1973 (in More Post-Conciliar Documents).

 Theologians should strive to go deeper into revelation and understand it better, confident that intellectual rigor and the guidance of the Holy Spirit will go hand in hand. They will never be led to the extreme of having to doubt or contradict what the Church had already conclusively defined with divine certitude.

A traditional formula sums up the golden rule of theological research: Unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is debatable, charity in everything (In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas).

Role of the Laity
 The laity—part of the Church—also teaches, announcing Christ with their words, the testimony of their lives, and their speech. Thus, they teach their children, relatives, and friends “so that the power of the Gospel may shine out in daily family and social life.”(Second Vatican Council, LG, 35)

Lay people with sufficient knowledge may impart catechetical formation, teach the sacred sciences, and collaborate in the means of social communication. In keeping with their knowledge, they also have the right and the duty to manifest to the pastors (and to the other faithful) their views on matters that concern the good of the Church, always respecting the integrity of faith and morals.(Code of Canon Law, 212, 229, 774, 776, 780, 823).

It is their task to cultivate a properly informed conscience, and to impress the divine law on the affairs of the earthly city.… The lay people are called to participate actively in the entire life of the Church; not only are they to animate the world with the spirit of Christianity, but they are to be witnesses to Christ in all circumstances and at the very heart of the community of mankind (Second Vatican Council, GS, 43)

This evangelization [by the lay people] … acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world.

[Married and family life have] a special importance in this prophetic office [of the Church].… In it, the married partners have their own proper vocation: they must be witnesses of faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children.…
Therefore, even when occupied by temporal affairs, the laity can, and must, do valuable work for the evangelization of the world. (Second Vatican Council, LG, 35).


It's more dumb in the Philippines

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

But is it really? It was only when Alvin Capino mentioned it in Karambola (DWIZ, weekday mornings; frankly, it’s the smartest radio talk show today) that I became aware of how shockingly low the Philippine’s average IQ level is. My first reaction was: well that explains a lot, particularly our propensity for undisciplined traffic and for voting idiots into public office.

The Philippines scored an average of 86, which (in the Binet Scale) qualifies as dull. I actually prefer the old, politically incorrect classification (if only to ram the point home): we actually are borderline cretin in terms of IQ, just one level up from moron and two levels up from an imbecile.

The country with the highest average IQ score is Hong Kong (with 107), followed by South Korea (106), Japan (105), Taiwan (104), Singapore (103), Austria (102), Germany (102), Italy (102), Netherlands (102). The US scored 98. On the other hand, the Philippines keeps for company countries such as Libya (84), Lebanon (86), and Burma (86). China, Thailand, and Indonesia all scored higher than us (100, 91, 89, respectively).

Which probably indicates that the ability to speak foreign-accented English means nothing in terms of intelligence.

Scoring lower would be countries like Angola (69), Ethiopia (63), and Somalia (68). And at least Ethiopia beats us (actually many times over) as far as the Olympics is concerned.

The foregoing data was taken from 2002’s IQ and the Wealth of Nations by University of Ulster’s Dr. Richard Lynn and University of Tampere’s Dr. Tatu Vanhanen.

The findings -- expectedly -- garnered its fair share of critics and as rebuttal (along with additional information and analysis) the two released in 2006 IQ and Global Inequality. The two books essentially contain the same general conclusions: that differences in national income are related to differences in average national intelligence. Indeed, a simple glance at the top 10 and the lowest 10 of Drs. Lynn and Vanhanen’s list would show the clear disparity in economic success.

While some, perhaps more for ideological reasons than anything else, will dispute the importance of IQs in place of more politically sensitive ratings such as emotional quotient or EQs, nevertheless, the significance of IQs can’t be denied nor should it be ignored. While it is definitely not the case that IQs are the sole determining factor of individual success or merit, George Mason University’s Garett Jones (National IQ and National Productivity: The Hive Mind Across Asia; Asian Development Review, 2011) gives strong support to the study mentioned above: "National average IQ has a strong positive correlation with gross domestic product per worker across Asian countries. Jones and Schneider (2006) demonstrated that the relationship between national IQ and economic performance is robust across hundreds of growth regressions controlling for dozens of widely used control variables."

Jones insight is that there "are good reasons for thinking that intelligence -- the name used for the underlying trait measured by IQ tests -- matters more for nations than for individuals."

For instance, the capacity of a people to be patient (hence saving more and building up capital), be more cooperative with each other (and preserving better wealth-creating institutions), productive, and open to seeing "the invisible hand," thus making prosperity more likely, all hinge on the people’s intelligence.

The foregoing also seems to support George Mason University’s John Nye. In a recent visit to Manila, he discussed an upcoming paper dealing with the matter of trust: the more intelligent a country’s population the more trusting it is and, as our previously mentioned studies have shown, apparently richer as well.

But I also think intelligence is a trait that restrains promiscuity, produces disciplined motorists, promotes adherence to the rule of law, and makes people demand greater accountability.

However, the question remains: why does our population have such low IQ scores? The answer may lie in something mentioned by Jones: "In the Visayas region of the Philippines, Solon et al. (2008) found evidence that lead levels reduced the IQ of children. In their study, one microgram of lead per liter of blood was associated with a 2.5 point reduction in the verbal IQ of older children, and a 3.3 point reduction in the IQ of young children. In their sample of children, the levels of lead in the blood averaged 7.1 micrograms per liter, so lead exposure could be costing the average child in this sample 15 IQ points even under conservative estimates."

So something in our environment, whether it be lead content in the water or (as sometimes suspected) mercury levels in certain fish, or the quality of media, entertainment, parenting, or education, is dragging the country’s collective intelligence down.

One way or another, this must be addressed primarily because, as mentioned at the start of this article, it obviously accounts for our voting patterns. As the old adage goes, we get the leaders we deserve.

Or put another way: birds of the same feather flock together.


Disputatious Mr. B

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

What probably got trade negotiators excited was the decision to hold the next World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference -- the highest decision-making body of the WTO -- in sunny Bali, Indonesia in December next year. But that probably is just to hide the fact that international trade is not going to make much headway into the next year or so.

US jobs growth, as compared to unemployment rates, is such that not that even US President Barack Obama can spin it to benefit his reelection campaign. Greece is still a problem and people are looking warily at China’s economy. Adding to this are the political uncertainties that Syria, Iran, and North Korea are making.

The problem, at least as far as trade is concerned, particularly boils down to the current US president, who seems more intent on scoring political points rather than showing the global leadership that is so sorely needed. As Jagdish Baghwati, writing for Handelsblatt, pointed out: "the US killed Doha. Or at least put into Intensive Care. The WTO Ministerial in November 2011 ended without concluding Doha, in defiance of all the efforts that leading scholars and statesmen worldwide had been making in its behalf. The astonishing thing is that Doha was a multilateral-liberalization initiative; and ironically, it was killed by President Obama who had ironically been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by Norway in the expectation that he would promote multilateralism and turn his back on US unilateralism!"

This is so because "under the Obama administration, already under siege from the labor unions who were hostile to trade, was resolutely opposed to closing the Doha Round unless numerous concessions were made to appease its business lobbies. Thus, Obama administration wanted Doha Heavy: several demands for more concessions by others, especially the major developing countries, including new concessions in services, were to be negotiated.

"This meant, of course, that the conclusion of Doha would be put off by some years: Doha would then be dead for all practical purposes. So, many preferred to opt for Doha Lite: add a few concessions by the US and India on agriculture (which had earlier been a sticking point: the US concessions were inadequate and the Indian demands for special Safeguards were excessive), some minor concessions in manufactures that would appease difficult Congressmen in the US, and close the Round. The long laundry list of concessions demanded but not negotiated would then be handled by declaring a new Round of ‘unfinished agenda’ just as the Doha Round could be seen as one, tantalizingly an Obama Round, addressing the ‘unfinished agenda’ of the Uruguay Round. But this was roundly rejected by the US."

In short, expect the US to go into protectionism mode for the next couple of years at least. Which means that the rest of the world will follow. As Pascal Lamy, WTO Director-General, reported last June: "There has been no slowdown in the imposition of new trade restrictions over the past seven months. Since mid-October 2011, 182 new measures that restrict or can potentially restrict or distort trade have been recorded, affecting around 0.9% of world imports. The main measures are trade remedy actions, tariff increases, import licences and customs controls."

And the expected repercussions are grim: "An uncertain global context is still prevailing, and economic conditions may get even worse. The recovery of the global economy remains weak and unemployment levels are high. World trade growth decelerated significantly last year, due mainly to the economic slowdown in major world economies. Merchandise trade volume grew by only 5.0% in 2011, a sharp fall from 13.8% in 2010. As the global economy continues to lose momentum, trade growth is projected to slow further to 3.7% in 2012, well below the long-term annual average of 5.4% for the last 20 years. Exports of developed economies are projected to grow by 2% this year, and developing countries’ exports by 5.6%. With tight government budgets, high unemployment, slower growth, and the prospects of further imminent multilateral market opening seemingly reduced, the threat of protectionist pressures looms even larger."

The seeming reaction of countries is to resort to more disputes. To date, this year, there has been around 14 disputes filed already, which is a little high considering that the past years saw the number of disputes peak at 19 for the entire year. Trade observers point out that if this keeps up, we could see a record 24 disputes filed this year.

Normally, disputes are considered welcome developments. It indicates healthy trade among WTO member countries (or else, why resort to disputes?). At the same time, it indicates continuing trust in the WTO’s dispute settlement system. However, this year seems to be different and 2012’s disputes are looked at with concern by those who’ve been monitoring the WTO for years.

The effectiveness of the WTO dispute system and the benefits it allows developing countries is something we’ll examine in succeeding articles.


Ordinary people

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

To borrow from Scott Hahn, it was the moment I "got" Opus Dei: it was while watching a video of its founder St. Josemaria Escriva in the middle of a question-and-answer session before a large audience. A professional-looking man got up and asked St. Escriva, "can you tell me if there is any sign that would show me I am living the teachings of Opus Dei faithfully and well?" Anybody who saw that video or was actually there would never forget how St. Escriva, without missing a beat, without a second’s pause, give this answer: "if your wife is happy."

That instance perfectly captured what oftentimes is difficult to convey in words when talking to someone yet to "get" Opus Dei: that by simply doing the normal daily acts of one’s life, if done out of love for God and for literally everybody, one can achieve holiness. Without the need for martyrdom, miracles, or other dramatic events, just the plumber, doctor, engineer, politician, or housewife going about their ordinary jobs in the best way they can. As St. Escriva wrote: "That work -- humble, monotonous, small -- is prayer expressed in action."

This entails us to happily (and contemplatively) live in the present. Or as St. Escriva would urge, real love is not about "sweet words but deeds." Thus, sanctity is achieved by "doing the little duties of each moment": for the student it is being focused while in class, for the driver it is being watchful and careful on the road, for the janitor it is ensuring every spot has been cleaned, the teacher making the lesson plan, the father setting aside his work and giving himself completely to his family during dinner. This "universal call to holiness" that Opus Dei espouses is not limited to Catholics; even non-Christians can be a part of Opus Dei.

This is a radical claim, astonishingly even as recent as today. But it’s a teaching that is "as old as the Gospels and yet forever new." One does not need to be a priest or a nun to be holy. That anyone, without ostentation or loud displays of piety, by living his daily life as well as he or she is able, can achieve that holiness.

Unfortunately, there’s a need to correct the undeserved bad rap that the media gave Opus Dei, which is celebrating several "anniversaries" this year. The weird thing is that most people who think of Opus Dei (literally, "God’s work") as sinister haven’t even probably met a faithful of the Opus Dei or didn’t even know that the ever-smiling, always-helpful guy in the office or neighborhood is actually one. Frankly, the most cheerful people I’ve met, known, or befriended are Opus Dei. And there’s a profound yet simple reason for their cheerfulness, which has little to do with PR or image-making.

The "main weapon" of Opus Dei, again as old as the Gospels and yet forever new, is "divine filiation." It’s a technical theological term that essentially says: "we are God’s children." This is obviously not exclusive to Opus Dei as this has always been a core teaching of the Catholic Church. But Opus Dei has placed special emphasis in this: that God is our caring father, ever-present, constantly watching out for our well-being. Oftentimes we will not understand what He wants, for what child can so fully comprehend? But He is there for us. And that is why the faithful of Opus Dei are always cheerful (and calm) because, with God as your father, what’s the need for worry? Success? Failure? Not your problem. Just do your absolute best, then have the confidence to know it’ll turn out the way our Father wants it, which will always be for the good.

To close, I turn to the experiences of a far superior writer than me: popular author and apologetic Scott Hahn. On the path to becoming a Catholic (he was then a Protestant), he experienced difficulties with his wife (also then a Protestant), who wasn’t exactly thrilled at his plans of conversion. So Scott Hahn did what any intellectual would do: he bombarded his wife Kimberly with all the theological arguments and writings he could think of to convince her that Catholicism was the correct way.

Unfortunately, it made Kimberly more irritated and even start drifting away.

Desperate, he turned to two friends for help, one a layman, the other a priest, both of whom happened to be members of Opus Dei. And the advice they gave to Scott surprised him: "tone down the theology and turn on the romance."

But Scott Hahn followed their advice. Instead of trying to build the best argument, he just worked hard at becoming a "better husband, better father, better son."

With that, and with Kimberly’s loving approval, he became a Catholic. Soon after, so did Kimberly.

That’s it. Very ordinary. So Opus Dei.