Quantcast Current: January 2009 Archives

January 2009 Archives

It's all about showing the money

frankenstein electorate

This premartial law editorial cartoon suggests the theme for today's entry, which is: as a possible constitutional plebiscite or national election looms, the government, at a time of economic recesson, is going to be hard-put to find the cash it needs to put out to curry favor with the electorate and its allies.

I. The Economy and Jobs

New stories today range from 11-mo trade gap widens to $6.9B to Manufacturing output down 6.6% (for November, 2008, where Imports were down 31.5%). The Department of Labor calculates 23,485 job losses traced to crisis since October last year. Overseas, Bloody Monday: Over 71,400 jobs lost (200,000 lost since 2009 began; 2.5 million lost in 2008).

A few days ago, Jon Limjap wrote in Filipino Voices on IT and electronics industries in a binary of fuzzy fate:

The silver lining in this landscape of layoff despair is that the local IT (the internet and software part of it, not the hardware part) as well as the BPO industries are faring well, with some experts believing that the jobless can be absorbed by these industries altogether...

Not all is bright and dandy in those industries either, however...

And if you think the call center industry is safe, think again: late last year, Dell has started moving call centers back to the United States after constant customer complaints of having difficulty talking with Filipino and Indian call center agents. While the service has a higher price than Dell’s regular customer support services, it underscores the not-so-obvious fragility of the call center industry...

Meawhile, the government's various activities (see the interesting discussion, in the comments section, in Marking out, on the NTC's proposed order concerning telecoms content providers) is leading to a lot of hand-wringing concerning blogger ethics (see an excellent piece in It's True! It's True!), but also, apprehensions about whether e-commerce is going to start being intensively taxed.

The other day a colleague told me of a briefing Citibank held for some prominent businessmen, in which they were told "this year can be one of two things for you: bad, or disastrous." If the bankers say that, and the businessmen say that, you know both will be telling the politicians, "so sorry, no money" going into 2010. And so, the need to find alternative sources of political funding. All the scandals being touted by the government can therefore be seen, from the perspective of needing to shake down enemies, identify vulnerable patsies, and rake in the money.

II. World Bank Report

Even as Ebdane: 700 firms on DPWH 2007 blacklist: 300 more to be added, Senate told, the Senate's also been told, by Ebdane, 3 banned firms still have gov’t projects. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago elicited chuckles from the public over her hare-brained tantrums in the Senate, but it might be interesting to see if all the entertaining heat is producing very little light.

Of course the President's husband has been dragged into the fray, with a to-be-expected pooh-pooing of his critics courtesy of the Palace.

What I find even more remarkable, though, is that no one outside the Executive Department seems to have gotten hold of the World Bank report; nor has the WB been forthcoming in releasing the report either to the public or to the legislature.

III. Rural Banks

The Monetary Board, according to the Central Bank, has to decide whether to approve a loan to the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation, to cover payments to depositors in failed rural banks. See PDIC seeks P14-B loan from BSP:

According to PDIC president Jose Nograles, the insurer has started negotiations with BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. for another loan worth P14 billion to boost its deposit-insurance fund.

The fund would cover claims of depositors of failed banks. By law, up to P250,000 worth of deposit per account is insured with the PDIC. Pending before Congress are bills that would double the deposit insurance to P500,000, a development Nograles and Tetangco support.

Nograles said the PDIC is now deep in debt, having incurred up to P72.5 billion in loans by the end of 2008.

The state-owned deposit insurer, however, has a deposit-insurance fund of only P60.5 billion. Thus the need to borrow from the BSP, Nograles said.

“We are borrowing P14 billion from the BSP to fund our deposit-insurance claims this year,” he said. The loan will be structured as a 10-year obligation of the PDIC.

As Manuel Buencamino pointed out in a column on September 3, 2008, the rural banking sector's been shaky for some time now. Back in September, the House of Representatives wanted to relax rules covering rural banks' capital requirements; the Rural Bankers Association objected to the measure; so did the Central Bank. As Buencamino pointed out, the House was trying to bail out the rural banks:

It seems undercapitalized rural banks lending money taken from depositors and creditors lured by outrageous interest rates are the intended beneficiaries of House Bill 3827. The bill will legalize “behaviors posing moral hazard.”

The BSP tried to place a number of undercapitalized but munificent rural banks under receivership, but the rural banks, acting in concert, were able to stymie the BSP with a temporary restraining order (TRO) from a Manila Regional Trial Court and a Court of Appeals division taking its sweet time on the BSP’s urgent appeal for a reversal of the TRO.

“Those rural banks, already enjoying the protection of the courts, might also get their meal ticket from the Batasan,” observed an apprehensive depositor.

An article in today's Inquirer (the first of a four-part series) reports on Legacy banks’ double-money scheme: Former PDIC chief was alerted 3 yrs ago.

Ricardo Tan recalled that he was alerted by former Prime Minister Cesar Virata—who was then president of the Bankers Association of the Philippines—to the growing proliferation of “double-your-money” schemes that were being used to attract investors into putting their money in little-known financial institutions and rural banks.

“[Virata] called me up and told me that there were people soliciting deposits all over the country, offering double-your-money [schemes] and cars as incentives,” said Tan, who was at that time the president and CEO of PDIC, the government agency tasked mainly with insuring the people’s deposits in failed banks.

A probe of the banks that offered these schemes led to one name: Celso de los Angeles Jr., an Ateneo de Manila University and Asian Institute of Management graduate who already had previous entanglements with regulators in the 1980s...

“We invited him (De los Angeles) to our office to learn more about his business, and to my surprise, he showed up with a battery of lawyers,” Tan said.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer tried repeatedly to contact De los Angeles—who is now mayor of Santo Domingo, Albay—through his legal counsel, publicists, political allies, and at his offices to get his side, to no avail.

What followed and preceded this meeting was a chain of events that was directly linked to the BSP decision to close 13 small rural banks across the country just a few days before the long holiday break of December 2008, according to the former PDIC chief...

“What we found were fictitious deposits, [rotating] collateral from one bank to the other, unsafe and unsound [banking practices] and improper documentation.”

However, a weak regulatory and legal system—and the alleged involvement of high-profile politicians—also meant that PDIC would shell out 250 percent more to cover the banks’ insured deposits three years later.

“When I left PDIC [in April 2006], our exposure to [De los Angeles’] 12 banks [in terms of insured deposits] was P4 billion,” Tan said in an interview with the Inquirer. “Since then, PDIC’s exposure has risen to P14 billion.”...

..These banks linked to the Legacy Group are Rural Bank of Parañaque, Rural Bank of San Jose (Batangas), Rural Bank of Carmen (Cebu), Pilipino Rural Bank, Philippine Countryside Rural Bank, Rural Bank of Calatagan (Batangas) [now Dynamic Rural Bank], Rural Bank of DARBCI, Rural Bank of Kananga (Leyte) [now First Interstate Rural Bank], Rural Bank of Bisayas Minglanilla [now Bank of East Asia], San Pablo City Development Bank, Bicol Development Bank, Nation Bank and Rural Bank of Bais.

These banks closed voluntarily in late 2008 and were taken over by PDIC early this month.

Well, the slow burn finally led to a full-blown capitalization conflagration.

Meanwhile, House to start probe on Legacy fiasco:

Representative Teodoro Locsin of Makati City has described the failed banks saga as the "Celso de los Angeles Legacy scam.''

"He milked it, thinking it was a cow,” Locsin said of De los Angeles and the Legacy Group.

He added that “the mafia” in Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. “took a dive for Celso de los Angeles.''

House Speaker Prospero Nograles is also calling for an investigation of the Legacy Group’s shuttered pre-need firms.

But what does the House intend to accomplish? Considering it had lobbied to keep the banks afloat and seems inclined to keep other troubled rural banks afloat, it therefore has to investigate itself -which is doubtful- even as it tries to apply pressure on the PDIC and the Banko Sentral.

As indicated by the Speaker's interest in the pre-need activities of failed Legacy Bank, other regulatory problems are slowly simmering, too. See Gov't mulls bailout for preneed sector even as 35 insurers warned on capital deficiency. You can expect insurance claims to increase as times get tougher and some businessmen turn to filing false claims (on the basis of arson, etc.) or when the coffers of insurance companies hard-hit by no new policies being sold, have to face unexpected big claims.

IV. Drug Menace

Related to the above, today's Business Mirror editorial points to a statement by "four former presidents of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. (PDIC), three of the most recent finance secretaries and two of the most senior former central-bank officials, among others", warning of “the increased boldness and arrogance by rogue bankers and their political padrino.”

According to the editorial, the Central Bank governor is, at least, getting moral support. But what about whistleblowers? The editorial then goes on to say -and this is what makes it relevant to this sub-section of today's entry- that other whistleblowers don't have it so good:

But for many other bureaucrats, especially in regulatory bodies, who are waging lonely battles against wrongdoers in and out of government, the story is quite different. In fact, some of the names in the FSGO roster have themselves once suffered the kind of shabby treatment that this administration has come to be known for, when it comes to dealing with its executives. We all remember stories of Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officers, directors or heads of regulatory agencies—many of whom got on the wrong side of the administration by stepping on the toes of cronies—who were rudely told to quit, or learned about their “resignation” in the most embarrassing situations, often through the media. One ambassador learned he had been replaced just before undergoing surgery; another learned it from reporters while they were airborne. Perhaps the latest casualty is the chief of the National Printing Office (NPO), Enrique Agana, who was abruptly replaced last week, after a most curious string of events: Right after he firmly blocked a cabal of contractors linked to alleged anomalies in the past, he suddenly found himself facing the most unpalatable of charges—child molestation—and Mr. Agana is crying frame-up. This is not to conclude that Mr. Agana is innocent; it is simply a plea for the due process that was denied him. Child molestation is a serious charge; but equally deserving of attention, nay, a thorough investigation, is the man’s claim that the usual “syndicates” that had the run of the place for years are aggressively lobbying for more share of the pie. That Mr. Agana—a man with a clean work record as far as we can ascertain—is to be replaced by a controversial general embroiled in the “Hello, Garci” case only makes this latest Executive firing uglier. The Palace cannot accuse the opposition this time of beating a dead horse; the decision to name former Admiral Tirso Danga is an invitation to dredge up anew this issue against the President, considering the NPO prints sensitive election forms. Meanwhile, the people are losing another good public servant; and getting the signal that working in the bureaucracy here is much too hazardous for reformers.

The willingness of the current gangsters in government to go after its enemies by any means (and to keep probing the defenses of the public by trying to put in all sorts of characters into politically-useful positions -in place of Agana, the President tried to appointretired Admiral Tirso Danga, is something we ought to consider as the same government revs up its "War on Drugs." The Palace hastily backtracked on Danga's appointment when NAMFREL raised a hue and cry because of Danga's having been implicated in the Hello Garci scandal.

Which is why the point raised by John Nery in his column Drugged (or, PDA for PDEA) , yesterday, needs to be more widely discussed:

Lost in all the noise is the enormous power of the beast that is coiled inside the law creating the PDEA.

Tito Sotto, chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) as reconstituted by Republic Act 9165, hinted at the stirrings of the beast, with his appeal for a return of the death penalty. PDEA Director-General Dionisio Santiago, once one of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s favorite generals and for five months Armed Forces chief of staff, let the ghostly cat out of the bag when he admitted that PDEA agents sometimes planted evidence. “We sometimes do this although this is against the rule of law. Definitely we only apply this matter to some cases, like a subject who is publicly known to be peddling drugs but always escapes arrest. This is when we enter the picture.”

Now, the President’s impending appointment of Palparan, the so-called “Butcher” at whose whetting stone the Melo Commission laid the blame for some extrajudicial killings, to the DDB is the virtual pronouncement of the Arroyo administration’s new strategy, its own version of “narcopolitics.”

Call it paranoia, but perhaps we should brace for a future where critics, whistleblowers, just plain annoying people can be removed from (political or media) circulation with a timely dose of planted evidence.

Note that Section 11 of RA 9165 provides that mere possession of “any dangerous drug” (the provision specifies the quantities) can result in “life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) to ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00).”

...We should hold the PDEA’s feet to the same fire we have started for the DoJ. Far from a simple black-and-white fable, we are dealing with the human narrative in all its messy glory: flawed human beings, doing sometimes contradictory things, for not necessarily simple reasons.

For instance, my instinctive reaction to the House hearings (a different matter from the newspaper reports) was formed largely by an aversion to the PDEA chief legal counsel, Alvaro Bernabe Lazaro. I did not know him from Adam (or Adan), but the way he comported himself during the first televised hearing triggered internal alarm bells. In particular, his attempt to raise the stakes by bringing in something Resado said about Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño in a phone conversation was shameless.

After much hyping of the phone call, Lazaro then recalled Resado saying, “Pare, delikado, ‘wag tayo sa telepono mag-usap. Eh kasi si Chief Zuño pumirma, eh.” [Buddy, this is risky. Let’s not talk on the phone. It was Chief Zuño who signed it.] After insinuating proof of wrongdoing, he then said (I am recalling from memory): But I am not insinuating anything.

Santiago is another flawed character. In 2005, he was charged before the Ombudsman with a graft case, based on a military probe alleging that after he had retired as AFP chief of staff he “defrauded the government” by depositing an P8-million check in his personal account. I do not know what happened to the case, which his successor Gen. Efren Abu had announced. I can find no further reference to it.

What about Marcelino? He remains unsullied by all the back and forth, a good man trying to do his best in a sordid though necessary job. But he strikes me as Ruben Guinolbay redux: The Scout Ranger captain emerged a hero from the Lamitan siege, but his personal bravery could not mask the reality that, in Lamitan, the Armed Forces suffered one of the worst debacles in its history.

I'd pointed out the disquieting statements of Santiago in my June 15, 2008 column, The Rule of Glo .

I'd like to raise some additional points, here, that I originally raised in the discussion going on Smoke's blog entry, Militarization is it?.

If you've noticed, reports on the illegal drugs trade, specifically on the manufacture and sale of Shabu (a danger posing a real National Emergency, in my opinion), always point out there are several factors at play.

The first is that foreign drug syndicates won't engage in "technology transfer," so chemists come and go, to cook up batches of the stuff.

Have we heard of a concerted plan to increase the scrutiny of foreign arrivals, in cooperation with the drug agencies of foreign countries?

The second, is that ephedrine is a necessary raw material. Tons of the stuff is imported under false pretexts.

Have we heard from officialdom, first of all, how much ephedrine is required for legitimate purposes? Next, have we heard of any sort of scheme to beef up customs inspections, and fortify the system of permits and documentation?Have we heard of a doable plan to secure our coastlines, scrutinize private ports and docks, keep tabs on interisland shipping? Keep track of cargo manifests outside Metro Manila, in a country where Marina officials keep track of these things by scribbling data on yellow legal pad, which indicates the absence of a timely and reliable national database on interisland and international commerce?

The third is, if you recall the saturation drives conducted by the armed forces in Luzon during the time of Palparan, and similar efforts undertaken in urban poor areas last year, one benefit people did point out, was that public disorder and things like the drug trade were dramatically affected by the saturation drives. And yet, we have not heard of any plan to integrate the police and armed forces in simply maintaining the high visibility of law enforcement agents, in a manner that inspires confidence and not unease, in the public. This is particularly true in far-flung provincial areas where the drug trade seems to be taking root as things get hot for the syndicates in the metropolis.

The absence of a holistic picture, informed by facts which could be gleaned from a government that is looking at the big picture -interdiction, patrols, scrutiny, as wel as the more dramatic rounding up of petty pushers-  is why we ought to consider whether this is really a serious effort to fight the Drug Menace or a great to-do in aid of extortion and growing the administration's campaign kitty. As the economy takes a downturn, the government will be hard-pressed to raise taxes, to pay for patronage, and to build up a war chest for whatever comes next -and so, needs to farm out favors, in the tradition of tax farming.

Cocoy, in his Filipino Voices entry All Your Drugs Belong to Me , had also pointed out that oodles of money's to be made from drug testing, when a drug testing policy requires safeguards being put in place. Yesterday's Cebu Daily News editorial, Drug tests can be abused, lays out the dangers of a blanket policy of drug testing for kids:

Still there are fears that, like in the Alabang Boys case, the police and the PDEA may manipulate drug test results, a convenient way to extort money from students.

There are grave concerns about how the drug tests will be conducted and its potential for abuse.

Urine samples can be switched. Test results can be manipulated.

Just observe the hole-in-the-wall health centers that abound near the Land Transportation Office where adult drivers have to pay for a certification that they were tested for drug use.

Users anticipating a test can also abstain from their vice or flush it out of their system in time for the exercise.

Then again, random drug testing is also known to produce false-positive results. A person can show misleading positive results after having taken over the counter medicine like Ibuprofen, a common pain reliever.

The whole system of managing the information that comes out of a surprise drug test is supposed to be conducted in strict confidence and under controlled terms for results to be reliable.

Imagine the damage to a youngster's self confidence or reputation, when rumor spreads in school that he tested positive in the screening test? (A confirmation test would have to be made before one concludes that illegal drugs were found in one's system.)

Another cause for concern is when school officials conduct drug tests with specific targets in mind, namely students they consider troublemakers. The test would be a convenient means to bar enrollment or defer graduation of an undesirable.

A lot of assurances will be have to be given that the right of students to privacy, to refuse the test and not to incriminate oneself without due process are guarded.

Again, this is a question of government going for the spectacular, and expensive, shotgun approach to the headline-hogging crisis of the day. Schools, for example, could have been encouraged, as a matter of policy, to undertake drug tests, but leaving the details to the schools themselves. Greater education and a kind of neighborhood watch could be encouraged, too; at the same time training in detection and the counseling of kids, has to take place among educators and school staff, the kids themselves, and parents.

V. LPG and Gasoline

In my on LPG entry the other day, I quoted industrialist Raul Concepcion as saying he expected oil prices to go down. But instead, Oil firms hike gasoline prices (including, interestingly, ethanol blend gasoline). The third time prices have gone up for gasoline this month (while the price of Diesel continues to fall):

According to data from the Department of Energy, the regional benchmark Dubai crude climbed to an average $46 a barrel as of January 26, from an average $41 a barrel last month.

The price of unleaded gasoline based on the Mean of Platts Singapore (MOPS) benchmark for refined petroleum products likewise increased to a $51-a-barrel average as of January 26, from its December average of $41 a barrel.

The reason for this is put forward by the International Energy Agency in its Oil Market Report:

Crude oil prices rose to nearly $50/bbl in early January, supported by cold weather, the Russian/Ukrainian gas crisis and fighting in Gaza. Subsequently, weak global refinery demand and an increasing crude overhang have pressured Brent futures to currently around $45/bbl, while WTI was at $35/bbl, distorted by record-high Cushing stocks.

Other news has OPEC and other producers slashing output to keep crude at the $50 a barrel range for this year. Maybe Concepcion didn't take this into account in his ad.

A caption to a front page photo in the Inquirer says LPG prices are expected to go up 5 Pesos per kilo next month (with no answers, up to now, about the ongoing shortage in supply).

The Untouchables

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Yesterday's Inquirer editorial brought up the dangers of Narcopolitics. Last year, I pointed to the blog Third Wave, who I believe was the first to bring up the issue of Narcopolitics with regards to the 2010 polls. More recently, he had this to say in his entry, Just a social user: No big deal?:
The war against dangerous drugs is the most dangerous job. The entrapment operation of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on September 20, 2008 that caught young and affluent drug suspects will prove the risks of the job. The wealth and political connections of so called Alabang Boys has became the greatest threat of honest drug enforcers of PDEA. Let the money moves. Let political influence change things. Behold wealthy suspects, you’ll soon be free! I don’t wonder why the Alabang Boys appear so confident and relax. They know wealth and influence can save them. One of the parents admit that he knows that his son is using drugs. He said, (my son) is a social user but not an addict. It’s no big deal. If all of the parents of 6.7 million drug users in the Philippines think the same way, the war against drug in the country will not prosper. (Data based on 2004 survey of Dangerous Drugs Board).
The entry provides an insight into the awareness of many citizens that illegal drugs presents a grave threat to society, and the desire of many citizens for something to be done; and that law enforcement when it comes to the drug trade means tangling with mad, bad, and dangerous people. But it all points to the problem that the best way to tar and feather anyone is to bring up the "D" word. Another insight into the uphill struggle for those insisting on a scrupulous regard for rules of evidence and so forth, is the obvious skepticism with which government lawyers' actions are often met. A good example is in Pinoy Politics:
In our country, you can buy your freedom as long as you have connections and money. I remember my American friend who teased me about our judicial system. He said, in the Philippines, "it's better to drive without license, than to drive without money." Funny, but true! Maybe, for some "onion-skinned" Filipinos, they might be offended. But come on, guys, let's be real! If the buy-bust operations happened to "Talayan Boys" or "Payatas Boys", would the hullabaloo that beseiged DOJ happen? I don't think so! Immediately, these "Talayan Boys" or "Payatas Boys" would be annihilated. There'll be no intervention from influential people from down abyss, or even from high-heavens. These fucking people who intercede on behalf of "Alabang Boys" must be prosecuted, or even burned to death. They don't deserve to be in the government, they're doing great diservice to the people. Putang ina, wala kadikadecalideza ang mga hayup na ito. Eh si Zuno nga madalas kong makita sa Cafe Adriatico at kung sino-sinong kameeting na babae dun. Pati din si Blancaflor madalas din sun. If both of them are really guilty, let their heads roll! ...Gen. Santiago and the PDEA have been working hard to eliminate drugs. But with these misplaced people in the government, who lawyered for the accused instead of prosecuting them, the country is indeed going to the dogs. Putang ina nyo, mamatay na sana lahat ng mga sangkot sa cover ng Alabang Boys. What makes me angry is the fact that on mere "technicality" the people in DOJ tried everything to mitigate the case against Alabang Boys. Bakit kaya? May porsyento ba sila o sangkot kaya sila. Well, your guess is good as mine!
But the "technicalities," when anyone's life, liberty, or property are at stake, are everything. This is because aside from the harsh and disturbing realities Pinoy Politics points out, there is another reality, and that is, the prevalence of official extortion and the flipside of the impunity the wealthy and well-connected exhibit when it comes to the justice system -the non-wealthy and non-connected, if targeted unfairly by the authorities, are completely at the mercy of officialdom. A Simple Life has this to say:
The curious case of the Alabang Boys, who allegedly are connected to a big-time drugs syndicate, would have been one of those countless cases that got dismissed “due to technicalities”, if not for the righteous indignation of the PDEA. While PDEA agents were spending sleepless hours staking out and apprehending illegal drug pushers, DOJ undersecretaries and state prosecutors were apparently busy conniving with drug criminals and their lawyers, in duping the seemingly clueless Justice Secretary into signing dubious resolutions to dismiss drugs-related cases.
I don't contest that the indignation may be righteous, indeed, but that ignores the quite obvious problem here: enthusiasm and a zeal for interdicting and apprehending drug pushers (minor or major) means nothing if the cases aren't ironclad. And the even more basic issue is whether you have the right sort of people in charge of law enforcement in the first place. Major Ferdinand Marcelino has become a kind of (Middle Class, at least) folk hero for his fiery and uncompromising nature, something the public tends to admire and sorely misses in officialdom. But Mon Casiple points out the odds stacked against Marcelino:
The so-called “Ayala Boys” case and the facts that came out exposed the subject that is usually only whispered about: the extent of and intertwining of drugs, politics, and the justice system. It points to a frightening combination that may have already undermined the very integrity of the current democratic system. It is an open secret that drug money provides a major source for campaign money in Philippine elections, right up to the level of the campaign for national political positions. Drug, jueteng and other criminal money is expected to play a major role in the financing of many candidates in the 2010 national and local elections. It is also an open secret that–despite the decades-old anti-drug campaigns–the drug problem not only persisted but has grown and spread to every nook and cranny of the archipelago, corrupting government officials, policemen, judges, lawyers and other components of the the whole justice system. From time to time, there may be petty drug criminals who were convicted but by and large, major players–especially those big fishes (operators of shabu laboratories, distributors, and smugglers–are freed on technicalities, escaped, or simply had their cases dismissed. The drug syndicates’ core leaders are never caught.
See also Malou Guanzon-Apalisok's 3 biggest drug scandals, which details the woes of one whistleblower:
The 2001 investigation conducted by the House dangerous drugs committee, then headed by Cebu City Congressman Antonio Cuenco, is worthy of mention not only because a top NBI official insulted the members of Congress by playing golf instead of attending the House hearings, but also because today one of the whistleblowers, Bernard Liu, is bearing the brunt of the legal action filed by the brothers Peter and Wellington Lim as a consequence of Liu’s testimony and the committee’s failure to pin the businessmen down on illegal narcotics activities. Trying to vainly fend off before the Court of Appeals the warrant of arrest issued against him by the Cebu Regional Trial Court three years later, the witness bewailed why he is being punished for testifying. Liu’s fate has had a chilling effect on those who may have inside information on the illegal narcotics trade.
And how bizarre things can get as officialdom tries to be responsive to public opinion while failing to achieve anything:
The case of a very large cache of amphetamines that went missing after it arrived in the port of Manila from Seoul, South Korea, in November 2001 was a subject of a probe conducted jointly by the committees on dangerous drugs and public order and security. Then National Bureau of Investigation director Reynaldo Wycoco revealed that Seoul counterparts tipped him that about 100 kilos of shabu hidden in a cargo of vermicelli or noodles will be transported to Manila in a 40-foot container van via Hong Kong. Wycoco confirmed the illegal cargo arrived shortly after midnight of November 17 on board the vessel Manila Star but after two days in the Customs container yard the shipment was released reportedly without the knowledge of NBI officials. Shocked over how a large shipment of illegal drugs could disappear under the very noses of NBI and Bureau of Customs officials, Ilocos Norte Congressman Roque Ablan exposed the anomaly in a privilege speech. Summoned to appear before the joint House committees, the officials described a bizarre entrapment operation that allowed the delivery of the drug cargo to a fictitious address in Binondo, Manila, only to be led to nowhere in Bulacan. The House hearing abruptly ended after Congress was fed with a letter from a supposed police authority in Seoul, saying that the drug shipment was just 500 grams of amphetamines.
This discouraging reality is what inspires an admiration for vigilante justice in fighting illegal drugs. As Patricio Mangubat wrote, back on January 2 in Filipino Voices,
One source revealed that Johnny’s son is not really a hardcore drug pusher-addict. The real pusher is one of the two young guys arrested. He’s said to be the close friend of the high-society drug lord who’s closely associated with a retired general. This guy should be the one arrested by PDEA. But, for some unknown reason, they always fail to catch him in his Valle Verde lair and his BF homes-Paranaque tambayan. Maybe, they’re scared of the father who’s very close with the First Golfer. I would not even be surprised if some showbiz personalities fall in the next few weeks. This young druglord is highly connected and very well known in the underworld and in showbiz. He’s the one who supplies the drugs to artistas, social climbers, the Fort habitues, and those partygoers. In the future, he’ll be unmasked and brought to justice. For now, the public is encouraging the Alabang boys to spill the beans. Time to rehabilitate yourself. There’s still time for you to repeat and turn a new leaf. By the way, those Magdalos inside the PDEA—again, thank you. You did a great job. The nation hopes that you’ll continue your good work. Dismantle these drug cartels. Kill the bastards.
I fully subscribe to Mangubat's call for the parents to put their kids in rehab and for the kids to spill the beans. The cautionary note to his call for the liquidation of evil drug dealers is this comment on his entry. And at least one columnist also perceives the whole thing to be The lynching of State Prosecutor John Resado. Let me add that another problem is that Marcelino, who obviously admires his boss, Santiago, is still subject to a chain of command with a flawed sense of way to go about things.See No PDEA post but Palparan was briefed:
Santiago said he could make Palparan his deputy for “special concerns” in case the controversial former military officer is appointed to the PDEA by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “We will discuss with him how best we can utilize him at PDEA,” Santiago told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday in a phone interview. Santiago said he gave Palparan an overview of what PDEA does during a briefing last week. Afterward, he said, the retired general “seemed to like” the idea of joining the agency.
A President who would appoint such a man; a PDEA chief who would welcome him -this should be enough to say, "whoa, there, hold your horses!" So even as PMA alumni back Dionisio, Marcelino. one has to distinguish if Santiago and Marcelino deserve to be put on par with each other, and the disquieting reality that the Philippine National Police as an institution still hasn't overcome its Philippine Constabulary origins, and is riddled with brass who graduated from the PMA: and that is part of the problem when it comes to law enforcement in this country, it still lacks a firm grounding in civilian-minded law enforcement. Still, considering past efforts to exact accountability from our elected officials, why this sudden insistence on my part on precisely the sort of thing I've challenged? If "where is your evidence, prove it in the proper forum!" was a noxious mantra with regards to asking the President of the Philippines to resign or impeaching her, why should it matter in the case of people like drug dealers, whether real or alleged? Hence my column today, The Untouchables. The genesis of this column was my dissatisfaction with the whole issue of the collision between the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). And my having recently watched The Changeling (on a related note, read more on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders). At the heart of my column are two things: 1. It is wrong to put a civilian undertaking like law enforcement in military hands, the military mentality is incompatible with evidence-gathering and the prosecution of offenders; the reason the military's colliding with civilians is that the vigilante-minded soldiers have been sent to run after drug dealers but in such a manner as to keep the truly powerful drug dealers beyond the reach of these soldiers; and so- 2. The whole issue is a sideshow because it parades parasitic socialites before the gallery (which always generates applause), but ignores the really powerful drug lords. Concerning the second point, I brought up the need for an Elliot Ness, instead of a George S. Patton, to lead the fight against illegal drugs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, has made available significant portions of Ness's FBI File. Something of interest is his response to his pursuit of a poential suspect as the Cleveland Torso Murderer (a 1930s serial killer):
One very strongly suspected individual was Dr. Francis E. Sweeney, who voluntarily entered institutionalized care shortly after the last official murders were discovered in 1938 and remained in such in various hospitals until his death in 1965. Significantly, Sweeney worked during World War I in a medical unit that conducted amputations on the field of battle. Sweeney was later personally interviewed by Ness, who oversaw the official investigation into the killings in his capacity as Cleveland's Safety Director. During this interrogation, Sweeney, whom Ness code-named "Gaylord Sundheim," is said to have "failed to pass" two very early polygraph machine tests administered by polygraph expert Leonard Keeler, who told Ness he had his man. Nevertheless, Ness apparently felt that there was very little chance of obtaining a successful prosecution of the doctor, especially as he was the first cousin of one of Ness' political opponents, Congressman Martin L. Sweeney. Sweeney {d.1960}, a political ally of and a father-in-law to Sheriff O'Donnell {d.1941}, and an opponent of Republican Cleveland mayor Harold Burton, had hounded Ness publicly about his failure to catch the Butcher. After Sweeney committed himself, there were no more leads or connections that police could make to him as a possible suspect. The killings apparently stopped after Sweeney committed himself. He died in a Dayton veteran's hospital in 1965, though he did continue to mock and harass Ness and his family with threatening postcards well into the 1950s.
This is of interest because of the refusal of Ness to exceed the parameters established by the law. This is what separates the law enforcer from the vigilante. As it is, the whole thing has gotten bogged down in the minutiae of the accusations and counter-accusations. An interesting perspective is provided by Ang magulong pag-iisip ni Pulis Na Pogi:
so where did things most probably went wrong? for pdea: they did everything right except entrap the bribers. for all we know, pdea double crossed the suspects (accepted the bribes--but not major marcelino i think--and still filed the case anyway.) this might have given rise to the outburst of one of the relatives of the suspects as narrated during the congressional inquiry. for resado, he was very coarse in his diskarte. he should have not rendered an inquest resolution right there if he had the intention of receiving the expected bribe. he should have talked to his supervisor first. but habit may have overtaken him this time. it is common to see cases recommended for filing by the inquest prosecutors on the night of the inquest proceedings when the arresting offices are present, overturned the next morning by the chief inquest when the resolution is forwarded to him. during the interim, you and i knows what happens. for the doj, they had tolerated their people for so long that verano thought that even in this high profile case, he can get away with the blatantly illegal things that he used to do all the time. for the family of the suspects, they should have known better than bribe pdea. with a bagito marines as team leader of the arresting team, they should have known that he is still incorruptible. had they bribed resado at the very start, they could have won right in the very first round. resado could have written: "there are things that need to be clarified in a preliminary investigation. release of the suspects is hereby ordered unless detained for other lawful grounds." the only recourse of the pdea then is a motion for reconsideration. this happens all the time!
And so, my column was an effort to try to zero in on just what, exactly, was bothersome about the whole issue. Late last night, long after I'd submitted my column, I ran across this January 10 entry in Torn & Frayed in Manila, “Alabang Boys” – give us a break:
Here are three conclusions you might have arrived at from the relentless coverage of the “Alabang Boys” case in recent days. • Drug taking in the Philippines is almost unknown — this is why this exceptional case has attracted so much attention. • The Philippines must be as incorruptible as Singapore — this is why the papers are so outraged at this alleged bribery attempt. • The Philippines has no serious problems to attend to — this is why the papers are devoting so many acres of newsprint to this trivial case (not to mention the ruckus at a golf club that competed for space on the front page). • This place is weird. Unlike the Inquirer, which has clearly decided that the Brodett family is guilty (or so it seems to me), I haven’t reached a conclusion about the rights and wrongs of the case. Given the way things work here, it seems to me quite possible that the Brodetts may have tried to pay money for their sons’ release. Facing similar circumstances, many of us might have done the same. On the other hand, it also seems quite possible that, realizing that the young men were from a wealthy family, members of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) either set them up or tried to use their sons’ predicament to “encourage” a bribe from their parents. After all, it would not be the first time such a thing has happened in the Philippines. That’s why we have courts; to decide which of prima facie equally plausible explanations reflects what actually happened. I have reached a couple of conclusions about the furor over the case though though. • The PDEA claim that the three young men represented “a syndicate that sold illegal drugs at the Metro Manila club circuit and did business online” isn't too convincing, if only because it has supplied no evidence of this, beyond dropping the name of Embassy (surely an easy target), which the club has strongly denied. • It seems much more likely that this whole thing is about young people taking drugs for fun, an activity that has been widespread throughout the world for at least 40 years and will still be practised long after the Brodetts, the PDEA officers, you, and me have all kicked the bucket. So why can’t we have a public policy that reflects the realities of the 21st century rather than those of the 1940s?
That about says most everything that needs to be said, and quite nicely. And it tells us the limitations of the coverage in our media. Everyone, like the French officer in Casablanca, seems shocked, shocked! That drug-dealing (and taking!) is going on here. But there's a certain feigned ignorance about the whole thing. And yet, the implications of such scandals is dire. More recently, stories have started cropping up, pointing to N. Mindanao tagged as RP’s new illegal drugs capital while there are other areas of the country long blighted by Narcopolitics: Calabarzon ‘narco-politics’ under watch.  In the past, even the New People's Army has been shocked, shocked, they'd even be thought of as possibly coddling the drugs trade! You can be sure the NPA will find itself the target of an offensive justified by the War on Drugs. Which may be why Palparan is chomping at the bit to be assigned to PDEA (see Insurgency Re-examined, from the Free Press Centennial Issue, on the self-perpetuating nature of the Communist insurgency and the military's response, which helps feed the beast). As the Roman saying goes, who will guard the guardians? If PDEA says Narcopolitics’ a factor in 2010 polls, and yet assuming (as I do) the good, even noble, intentions of the young officers in PDEA, this still brings up the need for caution, as Ding Gagelonia points out in Filipino Voices:
This narco-politics spin, unsubstantiated as it is, fits well into a scenario where even genuine, non-criminal dissent may be stifled. The onus is for Santiago to put his money where his psy-war-prone mouth is and present to Filipinos real hard evidence about national level narco-politicians. Throw your suspects in jail, Mr. Santiago, and spare us your histrionics and psy-war tactics! Could it be that this one-time Marcos-era Metrocom officer may actually be engaged in a politically motivated black propaganda push where the ultimate beneficiary is the anti-drug trafficking Czarina and not Philippine society?
For background, here's Aljazeera's The shackles of shabu. It takes a look at the crystal meth trade in the Philippines, and the prominent role Chinese triads play in the manufacture and distribution of the drug. See Howie Severino's Blood for Shabu.He tells the story of addicts who sell their blood so as to have money to pay for the addiction. See also Ecstasy party pill; shabu drug of choice.Recently, Vera Files has reported As 'shabu' price rises, Ecstasy use up, and along the way puts forward official statistics on drug use: The figures seem small, don't they? While Baby Boomers, the generation that embraced the Drug Culture in the 1960s and 1970s, are now a relatively smaller portion of the population than the under thirtysomethings that comprise the overwhelming bulk of our population, surely their percentage of drug use would raise the overall percentages? But if true, I wonder how the percentages compare with other countries. In other news, SMC-allied group buys 7% of Meralco: Board changes seen Monday. The end of an era?

Slowly but surely

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Back in December, I wrote about the then-unreported loss of jobs in the Call Center industry, which some readers disputed as a "half-empty" sort of thing to say; still, hard news started trickling in (for example, Accenture Manila cuts hundreds of jobs).And while, indisputably, the industry itself is trying to maximize its potential (see BPO industry short by 20,000 jobs of its target last year) it has to do so while grappling with harsh global realities (see BPO industry sees consolidation amid uncertainty in US economy ). To be sure, if companies are nimble, there are actual opportunities:
Tholons Philippines country manager Jo-An Darlene Chua was quoted as saying that with the country’s BPO export value aggregating close to 50 percent of India’s, companies may well find the Philippines as a good alternative. Tholons said the same for Vietnam “as a solid alternative to India on the IT side.” Sañez said he can’t see any backlash yet on the US government’s move to generate domestic jobs that may impact the BPO industry. “It doesn’t matter whether the policy of President-elect [Barack] Obama may rein in offshore activities because outsourcing and offshoring are business decisions.”
But as blogger Marocharim, over at Filipino Voices, recently wrote a timely reminder of the very human face of all these statistics: the layoffs are real, the concern among young Filipinos, acute. Today's headlines focus on the closing of Intel's Philippine operations and disclose job loss figures that are disheartening, though also, confusing: Export drop affects 34,000 jobs; Gov't fears 60,000 IT job losses (surely some overlap between these two separately-reported figures); and RP 2008 growth may be weakest in 7 years. No one doubts this year will be tough; the ongoing economic crisis is global and of course affects us, too (see Layoffs for January 2009 at America's 500 largest public companies:71,450). However, if the country is to weather the storm, or position itself to recover as quickly as possible, then it surely helps to see where the bad news has been fostered by existing conditions. This Intel story, for example, began close to two years ago. On April 3, 2008, blogger SEAV, in Intel Cavite Closing Down, for Real? pointed to Yugatech first blogging about the possibility "almost one year ago," and then mentioned information that surfaced in the comments section of an entry of his in another of his blogs, Vista Pinas (see Intel Philippines, Cavite Plant). One comment in SEAV's blog (April 4, 2008; seconded by an April 7, 2008 comment) explained the closure as follows:
The complete story is that, and this has been extremely misrepresented in various circles thus far, there are issues with the current building where Intel CV is operating and given Intel’s utterly strict standards on safety and building code compliance, this is deemed more as a long-term move for safety reasons (think Hanjin and you know what I mean) rather than an immediate pull-out of busines operations. In order to sustain the business, a set of options have been formulated by Intel Corporation as a whole with the most promising being that a new building should be identified where all operations can be transferred to and resumed. This part of the story is still not resolved and a second announcement is due by end of June to finally roll-out the official plan, a full closure being one of the alternatives, if a building is not identified and the economic climate of the Philippines continue to be inferior versus Vietnam and China and the rest of the world.
According to Yugatech (in Intel to shut down Cavite facility by year-end), has been steadily paring down its workforce since April, 2008 (when SEAV's entry came out), reducing it from 3,000 workers at the time, to the 800 who made the cut but who will now lose their jobs. It seems reasonable to deduce that the economic reversals of the company at present meant it had to dispense with finding a win-win solution for the problem it's wrestled with for some time now:
According to a source who received the memo, Intel will no longer continue its plans to transfer its operations to Laguna (the one by NXP Semiconductors, formerly Philips Semiconductors, plant in Cabuyao as reported earlier). Intel has been taking bids and contracting 3rd party providers for the transfer but suddenly scrapped them altogether. The memo did not specifically indicate the reasons for the sudden reversal of decision.
Now there's a moral to this story, and it is, that if we are to not only entice, but retain, foreign investments, you can't muck around with "puwede na" slipshodness and that problems, once identified, ought to be resolved within a reasonable period of time, otherwise the window of opportunity might simply close, leaving ordinary employees in the lurch -and further retarding the competitiveness of the country (and other issues were raised concerning the waning enthusiasm of Intel: high taxes, high power rates, etc.). In a letter to the editor today, Peter Wallace comes up with an answer to the ongoing debate about the 2007 economic figures touted by the government:
As to 2007 being a good year, we can’t fully agree. The reported growth of 7.2 percent was not because of a strongly growing economy but because of a numerical oddity. Import growth is subtracted in the equation for the gross domestic product (GDP). In 2007 imports fell by five percent, the double negative meant that this rate of fall was added to GDP — a double-negative becoming a plus. Had imports grown at their previous more normal rate of around five percent, GDP growth would have been about 4.8 percent, much more in line with anecdotal evidence. One must ask: How could imports have fallen if the economy was growing strongly; intriguingly how could oil imports fall by some 6.6 percent? The only explanation we can think of is that smuggling must have been up.
But then the problem is that data is ever disputable. But Wallace's letter, which ends with his opinion that the World Bank's blacklisting of some domestic firms is a step in the right direction, brings me to another point related to my point concerning Intel's shutting down its Philippine operations, and my blog entry, yesterday, on the government and its possible anxiety over the handling it will get at the hands of the new American administration. ph6-062708 Personally I think Amando Doronila is being alarmist (and if you want my view on the matter, there's my commentary, New era of intervention ; the best overview, remains, to my mind, in Torn & Frayed's blog). So f what the country can expect is more assistance for development, but no encouragement for secession, and also, increased scrutiny on human rights, then this means the Palace had better nip all this talk of ex-Gen. Palparan being put in charge of the anti-drug agency of the government! And more to the point, it had better start finding some big fish to fry as far as corruption is concerned. Philippine Commentary links to a Dow Jones Story, World Bank Bans 7 Firms, Some China Government-Owned, In Philippines:
Following a major investigation spanning several years by the Integrity Vice Presidency, the World Bank found evidence of a "major cartel involving and international firms bidding on contracts," it said in a release. That led to four Chinese state-run firms being barred for the first time from doing business with the World Bank for a period of between five and eight years - the China Road and Bridge Corp., China State Construction Corp., China Wu Yi Co. Ltd. and China Geo-Engineering Corp. A Philippine firm E.C. de Luna Construction Corp. and its owner, Eduardo C. de Luna, were each banned indefinitely. Two other Philippine companies, Cavite Ideal International Construction and Development Corp. and CM Pancho Construction Inc., were each barred for four years. "This is one of our most important and far-reaching cases, and it highlights the effectiveness of the World Bank's investigative and sanctions process," said Leonard McCarthy, vice president of the World Bank Integrity department, in the statement. The investigation began in 2003 after the World Bank team grew suspicious about collusion in the bidding process for a contract during the first phase of the Philippines National Roads Improvement and Management Program. The road improvement program was partially financed by a $150 million World Bank loan, though none of the sanctioned firms received any money. In August 2008, the inquiry led the bank to ban a South Korean firm working on the roads project, Dongsung Construction Co. Ltd., for four years.
The government, from what I've been able to glean, saw the writing on the wall as far back as October last year. In broad strokes, the story goes like this. In October, the government got wind of the Millenium Challenge Corporation's attitudes cooling towards the government. It seems some officials in the President's official family decided that some sort of public to-do had to take place. The private sector was approached, in an effort to net, as the saying goes, a big fish or two. The idea, as proposed by the members of the President's official family to representatives of the private sector with whom they met, was to mount some sort of investigation and undertake prosecutions to prove that the government was serious about curbing corruption. The private sector suggested that one way would be to focus on issues that were festering, such as the Diosdado Macapagal Highway issue or even electoral fraud in the 2004 presidential elections. But the officials balked at this. OK, so why not look into the National Road Improvement Project and the findings of the World Bank, the private sector suggested, by way of a compromise. Apparently the World Bank findings were already being discussed not just in government circles by this point. But when the private sector asked for a copy of the World Bank report, the officials balked, although it seems the government was in possession of the report in full, and not just an executive summary of its findings. Along the way, the Ombudsman seems to have received a copy of the report, but with the interesting proviso, on the part of the World Bank, that the report not be used by the Ombudsman for prosecution: if a prosecution was to be undertaken, the Ombudsman would have to do her own investigating (interesting, because it suggests the World Bank didn't want to get dragged into domestic politics, or had little confidence in the report being used for anything more than window-dressing by the Ombudsman). So the whole thing fell apart because the private sector failed to be convinced of the good faith of the officials that made the approach; I wouldn't be surprised if ongoing efforts in Congress will simply be written off as  the government deciding it would be better to go through the motions of doing something regarding the World Bank report rather than opening up other investigations. To be sure, the World Bank report deserves a congressionaly inquiry. The World Bank's report probably had an impact on the American government's Millenium Challenge Account Philippine Threshold Program and its decision to cut funding for the Philippines. At first, it seemed that essentially what the country had was a P.R. problem. See Millennium Challenge Corp. cuts Philippines aid:
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an American government aid agency, has restricted aid flowing to the Philippines due to concerns about corruption. The MCC is setting aside a prior decision to promote the country from "Threshold" to "Compact" aid status, which would have secured significant funding for development projects. The decision appears largely based on the World Bank Institute's aggregation of corruption perception surveys, which report a worsening public perception of corruption problems.
After she'd taken great pride in the supportiveness of the Millenium Challenge Corporation, the President obviously knew she'd have a lot of explaining to do once news of this reversal leaked out. But more than perception, it seems, the problem of the government was that the Millenium Corporation seems to have been affected by the World Bank's findings -and they were factual. Which pulls a rug from the government's beloved "where is your proof? Prove it in the proper forum!" mantra. After all, it could undertake precisely what's going on -its own investigation, within the controllable parameters of congressional inquiries. Score Fy09 English Philippines Still, the damage has been done. The charts above shows the inexorable slide, downwards, of the Philippines' ratings concerning corruption. But if the Millenium Challenge Corporation hands you lemons, make lemonade. If the government's going to suffer a black eye -and a loss of funding and the accompanying erosion of its prestige- it could, at least, keep its China Card in play, as an antidote, fiscally, and politically, to its having lost the American Card. Which, one could argue, is what it's doing. On the principle that even if stories end up unfolding slowly but surely, so long as you keep the public distracted, it can't detect the slow, inexorable, unfolding of events. So you can blame the closing of Intel's plants on the global economic downturn (which is true, of course) while sweeping any domestic culpability for it, under the rug. You can thunder and shrill about the World Bank report while downplaying what you used to trumpet -the Millenium Challenge Corporation's decision to put things, at the very least, on hold.

Bumbling in the dark

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Today, a full page ad came out (see above) answering a question posed in this Plurk thread, about the shortage in some places, of LPG. The whole question -why isn't there an adequate supply of Liquefied Petroleum Gas?- itself is the sort of thing that's been bothering me for some time now, going back to the questions raised when the government had to make a pretty large adjustment to its GDP figures (the Financial Times, it seems, lodged an inquiry with the government over the 2% adjustment at the time, which exceeded the adjustments governments "normally" make to to their figures).

Think about it. Basically, you have to spend 100,000 Pesos (more or less the cost of a full-page newspaper ad), to tell the government that it lacks data, and to ask the government to mount an investigation into the operations of the market, because no one, rich or poor, can answer why consumers can't find LPG. Raul Concepcion seems to think it's worth spending hundreds of thousands of Pesos to make such an appeal. Obviously consumers have been grumbling about the shortage in LPG supplies for months; some (see the Plurk linked to above) have families that have had to use electric ranges; think of commercial establishments that require cooking gas and the family joins the business consumer in... impotence. So you need an industrialist to take it upon himself to rattle the cages of the powers-that-be.

The result of course, as Concepcion put it in his ad, is "public doubt and confusion" concerning what on earth is going on:

Since December and into the New Year, consumers particularly housewives have been complaining about the scarcity of LPG. While the major suppliers of LPG, particularly Petron and Shell, have acknowledged the increased consumption of LPG especially during the holiday season, they have nonetheless been assuring the public of adequate supply.

The LP Marketers Association, through its president Arnel Ty, has admitted that retailers have started to increase prices due to the "lack of supply." DOE Secretary Angelo Reyes meantime has brushed aside reports of queuing of 30 to 50 delivery trucks in front of Petron and Liquigaz plants as "normal."

In the ad, Concepcion then asked the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Energy, and the Department of Justice to "immediately exercise their respective regulatory powers" by publicly disclosing the total capacities for LPG of the various suppliers Petron, Shell, Liquigaz, Total, Petronas, & Pryce Gas -including the value and volume of their inventories. (His secondary purpose is to point out that the oil companies should reduce their pump prices of gasoline by 5.50 Pesos and 4.50 Pesos for Diesel by January 23; my own question is perhaps there is collusion between the oil companies and the government to keep oil prices a bit high, so as to ensure profits for the oil companies and additional tax revenues for the state?).

But my point is that it may be reasonable to propose that government really lacks the information being asked of it by consumer advocates; that even if the data is there, it may not be collected in a timely manner; and that even if collected, may actually be beyond the competence of officialdom to use in a timely and effective manner, whether in terms of collections, regulation, or policy-making.

Now this is just a hunch, but a hunch getting stronger all the time. It just seems to me that reliable information is beyond the grasp of officialdom, and that even if you grant that most officials are well-meaning, their good intentions are useless because it's all basically bumbling in the dark.

The bumbling and the darkness being a direct result of slipshod data gathering, antiquated record keeping, and sloppiness among officials.

Take the concern expressed by techies as a consequence of suggesting a proposed new National Telecommunications Memorandum Circular. Here's the news item on the proposed circular: NTC issues draft circulars on content development, applications and ensuring access to limited band.
Bloggers Kiven and Mike Abundo among others, called attention to the "extremely broad" definition of online content in the draft. While the NTC seems pretty clear that its objective is more concerned with enabling content providers to increase their profits, concerned bloggers point out that in the hands of unscrupulous or simply idiotic officals, the draft could conceivably provide a license for extortion.
Over at Filipino Voices, Cocoy approaches the proposal from a broader perspective:
NO more added layer of REGULATION. Government should know the Importance of Private Enterprise in Economic and Social Development.
Seriously.
It just fraks the market up. The market is doing just fine without government poking its nose into something, it clearly has no understanding or interest in learning the culture and norms.

To sort things out, some bloggers decided to attend the public hearing. What ended up happening was that a scheduled public hearing was unceremoniously canceled by the NTC.

030608_02jr_640Colleague John Nery, over at the new home of his blog, Newsstand, yesterday observed that this passage from Barak Obama's inaugural address:

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Might give the present dispensation the creeps:

The... passage... must have been aimed at the Putins and Mugabes, but I won’t be surprised if Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will find herself perceived (by her critics and perhaps by others too) as being in the subset of the admonished.

Well, not just by her critics but perhaps by the Palace, too. For sure enough, the Palace began to spin-a-win.

This gem from the Executive Secretary:

"First of all, our President is ahead of Obama and probably, I would think that if there's anything to be learned, it should be President Obama learning from President Arroyo. And wouldn't we be proud to say that the Philippines continues to be an 'island of calm' because of the present crunches?" he said, when asked by media what lesson Arroyo could learn from Obama.

He said the President could even be a model or the "proper conduct under pressure."

Followed by this one, from Lorelie Fajardo (colleague John Nery's favorite official, incidentally!):

The President finds President Obama's inaugural address profoundly moving and inspiring. His words deeply resonate with the President's dream for the nation and the world -- to celebrate and welcome hope, to allow peace and cooperation to reign and to triumph over the economic and diplomatic challenges that we face.

We are two nations blessed with two leaders bound by the same vision and ideology.

The real problems of the administration are twofold.

First, its inability to dispel the rumor that the President and her husband are in some sort of money-laundering trouble Stateside.

Second, that the new dispensation, when it finally gets around to noticing the Philippines, won't be friendly towards the current regime, because of the corresponding general, creeping, disrepute into which the country is sinking, in terms of perceptions of official corruption.

The way that Indian company blew up because of the World Bank's blacklisting has its domestic counterpart here with allegations of the World Bank's findings concerning corruption by local contractors.

But more on this point, tomorrow.

Pathfinder, maker, follower

George W. Bush spent his last day making phone calls to foreign leaders. Our President didn't make the cut. While I think Amando Doronila is exaggerating the possible antipathy between the incoming Obama White House and the present domestic dispensation, our government might reasonably expect sublime indifference from Washington.

Tonight, our time, the United States inaugurates a new president. The Americans, like the French, are masters at creating spectacles that glitter with the pomp of republican democracy. The event unfolding tonight in Washington, D.C. will be no exception.


In a commentary in Slate, Fred Kaplan argues Forget FDR and Lincoln; Obama Is Most Like JFK:

Obama seems to grasp the connection. In his weekly YouTube addresses, he has placed three leather-bound books just behind him and to his right. Take a close look. They're the three-volume edition of The Public Papers of John F. Kennedy. Clearly this is a man who understands iconography.

Though it's interesting that beyond the nod to Camelot mentioned above, the focus of many commenters seems to be less on JFK and more on other Presidents. Could it be that Camelot has been too tarnished by books such as "The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power" (Garry Wills), in which, as one review put it,

Truth, however, being all too often inconvenient, was from the beginning, Mr. Wills contends, a commodity the Kennedys treated with wary disrespect. So much more reliable -hence more useful - was ''image,'' which could be manipulated as effortlessly as the tiller of one of their sailboats, and in the propagation of which the family could enlist the enthusiastic aid of seemingly limitless echelons of upwardly mobile lawyers, journalists and academicians who craved the status that accompanied annointment (informal, yet unmistakable) as an ''honorary Kennedy'' - a term Mr. Wills borrows from Victor Navasky.

The essential lesson of Camelot being that all that glitters isn't political gold.

So then more understandable, perhaps, is Obama's having consciously invoked Abraham Lincoln -including using the Bible used by Lincoln in his first inaugural. Much has been made by the candidate and commenters on his appreciation of "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" (Doris Kearns Goodwin).

But there are comparisons, too -though more common, perhaps, among the historically-minded than the public- to Franklin D. Roosevelt. See Will FDR Inspire Obama? After all, FDR instituted the importance of the "First 100 Days" for a presidency. It's interesting that Time Magazine decided to put together an issue with a cover superimposing Obama's face on a photograph of FDR. And will have an article on The New New Deal.
I suppose comparisons with another president -Andrew Jackson- are viewed as politically incorrect, since Jackson was a slaveholder. Yet there is something of a Jacksonian flair for populism in the way the inaugural's been painted to represent a kind of Big Block of Cheese moment.
Most remarkable, though, and could it be there's a certain foreboding at the back of people's minds, an implied apprehension, concerning the new administration? All the comparisons involve presidents who died in office. Two of them, Lincoln and Kennedy, at the hand of an assassin, the other, FDR, who died in harness, exhausted and having made such a mark that a constitutional amendment was passed to prevent a three, much less four-term president from ever happening again?

Like Rashomon

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230307_02fg_ad_640 In Why the Pangandaman Issue Refuses to Die or At Least Abate, the Warrior Lawyer points to the archetype of the Bullying Official as the reason behind the longevity of the Valley Golf Beating Story. There seems to have been a kind of bewilderment in official circles that the beatings became headline material. Warrior Lawyer explains why:
Furthermore, the Pangandamans lost the war for public sympathy from the onset, the circumstances of the event being what it is. Setting aside the question of who gave provocation, it’s clear from the versions of both sides that the De la Paz family were at the losing end of the encounter. There was the father, no spring chicken, and his 14-year old son and college-age daughter, against able-bodied young men, powerful and influential people at that, and their armed bodyguards. Who’s being bullied here ? Pinoys will always sympathize with the underdog. And if the rumors are to be believed, the Pangandaman camp have little idea of how the blogosphere operates. They have allegedly tried to find out and “profile” the persons behind the blogs attacking them to find ways to counteract such efforts. If true, then they betray a total lack of understanding of the viral nature of the beast. It’s not the individual blogs that dictate the agenda (not that there is even one) of the blogosphere but the medium itself: the immediacy and rapid dissemination of news and opinion among community members numbering in the tens of thousands. Issues take on a life of their own in the internet, by reason of the sheer momentum generated by information speedily passing from one person to another through blogs, social networking sites and the like. The only way to deal with it is on its own terms, by battling it out in the democratic space provided by the internet. Moreover, the blogosphere is not a universe unto itself. Bloggers are, like it or not, part of the world at large. They are not immune from political and societal forces and will not be restrained from, at the very least, commenting on the issues of the day. They simply won’t keep quiet and anyone who tries to make them shut up would be like King Canute commanding the tides of the sea to roll back.
In his blog (see The Golf Incident: The Trouble with Mirrors), baratillo@Cubao, a person inclined to be judicious at all times, was concerned over what he perceived to be yet another case of the mob mentality of the blogosphere:
The initial reaction and predictable one is to call for the resignation of the politicians involve in the case. Related to this a series of debate has ensued on Net both via the blogs and the comment threads. The huffing and puffing of beliefs and opinions. These are all well and good on a certain level but it would be unfortunate if it becomes an issue of trial by posts and a discussion/debate that would pull out all known political and social beliefs and theories. The first one falling into a lynch mob mentality and the second one reminds one of the ineffective men of the floating island of Laputa (from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel). The citizens of Laputa intelligent men that they were had one tragic flaw - so indulged in the pursuit of knowledge and reasoning that they did not use their knowledge for any practical use: to much into the thought process and no input in the action. After a reasonable time … debate without action is as effective as cupping a corpse. So here we are… I am not really a fan of trial by posts. It is a blind rage that can be destructive to those who receive and uses its power. Rather it would be better to use this “power” to ensure that the case is monitored and not left to die. Legal measures are a welcome resort in such case and for the politicians involved in the case - leave of absence or resignation would also be appropriate. And again when the debate goes way for argument’s sake - well it becomes useless and at some point deadly - apathy is not the only thing that kills a cause. This medium is truly like a mirror and reflects the actions of all those involved.
His concern was for the truth to emerge; I engaged him in discussions on this over several days, arguing that there were two issues at hand, a political one, and one of personal justice, and that the political issue had resolved itself when the Secretary hadn't even deigned to offer to go on leave, move to resolve matters, or in any way relinquish (at least temporarily) his authority so as to foster an unimpeded investigation; that the other concerns were properly the province of the courts as far as assigning compensation for any damages, etc. The very fact a national official reacted by going to Baguio to be seen to be "malakas" with the President, not relinquishing his post or going on leave, would send a message (implicitly supported by the President's silence on the matter and her New Year's activities in the secretary's bailiwick) he was untouchable. Baratillo prefered a more phlegmatic approach, waiting for evidence to trickle in. In subsequent conversations, Baratillo brought up the movie Rashomon as an apt comparison to the whole golf mauling brouhaha:
The film depicts the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her husband through the widely differing accounts of four witnesses, including the rapist and, through a medium (Fumiko Honma), the dead man. The stories are mutually contradictory, leaving the viewer to determine which, if any, is the truth. The story unfolds in flashback as the four characters—the bandit Tajōmaru (Toshirō Mifune), the murdered samurai (Masayuki Mori), his wife (Machiko Kyō), and the nameless woodcutter (Takashi Shimura)—recount the events of one afternoon in a grove. But it is also a flashback within a flashback, because the accounts of the witnesses are being retold by a woodcutter and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) to a ribald commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) as they wait out a rainstorm in a ruined gatehouse identified by a sign as Rashōmon.
On the other hand, The Marocharim Experiment compared it to a story by Guy de Maupassant and observed,
Yet for all the bitching and whining that is taking place between the Hauchecomes and the Malandains of this issue, we’re pretty much privy to it. Like the villagers who saw the fight between Hauchecome and Malandain as nothing more than a battle of differences between strings and pocketbooks, many still see this as a battle of whodunnit first at the golf course many of us can’t afford to go to. While they squabble about who struck the other first, some of us fail to frame this issue along - not to separate it from - the many different injustices we all suffer. The fact that something occured means that it cannot be denied.
To be sure, that is what's unfolded since the first account, by Bambee dela Paz, emerged. This is a public issue only insofar as a public official is involved, a minor was physically harmed, and that the official took it to the point of repeated physical confrontation because he had the ultimate check on any efforts to impose reason and sobriety -his bodyguards- and continued to brandish these things as the case became a publicly-discussed one. In a comment on Journaling on the Net, columnist Ducky Paredes took the opposite tack from my entry on the subject, where I'd pointed out that this was a case of provincial warlordism colliding with metropolitan expectations of limits on official behavior:
I am glad that some on the blogsphere want to know what really happened and not what they want to believe. It’s tough for the Pangandamans; they’re in government and with the unpopular Gloria Arroyo plus they;re outsiders being from Mindanao and Muslims. Tough but all of that has to be factored in. Accepted that the beating up was too much — an overkill; but as a Valley golfer, let me just say that the ones who breached etiquette were the De la Paz twosome who even drove the ball and almost hit Mayor Pangandaman. The world has gone crazy? Yes. It has dumped on the Pangandamans mainly because of ther being in government, with Gloria and are outsiders. This is not to say that I condone what was done to the De la Paz father and son; but, could it be that they had it coming?
This is basically the case for the Pangandaman's defense, cleverly argued indeed (there is a certain truth, perhaps, to pointing out anyone associated with the President won't get much by way of an assumption of any kind of innocence; but the "from Mindanao" and "Muslim" arguments are canards, because first of all, there are no "outsiders" on the golf course, their being golfers making them part of the more cosmopolitan golf-playing set; and the Muslim part being totally irrelevant because what is colliding is not religion but rather, wardlordism, is equally represented among Muslims and Christians). The whole thing has been furiously argued -and in great detail- in all sorts of places though the forum that is quoted a lot happens to be a particular thread on Pinoygolfer.com. Here, two commenters, "rge," and "jick" basically give the pros and cons for both sides, with "rge" laying the case for the Pangandamans and "jick" taking the skeptical side (see "rge's" Fri Jan 02, 2009 4:39 pm post on page 13; then "jick's" response, Fri Jan 02, 2009 9:15 pm on page 14; where he questions the alleged preview of the fact-finding committee's finds as being awfully close to the Pangandaman side posted on page 5 of the forum). Add to the various eyewitness accounts, the Incident Report first put online in a scoop by At Midfield. I've taken the liberty of reproducing the efforts of "jick" to put together the two main eyewitness accounts (Bambee dela Paz's, in green, and a member of the Pangandaman flight, in red) with his observations and his reference to the Guards' report (in blue): So this is all very interesting in a CSI sort of way, but it's interesting to note that the pertinent facts emerged early on and have not changed: an official and his group, beat up a citizen and a minor. The only thing that has changed is that after some time, the officials got out their version and went on a media counter-offensive; and that other details began to be revealed, such as, that the fight may have originally been picked by the citizen; and aside from that, there seems to be imputations of aggressive/unpleasant behavior concerning both dela Paz, Sr. and Pangandaman, Jr. In other words, as with most fights, it was between gorillas. But it was all taken a fight too far (since there were, apparently, two, as was known from the start). The whole problem is if it had stayed at fight one, the Secretary, the Mayor, et al. would be in the clear and could argue they put a gorilla in his place; fight two showed they were gorillas, too -and with armed goons, to boot. But I also believe that the window of opportunity, so to speak, for this to be a public issue, has already closed. The moment the dela Pazes took it to court, and the Pangandangans filed their counter-suits, it has become a battle over compensation which is for the courts to decide, and in which the public ought to have little interest -except the more general one, for all cases, that it be concluded by means of a speedy and fair trial. But as far as the political resolution of the political part of this issue: where public pressure ought to have been applied to pressure the Secretary to make manifest his willingness to be held accountable for the incident, and for the President to suspend the Mayor, the chance for that has passed. As it was expected to, of course.

Not Ala-bang, but Ala-whimper

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I can't quite put my finger on it, but I am not completely sold on the P50-M bribe allegations involving the so-called "Alabang Boys." Perhaps it's the way the PDEA has cast a rather large net; I cannot quite see Ric Blancaflor being in on the bribe. And a couple of DOJ prosecutors seem genuinely innocent. I don't know; the plot, as they say, thickens. (Then it sickens.)

Waiting in Gaza

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A report, again from AFP:
The Philippines said Saturday it will evacuate its citizens from Gaza in the coming week in the face of the Israeli military assault. Preparations for the extraction and repatriation of the 21 Filipino families in Gaza are expected to be completed by Monday, the department said in a statement, as the Israeli assault entered its second week. "We have a contingency plan and we are ready to implement it to bring them out of danger," said Philippine ambassador to Israel, Petronila Garcia, adding that so far, no Filipino had been hurt in the violence. She said Jordan had given its permission for the Filipinos living in Gaza to be moved there.Question: Why did the DFA wait an entire week? The assumption seems to be to move the 21 families before a ground offensive is launched. Seems reasonable enough, except that (a) the ground offensive was imminent as far back as three days ago, and "preparations" for the move won't be completed until two days from now; and (b) the air war affords Israel less "control," and therefore the possibility of more "collateral damage" is all too real. What gives?

A resolution soon, inshallah

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This news item, from Malaysia, caught my eye. Another fender-bender in the intersection between politics and religion.
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1, 2009 (AFP) - A Catholic newspaper in Malaysia has been ordered by the government to cease its Malay language edition until courts resolve a ban on the paper’s use of the word "Allah", its editor said Thursday. Herald newspaper editor Father Lawrence Andrew said the move was part of a series of restrictions put in place by the conservative Muslim government when it renewed the paper’s licence on Tuesday. The Herald, circulated among the country’s 850,000 Catholics, nearly lost its publishing licence last year for using the word "Allah" as a translation for "God," with authorities saying it should only be used by Muslims. "The Constitution says Malay is the national language so why can’t we use the national language in Malaysia?" he told AFP. He called the ban "unacceptable" and said he intended to take action.

The news from GenSan

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is terrible indeed. From the AFP report:
Army Captain Emmanuel Garcia, head of a military security task force, said an unidentified man threw the grenade into the crowd at a park in the city of General Santos on Mindanao island late Wednesday. "At least 22 people are wounded in the grenade explosion and they have been rushed to hospitals," he said.No one has claimed responsibility and Garcia said authorities were investigating.
Yet another attack on a "soft target," in a non-ARMM city (Manny Pacquiao's hometown), is deeply worrying.

How to make the UN irrelevant

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In my view, the "all-out" Israeli offensive in Gaza is a complicated issue, which the international community must help resolve in favor of humanitarian concerns. But the Arab League, sticking to a decades-old pattern, insists on a black-and-white look at the conflict. From an AFP report today:
Libya on Wednesday presented a draft resolution from the Arab League to a UN Security Council emergency meeting that calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. The draft resolution "strongly condemns all military attacks and the excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by Israel, the occupying power, which have led to the death and injury of scores of innocent Palestinian civilians, including women and children." It calls for "an immediate ceasefire and for its full respect by both sides." It also calls on Israel "to scrupulously abide by all of its obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly under the Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilians in time of war." The 15-member council is now expected to convene a public debate on the draft resolution that includes representatives from Israel, Egypt, the Arab League and the Palestinian territories.The resolution makes no mention of the ongoing Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli territory that Israel said prompted its retaliatory offensive against Gaza.Note, especially, the last graph. Not unexpectedly, the United States, Israel's chief ally and a permanent member of the Security Council, looked askance at the draft resolution.
"This resolution as currently circulated by Libya is not balanced and therefore, as currently drafted, it is not acceptable to the United States," US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters.

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