Leaking TPP

was the subject of my Trade Tripper column in the past weekend's issue of BusinessWorld:

One denunciation made (from among the many) about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the alleged secrecy enveloping it. So supposedly secret that even US members of Congress reportedly complained about being in the dark regarding its contents. So secret that purportedly only three persons from each TPP negotiating country has access to the full text of the trade agreement.

Your Trade Tripper found all this clandestineness a bit puzzling ("TPP. RCEP. WTH?? LOL!", 02 August 2013) as US President Barack Obama will eventually need to have the good graces of Congress anyway to have the trade promotion authority to enter the US into the TPP. So, perhaps there was a hint of inevitability about WikiLeaks lifting the cloak surrounding the TPP, releasing 95 pages of the trade agreement’s intellectual property provisions.

It all the more was to be expected because if there was any part in the TPP considered truly contentious then the intellectual property chapter has to be it. This particularly so because of the TPP’s perceived possibly damaging effects on medicine prices, coupled with the criticism that the TPP empowers multinational corporations to sue States directly (thus overriding State immunity). 

International Business Times ("WikiLeaks Releases Draft Chapter For Trans-Pacific Partnership On Intellectual Property, 13 November 2013) reported that the TPP "could create tougher laws on digital copyrights and freedom of speech." Quoting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange: "If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons." Thus, "if you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs."

And building exactly on fears that the enforcement provisions of the TPP could override State sovereignty, the IBT’s article ominously states that: "The section entitled ‘Enforcement’ outlines new policy measures, including a proposal for supranational litigation tribunals to which national courts are expected to defer but which have no human rights safeguards, the press release said. The chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence, and replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA treaties."

Even more trenchant is RT.Com’s take (TPP Uncovered: WikiLeaks releases draft of highly-secretive multi-national trade deal; 13 November 13) on the matter: "Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy organization, has warned that US Trade Representatives privy to the TPP discussions have demanded provisions that ‘would strengthen, lengthen and broaden pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS drugs, among others, in the Asia-Pacific region.’ Indeed, the leaked chapter suggests drug companies could easily extend and widen patents under the TPP, prohibiting other countries from producing life-saving pills and selling them for less. Outside of the world of medicine, though, the implications that could come with new copyright rules agreed upon my essentially half of the world’s economy are likely to affect everyone."

The concerns regarding the TPP cannot be said to be without basis. It’s breadth and scope are truly staggering: the TPP is an expanded version of the 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement and currently includes as parties or potential parties Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Japan and China are also considering or being considered for TPP membership.

The foregoing is to be contrasted with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is a proposed FTA between the ASEAN members (Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. Both the TPP and the RCEP claim to remove the problems that a "noodle bowl" of trade agreements brings. But the more important consideration for the Philippines perhaps lies beyond merely trade but rather the bigger picture: the TPP has the US in it (and perhaps Japan) but not China, while the RCEP has both China and Japan but not the US.

Going back to the leaked documents: although other TPP documents have made their way to public scrutiny, the recent WikiLeaks release is significant for including details of the different country’s negotiating positions.

From Info.Org ("Visualizing Negotiating Positions in the TPP IP Chapter"; 17 November 2013), we see the relative isolation (in negotiating positions) of the US and Japan. More, interesting, however, is how some countries have consistent patterns of similarity in negotiating interests, among which include: Malaysia-Singapore, Malaysia-Vietnam, Brunei-Vietnam, Brunei-Malaysia, Chile-Singapore, Chile-New Zealand; with a negotiating core of New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, and Malaysia. Surprisingly, Australia-New Zealand does not seem to have such high similarity in positions as is generally supposed.

Ultimately, however, the truth about the TPP is likely in the middle. Undeniably, there’s a need to study it from a particularly developing-country perspective. Interested readers are invited to go to https://wikileaks.org/tpp to see for themselves the TPP’s merits or lack thereof.


Killing zombies

is my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

Zombies surround us. They’re everywhere. Television, movies, computer games. Jane Austen has co-author credits on a novel about them. There are websites and books dedicated to giving tips on how to survive a zombie apocalypse, including academic papers involving mathematical modeling and tax implications.

Brown University even offered a course, "Zombie as Metaphor," which seeks to "introduce students to recent US intellectual history by examining the changing ‘evils’ as represented by zombies in popular culture." Doing so, "involves not just a critical analysis of zombie films and associated fiction, but also a deeper reflection upon the changing (and challenging) social landscape that gave rise to this genre."

Social commentators and media obviously see in zombies a metaphor of the social condition. Most famously, director George Romero saw zombies as evocative of the effects of consumerism and capitalist consumption gone berserk. Which probably explains why Dawn of the Dead mostly takes place in a mall.

But there are other plausible interpretations as to why zombies strike a nerve in us. My own take is that it’s a subconscious lashing out against the receding of rationality and the imposition of a wrong notion of humanity. Or it’s probably just representative of our secret desire for revenge against all the stupidity surrounding us.

Anyway, to better explain the former, let’s look at the traits that make up a zombie. There are many kinds of zombies, by the way: there are the shuffling zombies of Night of the Living Dead as well as The Walking Dead; then you have the running vicious zombies of Dawn of the Dead or Zombieland; then there are the ultra-slow zombies of Shaun of the Dead; the dancing zombies in "Thriller"; there’s the better not mentioned romantic zombies of Warm Bodies; and, finally, you have the frenzied, incredibly aggressive zombies of 28 Days Later and World War Z (although I’m not really sure if they’re zombies but rather just crazed infected people).

Nevertheless, despite the variety, zombies possess an essential nature, which zombie.wikia described this way: "A Zombie, in its broadest sense, is a person who has lost his or her sense of self-awareness and identity, and cares only for the destruction (and often consumption) of any human around, no matter what the circumstances, or cost to his or her self. They make up for this loss of intelligence in sheer numbers, as the state of zombieism is almost always contagious, and spreads like wildfire. Technically speaking, true zombies are always dead."

Marilla Mulwane, in (the quite ironical) Life Paths 360 Blog, clinically enumerates the known characteristics of zombies as: pale grey skin, unhealed wounds, lack of communication skills (no zombie can carry an intelligent conversation), shuffling when trying to walk, one track mind. Of the last: "Here is the most obvious way to tell if you are dealing with a zombie. They are only interested in one thing: your brains. Zombies will do nothing but shuffle along in the direction that they sense the brains are. They will not be distracted by anything else. They will hunt down the brains even if it means falling over cliffs, into burning buildings, or into someone’s pitchfork. Because of this, zombies are incredibly easy to spot."

An inarticulate unthinking self-indulgent slacker mob going around hating and wanting to destroy anyone with brains? Social media anti-intellectualism right there! But, less flippantly, perhaps the true reason why we’re so gripped by zombies is our inherent abhorrence of the irrational. And zombies, despite their human form, are exclusively geared toward serving its compulsions for which reason (including free will and personal responsibility) plays no part.

Secular progressives and liberals are quick to jump on this mindlessness angle by equating the zombies with religious folks. They are sadly mistaken -- it’s actually the reverse. Liberals miss the point about zombies. It was once asked in Season 3 of The Walking Dead whether or not zombies are human. After all, they have limbs and faces, walk and look like humans. Language or their humanoid form can’t be the dividing line. The main religions will refer to the absence of a soul, with Catholics (following St. Aquinas) adding the utter lack of reason.

On the other hand, as they can’t acknowledge the soul’s existence (for obvious reasons) or concede completely regarding the intellect (as they then would have to admit to free will and personal responsibility), liberals are compelled to rely on David Hume’s idea of passions -- not reason -- being the moving force for humans. Which necessarily leads them to their inability to answer as to what therefore separates humans from zombies.

The point: because of media’s, the academe’s, and even governments’ insistence in marginalizing God and objective morality, people are constantly pressured to embrace the unthinkable idea that our humanity is relative and irrational. The resultant loathing they feel they then project subconsciously on zombies. And thus the glee whenever one gets blown away on TV.


Suits 2.0

is my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld: 

That the rule of law is essential for a dynamic and prosperous society is now widely considered as gospel. It is therefore ironic that the profession directly and primarily entrusted with upholding it is oftentimes treated like a necessary nuisance. But contrary to conventional wisdom, however, the problem is not that we have too many lawyers but rather whether lawyers are adaptable to today’s shifting demands.

Even then, it’s inaccurate to say we have too many lawyers. Wikipedia (citing IBP data) says we presently have 40,000 living lawyers. Assuming that figure correct, we therefore have a “lawyer density” of 2.5 lawyers per 1,000 Filipinos (with an assumed population of 100,000,000). In which case, our lawyer density is well below that of the US (at 3.65 lawyers per 1,000 US citizens, and Spain’s 3.36, but above Italy’s 2.33 and Canada’s 2.20; see The Optimum Number of Lawyers, Stephen P. Magee, November 2010).

But the changed reality of the legal profession today is such that a huge number of those 40,000 lawyers are not into litigation. Most instead successfully parlayed their legal discipline as a more rigorous alternative to a Master’s degree to advance in their careers in corporate management, entrepreneurship, academe, government, or international economic or financial institutions. Thus, the number of lawyers actually providing traditional legal work is relatively small, the short supply probably explaining the country’s high legal costs.

So, it’s how to adapt and improve – not the quantity of – lawyers that’s crucial. Which leads to the matter as to what kind of legal education is most fitting. In 1954, a young man asked US Justice Felix Frankfurter the same exact question. His reply is as insightful now as it was then:

“No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give. No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music. Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget about your future career.”

The answer therefore: a humanities oriented, liberal arts education. Doubtless one must pass the Bar exams and one should indeed prepare for it. But a law career goes beyond the Bar, with consequences that will affect society in general due to the lawyer’s responsibilities in developing and upholding the rule of law.

This is why every law school loudly declares its ambition to produce lawyers mindful of the common good. But as one noted educator pointed out: “A desire to work for the common good is not enough. The way to make this desire effective is to form competent men and women who can transmit to others the maturity which they themselves have achieved.”

This “maturity” is achievable in several ways. One is PAREF schools’ highly successful system of “one-on-one mentoring”. Here, each student has a mentor he or she regularly chats with, forming a supportive relationship that develops the student’s personality, character, and over-all potential.

Another is instilling in law students the need for a moral compass, respect for human dignity, self-mastery, and strong faith – all the products of a good liberal education. And the reason is simple. While strictly respecting the freedom of students’ consciences, nevertheless, as the aforementioned educator advised: “A man who lacks religious formation is a man whose education is incomplete. That is why religion should be present in the universities, where it should be taught at the high, scholarly level of good theology. A university from which religion is absent is an incomplete university, it neglects a fundamental facet of human personality.”

Also necessary is for our lawyers to develop an “international” outlook. The constitutional “doctrine of incorporation” made this inevitable, what with international law forming part of the laws of the Philippines. But this globalization of our lawyers’ mindsets must also be based on pragmatic considerations, including particularly our nation’s interests. The decision of some local law schools to favor WTO or ICC courses (or even the EC), for example, has sadly come at the expense of lawyers being completely unfamiliar with the legal systems of our neighboring trading partners in ASEAN and APEC. 

In any event, it’ll be fascinating to see the University of Asia and the Pacific’s School of Law and Governance (slg.uap.asia) make good on its mission of producing cultured, multi-disciplined, ethical lawyers capable of responding ably to society’s altered demands on the legal profession.


Blinded me with science

is my Trade Tripper column in this weekend's issue of BusinessWorld:

Gone are the days when the world’s debates hinged on ideologies, be it communism, socialism, feminism, Marxism, or any other -ism. Pretty much everybody now agrees that a democratic, market-oriented form of governance works best for societies (and particularly the poor). This all the more because socialism and communism, going by empirical evidence, are clearly spectacular failures.

Indeed, any possible source of struggle for the 21st century would likely be from the differences in religions (or the lack thereof). The secular progressives’ response to this is to advance the idea of science as the better alternative to faith-based philosophies. Unfortunately, they presuppose certain things about the nature of science that are not actually correct.

One thing that people may not realize is that the scientist’s ability to function hinges substantially on what ordinarily would be considered as mere beliefs. Secularists would like us to think that science works exclusively on cold data. The fact of the matter, however, is that oftentimes it operates a lot on blind faith. Think about this: how many scientists actually talked to the foreign or past researchers they referred to, how many of them actually bothered or had the time to verify the information contained in the studies, journals, or research they relied on for their own work, or vetted the universities or international organizations they cited (not to mention their source of funding)?

Considerably, all scientific work proceeds from three huge assumptions: that the scientific process was done properly, that the modes of perception upon which the observations were based were optimum, and that the interpretation of what was observed was done objectively.

This fact was actually highlighted by a series of stories The Economist ran last 19 October 2013 (“How science goes wrong”): “A simple idea underpins science: ‘trust, but verify’. Results should always be subject to challenge from experiment. That simple but powerful idea has generated a vast body of knowledge. Since its birth in the 17th century, modern science has changed the world beyond recognition, and overwhelmingly for the better. But success can breed complacency. Modern scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying -- to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity.”

Furthermore, the “hallowed process of peer review is not all it is cracked up to be, either. When a prominent medical journal ran research past other experts in the field, it found that most of the reviewers failed to spot mistakes it had deliberately inserted into papers, even after being told they were being tested.”

Finally, in “Trouble at the lab” (The Economist, 19 October 2013): “The idea that the same experiments always get the same results, no matter who performs them, is one of the cornerstones of science’s claim to objective truth. If a systematic campaign of replication does not lead to the same results, then either the original research is flawed (as the replicators claim) or the replications are (as many of the original researchers on priming contend). Either way, something is awry.” All the foregoing “fits with another line of evidence suggesting that a lot of scientific research is poorly thought through, or executed, or both.”

As a political aside, such is probably why even US President Barack Obama (who seems to want to give an image of being a man of facts rather than of faith, unlike his predecessor) himself also considers science a “non-essential” (see “Why isn’t science deemed essential?”, Hank Campbell, USA Today, 15 October 2013).

Despite all that, however, science is indeed important as it provides us an avenue to arrive at absolute truths. As pointed out by philosopher Fr. Cecilio Magsino in his blog Viatores (“The limits of science,” 18 October 2013): “Science does provide us with absolutes, if by absolutes we understand definitive statements. Take the formulas everyone knows: F=ma, E=mc2. Science does give final answers. Doctors know that finally we have cures for certain illnesses. I understand, though, what he is trying to say: that science always moves forward so as to present new theories to better understand the world and nature. That is true. But what we cannot say is that science does not arrive at truths with great certainty.” But there is a caveat: in the end, however, the thing about “science is that its truths are always valid within a context, that in which the conclusions were arrived at.”

So, we’re clearly not belittling science (or scientists). Quite the contrary. But as Fr. Magsino points out: “Science is the great endeavor of the human race and, in a way, it has united the world. But like anything that is the product of human work it needs philosophy or wisdom to make sense out of it.”

Or as Pope John Paul II more poetically described it in his magnificent Fides et Ratio: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”