I’m special but I’m so sad...

was my Trade Tripper column in the 23-24 October 2015 issue of BusinessWorld:

It was family movie night and with a mind to keeping things educational I decided to pass on The Book Thief and instead watch The Man With The Golden Gun. In the routine briefing scene M informed James Bond that the villain Scaramanga was out to kill him. It was at this point that something piqued my interest: rather than be sympathetic or solicitous towards Bond, he actually told him to either resign or take a sabbatical because, as he put it, he can’t afford to jeopardize any mission.

When Bond suggests going after Scaramanga instead, M does not praise or congratulate Bond. But just dismisses him gruffly that it could “dramatically” change the situation.

Later in the movie, when something goes wrong, rather than tell Bond everything is okay and encourage him to move him on, M cold-bloodedly (and quite famously) tells Bond that “l almost wish that Scaramanga had a contract on you.”

Now all this is rather interesting to me because if M had done that to a present day Bond, who’d likely be a tattooed teen or 20s, Bond would go to Facebook, talk about “the darkness,” how empty his life is, post a selfie of his unappreciated-by-the-boss look, and then -- after getting hundreds of Facebook Likes -- kill himself.

Which reminds me of another marvelous M quote: “Christ, I miss the Cold War!”

What’s wrong with kids nowadays? Michael Jordan says it best: “A lot of kids today need reinforcement. They need a pat on the back. Back in those days, if you didn’t get the pat, you better pat yourself and keep moving.”

I remember a young lawyer years ago whom I assigned to prepare a brief. The next day, I found his work to be completely unsatisfactory and told him so. He replied defensively to “give him a break”, as he “worked all night on it and hasn’t slept yet.” At that point, I went ballistic. What does it matter if one hasn’t slept or worked to the point of exhaustion? It was still sloppy work!

Which takes me to a lawyer friend working in the human resources (HR) department of a multinational company: “Just tell any 20-something nowadays, no matter how gentle, of how he or she needs to improve and you get an HR complaint like clockwork.”

The words of another curmudgeon comes to mind -- Gregory House, MD: “I’m sure this goes against everything you’ve been taught but right and wrong do exist. Just because you don’t know what the right answer is, maybe there’s even no way you could know what the right answer is, doesn’t make your answer right or even okay. It’s much simpler than that. It’s just plain wrong.”

Thus this memory of conversations I’ve had with other law lecturers. A lot think that students nowadays have to be treated with kid gloves. A little push or a little pressure and you either get a defensive, sulking student (or a crying wreck) or somebody who’ll organize a petition for a change in lecturers. This should be resisted.

Things have become so soft that law school recitations can’t even simulate legal practice back and forth. As if trial work will be any different. While I’m not advocating that we go back to the old days when law or medical school recitations become so to the point of harassment, nevertheless, there is merit in exerting as much pressure on students, all students.

Why? Again Gregory House. When he was asked to lecture and a student started complaining that “You know, it’s kind of hard to think when you’re in our face like this -- ” then House angrily cuts him off with “Yeah? You think it’s going to be easier when you’ve got a real patient really dying?”

To be honest: I’d rather have a business, medical, or law student have his feelings badly hurt than have a person in the real world lose his livelihood, his freedom, or his life just because a kid couldn’t grow up not knowing how to handle pressure or failures.

In the superb Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy (Tim Urban, September 2013), which pinpointed to the logical conclusion of Baby Boomer narcissism transmutating itself to their progeny Gen Y’s (“the generation born between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s”) “they’re special.”

Unfortunately, one should only feel special after actually having done something concrete to deserve it. Or as Urban points: “the real world has the nerve to consider merit a factor.”

Which destroys a lot of Gen Y’s feelings when their expectations are crushed against reality: “the funny thing about the world is that it turns out to not be that easy of a place, and the weird thing about careers is that they’re actually quite hard. Great careers take years of blood, sweat and tears to build.”

Indeed. As Valmont would say, rather than understanding, kids today “don’t need help, they need hindrances.”

Should the Philippines join the TPP?

was my Trade Tripper column in the 16-17 October 2015 issue of BusinessWorld:

Everybody is agog over the passing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Even people I know that only have a passing interest in international trade are all of a sudden asking, in somewhat hushed, noticeably excited tones, about its implications for the Philippines. So the curmudgeon in me might have been more apparent this time around when my reply revolved a mere two words: not much.

To begin with, nobody outside the negotiators has really studied the TPP. The actual, official texts may be released (particularly by the US) by early next month.

Having said that, the TPP, of course, is an expanded version of the 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement and currently includes as parties Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States. The TPP covers almost 40% of the global economy and affects not only tariffs but also services, investment rules, patents (including over pharmaceuticals and even, allegedly, control of public information), agriculture, the environment, and government procurement.

Of those 12 TPP members, the Philippines already has existing free trade relationships with seven -- Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT), ASEAN-Australia and New Zealand, ASEAN-Japan, Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement -- plus the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the (now unfortunately expired and still awaiting renewal) Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) relationships with the US.

So on that specific regard, one question that we need to ask is how the Philippines is faring with regard to utilizing its already available free trade agreement benefits.

Not much if we’re to judge by the CEPT (with some studies pegging it at a mere 20%) and US GSP (which reportedly has a utilization rate of 70% but with the context that the goods covered only constitute 10% of total Philippine exports to the US).

Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index is quite instructive in this regard: this 2015, the Philippines overall showed improvement.

But there were concerns raised regarding “open markets”, with “trade freedom” getting a lowered score. Noted, is the average tariff rate at 4.8%. “Domestic companies are favored in government procurement bids. Rice producers are subsidized and protected from competition. Foreign investment in several sectors is restricted.”

For regulatory efficiency, business freedom also showed a lowered score due to the fact that “incorporating a business takes 16 procedures and 34 days. Completing licensing requirements remains time-consuming, taking about three months on average. The labor market remains structurally rigid, with varying degrees of flexibility across economic sectors and regions of the country.”

The 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Report almost reflects the Economic Freedom Index -- lamenting regulatory inefficiency and red tape and lackluster rule of law. But it does give us good marks in “intensity of local competition.”

The insight that I suggest from the two international reports is twofold: First, we really don’t have an issue as to us being plugged into the international trading system, what with our membership already into the World Trade Organization (WTO), in addition to several free trade agreements.

Finally, the problem is our internal structures that only prevent us from benefitting substantially from international trade.

Of what use is Philippine membership in more trade agreements for ordinary Filipinos if they’re bogged down by red tape and high taxes, amidst world-beating-in-being-horrible airports, the world’s worst traffic, slow online speeds, flooding amidst water shortages, and the incredibly bizarre inability to produce simple drivers licenses and passports?

Now, the position of my fellow experts and commentators on the matter is that membership in more trade agreements such as the TPP will provide external pressure for the Philippines to shape up.

But that is wishful thinking.

For two reasons: One, we’ve long been members in other trade agreements and look at us now. So much for external pressure.

Finally, as a sovereign country, I don’t see the point in wanting the Philippines rendered vulnerable to international litigation simply because our country can’t do things unilaterally because our government officials can’t muster the political will to do what is right.

Besides, note our quite jubilant reaction in the immediate aftermath of the Cancun WTO Ministerial debacle of 2003 (amidst the huge disappointment expressed by the US), immediately followed up by our quite unsubtle public rejection of US invitations to enter into a trade partnership with it right there and then.

This has therefore led, to the present day: when the Philippines expressed public interest in joining the TPP, this was simply responded to with a set of conditions for us to comply with -- improved rule of law, opening up foreign ownership of businesses or property, addressing State ownership of certain industries, strict protection of intellectual property, and so on. Clearly, the US has little patience with flaky allies.

In any event, the TPP still has to go through the constitutional processes of its members. The US, in particular, being already in its presidential election season, may see a TPP vote no earlier than next year.

That should give the Philippines a modicum of time to put its priorities right.


Paying for the Philippines' new normal

my Trade Tripper column in the 9-10 October 2015 issue of BusinessWorld:

The problem is disconnect. The disconnect between what our current government leaders say (and swear to) and what they actually do. Like that presidential candidate who dismisses taking an oath renouncing Philippine citizenship as a mere scrap of paper. And this resulted in the Republic lurching from one reactive policy to another, the government imposing measures that are far detached from the people’s will or the national interest.

One symptom of the disconnect is the present Administration trying to (or at least acts like it wants to) direct people to the good life. But experience shows how unhinged this is from reality. And under our constitutional system, that shouldn’t even be government’s primary focus. Thus, the principles of “common good” (the individual’s right to human flourishing) and “subsidiarity” (the people deciding for themselves how to attain that common good), embodied in our Constitution, but which the ruling political class keeps ignoring.

Instead, our Constitution declares that our government really has one job to do: “to serve and protect the people.”

Thus, essential are the maintenance of peace and order, and the protection of life, liberty, and property.

Our government is not mandated to directly run the country, its economy, educate the youth, and develop society. That is properly the people’s responsibility. As far as those are concerned, including attaining a just social order and social justice, the government merely “recognizes,” “promotes,” and “develops” -- serving as an assist to the work primarily carried out by the Filipino people.

In short, the government is actually supposed to keep its efforts to the minimum, limited to fostering an environment where the people are free to properly do their thing. After that, the government should just keep out of the people’s way.

If you think the foregoing is a mere academic concern better confined to the classroom, think again. This Administration has expanded the reach of government to areas that should primarily be left to the people.

By doing so, insisting in interfering with business and education through more regulations, weakening institutions like the family and the Church, and acting like the “padrone” through billions spent on the Conditional Cash Transfer, this Administration now feels entitled to increase taxes to expand its powers even more.

So now, we have a proposed 2016 budget of P3 trillion, representing a whopping 461% increase from 2000 and a nearly 300% from 2006.

The government’s “underspending” 2014 budget deficit (which meant that, despite all the underspending for necessary infrastructure, our government still spent more than it earned) is P73.1 billion.

The foregoing is within the context of the Filipino paying among the highest income tax in Asia but with the lowest wage rates in the world for work hours deemed among the longest globally.

And this is not counting the fact that Metro Manila workers suffer the longest commutes due to the now internationally recognized as the world’s worst traffic.

And with all that money being taken from ordinary taxpaying Filipino citizens (aside from an external debt of P2.042 trillion and domestic debt of P3.856 trillion, resulting in an outstanding debt of P5.898 trillion as of August 2015), what does this Administration have to show for it?

One of the world’s worst airports, the world’s worst traffic, slowest internet speed; 23.2% unemployment (80% of which belong to the 18-34 age group), around 7% student drop out rates, nearly 26% poverty incidence; water shortage (amidst floods), huge backlog in issuances of drivers licenses and car plates and passports; and a deteriorating educational system.

In the end, the “just-let-the-government-take-care-of-you” cash dole-outs, the considerable unemployment/underemployment rates, and legislation like the Kasambahay Law (that demands a professional’s pay but without the need to work professionally), all provide a clear disincentive to work and fosters an entitlement culture that could only lead to this country’s social and fiscal bankruptcy.

Yes, we seem to have improved competitiveness. But even that proves my point: an examination of this year’s and the last Global Competitiveness Index reveals the uptick attributable to private sector efforts and held back by bureaucratic red tape.

And there are still the areas of special concern remaining unaddressed: Yolanda rehabilitation and the inability to give justice to the Special Action Forces 44.

And yet, quite insanely, on the one job this government is supposed to do -- to protect our people and territory -- it bafflingly waffles between apathy, incompetence, or the downright treasonous.

Thus our country bears increased incidence of crime, increased smuggling, unchecked rise of illegal aliens (estimated at 1.3 million, posing a threat to national security, as well as stealing employment), the confused legal/diplomatic “defense” of our territory vis-a-vis China, and the almost giving away of Mindanao to a supposed “Bangsamoro”. All messes clearly intended to be left to the following administration to clean up.

Hopefully, our next set of government leaders has had a better read of our Constitution. And respect the fact that words (and oaths) do matter.


People speak and righting English good. So can you!

my Trade Tripper column in the 28-29 August issue of BusinessWorld:

Probably it was inevitable.

By which I mean the world turning into half mad, half insane lunatics.

And this thought was precipitated because a friend was correcting her Business course students’ test answers.

From a contract law question, this literary gem came out and is hereby quoted word per word: “Mark have to have case against to Pete because they have contract that 3 car garage on Mark’s house and Pete have not do for it Pete will payed damages and the obligation of Pete They will repair the garage of Mark house to have not do any case for Pete.”

But perhaps we can’t blame students if the people they look up to have developed new modes of thinking and rules regarding language.

Which leads me to Katrina Stuart Santiago’s marvelous piece (in another newspaper) on Senator Grace Poe’s International Youth Day speech given just a few weeks ago. The best part of which reads:

Sino sa inyo, dahil sa mga baha, sa ulan, maramingmake-up classes hindi ba? Kahit na Sabado na kasama ninyo ang boyfriend ninyo o girlfriend ninyo o kaya tumutulong kayo sa inyong mga magulang na maglaba, magplantsa... Nagme-make-up classes kayo, kaya nga ang sabi ko ganito, dahil nga hindi pa natin kaya bigyan ang lahat ng estudyante ng tablet at ng computer at hindi pa mabilis ang ating Internet. Siguro sa DepEd mayroon nangstandard na libro lahat para kahit na kayo ay nasa bahay may workbook kayo na pini-fill out para pagpasok ninyo wala nang make-up classes.”

However, I must admit that my own profession, law, shares substantial blame for making gibberish the new intellectual currency.

Consider these random passages culled together from the writings of local “legal scholars”: “Scrutinizing the visual description in the curvature within the democratic framework makes a comparative grounding from a liberal perspective furnishing a metaphorical area for normative advocacies. Such problematique acquires an expanding accretion, broad prescience, and juristic clarification of institutional dynamics that categorizes the dualist character from the perspective of conceptual and practical progression.”

Journal after legal journal are full of this rubbish.

But, again, it’s hard to blame the younger lawyers when their teachers weirdly rhapsodize about gobbledygook like “penumbras” and “emanations” (see Griswold case).

Or this piece of sheer nonsense: “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” (see Casey).

Which makes the fortune cookie “reasoning” of Obergefell almost unsurprising.

And all complicit in teaching future lawyers the grand manner of confusion.

San Beda’s Fr. Rannie Aquino blames it on “a bad national habit: intellectual sloth”. Perhaps.

It could also be the descending national IQ levels that I pointed out in my massively unpopular 2012 BusinessWorld article “It’s more dumb in the Philippines”.

In any event, I’m reminded of Mark Judge’s article (“America has changed, but God hasn’t”; 2012), whose description of a deteriorating country is spot on -- just change the word “America” with “Philippines”:

“The truth is that America is now a leftist country. It’s Rachel Maddow and Jeremiah Wright’s country. You know that divorced fortysomething female neighbor of yours? The one who’s not half as bright as she thinks she is, and doesn’t know much about Libya or the national debt, but watches Katie Couric’s new show and just kind of didn’t like Romney because she, well, just kind of didn’t like him? America is now her country. It’s Dingbatville.”

But more than intellectual sloth is the turning of people’s backs on truth, with the latter’s un-hipster demands for logic and reason and their tiresome consequences and duties.

No wonder then why many today find the idea of defining “one’s own concept of existence” irresistible.

So, ultimately, I blame the Progressive Left for making idiocy the new normal.

This was laconically illustrated by Carl R. Trueman (“Welcome to the Age of Gibberish”, July 2015): Language needs to be anchored on a reality that is more than a linguistic or societal “construct”.

By determinedly detaching itself from truth (particularly about human nature, gender, family, and religion), which the Progressive Left considers hateful or bigoted, they end up making language “lose all of its rhetorical power and simply looks... well, ridiculous.”

Thus explaining why the language of the Progressive Left is either overly verbose or pseudo-sophisticatedly showered with F&$%! bombs -- a means of hiding the lack of coherence and logic, and instead uses words to target emotions, insult opposing views, or convey threats to shut down discussions.

And if you think that coherent language and thought have no real world implications, just remember the overwhelming damage done to the country when it elected president a person capable of writing this utter piece of daftness: “To be understood or misunderstood is not so much a struggle as it is to understand or misunderstand the longing for inner peace in each man’s heart.”

Coffee, truth, and TV

my Trade Tripper column in the 21-22 August issue of BusinessWorld:

Found myself thinking over coffee of C.S. Lewis: “We [modern society] make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” And “a great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional... values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.”

Indeed, the problem with modernity is that it itself cannot cope with modernity. By this we see people finding themselves disoriented, confused, lost. That with all the material and financial pleasures available, people find that such is never enough, that in worldly goods is not to be found true human flourishing.

Interestingly enough, not many realize that all this is connected to our constitutional and economic design of a free and democratic society choosing by its right judgment its leaders and the product and services it wants to advance. But this presupposes a well-formed citizenry, with a functioning system of judgment-making.

But today’s modernity (including, unfortunately, our judiciary) rejects the notion of a natural law, an objective standard of reason upon which our ethical system is based. And again, C.S. Lewis is prescient: “Natural law or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it’s rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world.”

Thus, Pope Francis was speaking of the necessity of speaking up for reasoned beliefs when (at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications last September 2013) he said, “We talk about the Church behind closed doors. But this is more than a Church with open doors, it’s more! Finding ‘home’ together, building ‘home’, building the Church. It’s this: building the Church as we walk. A challenge! To lead to the rediscovery, through means of social communication as well as by personal contact, of the beauty which is at the heart of our existence and our journey, the beauty of faith, the beauty of the encounter with Christ.”

The foregoing poetic language, however, is necessarily balanced with the need for reasoned objective truth. Pope Benedict XVI correctly teaches: that without truth, charity becomes mere sentimentality; without truth, there is no social conscience.

It with this in mind that I am taken back to the days when, with collaborators like Edwin Lopez of EWTN and Fr. Ces Magsino of the Opus Dei, we broadcast in TV Maria the show Naturang Batas. It was simply made, with the sparest of resources. But it had the biggest of ambitions: to re-introduce to Filipinos the natural law, and its importance not only to sexual issues (such as contraception, same-sex ‘marriage’, divorce) but also to others extending to the whole range confronted by our citizens: national security, immigration and labor, education, and politics.

Shooting out of the Caritas compound in Manila, and working with the dedicated of Frs. Jopson and Buenafe, along with an unbelievably small but workaholic group of Kat, Angelyn, Roberto, Marla, Jiggo, and led by director Sharon, we managed to crop out two seasons, still shown on air, and slowly but surely putting natural law back in the national conversation.

Interestingly enough, exactly a week ago, TV Maria historically did its very first direct broadcasting via the internet; and the pioneer broadcast launched by no less than His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, DD: “Yan din po ang misyon ng social communication, social media sa loob ng simbahan hindi po tayo nakikipaglabanan sa ratings, hindi po tayo pumuporma lamang, hindi po tayo nagpapa-image-image. Ang TV Maria at ang buong apostulado ng simbahan sa pamamagitan ng social communication ay gawaing banal dahil ito ay pagtutuloy ng gawain ng Diyos na nakikipag-usap, nagpapakilala at nag-aanyaya tungo sa buhay na ganap sa piling nya.

But more than that is the need to proclaim vigorously fundamental moral truths. Not bizarre childish thinking like “don’t judge” or “love wins”. There is always the need to judge, the question is to ensure right judgment.

As C.S. Lewis reminds us: “An open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth be at least shut. He can say nothing to the purpose. Outside the Tao [the Natural Law] there is no ground for criticizing the Tao or anything else.”

Indeed. Unfortunately, most of “progressive” media today gets it the other way around. And hence the task before all who still value reason and reality.