Monday, March 31, 2008

Taming Capitalism a.k.a There's no such thing as a 'free market'

Conservative newsmagazine the Economist released a report on the possible scenarios resulting to the subprime crisis. Months later a presidential candidate says the "r" word. It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that the US and the R.O.W. is headed for economic turmoil. Michael Lim of the Inquirer provides an excellent background to the origins of the crisis. Walden Bello characterises Capitalism's 'apocalyptic' mood.
The search for profitability is capitalism’s driving force, and increasingly, significant profits can only be obtained from financial speculation rather than investment in industry. This is, however, a volatile and unstable process since the divergence between momentary financial indicators like stock and real estate prices and real values can proceed only up to a point before reality bites back and enforces a “correction.”
For a background on what is going on coming from the perspective of developing countries, here is an excerpt of a paper I wrote a couple of semesters ago. Enjoy.


Capital today crosses sovereign boundaries with virtually no regulation from sovereign authorities. These transactions are largely closed to public scrutiny, as they occur within networks of financial institutions, protected by laws on banking secrecy. Unlike the actual exchange of commodities that are readily available for purchase in supermarkets or stores, the movement of capital today is removed from the consciousness of average citizens. Nonetheless, especially in recent years, the impacts of capital movements, whether they be in form of portfolio investments, foreign direct investments or debt service payments, have increasingly been ‘felt’ in ‘emerging market economies’ of the developing world due to perennial monetary catastrophes.

The ‘Debt Crisis’ of the 80s faded into memory as banks were assured by their governments and the IMF that their loans would get paid, rescheduled perhaps, but paid nonetheless. Capital shortage for the Third and Fourth Worlds, however, would not go away. The 90s presented a different kind of crises and indebtedness. If capital was owed to banks in the 80s, today they are owed to literally hundreds of thousands of private individuals investing in ‘emerging markets’ and all kinds of funds.

Governments ‘freed’ money capital by removing restrictions on international capital movements. The very first to do so were Canada, Swtizerland and Germany in 1973. In 1974 the US did the same, followed by the Britain in 1979, Japan in 1980, France and Italy in 1990 and Spain and Portugal in 1992.

In Economic orthodoxy, the freedom of financial markets were supposed to effect a redistribution of capital world-wide. Capital was supposed to “flow from capital-rich developed countries to opportunity-rich emerging countries (Eatwell 1997: 11).” Not only that, markets were also expected to discipline governments for greater ‘efficiency.’

The IMF itself advocated deregulation of capital controls among members. Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer claimed capital account liberalisation would “outweigh the potential costs," hence the need to adapt “economic policies and institutions, particularly the financial system [to] operate in a world of liberalised capital markets (Singh 2003: 195).” Its sister institution, the World Bank also encouraged opening capital markets to foreign portfolio investment (Eatwell 1997: 7). Interestingly, China had not liberalised its capital account, but has maintained economic growth for the last two decades.

The result was the permutation of money into what Marx might recognise as ‘fictitious capital.’ The last thirty years has seen the creation of credit and wealth never before witnessed in Capitalism’s history. From 1975 to 1994, the stock of international bank lending from grew from $265 billion to $4200 billion despite crises. This is perhaps because of the nature of the debtors themselves. Unlike businesses or individuals that can declare bankruptcy, Sovereign states will always be able to pay as long as tax payers are born every day.

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) estimated the value of exchange traded derivative products at $13.5 trillion in 1999. Over-the-counter (OTC) transactions, i.e. private transactions between institutions was estimated at $72.6 trillion.

Increasingly, investments have moved away from the “bricks and mortar” kind to short-term portfolio investments, the kind that can pull out quickly at the first sign (imagined or not) of trouble. The most obscure, highly ‘conceptualised’ capital circling the globe today such as swaps, options, derivatives and futures, are perhaps better explained by mathematicians than the space in this discussion allows. Indeed this ‘electronic herd’ of money managers, armed with computers, use algorithms and pure mathematical formulae to ‘read the mind’ of the market.

Nevertheless these innovations in finance have favoured big businesses instead of small businesses. Strange writes, “Unequal access to credit is certainly a feature of the international financial system…Big businesses is favoured by the innovations of finance…big businesses has an increasing influence on state policies and uses it to serve its own interests.

Increasingly, the way these highly liquid forms of capital move have little to do with the real economy. Investors wanting a quick return would prefer portfolio investments over FDI because they are easily recoupable with a few strokes on computer keyboard.

Surreptitiously, the phrases ‘economic fundamentals’ or ‘the real economy’ as distinct from the weird world of high finance…Indeed the financial sector is now often dismissed as a casino society where speculators play out their compulsive habits (Hoogvelt 1997: 81).

The past decade has seen one financial crisis after the next as rogue capital chase profit opportunities across the globe. Like the tide, money instruments ebb and flow in the developing world with the whims of the market. Their flow triggered imaginary ‘prosperity’ in the hands of local capital and there was some growth due to increased local consumption. Their ebb triggered crashes in Mexico in 1994, Asia in 1997, Brazil in 1998, Russia in 1999 and Argentina in 2001 (Held et al 1999, Kindleberger 2005).


It would be interesting to see what the United States does in the coming months. So far it is the biggest victim of speculative capital. (See, Third World countries don't really matter). It also has the most power in taming the beast its foreign economic policies have unleashed since the 1990s. Obama likes the word 'regulation.' Finally.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

China's "Charm Offensive" a.k.a Why we shouldn't expect an 'invasion' any time soon

This is an excerpt of a paper I wrote recently. I had to take a realist perspective on this one. Leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Oh well. Gotta play by teachers' rules.

The years following the triumph of the China’s Communist revolution, the state continued its political consolidation and strengthening. During this period China maintained the strategic position of an observer, holding its position as the world was divided in two ideological camps. As espoused by one of the nation’s great leaders, Deng Xiaoping, the PRC’s survival as an independent sovereign nation lent the country to “observe developments soberly, maintain our position, meet challenges calmly, hide our capacities and bide our time, remain free of ambition and never claim leadership (Foot 2006: 84).”

From a period of relative self-enclosure and self-sufficiency after the Maoist revolution of 1959 and during the Cold War era, the People’s Republic of China has since begun to embrace the world. It has been doing so since Deng Xiao Ping’s reforms of 1976. The four modernisations of industry, agriculture, national defence, science and technology could not be achieved without greater engagement with the international community. The focus on domestic economic restructuring necessitated greater external relations. It has thus been the PRC’s ‘grand strategy’ to establish various relationships with key actors and to make China a relevant partner in world affairs. The successive governments in the past years have worked hard to shed its ‘pariah state’ status and to gain a reputation as a responsible international actor. This is a status the PRC must work even harder to maintain and further cultivate as it continues its peaceful development.

Thus in 1979 the leadership worked to achieve détente between the PRC and the United States (Barnett 1977). The Open-Door policy allowed the entry of foreign investors to do business in select Special Economic Zones. In the height of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the PRC showed solidarity with its regional partners, the ASEAN states and South Korea by choosing not to devalue the Renminbi even at a significant cost.

In the area of security China had signed 85-90% of arms control agreements by 1996, including the Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. China’s Good Neighbour Policy has also engendered institutionalised security cooperation with its neighbours to the south, north and west. In August 2002 was China ready to be the 1st state to sign the protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. In November of the same year the PRC became a signatory of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Seas during 6th China-Asean Summit. China plays a pivotal role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and has maintained a constructive partnership with the Russian Federation in tackling the threats posed by terrorism, separatism and extremism in the Central Asian region.

The PRC’s attitude towards one of the oldest multilateral institutions, the United Nations, has also changed significantly. It is, after all, legitimate and completely rational in the Marxist cannon for the ideological to follow the material. It has been in the PRC’s material interests – the pursuit of great wealth – to engage the international community. In 1965 China viewed the UN with more than mere suspicion, calling it “a dirty international political stock exchange in the grip of a few powers.” By 1995 it deemed the UN “the largest and most authoritative intergovernmental organisation in the world.” China’s membership in international organisations was a mere 2 in the 1960s. In a span of three decades this rose to 52 (Kim 2004: 42).

Since the reforms of the late 1970s, China has succeeded in the modernisation of its economy by becoming integrated into the global economy.

China’s trade with Asia exceeds that outside the region. Although the United States remains its major export market and the European Union the third. Almost one-third of China’s exports are destined for the US, while 50 percent of total exports are manufactured on behalf of American firms.

The People’s Republic of China has relied on the ‘unipolar stability’ guaranteed by the United States and the institutions it has initiated to regulate world affairs in order to pursue its immediate goals of prosperity. Its gross per capita product has enjoyed an average growth rate of 10.3 percent from 1980 to 1990 and 9.7 percent from 1990 to 2002 (excluding Hong Kong S.A.R.).

Foreign direct investments (FDI) are a crucial component to China’s modernisation efforts. FDI also highlights the enmeshment of Asian economies with that of China. As of 2003 for example, 70 percent of total FDI were from investors in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. 30 percent are from the US and EU.

The SEZs set up across Taiwan have proven irresistible to Taiwanese entrepreneurs. So much so that Taiwan’s National Security Report declared a threat the ‘over-concentration’ of Taiwanese trade in the mainland. As of 2005, 71 percent of approved overseas investment was in China which has resulted to three-fourths of Taiwanese manufacturing is made in the mainland.

China is not yet a major engine of global growth, but in 2002 it generated 15 percent of world economic growth and 60 percent of global export growth (Harris 2004: 62). In choosing to become the ‘factory of the world’ in the international division of labour, China has achieved its goals of becoming a relevant actor and has earned the status of an important ‘stakeholder’ in the current global order.

It is China's strategic choice to maintain the status quo. The modernisation of its economy is indeed reliant on the current system. It remains on the path of what it has called a ‘socialist market economy.’ The leadership recognises that a peaceful international environment is crucial in achieving this goal.
Peace and development remain the principal themes in today's world, and the overall international security environment remains stable...To address development and security issues through coordination, cooperation and multilateral mechanism is the preferred approach of the international community. The United Nations' status and role in world affairs are being upheld and strengthened. World wars or all-out confrontation between major countries are avoidable for the foreseeable future...Hegemonism and power politics remain key factors undermining international security (Chinese Defence White Paper 2006).

Economic security and globalisation have entered the Chinese academia’s lexicon in the mid-1990s (Zhu 2001). These are crucial inputs in China’s new security concept and new security diplomacy.
…China's security still faces challenges that must not be neglected. The growing interconnections between domestic and international factors and interconnected traditional and non-traditional factors have made maintaining national security a more challenging task (Chinese Defence White Paper 2006).
The new security concept privileges cooperative or collective security over the Maoist conception of targeting enemies. Threat is best addressed through multilateralism…As a result of China’s growing integration with the global economy, economic and social security have come to enjoy a preferred position in Chinese security thinking.

China’s new security diplomacy is a response to the new threats and opportunities caused by the re-structuring of the global environment after September 11, 2001. Elements of this new diplomacy include a maintaining a stable international environment to focus on internal development, wealth creation that is perceived by neighbours as mutually beneficial, and lastly to ‘counter, co-opt, or circumvent’ those countries in its periphery which may still hold allegiance with the United States but not in a way that will provoke aggressive (military) reaction.

This has been called a strategy of ‘Cooperative Hegemony,’ accommodating US foreign policy preferences and US presence in China’s perceived regional ambit as it continues to pursue internal development and building regional alliances (De Castro 2006).

A ‘cooperative hegemon’ will not directly confront a superior military power, as is the United States. Nor will it set up a counter-hegemonic coalition, rather it will create a “formalised cooperative substructure with the regional system to neutralise the more powerful traditional hegemon (De Castro 2006: 94).”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Manong Manolo, Subtlety Is Thy Name

I'm such a blathering groupie. In a tribute to a 'matriarch' who has passed away recently, he finally speaks, and does it with subtlety. Quelle classe. :)
No stranger to the joys of the rewards of effort herself, Madrigal offered up a blunt observation: a reward is best savored as a private pleasure, not a communal trophy, and not as an advertisement.

"One good thing about martial law was the abolition of society pages.... Call me old-fashioned, but I continue to be shocked by people who aggressively seek the limelight and even corrupt media to achieve their self-aggrandizement. In my time good form demanded that we avoid too much exposure," she wrote.

Perhaps the only person who cheered the publication of this passage was Carmen Guerrero Nakpil for whom the idea of being passé is just another vulgarity at par with newfangled terms like "eventologist."

Indeed, it was in the closing pages of her book, in her valedictory, so to speak, to younger generations, that Madrigal imparted a clear-headed advice: "Especially in the context of prevalent conditions, widespread poverty, crime and social injustice, it behooves us all not to give scandal by conspicuous consumption. I am upset by the contemporary lack of restraint, the excessive display in clothes, entertainment .... And then they complain about being burglarized, mugged and kidnapped!"

Perhaps she would have said, what is truly passé is to refuse to recognize that things become passé for good reason.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Freedom of Speech

How dear you have become. Only a few can afford you. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas.

The Privilege of the Privileged

I have become intimate friends with self-entitlement, having been in this uni for over a year. I had a taste of her back in college and we flirted for a bit. We went to gated villages in huge mansions with centralised airconditioning. We sampled what there was to sample - things, people, connections. Amusements which were supposed to mean "living life to the full". But I never felt "full" the morning after. I felt hollowed out and empty. Like a bad hang over. In the end I decided self-entitlement was not for me. Perhaps I was too much of a puritan, as I still am, to give in to her temptations. To do as I pleased and trust that someone else will be responsible for the consequences. To foot the bill. To clean up the mess. To pick me up. I respected my parents that much.

In this uni, she comes in different colours and shapes - literally from all over the world. But she maintains the same kind of essence. She is decadent in a way. This is why she is so seductive. She has hardly any self-restraint. She is, after all, entitled to everything life and people around her can offer. She never asks what she can do for you as she always expects to gain something from you. She has no pride in this matter. She will demand that you serve her. When she is prepared to reciprocate, it is only so because you have expressed resentment. There is no joy in her giving. There is only triumph in knowing she can ask for more. She is self-absorbed in her dramas. Her problems are yours, but yours never hers.

This is probably because self-entitlement is painfully weak. She cannot care for herself let alone another. Every little thing is bitch fit, a crisis. The little princess has no will of her own. No spine.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dear Philosophy

Ah, here we meet again. It seems, in doing what I do, it is impossible to escape you. I have expressed before, when I was much younger, that I'd much rather think about things than think about thinking. Now I know I was quick to dismiss what you can offer, intimidated as I was by your 'logic' and the mathematics of those who claim to worship at your altar. I worry that you are enslaved by those who claim that there is truth backed by "rationality." I am somewhat comforted that it is also true that your development in recent centuries have been tailored to suit the natural world. And so it is fruitless to argue logic when one cannot perform experiments on human societies to verify or falsify social theories.

By virtue of the body of knowledge I have become familiar with all these years, there is in me the natural urge to resist that there is 'truth' to be 'known.' I like the fancy Frenchies with their outrageous claims that there is no truth at all. Or that we all walk around with various interpretations of it. In class today, the philosopher with a doctorate from Oxford doesn't seem inclined to believe truth is relative. Perhaps he is reluctant to let go of the DWEM (dead white European male) version of his truths. In the discussion he keeps giving examples in the natural world, wholly irrelevant in my discipline.

I took issue with the 'pragmatic theory' of truth, which claims that faced with evidence contrary to what we believe to be true (such seeing a black swan when before we were sure they were all white), then we have a choice to either accept there are black swans or reject it and claim what we saw was no swan at all. My understanding is that we will all respond to this contradiction depending on our degree of attachment to the whiteness of swans, and we will accept there are black swans if it is expedient (that is, beneficial) to us and our sets of truths. Some will adjust their beliefs to accommodate this new truth, or some will reorganise their whole belief systems to cling to the whiteness of swans. The point is, according to this theory, we have a choice. That all truths are 'rejectable.' But what if we really have no choice? What if we have only an illusion of choice?

It is easy enough to verify the color of swans, so really, why should we even bother to think about it? Juxtaposed to my discipline, which Professor Oxford encourages all the time, then what if I choose to go against the basic tenets of international relations, that all 6.3 billion of us are divided into discreet units called 'states' and that we all must carry a 'nationality'? What if I say I choose to renounce my nationality? It may be true for me because I supposedly choose for it to be so, but how is it expedient when this means I will become in essence a non-entity? Will not the world we live in, the system and structure of our reality, constrain my choice?

Found this in my drafts. Written last semester when I was taking Epistemology chu-chu.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Obama Leaning Closer to the Left

I never really paid close attention to the nitty-gritty of American politics, probably because growing up as a supposedly informed person, I didn't think there was a difference between the Republican and Democrat platforms. But more and more, Obama is sounding like Kevin Rudd.

This is the latest Obama video on Youtube. He speaks to citizens in Salem, Oregon on March 21.

Edited to add:

Kevin Rudd, speaking in Parliament last week. The debates are fun to watch, with all the boo-ing and heckling. Hehe.

And this is Labour Party Treasurer Wayne Swan. Funny stuff.

Robert Reich on Obama:
"Obamania" has almost nothing to do with specific policies. It is rather Obama's almost pitch-perfect echo of the John F Kennedy we heard in 1960 and the Robert Kennedy last heard in 1968. It is a call for national unity and sacrifice—not in the interest of military prowess but in the cause of social justice, both in the nation and around the world. His appeal is for more civic engagement, not necessarily more government. He has the voice and wields the techniques of the community organiser he once was in Chicago, asking people to join together. Not since 1968 has America been so starkly summoned to its ideals.

Friday, March 21, 2008

In Defence of the Truly Talented and the Merit of Merit

Pop culture is reflexive. The tastes and values we see circulating in popular media are reflected back to us. We are both its passive receptors as well as its active purveyors. We are defined by pop culture, just as we define it. In mass media - from radio, to television, to newspapers and the wild and wooly web, we constantly reassure each other of what is acceptable and what is valuable to wear, to read, to eat and drink, to think and to consume in culture.

Pop culture is a reflection of society. Because human beings are social, what is popular in culture communicate what a society deems important. What a society values are usually the ones which resonate in mass media.

But mass media is more complex than just a set of institutions which serve as "conveyor belts" of culture. They are businesses, which means they must operate on principle of profit. This implies they must pander to the "demands" of an audience. If the audience demands inanity, mass media will have to provide inanity. If the audience demands excellence, then mass media will have to provide excellence.

It is disheartening, the kinds of values the old media reflect back to us. The culture we are forced to consume are pandering to the least common denominator. The "popular" after all must coalesce somewhere in the centre. But for how long must we tolerate a pop culture of mediocrity? Especially in today's age of globalisation - of the easy accessibility of other cultures, cultures which push the imagination, cultures that challenge the "normal", cultures that invite creativity and innovation.

Our pop culture should showcase our best, reflecting our best. Our pop culture should serve to reassure us that what our society deems valuable - in fashion, in literature, in film, in our ways of doing - are the best we can offer each other, the best we can offer ourselves and the best we can offer the world.

That said, are Tim Yap and Celine Lopez the best our pop culture can offer?

Read also:
What Damaged Culture?
In a Wowowee State of Mind
Excising Cinderella, Maria Clara and Inang Maria From Our Minds

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Barack Obama For President

Now I understand why my friend M was so excited about this speech. Barack Obama is the face of her version of America. Her closest friends, me included, are all but WASPs. She is born of a Vietnamese mum and a Pakistani dad who met in Hawaii. Her half sister is half Japanese. Her step-father is Caucasian. Spanish is her second language and her closest friends in Texas are Latino. I thought her Latino myself when I first met her. She lived for 10 months in Korea as an English teacher. She "samples" different religions because her family practices different faiths. I must say, I like the face of her version of America as well.

Reactions to the speech:

From Mother Jones:
With this address, Obama was trying to show the nation a pathway to a society free of racial gridlock and denial. Moreover, he declared that bridging the very real racial divide of today is essential to forging the popular coalition necessary to transform America into a society with a universal and effective health care system, an education system that serves poor and rich children, and an economy that yields a decent-paying jobs for all. Obama was not playing the race card. He was shooting the moon.
From Daniel Finkelstein of Times Online (UK):
Somehow he has mastered the art of conveying feeling, strong feeling, without seeming emotionally manipulative. He stands there in his sober suit. His voice is firm, his body-language surprisingly still. He makes few, if any, movements with his hands or arms...Indeed, you might almost say that he's leadership incarnate. Never, even for a moment, does Obama lose a sense of quiet power and effortless authority. He radiates dignity and decency...Throughout, he struck me as infinitely credible and, indeed, presidential.
From Taylor Owen:
I haven’t read through all the commentary on Obama’s race speech yet, but I did watch it, and believe that above all else, the style he exhibited goes to the core of his candidacy. He speaks about issues, controversial issues, with a political voice that hasn’t been heard before. He transcends old ideological, ethnic, religious and historical divides. This voice is not just new to the US, but internationally. This is why so many people in Canada and Europe, for example, are watching him in a way they don’t even look at their own leaders. I can’t express the number of times I have been asked in Canada who will be “our Obama”. Same in the UK.

Its a forty minute speech. You know where to find the rest. I cried a couple of times. Huhu.

Read also:
What's in a name?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Things bigger than me

I try not to worry about the details, because in the larger scheme of things, they're insignificant. What does it matter if you win an argument to settle who's smartest? Strongest? Funniest? In this little universe, this university, what does it matter? I realise the conceit of not wanting to engage in little rebellions, in doing things, just for kicks. Because the things to get riled about and expend energies over, are things bigger than me. Scary things, things of a scale so grand that I ask myself, am I ready? Intimidated and humbled, again I find refuge in the details, things over which I have some semblance of control. Like how many bottles of beer I can finish and still be able to walk home.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Deconstructing Celine Lopez' Book Report

I like seeing patterns. Sometimes I think my brain is especially configured to see them. This is probably why I cannot write a paper straight on - that is, think of an argument and find evidence for support. I have to wade through literature on the general subject, and then trust that my brain reads a pattern that (hopefully) no one has yet seen. I cannot start from the conclusion (argument) then work my way backwards. I dip in the middle, and ripple my way to the shores. This is probably why papers are so agonising, they take me off tangents, like now.

The theme on picking up where our ancestors left off a hundred years ago seems to be snow-balling lately. Jester-in-exile picks up on Sylvia Mayuga's column yesterday. She likens the present crisis of the country to a real-life sequel of the Noli and Fili.
This sequel carries the 19th century’s main plotline into the 21st century – an enslaved people trying to break free from a very old unjust system.

I have said before how I thought it bizarre that we are still fighting to give birth to a nation. And so our language lately, in the old and new media, are full of modern terms - truth, justice, enlightenment, poverty, inequality.

I find that Manolo's blog is often underscored with modern ideas - of the French revolutionary kind. Not coincidentally my whole series on Malu Fernandez also carried this theme.

Which finally brings me to Celine Lopez' column yesterday, link courtesy of Sandwich Spy. She entitles it "A book report," one on French revolutionary Victor Hugo's most popular novel.
The summer he passed, I read Les Miserables for the first of many times in my life. Being suddenly a stranger in the world I had inhabited for some years now, the book suddenly provided me with a lesson my grandfather failed to teach me: that the perfect world is found in an imperfect world, my world after him.
How bizarre that one of the main protagonists in the Pinoyblogosphere's latest revolts against the so-called elite's exposed decadence, should choose a book that is the anti-thesis of her and her friends' reason for being . Peddling values which belong to the 19th century. Guiltless partying and bacchanalia of the sin-free. Values that say you have your world and I have mine and never the twain shall meet.

But Celine Lopez' column is not a book report. It is not even about the book. She chose the title and the book to tell us she is a woman of substance, that someone so young could read something so old. Quelle classe. I have never before read her column, but at least she can string words together to make pretty. It is mostly self-involved, as I imagine most of her columns are. But then we are all self-involved to a degree aren't we? So, moving on.

Second she writes a cute little story of when she was a little girl and how she coped with her grandfather's death.
In the end, with all my infallible adoration, I realized my lolo was like every human being. A Jean Valjean. It was my idea to put him on a pedestal; he never asked for it. He never insisted on it. Unlike Cosette’s and especially Marius’ grief in learning of Valjean’s truth, I loved him more for his humanity and not his godliness. A betrayal of thought redeemed by truth.
Other than herself, the main subject in her story happens to belong to one of the most powerful families in the Philippines, of which she is a part. Old landed aristocrats, remnants of the old world. In her own words, she was lost without her grandfather, a little girl worthy of empathy and understanding.
As a young adult I constantly tested what was truly right and wrong. Embracing my lessons from my mistakes more than my triumphs, I grew up still fragile, flawed and questioning.
So, she grew up fragile, little-girl-lost-y without her anchor. Empathy. We are also supposed to empathise with her sins, in her ventures from the perfect world.
It’s ironic that, in his theatrical setting of the perfect life for me in my early years, he further made me want to discover what makes the world ill. Perhaps feeling I had been stupid and fearing I would continuing being so, it drove me to find every flaw and to ultimately understand it.
And every flaw means doing what has been alleged in that blog down under? Well, that makes for a lot of understanding.

Then she ends her little ditty with a piece of advice. She is, after all, a woman of substance.
Life is a dramatic comedy and tragedy, forever interchanging until the curtains draw. Like in every story, what gives it meaning and remembrance is the plot, the characters and the struggle.

Let your will be the engine, your loved ones the wheels and your struggles the inspiration in creating your plot. Then, in this imperfect world, with our imperfect selves, we find perfect dreams in sleep.

So, let us be humble in our imperfections, she says. Let ye who hath no sin cast the first stone. Woman of substance. Family of substance. Fierce pride, but willing to learn from mistakes. She paints herself as battle-weary, little-girl-lost-y, experimenting-with-life kind of girl.

Oh the bravura.

I just wish she chose another book to "report" on. Because all she seems to have learned from the implied numerous times she has read the book, is that the world is not perfect and that people can change. A pity. In this day and age, it is tasteless and callous to draw comparisons between someone like her and the truly down-trodden and oppressed in Hugo's imaginary.


This post has been edited. Apparently, I can be sued for libel for:
Quoting a libelous sentence on the blog or re-publishing/summarizing allegations thereof.

Publicly mentioning names of people being exposed in the blog.

Publishing the URL of the blog or linking to the blog.

So here's to Freedom of Speech. How dear you have become. Only a few can afford you. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Free Tibet.... consummate its ambition of becoming the first 21st century theocracy. Its supreme religio-political leader, the Dalai Lama, expresses fear the dissent will be more bloody. The United States, among other powers, urge restraint. But the CCP has declared a people's war to defend its One China policy. Beijing will never let go. Xinjiang and Taiwan are watching.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Information as Social Capital

I have a friend who bitches and moans about the artificiality of postmodern life. He says he wants to go back to the Amazon and be jungle ranger again. I have absolutely no problem with living in the 21st century. When else can a tech illiterate such as myself find Yuga's estimates about the NBN-ZTE deal? He reckons its a worthwhile project and would have indeed covered the whole country. In Abe's opinion those who wanted to stick their greedy little hands in the this sweet deal of a honeypot had this strategy in mind:
For huge projects like this, the “payouts” are drawn from wholesale discounts. So, instead of say a 30% discount to nab the deal, they’ll charge in full and re-allocate the 30% corporate discount to the pockets of those who will guarantee the approval of the project. Incidentally, a 30% discount amounts to $100M so it’s not a bad deal after all, if that were the case. That way, the Bill of Quantities will still pass thru rigid scrutiny.

Read also:
Politics in the Age of Information

Friday, March 14, 2008

I Support the Campaign for the Freedom of Access to Information Law

Via Manolo, please support Team RP's advocacy.
From the de Venecia-Lozada expose, the Hello Garci scandal, and the Spratlys mind-boggler to the North and South Rail questions, events of the recent past clearly highlight how very little we know about the workings of our government, how much difficulty is involved in getting truth to come out and how, albeit fundamental in any republican and democratic state that the government is accountable to the public, we Filipinos are in reality denied direct access to our government institutions and our public servants. As a country that prides itself with democracy, it strikes us with a disquieting reality that we Filipinos have no real access to information to empower us to properly and actively participate in governance.

We in TEAM RP believe that in order for there to be a responsible citizenry that can actively and meaningfully craft the future of the country, there is a need to give teeth to the policy of full public disclosure and the right of the people to be informed as contained in the fundamental law of the land. Moreover, we are aware that if people, especially those who have been bypassed by development, are unaware of laws and procedures for availing themselves of their entitlements or of mechanisms they can use to remedy their plight, then they will always remain poor.

Please go over to Team RP's blog and find instructions on how you can support the passage of this bill.

Here's to vital public information made more accessible to civil society. Here's to our democracy. And here's to more PDFs for download! :)

Read also:
Information, What do with Information?
Philipping Blogging Class Consciousness
Civilising Philippine Politics

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Challenge is Opportunity and Opportunity is Challenge

Ok. So my former bosses have probably decided on Manila (as opposed to Hong Kong). I see their ads pop all over the Pinoyblogosphere now. Bravo marketing folks for doing your job. On my last day at work E had a little chat with me. Asked me what the BPO scene was like in Manila. I could only tell her what everyone else knows. Yeah, we've got tens of thousands of call centre seats now, so our labour force is "competitive." Whatever that means.

I didn't know whether to feel good or dirty after that interview. On one hand I scored some potential jobs for my fellow Filipinos. I, a Filipina, proved to be a reliable, quick-to-learn English-spokening worker. On the other, I felt dirty. The site is a legitimate dating site. If my ex-bosses wanted an adult site, they could set one up. Probably rake in more money. But nonetheless I have seen some disturbing, horrible things in there. I cringe now, every time I see the photo of the ad. It is obviously targetting foreigners. But if they're advertising on Philippine sites, they must also be after locals or Pinoys overseas.

But no matter. If they do decide to move some back office work to Manila, I'd feel better knowing fellow Filipinos were policing the site. Because I know the Aussie who does it most of the time could care less about protecting Filipinos' integrity and reputation.


I am fiercely proud that my blog post is the lone non-adult related search result when you google "philippine pussy." Makunsensya naman ang naghahanap ng porn.

Filipina. Mabuhay ka.

Read also:
Philippines As Open Pussy Country?

Brian Gorrell's Blog is Alive!

This blog is not above juicy gossip. Wehehe. The DJ Montano blog (written by a certain DJ Montano's spurned lover) has a new post. He ends it with a threat:

I will shame your entire family because of DJ's crime against me.

DJ, do the right thing. Borrow the money from your family. Borrow it from a friend. Just give it to me.

Because I will re open this blog.

Nyahahaha. As Gibbs Cadiz says, its schadenfreud. I caught wind of this too late, and so I didn't get a chance to read the entries with all the comments. Even though he has deleted his posts, they're still floating in the ether. Make some popcorn, get comfy on your favourite meuble and "read" at your heart's content. Mwahahahaha.


I am deliriously, ridiculously happy to report, that my post is the top search result when you google "tim yap."

Read also:
Deconstructing Celine Lopez' Book Report
In Defence of the Truly Talented and the Merit of Merit

Reflections on Public Spaces

I have heard many years ago how our public officials are so out of touch from an everyday Filipino's reality simply by being physically separated from the spaces in which they move. It was said that once in a while, our leaders should roll down the heavily-tinted windows of their four-wheel drives to see, hear and smell the urban sprawl.

Urbano of Another Hundred Years Hence has finished his series on improving public transit in Metro Manila. I particularly find insightful what he wrote on the second part:
So, first we have to change the frame of the conversation: from congestion to social justice.

The consequence of a bad public transport system is not bad traffic (alone) but a fundamental inequity -where those who cannot afford cars or cannot afford to take cars everyday pay a greater share of their household income and pay a greater penalty in time.

A bad public transport system is inequitable. And it is also inefficient.

We need to get better public transport not because we want to get rid of traffic congestion* -but because we want a transport system that does not favor the rich over the poor and the middle class.
I remember years ago having come back from Europe to Manila how I valiantly tried to do what I had been doing for five weeks - walk blocs everyday, walk everywhere. I even tried taking the MRT to get to places where I usually just took a car. I tried it for a few days until I finally gave up. Our public spaces are not only hard on the senses, but they are painfully cruel and unjust. I didn't think of this back then, but I remember having felt sad and disappointed that I had to get used to being boxed in a car again.

Here on the Gee Coast, I take the bus everywhere. Surfside buslines are comfortable, clean and almost always on time. There is no metro system here yet, perhaps because it is still a relatively small city. In Manila the last time I took the bus was (approximately) on my junior year in my undergrad. One classmate asked me why I wanted to take the bus to go to SM North even when I didn't need to. Because I was a budding democrat, I told her I just wanted to see what it was like because I hadn't taken the bus for years before then.

The other day I was talking to my friend from Cartagena and San Antonio (TX). Because our conversations are always bizarre, we got on the topic of public transport. J (the Colombian) was marvelling at the bus system here in Oz. He said it didn't usually carry what is visually and olfactorily identifiable as masa like in his home city. He pointed at me and told M (the Texan), "she would know." I nodded my head. I was surprised when M. responded they have those back home too. So in San Antonio at least, only the masa take buses. On second thought I shouldn't have been surprised, as I have expressed before how the US, while being richest and (still) the most powerful country on earth, is increasingly exhibiting some "third-world" symptoms. And very Filipino-like ones at that.

The quality of life of ordinary Filipinos are visibly on display. How could we doubt that things need to change? Resty jokingly calls commuting an "extreme sport." But he has plenty of other blog entries questioning why he should have to suffer through the injustice of our public spaces. The defence of our metaphysical public spaces must be complemented by the defence of our material public spaces.

Malu Fernandez, You Attention Whore You

She has some choice words for us upstarts in her latest column. Just because her words come to life in ink and ours in pixels, does not make her a journalist. I'm a blogger. Five years of my life and my thoughts are chronicled on this blog. I don't think that's slacking...that's providing intellectual capital for free.

Hemingway, I have said my piece on this one, so I won't jump into the fray. Just happy to report on everyone else's reaction so far:

From Jego:
Let us ignore the fact that she calls herself a journalist. I prefer to call her a columnist, but that is neither here nor there. The difference between a journalist and a blogger is that journalists have to adhere to certain guidelines that govern the freedom of speech. Last I checked, freedom of speech and the "guidelines" thereof cover both journalists and bloggers, and in fact cover all citizens. The principle of freedom of speech does not discriminate between journalists, bloggers, butcher, baker, and candlestick-maker. Perhaps what she means is journalists are covered by the standards of the publication said journalist happens to work for. Bloggers, not working for anybody for the most part, do not have to adhere to standards other than their own. A blog is a private space where the blogger can do whatever he or she wants, say anything he or she wants, insult or edify whoever he or she wants. The only courtesy a blogger affords to his or her readers or to his or her targets is to open the blog up for comments, an open invitation to his or her readers to agree or disagree with whatever was written. A blog is just like any other conversation, or at least it should be. The only standards bloggers adhere to are the standards of the society at large.

From Pedestrian Observer:
It is unfortunate and at the same time a reflection on the liepapers’ credibility and poor standard in hiring a shallow “writer” dipping her fingers on subject she knows nothing about comparing it with shopping experience is so absurd and ridiculous...One is allowed to make a fool of themselves, that is the essence of living in a free country and she can stay that way because she is fixated on accessorizing herself with name brand items unfortunately wearing expensive name brands does not necessarily make one look better. It is not what you wear that counts but what you are deep within that determines your character as a person.

From Carlos Celdran:
But I'm also wondering what's the deal with her smarmy remarks about some blogger of Spanish descent. I wonder who she's talking about. And what is it about this year? It's just one bloody ta-e* explosion after the other on the blogosphere.

From Bryanboy:
Are you THAT disconnected with what goes on these days? I have no idea what it's like in that insulated cave you live in but woman, get on with the program!
From Nightdreamer:
She ridiculously claims that us, Filipinos, are a culture of whiners. And what was she doing exactly? Not whining?

Oh. And Yugatech has awarded her Master Link Baiter of the year.

Related Posts:

Putting on the "Other's" Shoes
On the Democracy of the Pinoyblogosphere a.k.a Malu Fernandez Take Your Cue
Let Them Eat Cake
OFWs Are No Heroes
The Philippines' First Cyber Counterculture Movement, Malu Fernandez, Hala Lagot Ka!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Are We Poor Because We're Lazy?

It hurts when you hear something that rings true. Last week a Dutch national was banned from the country for saying "unkind" remarks in the NAIA.
NAIA-BI officials reported that Kalka allegedly refused to answer routine questions from immigration officer Fortunato Manahan who was on duty at the NAIA-BI counter. He asked her purpose in coming to the Philippines and after being politely advised to fill up the disembarkation form, she refused to do so.
Probably feeling harassed, she retaliated by saying "You Filipinos are fucking lazy! That is why you are poor."

I have given this some thought, and wonder at its validity. Is there a direct causal relation between laziness and poverty? That is, are we poor because we're lazy? Or are we lazy because we're poor? These are value-laden words, emotive words. They are both pejorative - words that trigger bad, distasteful things in our heads. Poor (distasteful). Lazy (distasteful). So in a single retort of a harassed hollandaise who dared venture in our little corner of the Third World, she labelled us with two distasteful adjectives.

But before we go on with this essai, do we know what we mean when we say "poor" and "lazy"?

Poverty is relative. It means lack of wealth. It only acquires meaning when it is compared with presence of wealth. Wealth is measurable by its physical manifestation - the presence of objects with value. Poverty, lack of wealth, then becomes visible. Because poverty is relative and only makes sense when compared with others' lack or possession of objects, then poverty is social.

Before the birth of capitalism five centuries back, economic historians estimate that roughly everyone in the world had the same level of per capita income. Therefore, everyone was equally poor. Or equally rich. I'm not sure how they measured poverty back then. I'm assuming they could measure it by making estimates of not only to the capacities of various societies in wealth generation (producing valuable objects), but also the quality of life - people's lifespans, birthrates, mortality rates, etc.

Today, while the world has tremendous wealth, this wealth only makes sense because there is also tremendous poverty. In the Philippines, possession of 1 motor vehicle is a sign of wealth. In Australia, it does not mean wealth. In Australia, not having enough money to purchase a car is poverty. In the Philippines, skipping a meal is poverty. If everyone in the Philippines had to skip a meal a day, then there would be no poverty (in the Philippines).

But then we know that in other societies, people live in what is judged to be better living conditions, so again poverty rears its head because there is another basis of comparison. We become envious and strive to approximate those living conditions. We know that we are poor because the Netherlands, from whence Ms. Kalka came, is rich.

Given the definition above, then poverty will never go away. A recent study released by the statistics bureau said poverty rose between the years 2003 and 2006. Then you read something like this:
National growth measured in GNP increased 11 times for the Philippines from 1960 to 2000. Compared to 39 times for Malaysia, 48 times for Thailand and 172 times for Hong Kong . The distribution of this anemic growth has not become more equitable either. The richer half of families took 82% of total income in 1961. This ratio remains the same in 2000.
So, in comparison with our neighbours which were poorer some years back, our poverty has worsened, only because they became richer. What is wrong then, that our society cannot generate the same wealth as others?

Certainly, our corrupt public institutions create poverty rather than wealth. Our officials steal public funds meant to be invested in social capital. Most societies value public spending on education, infrastructure and health care among others because they know that the private sector, which operates on principles of profit by assuring private consumption, could not possibly provide private access to roads for example. Education and health care are a society's investments in its own people. So, when our public institutions steal resources which came from us (taxes) and are meant to be spent on us, this creates poverty.

How do bad infrastructure create poverty? Time is gold, they say. Time is money. In capitalist wealth creation, everything is subject to the discipline of time. You need to get to your office at 9:00 am, so you can do X amount of work at X amount of time to generate X amount of "productivity" on behalf of your company. Barring personal impediments, the only thing preventing you from getting to work on time is traffic caused by poor urban planning, congestion (among others). So two hours on the road, on a bus, in a jeepney doing nothing (that generates wealth) has prevented you from reporting to work on time, lessening your "productivity" and your company's profits.

A business' reason for being is to generate profit. If it does not do so, it is not a business. Paramount to business decisions are costs. Labour and inputs (materials needed to create commodities or services) are expected costs.

Traffic (due to bad infrastructure among others) is a cost that could be eliminated. A location that exacts costs such as traffic is not conducive to maximising wealth creation (in this instance through a unit such as a business). A business will try to cut costs by a number of means - trying to find cheaper inputs, relocating to an area where there is less traffic (but relocation in itself is costly), or investing in new technologies (again this is costly). So a business, as a unit of wealth generation, will cut costs in areas of least resistance. This usually means making its people work harder.

I say this with absolutely no ideological malice. That is how the cookie crumbles. This just highlights that poverty and wealth are two sides of the same coin. More than just statistics, they are symptoms of how we as human beings relate to each other.

So, going back to traffic. If we eliminate traffic as a cost - this will improve our productivity as participants in wealth creation.

How does poor health and education spending contribute to poverty? That should be self-explanatory.

Poverty is a symptom. Poverty is a symptom that the ingredients with which we create wealth - raw materials, people, technologies (know-how/ways of doing), public policies - are arranged in such a manner that does not maximise wealth creation.

Poverty is a symptom of waste. Wasted people, wasted abilities, wasted energies, wasted lives, social costs. We are a country of 85 million potential talents. How much of these potentials are wasted?

We go back to the question then, of why we are poor. Are we poor because we're lazy? Or lazy because we're poor?

Laziness is time spent not working. Like poverty/wealth, laziness only acquires meaning when defined against work. If all of us were stop "working" all at once, then we would eliminate laziness.

Our bureaucracy is notoriously lazy. This is probably because there exist public posts that are redundant - they exist because in developing countries, governments are still one of the major sources of employment. Again this behooves us the urgency for the creation of other industries to absorb and harness people's labour and talents.

We have all been to government offices haven't we? We are all witnesses to laziness in the public sector. Going to the LTO (for whatever reason) on East Avenue is a prime example of wasted time and wasted lives. I am not surprised that the hollandaise's contact with our bureaucracy has left a sour taste in her mouth.

Well, what about laziness in the private sector? Are you lazy? Am I lazy? Are you not working? Am I not working? The answer will probably no. We all work, some very hard indeed (depends on how we qualify "hard.") Traditional, non-mechanised farming is back-breaking hard work, no qualifications needed. All that labour...and for what?

I have mentioned before Mang Tom, our newspaper (old)boy back home. That is an example of a man who works very hard indeed. But for what?

I know there exist people who have absolutely no incentive to work - thus they laze. What little income they get they spend on non-wealth generating activities. One might say, they engage in rabid consumption - of alcohol and nicotine, gambling and entertainment (not coincidentally the more robust industries in our country). Some engage in criminal activities because in doing so their "talents" yield greater wealth. There are public criminals and there are private ones. Evidently, public criminality is the best means to accumulate wealth in our society.

But we can't all be public criminals.

Again I ask the question, are we poor because we're "fucking" lazy? Or poor because the ways in which our society generates wealth is inefficient? That is, wasteful (of resources, time, money, talents)?

If we are going to play the capitalist game full on then we might as well do it good. Let's talk serious wealth creation first. Wealth redistribution can come when there is wealth to redistribute.

Where do we start? All examples point to a strong set of public institutions (i.e. State) which are relatively free from non-public interests. Institutions which will strategise to create social arrangements for maximum wealth creation and redistribution on behalf of the public. Social arrangements which will efficiently harness people's labour and safeguard social justice (however we choose to define that).

Damn, this blog post is meandering bordering on senseless. Also circular. I need to start my research on Iran.


The inquirer's headline today: Arroyo hit on Spratlys deal. JDV has the temerity to say it was supposed to be a political solution. Blech. Since 2002, there has been a "deadlock" among claimants.

Here's an exerpt of the Barry Wain article mentioned in the Inquirer, aptly entitled Manila's Bungle in the South China Sea:
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's hurried trip to China in late 2004 produced a major surprise. Among the raft of agreements ceremoniously signed by the two countries was one providing for their national oil companies to conduct a joint seismic study in the contentious South China Sea, a prospect that caused consternation in parts of Southeast Asia. Within six months, however, Vietnam, the harshest critic, dropped its objections and joined the venture, which went ahead on a tripartite basis and shrouded in secrecy.

In the absence of any progress towards solving complex territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea, the concept of joint development is resonating stronger than ever. The idea is fairly simple: Shelve sovereignty claims temporarily and establish joint development zones to share the ocean's fish, hydrocarbon and other resources. The agreement between China, the Philippines and Vietnam, three of the six governments that have conflicting claims, is seen as a step in the right direction and a possible model for the future.

But as details of the undertaking emerge, it is beginning to look like anything but the way to go. For a start, the Philippine government has broken ranks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which was dealing with China as a bloc on the South China Sea issue. The Philippines also has made breathtaking concessions in agreeing to the area for study, including parts of its own continental shelf not even claimed by China and Vietnam. Through its actions, Manila has given a certain legitimacy to China's legally spurious "historic claim" to most of the South China Sea.

President Arroyo's agreement with China for a joint seismic study was controversial in several respects. By not consulting other Asean members beforehand, the Philippines abandoned the collective stance that was key to the group's success with China over the South China Sea. Ironically, it was Manila that first sought a united front and rallied Asean to confront China over its intrusion into Mischief Reef a decade earlier. Sold the idea by politicians with business links who have other deals going with the Chinese, Ms. Arroyo did not seek the views of her foreign ministry, Philippines officials say. By the time the foreign ministry heard about it and objected, it was too late, the officials say.

Not only do the details of the three-way agreement remain unknown, but almost nothing has been disclosed about progress on the seismic study, which should be completed in the next few months. Much will depend on the results and what the parties do next. Already, according to regional officials, China has approached Malaysia and Brunei separately, suggesting similar joint ventures. If it is confirmed that China has split Asean and the Southeast Asian claimants and won the right to jointly develop areas of the South China Sea it covets only by virtue of its "historic claim," Beijing will have scored a significant victory.

I have this article in full, if anyone's interested.

China Will Swallow Us Whole

We really need to get our act together, or else China will swallow us whole. Jae of Akbayan reports filing a case questioning the constitutionality of more China-Arroyo deals allowing the lease of 1,000,000 hectares of our land to Jilin Fuhua Corporation. Jae also has the PDF of the petition on her blog post.
The Fuhua Co. MOU’s proposed lease of one million hectares of land will effectively disenfranchise farmers and farmworkers working these lands; on the unlikely possibility that there are no such farmers / farmworkers present in these areas, it still behooves CARP implementers to distribute the lands to farmers and farmworkers that were not accommodated in the respective landholdings (due to land availability limitations) or to qualified ARBs who were unduly dislocated from their areas or because of undue land conversions, CARP exemption, or CLOA/ EP cancellations.
A summary of RP-PRC deals on agriculture can be found on Newsbreak.

Given that 1/3 of our total labour force are still employed in agriculture sector, and there aren't industries to absorb their displacement, their choices aren't very many.
Tariff reduction cause agriculture output to contract while industry and services output expand...Both industry and service sector appears to benefit from resource reallocation as a result of tariff reduction. The former absorbs unskilled laborer (production worker previously working in agriculture) displaced in agriculture. While the latter experience an increase in return to capital.

However, the absorption capacity of the manufacturing sector to accommodate workers displaced in agriculture has been minimal. This is because of the inherent manufacturing production structure in the country, which utilizes minimal value added. Thus, in spite of the increase in proportion of household income coming from unskilled production wages, limited increase in income level has been gained. The impact of this is troublesome for rural households trying to move out of agriculture. The rigid labor absorption capacity of manufacturing may generate poverty ramifications especially for rural households who are only endowed with unskilled production skills.
So, what are farmers left to do other than take up arms and join insurgents? Twiddle their thumbs? Train to be call centre agents? Oh, hang on, lets export all 13,000,000 of them! But then, who's going to grow our food?

The ASEAN-China Free Trade Area will kick into full gear in two years. Here's an article assessing the opportunities and costs of the ACFTA. Its not freely downloadable, but I have it. If you're interested, leave your address and I can email it to you.
ASEAN should not focus in competing with China on the basis of costs, but should focus on improving product and service quality, efficiency and reliability. They should try to move up to higher-value products and develop their own specialities and niches by improving the skills of their human resources and level of technology.

ASEAN countries should look for ways of complementing with China, rather than competing with China. There are areas where China has a comparative disadvantage, particularly in agricultural products, intermediate capital goods, mineral products and services.

To get a preferential entry for these particular products and services in the Chinese market under the ASEAN-China FTA should help the ASEAN countries to compete with other more advanced countries which have been supplying these goods and services in China. However, the ASEAN countries at the same time must ‘set their houses in order’ to have the ability to respond to the preferential access-induced economic opportunities in the Chinese market

I don't see why we can't just grow food on our own terms and then export to China. Will someone explain this to me?!? Oh, wait I know. Because agricultural revolution has yet to happen in this country.

Hala sige. Matira matibay.


Read also:

On Global Food Fights

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Political Appointees in the DFA

Hat-tip to Arbet for this news item. So the Philippines could lose its claim on Spratlys because the DFA is too slow to act? Or, the DFA has been infiltrated by vested interests? Its really no surprise given that half of our embassies abroad are manned by "political appointees," not career diplomats .

A former ambassador lists them gleefully in his opinion column:
Following are the present political appointees, some of whom have been in their posts for more than six years:

Masaranga Umpa (Abuja); Rigoberto Tiglao (Athens); Alejandro del Rosario (Budapest); Ernesto de Leon (Canberra); Vidal Querol (Jakarta); Ramoncito Marino (Koror); Edgardo Espiritu (London); Joseph Bernardo (Madrid); Antonio Lagdameo (Mexico); Acmad Omar (Muscat); Jose Brillantes (Ottawa); Hermoso Belarmino (Port Moresby); Carmelita Salas (Prague); Phillippe Lhuillier (Rome); Consuelo Puyat Reyes (Santiago); Bienvenido Tejano (Wellington); and Noel Cabrera (Yangon).

Noe Wong is enroute to a Southeast Asian country, while Cristina Ponce-Enrile has reportedly been appointed to go to the Holy See.

Bucharest and New Delhi are vacant. I wouldn't be surprised if they too are filled with political carpetbaggers.

I've met our ambassador here. Interestingly, he was an officer in the armed forces.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Information, What to do with Information?

For the first time in my life I have access to a 54Mbps internet connection everyday. Can you imagine how much information I have at the tips of my fingers? How much information I have to process every time I log on? I am supposed to be working on 3 separate papers right now. My brain goes off on tangents because of the abundance of information available - and the abundance of information I need to filter and process. I seriously feel my brain is going on overload. Either that or my neurons are depreciating. Probably both.

Before I came here, I may have had at most 300 PDFs on my computer. Now I probably have 3,000, if not more. Each time I do research, I log on and if you know where to look, you can have access to anything you need. The European Union alone has hundreds upon hundreds of policy documents freely downloadable online for the whole world to peruse.

Our government site has links to the different branches and offices. The POEA has a decent collection of official data online. The PIDS has also been an invaluable source. Congress also has a nifty website, and you can search bills passed by topic or who authored them. This was information not readily available to just anyone 10 years ago. Now anyone who cares to go to an internet cafe and cough up P20/hour will be able to access them. When you look up information and you're not sure about a word or concept, you just go to Wikipedia!

There will be 24 million internet users in the Philippines this year. Up by ten million from two years ago. How many will there be by 2010? 34 million? More? We Filipinos certainly love our media. We are wired to the teeth. And because most of us are Anglophone, we can manage to wade through cyberspace. Now, if only we would devote some of our net time not playing online games. Imagine the possibilities.

Read also:

Social (Cyber)spaces

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

In Defence of the Public

In response to my post below, Nightdreamer points to the hypocrisy of those who were at the Makati rally. They were chanting "change, change, change" as they leave garbage on the streets. In my comment section he recounts an instance where a bus driver railed against the lack of discipline on the roads and in the same breath ran a red light.

Arbet, clearly not apolitical, says change begins with ourselves, in our private capacities. He outlines five simple steps on how we can exact change. He says to "translate this inward change outwards." This reminds me of a book that came out a while back, something about how to show your love for the Philippines by buying local goods, paying taxes etc. etc.

But our personal choices, our private choices, especially the ones about following "rules" - traffic rules being the most simple example, are not enough. We need to have trust that the "system" of enforcing the rules will apply to all of us, regardless of who we are. This trust is in public institutions working for the public interest.

On our roads, the most public of social spaces, it is clearly a state of nature, there is a sense that it is every man for himself. Eat or be eaten. We even have a local word for it - gulangan system. On the roads of Manila, gulangan reigns supreme. The only thing preventing roads from descending into chaos is a system of rules that works in the public interest. On a four-way stop for example (interestingly I have not seen one in the Philippines), the first car that gets to the intersection gets to cross first. Knowing this, other drivers will respect the rule, first because he will get a ticket if he doesn't and second because he has respect for the other drivers - that they are, at least on the roads, his equal. That he is not above them, above the rules.

While privately I know I am a good person, and privately I am all for social justice and fairness and equality. Privately I am rooting for every man and woman because I am a democrat. I have been a motorist for over ten years. While the times I have been caught violating traffic rules can be counted on one hand, I have had more than my share of road indiscretions. Privately I grimace, I want to do my duty as a good citizen and part of the community, but there is this sense that the public simply will not let me. On the roads of Manila, eat or be eaten - there is nothing mediating between your murderous road rage and that of the driver next to you. Nothing. Not a system of rules and certainly not the traffic enforcer supposedly embodying the rules.

Privately we are good people and privately we exercise our own version of what is moral. But publicly we become beasts, predators of the worst kind. Eat or be eaten. Haven't you heard countless people marvel at how Filipinos excel and become successful when transplanted abroad?

Clearly there is nothing wrong with the Filipino. What is wrong is this nebulous, amorphous "system." I hadn't thought of it before, and previously it had no name. The system is our public life - how we behave in public spaces. What I meant by "civilising" Philipping politics is the creation of civility in our society - the lack of this feeling that we need to eat or be eaten. That we can let go of our guard and live relatively safe lives in public because we have trust that public institutions will work for (more or less) the majority. Isn't this what we mean by justice?

Now magnify the example of the road to the rest of the country. The Philippines - that one big public space of 85 million private interests - mediated by what? Mediated by whom? What do we do when the institutions which supposedly enforce rules to (more or less) mete justice and fairness are manned by the Biggest Predators of all?

Private changes are not enough. Private choices are not enough. Unless we go and live separately on imaginary islands.

Monday, March 03, 2008

A New Design for Democracy: Urbano's Proposal

I like this labour of love thoughtfully crafted by Another Hundred Years Hence. A new design for Philippine Democracy.
The design change I am proposing is in essence a mechanism shift. I propose that rather than electing leaders at the national (or even regional level), we should select leaders at the superlocal level (the barangay) and these leaders then become part of the pool of candidates from which the system selects municipal, provincial and national leaders.

The mechanism shift, that of holding direct elections only at the barangay level, will reduce the size of the electorate (v), reduce the cost of acquiring votes (c), lower the barriers to entry, and eliminate the role of the middle-men.

Writing (and thinking) all the way from Washington DC, he makes his proposal in a downloadable PDF! Gotta love the WWWeb. :)

GMA Back in the Day

Ay how quaint. Trawling cyberspace, I stumble on this paper co-written by the President 25 years ago. Back when she was interested in development.

Our (Post)modern Revolution and the Tyranny of the Apolitical

How bizarre. Its as if the last century was a dream, and here were are still giving birth to a nation. Stationed here in the land down under, "nationalism" is a bad thing. It manifests in flag-waving and a consolidation of identities - of who and what is Australian, of what belongs to Australia. It manifests in xenophobia and intolerance of difference. I suppose the same can be said for all societies who have fought and won their nationhood. Their 21st century is postmodern. It is concerned with multiplicities - of identities, sexualities and of religions. The postmodern preaches the relativity of truth.

And here we are, Filipinos, still fighting for an identity, of the place for religion, of one version of truth. Have we managed to prescribe the magic formula of what it means to be Filipino? Of what belongs to the Philippines? Where is the nation? Has it a locality? Has it borders? I have read somewhere that statehood is born out of ethnic cleansing internally and nationalist wars externally. More cruel than that is the extinguishing of difference within - the creation of one language to transmit one culture.

By all measures and standards of history, the Philippines is not a nation or a state. Our borders, identities and cultures are fluid. Thus our sense of belonging, of obeisance and of loyalties are just as fluid. Of the material, the way our political unit creates and disburses wealth is placeless in the context of the capitalist world system. The anchors of modern politics elsewhere, of national capital, national labour and national state, are absent. Our politics is disperse, scattered in the four winds, rootless.

This is why I empathise with my friend Luis, who went to the Makati rally last Friday and was reminded of why he is apolitical. I pondered on this matter, and saw that it was a completely rational reaction. In the middle of the action so to speak, it is difficult to glean what is substantive from the spectacle. Our modern revolution is postmodern in this sense. Our modern revolution is being waged in multiplicities - of actors and witnesses, of versions of truths. Our national consciousness in the last twenty years ebbs and wanes in mediated spaces, through texts, old and new media, the web.

So here we are waging a modern revolution framed through postmodern means. It is just as "tainted" with postmodern ethos. Why does it matter that we arrive at the truth when we know that there is none? To be apolitical is to surrender to the inevitable, to be steamrollered by events - by things that happen randomly. What we become are contented/discontented witnesses. There is no sense, no meaning, just time ticking until we belly-up and die. To be apolitical is to give up that our actions matter, because nothing matters. To be apolitical is to surrender to the tyranny of disbelief. Disbelief is totalitarian in that we cannot break of the conceptual cages we create. There is no alternative so why bother? Why expend our energies? Why indeed? We create rationalisations to buttress our version of truth that nothing changes. To be apolitical is to vacate the driver's seat and let the inertia of the moving vehicle take us where it may. It is nihilism at its best.

It is tempting, very tempting to take this stance. But from whence we float on the ocean of relativities and rootlessness, we are brought back to the solidity of the modern. Greed and power are modern. There is none of that here in Australia. It is present on the television screen, but it always takes place elsewhere - in East Timor, in the Gaza Strip, in Kenya. When we are saturated in the politicking of greed and power, it becomes normal, a way of life, part of culture. It solidifies our belief systems that there can be nothing else. From a self-confessed apolitical creature such as Luis, I do not expect much. But hearing the same rationalisations from a Filipina journalist I met here in my uni, I am convinced that the tyranny of disbelief is absolute.

So how do we convince ourselves that politics matters? Well, if politics is arriving at the decision of who gets what, when and how, then it becomes real. Man does not live by imaginary bread alone. We need material things, modern objects, to live. This becomes more urgent in a society that has not yet eliminated hunger. We need to eat, and for that we need to work. For many of us, we need to work hard, to expend our energies to put food on the table. All of this would be fine and dandy if we lived on that deserted island where there is none between us and the sky, lazing the day away catching fish, or toiling for a few minutes in our little patch of green behind our nipa hut. But this would mean finding that uncharted deserted island in the middle of Pacific. Or migrating to the moon.

Unless our country sinks to the bottom of the ocean, or all of us mass-migrate in a postmodern clime elsewhere - where we meet the cold harsh reality of racism and labour inequality and the modern meaning/discipline of passports and citizenships, or we just collectively blow ourselves up, there is no escaping politics. The sooner we realise this, the sooner we can get back on the driver's seat and steer this slow-moving bapor Tabo to a destination where we can afford to be postmodern and apolitical.