Death and the transgender

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

The death of a Filipino transgender, allegedly at the hands of a US serviceman, has sparked a profound debate within the country on the nature of gender identity and our society’s treatment of it. This, it must be remembered, is coming within the context of a then ongoing (but now concluded) and yet equally controversial “extraordinary” Synod of the Catholic Church on the family.

Immediately, one point of contention raised was how to identify the victim, born Jeffrey Laude but who began calling himself “Jennifer” after he decided he was a transgender and had his appearance altered to look like a woman. The LGBT advocates, feminist groups, and others from the Left demanded that he be called Jennifer, citing as reason that it was what Jeffrey wanted. The other reason is that looking at foreign international media’s guidelines (e.g., the Associated Press stylebook), respect is urged for the “pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.”

But that raises further questions. Since when have foreign newspaper stylebooks been binding on the Philippines? Considering further our almost automatic reaction to shout “sovereignty” at every opportunity against foreigners.

So if foreign stylebooks are not mandatory and binding, what is? What should compel everybody (bullied actually) -- as the LGBT community, feminist groups, and the Left want -- to call Laude other than his given name found in government and official papers?

Because unless there’s contrary proof, every legal official document or record has him as Jeffrey Laude and lists him as “male.” Should everyone therefore be forced to adjust factual or official reporting simply because of a person’s feelings or the demand of “progressive” activists?

If he did call himself by another name, how different is that from an alias or stage name? And again, what legal basis should a mere say-so be controlling over the rest of the country? The so-called Yogyakarta Principles are not international law and are without legal effect. It’s even been rejected in a UN General Assembly vote. And our own Supreme Court emphatically ruled that a person’s sex is “immutable” (Silverio vs. Republic).

And contrary to what the media say, there is unfortunately a notable dearth of categorical medical conclusions regarding transgenders. And, at best, country studies have shown that transgender populations would be less than 1%, with the ever-present possibility that a transgender would later choose to re-identify with his or her original sexual identity (there are known instances of transgenders doing that).

So do we conform our news reporting and legal documentation based on a person’s unilateral choice?

But if anyone says everyone should be followed based on one’s own say-so, well, try saying that again when a woman gets harassed in a public bathroom by a large burly man claiming to be a lesbian. Because transgenderism does not necessarily have anything to do with sexual orientation. One can be a transgender and yet still have sexual desires for another of the opposite or same sex. And, to repeat, the science on this is not conclusive.

However, it must also be asked: what does Laude’s being a transgender have to do with this criminal case? A human being was murdered. Period. Objectively speaking, his being a declared transgender may serve as a mitigating or aggravating circumstance for the accused. That’s it. Even assuming that this is indeed a “hate crime” (assuming further it exists in our laws), this still needs to be backed up by facts.

Having said that, what does the Visiting Forces Agreement have anything to do with this? The serviceman allegedly committed the crime off-duty. The Philippines has prosecuted him, for which there will be a trial. Granted, the US has custody of him. But the same goes for a Filipino serviceman in the US who committed a crime. The Philippines would also retain custody of its soldier. That is under the VFA as well.

But this one case should be taken within the context that of the thousands of foreigners visiting our country, only around 200 foreigners have been convicted of crimes on our shores and jailed. Compare that with the hundreds of violent crimes committed against American, Japanese or Korean visitors each year.

And take the context of the thousands of rape cases in our country. In 2010, a total of 4,572 cases of rape were documented by the Women and Children Protection Center of the Philippine National Police (WCPC-PNP), 19 of which were incestuous or perpetrated by a victim’s blood relative. The true figures, however, could be much higher.

People, for whatever reason, are getting passionate about this case. Mostly, however, to push their ideological agenda. But we must not lose sight of the tragic fact that a fellow human being was killed. And it does nobody good when we act beyond reason.


The new face of conservatism

my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

Conservatism has had a bad rap. The cartoon stereotype made by mainstream or social media is of a humorless old man or spinsterish woman, angry at others’ happiness -- misogynistic, homophobic haters more concerned with lecturing people about rules than about people themselves, sitting alone in a darkened room. But times change.
Michelle Malkin / Katherine Timpf / Matt Walsh / Greg Gutfeld
Poll results released last September by the Pew Forum indicated possible changes in US citizens’ beliefs about religion and the role it plays in politics. But as described by Maggie Gallagher (for National Review), “the poll was also remarkable for showing a rather dramatic drop in support for gay marriage in one year, after years of uninterrupted rises. Do you favor ‘allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally’ is an imperfect question, but it does allow tracking across time. Overall support for gay marriage dropped from 54% to 49%.”

Also, “white Evangelical support for gay marriage dropped 4 percentage points, from 22% to 18%; Catholic support dropped 9 percentage points, from 61% to 52%. (White mainline Protestant opinion was virtually unchanged, rising from 56% support to 57% support.)”

Reasons have been given for this perceptible shift in attitudes. Whatever it may be, it is also undeniable that the conservative movement is gaining a lot from the coming into prominence of younger and brasher conservatives, giving a fresh, funny, articulate, intelligent, even sexier approach to political discourse. And while their conservatism may vary on social or economic issues, nevertheless it still boils down to personal freedom and self-responsibility.

We start with one of Filipino roots: 43-year-old Michelle Malkin. Born in Philadelphia after her parents immigrated from the Philippines, Malkin (originally Maglalang until she married Jesse Malkin in 1993) got started in her career while studying in Oberlin, a college known for strong progressive views. It was when she got exposed to the viciousness of liberal response to her personal conservative views that she realized her true calling. As she recalled in one interview: “It was seeing the violent paroxysms it caused on the Left that really put me on my way to a career in opinion journalism. I really just came into being as a political journalist toward the end of my campus experience, and it was really after I had left and started, you know, writing on my own. It was really more social conservatism than economic conservatism that I started with for my column-writing.”

She appears on the Fox News Channel, particularly for Hannity and Fox and Friends. But it is her founding of Hot Air, an internet broadcast network, and Twitchy.com, “a ground-breaking Twitter curation site powered by a kinetic staff of social media junkies,” that made her a major player in the conservative movement.

Then there is 25-year-old writer, commentator and comedian Katherine Timpf. Currently working for the National Review, she has also guested on the popular Red Eye.

Known for her witty, sometimes sarcastic Facebook rants, her articles on the National Review sparkles with humor, self-deprecation and insight on the recent comedies (or tragedies) of the Left. A recent profile on her had a former teacher saying of Timpf: “Kat is genius. Certainly, she’s the leading wit of her generation. But I also think she’s one of those unique folks America produces only every once in a while.”

Characteristically, it is Timpf who explains her appeal best: “I feel like I’m able to explain things in a different way, especially in the conservative movement, because so many of the voices -- even the young ones -- sound like they’re 50 and cautious. It needs some spice. The message of freedom should be cool, and that’s what I want to do.”

Cool may not be the adjective normally given to 27-year-old Matt Walsh. But he's certainly fast becoming a leading voice in the conservative movement. Intense, direct, articulate and incredibly frighteningly smart, Walsh writes about everything: same-sex marriage, suicide, dating and family, plus a marvelous extended rant on why the saying “if you can’t accept me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best” is one of the most idiotic things ever said. Although he said the same about “don’t judge.” But rightly so.

Walsh has a blog (which gets around 2 million hits a month) but his conservative writings can also be found in TheBlaze.com. Joel Cheatwood, president and chief content officer of TheBlaze, says it this way: “Matt Walsh stands out from other voices online in that he has cracked the code to writing unique content that people want to share with their friends.”

Finally, today’s leader of the pack: cigarette-smoking, alcohol-drinking, heavy-metal-listening Greg Gutfeld. Catch him on Red Eye or The Five. Or read his books Joy of Hate and Not cool. I am running out of space so I’ll just say this: he’s better, smarter, funnier than Jon Stewart. ‘Nuff said.


The Bar exam is what we make of it

my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

One readily picks up a number of bad habits from Cambridge. But it does have its uses. By osmosis, it lends its students the art of self-deprecation, which can surprisingly lead a man to a more self-contented outlook. No Cambridge man would directly say he actually studied in Cambridge. Hence why it is utterly vulgar for any Cantabian to point to another individual and declare: “It’s obvious that you did not graduate from [state name of university here].” It’s simply not done and is utterly bad form.

I mention Cambridge because it is October. Cambridge does have a somewhat decent law faculty and the Michaelmas term begins this month. October is also the month of the Philippine Bar exam.

It is normal for people to bash the Bar exam and certainly understandable that those taking it now to be creatively cursing it. Although I do notice that it is quite rare for those who topped or ranked highly in the Bar to be superciliously critical of it.

To say, however, that the Bar exam needs improvement is to state the blindingly obvious. The question really is: To improve it for what purpose? Another is: How to improve it?

To consider the Bar exam as the legal profession’s guardian for quality control is to misunderstand it. Like any government creation, it should always be only subsidiary in function to the people who comprise the society that created it.

The Bar is no fundamental defender of standards in the same way that the Supreme Court (or any government branch) is no ultimate defender of democracy and the Constitution.

Clearly, the Bar is a necessity. A nuisance, but still a necessity. If even for a thing like joining a law journal would require testing its applicants, then the logic of the Bar becomes evident.

But the standards of the legal profession cannot be made to rest on the Bar. It simply will not be equipped to do so. Of what use is making the exam more analytical, more philosophical, when you already have a passing percentage that hovers around 15-20% year in and year out? And people still complain about the quality of those 15-20%.

When I was a 2009 Bar examiner for Political Law and Public International Law, I had the disappointment of seeing numerous (and I mean numerous) answers from people who graduated from law schools but do not know the meaning of the word “exonerate.”

In the years traveling to different countries for my international trade law work for multinationals and for the government (including assisting in state-to-state disputes), I saw the relative weakness of our legal profession’s understanding of public international law and its (along with foreign laws) relationship with domestic law. Which probably explains the impression of the general public (rightly in my view) of our treaties being overly generous to our partner countries or of peace agreements obviously detrimental to our national sovereign objectives.

But simply slashing down further the number that pass the Bar is simplistic. We have a “lawyer density” of around 2.5 lawyers per 1,000 Filipinos (at an assumed 40,000 lawyers vis-à-vis an estimated 100,000,000 Filipinos). This makes our lawyer density well below that of the US’ 3.65 lawyers per 1,000 US citizens.

But the legal profession today is such that a huge number of those 40,000 lawyers will not be into litigation. Most instead would use their law degrees for careers in business, politics or academe. Thus, the number of (quality) lawyers actually providing traditional legal work is fantastically small, the short supply likely explaining the country’s high legal costs (particularly for the poor).

The problem, therefore, is not the Bar exams but the law schools, their faculties (and the ideologies they peddle), and a legal culture that has not caught up with the changed realities of our profession. It is they who churn out thousands of law graduates who (through no fault of theirs, as everyone has different aptitudes) should not have been into freshman law in the first place.

And while the medical profession efficiently evolved, from its schools engaged in team teaching (thus exposing students to different expertise for each topic) to classifying doctors as general practitioners, diplomates and fellows (thus objectively letting patients know their doctor’s professional caliber), the legal profession is still stuck with age or seniority (or even family or school connections) as basis for teaching posts or for being labeled as “expert.”

Law is a compellingly elegant subject, the profession indeed a noble one. But massive changes have to be brought into legal education, education as a whole, and in the local culture of the profession for the Bar exam to be brought into its rightful less significant role than it has now.

Unless we recognize that, determined to do that, then we will just have to confine ourselves to saying good luck to all the law graduates taking the Bar this month.

Pro-virtue, pro-family economy

my Trade Tripper column in a weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

This is continuing from last week’s column (“We need better thinking on poverty and development”), which criticized the present “progressive” mentality of transforming government into some sort of large welfare administrator. And yet, with rising unemployment and underemployment, the weird logic is to pour even more money, on the hope that such policies will somehow eventually work. From a high of P62.6 billion, the government wants to go much higher: P78 billion for its Conditional Cash Transfer-Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in the 2015 proposed budget.

Sadly, such is misguided. Whatever good those programs may initially have brought seems to have plateaued and could even be harmful to Filipinos.

There are lessons to be learned from a country that has even more financial resources. Five decades ago, the United States decided to launch its own anti-poverty campaign. And yet, as Ed Feulner relates, success never came: “That was $22 trillion ago... Yet the poverty rate is essentially the same as it was 50 years ago.”

The problem is the failure to understand the nature of poverty and the tendency to romanticize it. This Feulner effectively points out: “When most people hear that a family is living in poverty, they naturally picture people suffering from significant material deprivation... But government surveys show that many of those officially designated as poor are surprisingly well-off. Less than 2% are homeless, and only one in 10 live in mobile homes. The typical house or apartment of the poor is in good repair and uncrowded. Indeed, the typical ‘poor’ family has air-conditioning, cable or satellite TV, and a computer in the home. Forty percent have a wide-screen HDTV. Another 40% have Internet access.”

The scenario is pretty much the same here. And yet, despite the continuing ineffectiveness, the temptation to throw even more money got stronger. In the US, as Stephen White relates: “The federal government currently spends about $800 billion on 92 separate anti-poverty programs, yet the poverty rate today is higher than it’s been in decades.” Needless to say, our CCT program will meet the same fate.

The answer, I believe, is not in throwing money at people but at developing people. This was the implication of the study I mentioned last week (“Childhood family income, adolescent violent criminality and substance misuse: quasi-experimental total population study” by Amir Sariaslan and his colleagues, British Journal of Psychiatry, Aug. 21, 2014). As The Economist puts it: the findings “suggest that merely topping up people’s incomes, though it may well be a good idea for other reasons, will not by itself address questions of bad behavior. The second raises the possibility that the problem of intergenerational poverty may be self-reinforcing,” what with “the lack of impulse-control they engender also tends to reduce someone’s earning capacity.”

Hence, why I go back again to the idea of focusing on policies that foster, encourage and strengthen virtues and the traditional family. Virtue, of which the traditional family is the prime teacher, in people is what makes democratic societies work. As Michael Novak wrote: “The prospering of free societies depends on certain moral and cultural practices.”

So rather than have government stepping in and trying to supplant the roles that is rightly of the family and religious organizations, the doctrine of “subsidiarity” (which is embedded in our social thinking and even Constitution) should instead be vigorously applied to allow the family and such religious groups to do what they’re good at: developing upright citizens.

As Paul Ryan correctly points out with regard to the US setting but whose words could also be relevant here: “For too long, the federal government has tried to supplant, and not to support, the people fighting poverty on the front lines -- families, neighborhoods, community groups. In the fight against poverty, the people ultimately are the vanguard, and government is the rearguard. Government protects the supply lines. But it is the people themselves who take to the front lines.”

Subsidiarity works in tandem with the notion of the “common good,” a concept that many people seem to fantastically misunderstand. The best definition of common good can be found in John Finnis’ Natural Law and Natural Rights: “a set of conditions which enables the members of a community to attain for themselves reasonable objectives, or to realize reasonably for themselves the value (s), for the sake of which they have reason to collaborate with each other (positively and/or negatively) in a community.” Note the repeated mention of the attainment “for themselves” by the people.

The point: if our government would instead work harder to support the family and community groups, rather than striving to be the be all of everybody’s existence and have the people dependent on it, we might finally get somewhere in our efforts to deal with poverty.