Sunday, September 21, 2014

Aegis video pits Malaysia’s infrastructure versus the Philippines’ in bid to attract BPO business!

September 20, 2014
by benign0
It seems the Philippines has been singled out by a company in Malaysia as its single biggest competitor for investment in the region. A promotional video produced by a Aegis Malaysia, a global business process outsourcing (BPO) company makes a pitch to its clients to locate their BPO needs in Malaysia by highlighting that country’s business-friendly environment and superior infrastructure. It does this by directly comparing Malaysia to the Philippines.
A certain Elcid Lao posted the video on Facebook where it elicited heated discussion.
The user included the following caption in his post:
This is the most Unethical Ad ever made. We filipinos are aware of it. But please do not directly destroy our image. Just simply broadcast the pros in your newly selected site. No need to name drop. The calamities that are happening are just a fraction of a percent of the entire year. We are aware of our government to which reforms are starting to be made but we can never control nature. Such a shame on you Aegis.
The video has also been shared on YouTube here.
In the video, the narrator asserts that “Malaysia is becoming the preferred alternate to the Philippines and is fast emerging as the ultimate destination for multinationals,” after citing the disadvantages of locating in countries where there is “inadequate infrastructure”, “an unfriendly climate for smooth operations”, “less security”, and “lack of government support”.
The Philippines was also cited as a location prone to natural disasters owing to its situation along the Pacific Ring of Fire and along the path of tropical storms. All of these were said in the video to contribute an adverse “impact to business operations” as well as “bloat” to the cost of living. The video then continues on to highlight the advantages of Malaysia as an “investor friendly” environment thanks to its government’s flexible policies and “less bureacracy”. According to the video, all these, combined with stable governance diversity in culture, and abundance of lifestyle perks, Malaysia is made out to be a “perfect balance of business and pleasure.”
The timing of the emergence of this video is interesting considering that (1) Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III happens to be in Europe as of this writing pitching the Philippines to potential investors and (2) Typhoon Fung-Wong (Mario) had recently hit Metro Manila leaving it paralysed with its floodwaters, again highlighting the challenges to business continuity as a result of years of neglect, rampant corruption, and underinvestment in essential infrastructure.
Will Filipinos see this video as another cause for acute butthurt? Or will we see this as a confronting call to action directed both at our government officials and politicians and, more importantly, to ourselves.
Stay tuned and, of course:
Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.

Deja vu all over again as Typhoon Mario’s devastation of Metro Manila mirrors Ondoy’s in 2009

September 19, 2014
by benign0
Today may as well have been a day in September 2009 when Typhoon Ondoy struck and devastated Manila. Back then I wrote about the Philippine government’s utter failure to step up and provide relief to hundreds of thousands of its victims (a failure to be repeated many more times since), and how Metro Manilans pretty much had to fend for themselves. They were left to assure themselves that the spirit of bayanihan was alive — that it would, in conjunction with that other imagined Filipino virtue, “resilience”, save the day.
Heavily-flooded Araneta Avenue @ 1210H todaySource: Twitter.
Heavily-flooded Araneta Avenue @ 1210H today
Source: Twitter.
Whether or not the same thing will happen again in the aftermath of this year’s Typhoon Fung-Wong (known locally as “Mario”) is anyone’s guess. Filipinos have since become a bit jaded about being charitable on the occassion of Philippine disasters following revelations of how horrendous amounts of relief goods donated by both foreign and local agencies meant for the victims of 2013’s Supertyphoon Haiyan were left to rot under the watch of the Philippine government. Relief money was also spent by the Philippine government on the construction of temporary housing for Haiyan’s victims that were reportedly found to be substandard.
This year it was pretty much more of the same. Metro Manila was all but paralysed as floodwaters rushed in from Metro Manila’s denuded hinterlands and settled onto city streets where it will likely stagnate for a while as it makes its way into Manila Bay and Laguna Lake through Manila’s clogged stormdrain systems and fouled-up waterways. In the meantime, the same wretched state of affairs persists. Commuters and motorists alike remain stranded all over the teeming megalopolis as rains continue to fall.
According to the records of the state weather bureau, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), Mario dumped 268mm of rain on Metro Manila in just 12 hours. Comparing that to Ondoy which, in 2009, dumped 400mm in 24 hours, Mario is hour-for-hour a lot rainier than its super-predecessor.
Sampaloc c.1000h todaySource: Twitter.
Sampaloc c.1000h today
Source: Twitter.
The way the Philippine government has so far responded to the devastation is no different to the way it did back in 2009. Both the behaviour of the government, and the way Manila was devastated again makes it quite evident that nothing much has changed. The same clogged drains, the same sluggish emergency response, the same confusing communication, and the same overall national paralysis.
Ondoy struck in 2009 under the watch of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Since then, this, among many other alleged issues, has been the subject of criticism coming from no less than current President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III who’s made his presidential mark mainly around blaming the country’s ills on Arroyo. This time, however, Fung-Wong joins Haiyan as well as lesser but devastating storms nonetheless — Typhoon Washi (Sendong) which devastated Cagayan de Oro City in 2011 and Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) which laid waste to Davao City and Compostela Valley in 2012, among others — in a growing exhibit of gross government incompetence in the Philippines.
Observers have attributed the Philippines’ acute vulnerability to storm devastation to President BS Aquino’s short-sighted (and, many say, spiteful)cancellation of 1.9 billion pesos worth of flood control projects already earmarked by the Arroyo government before the start of the Aquino administration.
Vehicle braves Sumulong HighwaySource: Twitter.
Vehicle braves Sumulong Highway
Source: Twitter.
President BS Aquino alsovetoed budget normally allocated to the disaster response or “Calamity” fund. Many believe a lack of resources to support emergency response capability resulting from this decision was a big part of the reason behind theastounding incompetence and lack of coordination exhibited by the Philippine government to the world in the crucial days after Haiyan struck Tacloban City in 2013.
Even on good days, Metro Manila is a wretched city, choked by 24-hour-a-day traffic gridlock, smothered by toxic pollution, infested by vast squatter colonies, served by a dilapidated public transport network, and patrolled by crooked police officers. Typhoon Mario is a sad insult to an already severely injured megalopolis. For now, Metro Manilans can only pray and hope and figure out what it is exactly they should be hoping and praying for.


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Thursday, September 18, 2014


A pause from the killings in Samar and Pilipinas...
May 6, 2006

We talk of Jose Ma. Sison and his believers, the NPAs, in whispers as if they are enchanted, elusive beings or shadowy figures offering their lives to right the wrongs in Philippine society and provide a better life for the poorest of the poor in Samar and Filipinas, perhaps a classless society where the fundamental law would be “From each according to his work, to each according to his needs.”

However, in this bloody, violent, and sad struggle to attain the ideal society, the process is agonizing and bloody. The costs are heart-rending, especially in terms of lives. Hence, we sigh mournfully when we learn of a deadly encounter between the NPAs and the government soldiers especially if there are deaths, and the dead include innocent children.

For every encounter and ambush, for every death of a soldier, an NPA guerilla, a militant critic of this unjust society, an innocent child, we wonder if we are next. But we don’t die. So fearfully and without any enthusiasm we continue with our daily activities, living from day to day and hoping for the best, whispering about Jose Ma. Sison and wondering what he and his comrades and friends are doing in the Netherlands in Europe while their young and idealistic believers in the NPA and the fraternal organizations are being hunted by the Government Soldiers and being called “Bobo” or “Bulok” while being strafed and bombed from helicopter gunship because they have a sworn duty to defend democracy, the Trapos, and the kawatans.

Will there ever be peace and a better life in Samar and the Philippines in our lifetime? In the lifetime of Class '80 or of the Golden Jubilarians, Class ’56, whose eyesight are getting blurred and whose knees are getting weaker because of arthritis?

At the heyday of the Conjugal Dictatorship when Bongbong was dancing to the tune of “We are the World…”, the Rose of Leyte wooing the crowd with the immortal, “Dahil Sa Iyo”, and the No. 1 UP alumnus was singing “Pamulinawen” and thinking how he could become No. 2 next to Suharto of Indonesia, reputed to be the most corrupt dictator in contemporary times, according to Transparency International, that list of the most corrupt dictators in modern times, an Outstanding Samar High Alumnus was praying how the Church in Calbayog and the Samarnons could forgive him, Samar was almost a “howling wilderness” again. But this time it was not the pale-faced and handsome Americans whom we see in the movies who were brutalizing and shooting the Samarnons. They were people with the same flat noses like most of us.

During the First Arangkada of this Kagi-osan in the time of the Samar High’s Outstanding Alumnus Jose Roño and his bosses from the White House, Batac, and Leyte — many of us will recall how a fellow UP alumnus of Ferdie, Ninoy, Joma, Enrile, Dodong Nemenzo, Randy David, and Jude Latorre — Dr. Remberto “Bobby” de la Paz, a graduate of the UP College of Medicine who believed that we alumni of the UP should indeed serve our people, because it was our people who made it possible for us to study — was gunned down in broad daylight in Catbalogan on April 23, 1982. That was 24 years ago. Until now the Government for which the salaried soldiers of the Philippine Government are fighting for has not solved that sad killing of a doctor who only wanted to help the poor Samarnons, instead of coming to America.

I doubt if the NDF and the Government Soldiers, including the civilian officials, keep a tally of those who have perished in this Kagi-osan which has been going on for 37 years now. But according to a Canadian-based organization, "Swords into Ploughshares", some 40,000 people have already died as a result of this protracted war of the NDF against the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). How many have died in Samar? We don’t know.

In this Second Arangkada of this Kagi-osan we do know that many have disappeared. Many have been shot on mere suspicion that they might be associated with the NDF. Many have been abducted, tortured, brutalized, and killed mercilessly. To cite a few:

A poor peasant in handcuffs was beheaded. His body dumped along that miserable excuse for a road, somewhere in Calbiga.

A farmer in San Andres, Villareal, Samar who was pointed out by two hooded men to men in uniform without name tags was beaten and brutalized while his young children, his wife, and the barrio people were watching in horror. He was then hogtied, slung on a bamboo pole like a pig, brought somewhere and then dumped 12 days later along that terrible Government Provincial road in Villareal, Samar with a wound each on the left and right side of his stomach and on his neck. If the killers were human and not Evil incarnate, they could just have shot the poor man on his heart or on his head after being summarily judged guilty as a criminal based on the testimony of two hooded men. But No. They had to torture him. What they were doing was okay. And they will not be punished anyway. Part of the game, according to a bemedaled Gen. Palparan. And they are not afraid of God and our priests and Archbishop Jose Palma, anyway, including the Santo Papa who is far away in Rome.

This road in Villareal, Samar, incidentally, which has caught world-wide attention because of the massive contributions of Villahanons from all over the world through the Internet to make it passable, has been the source also of massive corruption and thievery of Government people before — those whom the Government Soldiers are defending and fighting for with their lives. Two beloved civic leaders of Villareal, during the First Arangkada, a husband and his wife, died here on their way to Tacloban to get some funds to help the starving fishermen who were victims of the Red Tide. They rumor was that they were ambushed by mistake.

But to go on with the killings... A group of health and dental personnel assigned to the Philippine military in Maulong had just come back from Samar's most interior town after doing some "civic" work in San Jose de Buan. They were ambushed on their way back reportedly by the NPAs. In the exchange of fire, a father and his 12-year old son were killed. An unarmed Samarnon reporter was lucky not to be hit by a bullet. The Bishop of Calbayog communicated to God his unhappiness at these unjust killings.

Some soldiers were on their way to Tacloban aboard a vehicle. Somewhere near Basay, a bomb exploded killing some soldiers and an unarmed civilian who probably just wanted a free ride aboard a military vehicle, too poor to take public transport.

The military "invaded" a barrio in the hinterlands of Jiabong. In the firefight five young men and a young woman died. Including an 8-year old boy. Their bodies were brought to the Jiabong Municipal Hall. No relatives claimed the bodies of the dead. They were afraid they might be suspected as NPAs and suffer the consequences. And that barrio in Jiabong’s hinterland? Perhaps, only the Mayas are chirping mournfully fleeting from one hut to another, in the company of the ghosts of the poor young farmers and the 8-year old boy.

There are many more sad stories that we can tell. The pages of this souvenir publication would not be enough to print them. We would be depriving our fellow alumni from plastering their pictures on this publication if we just go on and on.

What are the most comprehensive and lasting consequences of a “protracted armed struggle” and a seemingly endless war aside from these dramatic, isolated, and cruel incidents? There are many that come to mind. But we can cite the following:

Of ordinary peasants evacuating their barrios in the hinterlands of Samar to escape the clashes between armed groups and waiting in the poblaciones of Calbiga, Basay, Motiong, and San Jose de Buan till the bullets are no longer flying.

Those unable to survive in their farms in the hinterlands and caught between the Government Soldiers and the NPAs go to Metropolitan Manila and other urban centers, even Catbalogan itself. To survive, some become garbage scavengers, prostitutes, hold uppers, drug dealers, homeless children sniffing rugby to assuage their hunger, living and making babies in their pushcarts, under the bridges and in their smelly shanties along the railroad tracks and probably sleeping with the dead in the graveyards. Even in Catbalogan itself, there are homeless and hungry children as young as six years old whose mothers shoo them away because there is no more bilanghoy or camote to feed them.

There are elementary and high school children without books and school materials; an elementary school in the hinterland of Samar without a toilet despite the abundant trees, bamboos, rattan, and other materials that can be used to construct a toilet, all because their leaders are unable to think coherently and rationally, unable to do anything, aside from being in constant fear of their lives.

There is that provincial hospital without the simple tools and equipment and materials and medicines that will cure those who are brought there.

There is that national road from Calbiga to Calbayog where carabaos can frolic in the mud holes, or even elephants, if we had elephants.

We feel the pain of underpaid, sickly, provincial and national employees who are at the mercy of the plunderers and the usurers. Some of these plunderers and usurers are even elected to powerful positions in the government and addressed as “Honorable”. You can just imagine the grin on their ugly faces. Aside from being addressed as “Honorable”, they are protected by our Government Soldiers with their lives. How lucky they can be!

But lately, we are afraid of an honest-to-goodness rat-ta-tat, like in the movies, involving not only the NPAs on one hand, and the Government Soldiers, on the other hand but of ordinary and naïve civilians who want to imitate a high school dropout. (We may not be handsome but at least we persevered and endured all the difficulties. We graduated from the Samar High School.) We have observed how some people in Catbalogan, in Paranas, in Pinabacdao have been organized by the Government Soldiers to denounce the NPAs. Some speakers may have been manipulated to denounce their former comrades; some are probably sincere. If America will feel charitable again and give its unneeded and surplus firearms and bombs to the Philippines as its foreign aid to feed the impoverished and starving Filipinos, and the ruling elite in the Philippines through the Generals will decide to distribute those surplus arms to the friends of the Government Soldiers, you don’t need a crystal ball to imagine the consequences.

Of course, 8 million of us are all over the world as exploited menials, ladies of the night, teachers, doctors who are working as nurses, engineers, clerks, so that we can send $11 billion to the Philippines to prop it up.

Indeed, the litany of pain and death can go on and on, ad infinitum.

And yet, in the midst of the intolerable poverty and hardships of our people, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines now headed by this lady who has been called all sorts of names and now assisted by among others, our Most Outstanding Alumnus of our Alma Mater and one of the Golden Jubilarians, the Hon. Antonio Eduardo Nachura, whose kins were known to be likewise in the thick of the struggle for “National Liberation” before, can afford helicopter gunship, war planes, gunboats, weapons carriers, tanks, Armalites, probably Kalashnikovs, Uzis, rocket launchers, rocket propelled grenades, Fals and other powerful weapons to kill people. And perhaps the NDF guerillas are armed with the same powerful firearms and bombs and grenades too.

For us who are deathly afraid of even just touching a toy gun because we might get shot by the real gun, we are praying that these instruments of death be transformed into something useful to sustain life, to make the miserable lives of our poor people a little bit better.

So what to do? What to do?

If we believe in God, we can pray for peace. Let us say 3,000 Hail Mary’s like what Filipinos are doing in California. Even if some of our NDF “Dialectical Materialists” consider the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, Islam, the Iglesia ni Kristo, and other organized religion as the “Opiate of the Masses”. Let us pray for this civil war to stop.

Beyond praying, supposing God will not answer our prayers, we can implore the National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army to rethink its avowed goal of instituting a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist-Jomaist “National Democracy” on the Philippines through a protracted war and the armed struggle. After all, the achievements for the past 37 years do not seem to be impressive.

Moreover, if they are more socially-committed and more intelligent than the Trapos and their oligarchic partners, the initiative should come from them.

The age of mass revolutions to diminish hunger, poverty, exploitation, injustice, and oppression in the Third World might have been overtaken by massive, profound ideological, political, religious, and economic developments in the world today. In the case of the Philippines, we have to take note of the following:

If the NDF-CPP-NPA with 36,000 armed guerillas and thousands of sympathizers could not supplant itself on a much-hated and much maligned regime in 1986 during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, how much more today?

Can the revolutionary success in China and Mao’s “Long March” be replicated in the Philippines while an Armada of NPA Marines aboard their motorboats are crisscrossing Maqueda Bay, the Visayan, and the Sulu Seas, the Leyte Gulf without being machine gunned by gunboats of the Philippine Government or God forbid, the American torpedo boats, destroyers, aircraft carriers, submarines, and bombers?

The Vietnamese triumphed due to a host of factors especially the unity of those opposed to their ruling class, unlike the plethora of “progressive” groups who are fighting each other and waving their red and colorful banners every now and then in Metro Manila. In addition, there was the support of two giant “communist” countries — the People’s Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In America, there was a massive outpouring of continuous, relentless opposition to the intervention of the Americans in Vietnam. In Europe, the opposition to the Vietnam War never wavered. The war ended. But at what cost to the Vietnamese and the Americans?

Would the 8 million Filipinos in Singapore, Hongkong, Saudi Arabia, other parts of the Middle East, Japan, Europe, Africa, America, and all over the world harangue the governments of the countries wherever they are now to support the National Democratic Front if it engages its enemy in a bloody all-out civil war in a “Strategic Stalemate” or “Strategic Offensive”? Will the majority of the 3 million Filipinos in America brandish the placards and banners in opposition to some Filipinos who even now are asking President Bush, their friends, some American Congressmen, to intervene in removing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from power? I am afraid not. Many of them will just curse the red-flag waving Filipinos for rocking the boat and calling attention to themselves in America.

Will the American and European religious groups, the kind hearted ones, the liberals, stick their necks out to support a revolution lead by the Communist Party of the Philippines? At the moment, they are more interested in confronting the fanaticism of Al Qaeda. And they will ask: “A Communist Party leading the revolution in the Philippines which is supposed to be the only Christian country in Asia? Are there still Communist Parties hereabouts?”

In 1965, the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) was reported to be the largest Communist Party in the entire world with 3 million members, but probably next to the Communist Parties in China and the USSR. They were tricked by the Military under Suharto. And decimated. An estimated 100,000 PKI members were hacked to death, some were fed to hungry and emaciated Indonesian crocodiles. And yet at that time, there were two “communist” giants who could have helped the PKI — China and the USSR. They did nothing.

The so-called “communist” countries in Eastern Europe, like Russia, have collapsed. The corruption uncovered in some of those communist-socialist states in Eastern Europe was beyond belief.

The Maoist guerillas in Latin America, such as the Sendero Luminoso in Peru, have been decimated. The Frente Sandinista Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) in Nicaragua has lost mass support and has been out of power. And Cuba continues to be on guard against America. What happens when Fidel Castro takes his last breath? North Korea can hardly be considered the ideal communist country when its people are starving and escaping to South Korea and China.

Today, there is no country that can claim to be “communist” and which can serve as a model for the socialist revolutionaries in the Philippines. Are the economic systems in China and Vietnam “communist”? They are more capitalist. But their political and governmental leadership undoubtedly are very strong, not wishy-washy and are patriotic and pro-people. Something that we need so badly among our leaders.

The economic systems of Singapore and Japan are definitely not “communist”. But there seems to be more corruption in “Capitalist” Vietnam and China despite their Communist Parties than in Capitalist Singapore and Japan that are not led by communist parties.
Ideologies, world-views, and relationships among nations, globalization, and strategies of national liberation may have undergone radical changes. The “Cold War” may have been succeeded by “The Clash of Civilizations”. Hence, the messianic struggles going on now which have no borders. But even then, hunger, poverty, disease, malnutrition, exploitation and death are the lot of most of the peoples of the world, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Pagan.

Aside from iniquitous political, economic, and social orders, the entire world has to confront the challenges of natural calamities that have no national boundaries. In the Philippines, the impact of Global Warming on our 7,107 islands could mean more powerful killer typhoons, continuous rains, landslides, rising tides, floods, droughts, etc. They could exacerbate the hunger among our people. Then there is the bird flu. Despite our nearness to the Asia mainland, we have been fortunate that we have so far escaped its possible devastation.

Obviously, no one is expecting that the NDF should just give up its gains that have been paid for dearly by the martyrdom, the sacrifices, the blood, and the lives of its adherents. No one is expecting them to entrust everything to the generals, and the soldiers and their trapostic and oligarchic masters and their international manipulators. This requires a painstaking, sincere, sensitive, international, broad approach that could revolve around a renunciation of the armed struggle in attaining the objectives of a more progressive, respectable Philippines.

An introspection, and a new and more relevant approach to the National Democratic Front’s vow — which in substance seems no different from those in the reformist group in the Military, the Church and other religious groups, the civil societies, other progressive groups, international organizations, more enlightened and less exploitative international business organizations — of liberating the masses from their bondage of poverty and exploitation, might be crafted from the rapidly evolving sentiments and emotions of our people. This will not only spring from the hardships and the suffering of our people in the homeland, but also from among the 8 million Filipinos in Diaspora who are likewise suffering greatly, in addition to the objective and concrete realities of the international political and economic order. International sympathy — and even outright support — can be gained if there is a sincere and honest realization and acceptance that the protracted war, the armed struggle, the never-ending killings, the wasted lives, and the agony suffered by those affected by violence may no longer be valid in effecting fundamental changes in Philippine society.

Is this possible?

Perhaps. If the true leaders of the Philippines can part with a little bit of their pride and modify their articles of faith. After all, it is not for themselves and how they might be perceived by the future generations that the masses of the Filipino people are being asked to offer everything they have, including their lives.

In Latin America, the spirit and the memory of the revolutionary who captured the imagination of the world, Che Guevara, will never be forgotten as long as the Andes Mountains are there. But his legacy of the armed struggle is undergoing a continent-wide re-evaluation.

Massive, fundamental reforms are being felt in this land that has so much in common with us Filipinos. These radical changes are not being effected through the power of the barrel of the gun, in the words of Mao. These are being effected by developing strong and cohesive organizations and by participating in the democratic electoral processes.

The trailblazers came from Uruguay. The deadly Marxist urban guerillas, the Tupamaros, laid down their arms to join other progressive groups, in a broad united front, lead by Gen. Liber Seregni, to form the Frente Amplio. Through the electoral process the Frente Amplio is now in control in Uruguay, now considered the most politically stable country in all Latin America. But Gen. Liber Seregni himself was imprisoned for 12 years by his colleagues in the Uruguayan military for his commitment to the Uruguayan masses.

Hugo Chavez in oil-rich Venezuela, where nevertheless the chasm between the very rich and the very poor seemed unbridgeable, has strengthened his position despite the sniping from the religious right in the US such as Pat Robertson who wanted Chavez “taken out”. The poor in Venezuela are involved in a massive re-education and re-structuring of its exploitative society.

In Chile, Michelle Bachelet, a socialist, a former political prisoner, an exile, and a single mother of three, has been elected as the first woman President of Chile. A daughter of an air force general who was jailed for treason and who died in prison after Gen. Augusto Pinochet took power in an American-supported coup in 1973 which resulted in the death of Salvador Allende, Bachelet was tortured by the Chilean military.

In Bolivia, the country's first-ever indigenous president — Evo Morales — has been sworn to office. He pledged to bring justice to Bolivia’s indigenous majority, to nationalize the country's vast natural gas reserves and to ask wealthy nations to write off Bolivia's $3.4 billion dollars in foreign debt. He opposed the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, convinced that it was the surest way to “enslave Latin Americans to the interests” of American multinational corporations.

Bolivia is considered the poorest country in Latin America. But it has the second-largest natural gas reserves on the continent. Morales had an unprecedented popular support at 74%.

In Peru, voters might elect a populist and socialist president. Like the Philippines, Peru has also had its own share of political and economic upheavals, including the impeachment of its president in 2000, around the same time the Philippine Senate was deliberating the impeachment of then-president Joseph Estrada. While impeachment proceedings against Estrada stalled in the Senate over the issue of the “second envelope” and snowballed into People Power II, the Peruvian Congress successfully impeached Alberto Fujimori while he was on a visit to Japan, where his parents were born.

Unlike the Estrada impeachment, the Peruvian proceedings were speeded up by a military-civilian rebellion led by Army Lt. Col. Ollanta Humala, and his younger brother, Major Antauro Humala. The rebellion, though bloodless, nevertheless resulted in a brief imprisonment for Lt. Col. Humala. The incident, however, turned the military officer into an overnight sensation as this one, single act to protest the Armed Forces’ continued support for Fujimori polarized public opinion and galvanized the Peruvian Congress’ decision to speed up the proceedings and impeach Fujimori two months later. Humala was later amnestied by the transitional president and assigned overseas to serve as military attaché, first in France, and later in South Korea.

Now, Ollanta Humala, a die-hard nationalist with a pro-poor and a pro-agrarian reform platform of government, is running for president and is the frontrunner in the final national poll, taken 5 days before the casting of ballots. The former military officer is given an excellent chance of winning the election, given the support he has gained so far from the lower classes and the marginalized sectors of society who, finally tired of corruption, traditional politics, and neoliberal economic policies that have so far failed to improve the quality of life of ordinary Peruvians, are willing to take chances with this military officer who has never before held public office.

Although political observers are quick to label Ollanta Humala is a “leftwing military officer”, he describes himself as, “Neither from the Right nor from the Left, but from below (the masses).” It appears that in Peru, the people “from below” — the workers, peasants, the unemployed, the poor, and the slum-dwellers — might yet carry this idealistic military officer all the way to the Casa de Gobierno (Peru’s presidential palace), without firing a shot or staging a coup d’etat.

Right alongside the United States, in Mexico, Manuel Lopez Obrador, a “Leftist”, is the front-runner in the presidential election that will be held in July. The Mexicans are dual citizens of both the US and Mexico. Mexicans in the US can run for public office in Mexico unhampered by “residency” requirements. The Zacatecaños in California have popularized a system by which hometown associations in California which have projects in their hometowns back in Mexico can increase their funds by a factor of 3. Hence, they call this system “3 X 1”. Any amount the hometown association in California generates for their projects in Mexico is matched by the State of Zacatecas and by the Mexican Federal Government.

The parade of leaders whose ideological persuasions do not correspond to the neoconservative criteria in America and who are being catapulted to political and governmental leadership through the electoral process in South America must be giving some sectors of the American ruling class some anxious moments. But history does not stand still. For one, this phenomenon can be construed as a backlash against ineffectiveness of the free-market policies championed by the US. Secondly, this could be a realization that the old ways of doing things are no longer acceptable. Even in America itself, the unbelievable poverty of the residents of New Orleans, unmasked by the Hurricane Katrina would certainly require a radical re-evaluation of how economic policies are formulated and implemented in the poor areas of the US.

A few weeks after the cataclysmic destruction of the Twin Towers in New York in September 11, 2001, President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed that their countries will lead the world in instituting a world-wide program to “drain the swamps” that breed fanaticism, terrorism, and martyrdom. That was almost five years ago. However, it would seem that the swamp continues to fester with the pestilence that they want to eradicate. But hope springs eternal. It is possible that the mindset of other powerful leaders of the world is changing to include an acceptance that the world has changed so much especially in Latin America.

The “classless society”, the socialist principle of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is something that mankind can continue to hope for. But is this attainable at all?

Incidentally, the mission orders of the Uruguayan Soldiers include cleaning the streets of Montevideo and repairing the potholes in Uruguay’s roads. Can this be done by the Government Soldiers in Samar working together with the NPA guerillas and the Samarnon peasants?

That would be a dream come true…

[Originally published in the SHS-SNS souvenir publication during the Grand Alumni Homecoming in Catbalogan on April 24-30, 2006 which was managed by Class 1980. The author graduated with honors in Class ’57 and was President of the Student Government. He was the President of the SHS-SNS Alumni Association in 1983 when the first ever alumni souvenir publication, The Alumni Crosscurrents, was published. During his presidency, the group, the alumni, Samar and the Philippines were poor. The only major prizes they could afford was a small black and white TV and a small refrigerator for the First and Second Prizes during the raffle. But they did give cash prizes and awards to our Alma Mater’s outstanding teachers and an administrative staff worker. He was a prime mover in organizing the hibernating SHS-SNS Alumni Association of North America serving as its Interim President and later as Secretary General which is now headed by Mr. Apolinario del Rosario. He was also President of the San Francisco-based Samareños of California, Inc. The author was a former faculty member of the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science and a Senior Consultant of the Development Academy of the Philippines. He chaired the Skeletal Task Force that organized the UP in Tacloban in 1972. A temporary resident of California, the author is a columnist of the Los Angeles-based "Manila US Times" and "The Filipino Insider", a monthly supplement of "The San Francisco Chronicle", one of the major periodicals in America with a distribution of 500,000. He is one of the original founders of the Filipino-American Forum of San Francisco in California and a moderator of Gugma Han Samar Cyberspace Movement. He can be reached at]

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

COA: Yolanda fund, donations did not reach victims

The OCD had P692.77 million for quick response in 2013, while the NDRRMC received P48.82 million in donations, but these were used for operations or kept in banks

Reynaldo Santos Jr
Updated 9:59 PM, Sep 09, 2014
PEOPLE WAITING. Hundreds of thousands of families count on government aid 6 months after Yolanda. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler
PEOPLE WAITING. Hundreds of thousands of families count on government aid 6 months after Yolanda. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Hundreds of millions of pesos in funds intended for the relief and rehabilitation of disaster victims did not reach them in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 because government offices used them up for operations or kept them in banks.
This was the finding of the state auditors in a report on how thequick response funds (QRF) of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the donations received by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) were utilized.
In its assessment report, the Commission on Audit (COA) said OCD had a total of P692.77 million in available QRF for 2013, while the NDRRMC – which is administered by the OCD – had received a total of P48.82 million in donations for the typhoon victims.
However, not a single centavo of these amounts has so far reached the typhoon victims, according to COA.
The QRF should serve as a “stand-by to be used for relief and rehabilitation programs in order that the situation and living conditions of people living in communities or areas stricken by calamities, epidemics, crises, and catastrophes occurring during the year may be normalized as quickly as possible.”
Based on the COA report, at least 17% of the total QRF for 2013, or P121.18 million, was spent on Yolanda-related operations.
COA identified the items on which the P121.18 million was spent:
Cash advances for operational requirements of the NDRRMC Operations Center
P 1,600,000
Cash advances for operational requirements of ROVIII Operations Center
Office supplies56,445.00
Fund transfer to AFP for petroleum, oil and lubricant (POL) reserve for disaster operations, subject to liquidation
Various groceries and medicines intended for daily subsistence of duty personnel at Command Center and RDRRMC VIII Operations Center
TOTALP 121,182,550
The biggest disbursement was for “petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL),” which amounted to 98% of the total amount spent by OCD for its Yolanda-related operations.
OCD said the amount was transferred to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reportedly as “reserve for disaster operations” and is subject to liquidation.
There were various groceries and medical supplies purchased, but they were allotted for OCD-NDRRMC personnel. Also, these items remained unused as of March 5, 2014, after NDRRMC’s activities in Yolanda-hit areas had ended. Many of the supplies were nearing expiry dates, according to COA.
“[T]he funds were spent for the requirements of the Operations Centers and POL, while nothing was reported for the basic subsistence needs of calamity victims notwithstanding the guidelines and other issuances on the matter,” said the report.
COA mentioned a study by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) which shows that OCD was able to fully utilize its QRF prior to 2012. But since 2012, restrictions on the use of funds affected how the fund was utilized.
“Before 2012, QRF can be used for pre-disaster activities, but starting 2012, QRF was designated as standby fund, thus, it can only be used at the onset of disasters or for response activities,” COA said.
Untouched donations
COA also noted that local and foreign cash donations have not been utilized by the NDRRMC.
“The donations remained intact with the depository bank. There were no donations to date out of the donations received,” COA said.
This is despite NDCC Memorandum Order 13, signed in 1998, which states that families affected by disasters were supposed to receive P10,000 cash assistance for each dead relative and P5,000 for those injured subject to submission of required documents including medical or death certificates.
“It will be noted that under this Memorandum Order, financial assistance can only be availed if claims are filed at the RDCC supported by the documents enumerated above. However, in case of emergencies, the production alone of the documentary requirements would be very cumbersome for the victims, thus, provision of assistance takes some time,” COA said.
COA added that this has been “depriving the disaster/calamity victims of timely assistance in their lowliest times and defeating the purpose of the donations.” –

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Selective use of economic growth statistics masks inner rot in Philippines' economy

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There are better barometers to measuring the economic health of a country than GDP figures alone. The problem with GDP is that it does not measure income inequality, income distribution, economic sustainability, poverty incidence, education, health, employment and standard of living. What benefit does GDP growth provide if most of that economic growth is enjoyed by the richest 10% of the population, and if most of that growth is centered on unsustainable ventures like real estate and consumerism funded by OFW remittances?
The country barely makes anything, barely exploits its natural resources and has weak manufacturing, on top of a degrading infrastructure, increasing crime, environmental degradation, and lack of innovation due in part to the brain drain (per net emigration).
There's the country's per capita income (both nominal and PPP) which, when compared to overall global rankings the Philippines places 124th and 130th respectively. This is GDP divided by a country's total population and it is quite low in fact. In contrast, Malaysia has a per capita income (nominal) that ranks 61st in IMF rankings, while Singapore ranks 8th. Never have I heard it being mentioned anywhere in Philippine news media nor in any blog looking at the country's economy with a superficial lens.
But let's not stop there. There's also HDI (Human Development Index) that measures overall quality of life in a country. The Philippines ranks 117th, again quite low in international rankings.
45% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, more than 25% of the population lives below the poverty line, and unemployment is around 7% (which does not count underemployment which stands at around 20% and 40% of those employed work in the informal sector).
Other social barometers include infant mortality ranks 99 in the world, maternal mortality at 74, life expectancy at 134.
Foreign direct investment is one of the lowest in Asia and is outpaced by remittances. Heck, we haven't even started with education, sanitation, as well as transparency, ease of doing business and many more which the Philippines fares poorly in.
If you take all of these factors into consideration, you'd see that GDP growth alone is a meaningless measurement of a country economic and social health.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Philippines' $23 billion problem

6 MAR 2, 2014 10:11 PM ET
By William Pesek
Mikheil Saakashvili, does the Philippines ever have a job for you!

The former Georgian president is enjoying some downtime after almost 10 tumultuous years in office, during which he famously disbanded the hated traffic police to root out graft. If Saakashvili is hankering for a new challenge he might find it in Manila, where Benigno Aquino covets his own anti-corruption shakeup.

This, admittedly, is a reach. And Aquino has a far bigger problem on his hands than cops hitting up citizens for bribes: Customs agents are shaking down his entire $250 billion economy and perpetuating poverty. Aquino has tried to rein in the Bureau of Customs since June 2010, ramping up investigations, sacking some top officials and putting invoice data online. But Aquino should probably take a cue from Saakashvili and engineer a wholesale customs purge, firing thousands.

Sound harsh? Not when you consider that since 1990, smuggling has cost Filipino taxpayers at least $23 billion, or nearly 10 percent of today's annual economic output. And that, says Clark Gascoigne of Washington-based think tank Global Financial Integrity, which calculated the figure, "is clearly quite conservative." The group's Philippine probe relies largely on publically-available trade-invoice documents, and of course, lots of smuggling takes place far off the books.

Global Financial Integrity alleges, for example, that traceable outflows related to crime, corruption and tax evasion cost the nation at least $133 billion between 1960 and 2011. That figures swells to more than $410 billion when you count illegal money flowing in, too.

All these billions would help finance badly-needed improvements to education, infrastructure and the national balance sheet. Even though the Philippines is growing close to 7 percent, one in four Filipinos subsist on less than $1.25 a day. Aquino has succeeded in raising revenues to gain control of public debt. But few efforts would pay bigger dividends in his last two years and four months in office than intensifying the cleanup of the customs operation.

In a recent interview, I asked Aquino, partly in jest, if he thinks about just shutting down the entire customs bureau. "We're sort of fantasizing a reset button," he deadpanned. But think about it. The vast amount of money lost on trade transactions could eliminate the $5.4 billion budget deficit (as of 2012), lowering interest rates and moving the Philippines further up the investment-grade ladder.

The Philippines has already gained by weeding out some rotten apples. Aquino nodded to Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who sat in for the interview last week, and explained a related windfall on revenues: "So far, since you replaced officials, they're up 19 percent, compared to the previous year."

A customs-agency overhaul would shock a political culture that's tolerated large-scale plunder for decades. It would greatly undermine the underground economy, smashing the web of related graft in other agencies and across business sectors. "The macro story for the Philippine economy is great," Gascoigne says. "But the need now if for some key actions at the micro level."

That means putting even more transactions data on the government's website to enable greater scrutiny; requiring banks to verify the true owner of each account opened at their institution; aggressively ramping up customs enforcement and audits to make sure that when a rice sale pulls in $20,000 on the Philippine side, the buyer's documents in, say, Taiwan, don't report a $10,000 deal; expanding the definition of money laundering; scrutinizing each and every transaction with tax havens like Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore; upping salaries so that customs agents won't get entrepreneurial; reducing opportunities for face-to-face transactions; and hiring more outsiders to cleanse the bureaucracy.

No one is saying these are easily fixable problems for Aquino, who has just six years in office. But when dealing with a nation in which corruption is both deeply entrenched and all too tolerated, like the Philippines, a little Saakashvili-like shock therapy may be the only answer.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)

Saved from the death squad - by street children

By Fr. Shay Cullen

What should be a matter of outrage and great moral concern of every Filipino and decent human being is the very recent, well documented revelations by Human Rights Watch, alleging the actions of a death squad in Tagum city, Mindanao where hundreds have been murdered including street children as young as 9 years old. The killings were allegedly carried out by hit men allegedly on orders of the former mayor. Each person was killed for a payment of only five thousands pesos (US$110).

“One Shot to the Head”: Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines" (see is a 71 page report released on 22 May, 2014, with damming evidence and interviews with former hit men who allegedly said they were paid by former Mayor Rey "Chiong" Uy to kill anyone they were told to. One text message allegedly set them in motion. They were paid US$110 for every killing and they divided it among themselves, one former hit man said in a taped interview posted on Youtube. The former mayor has denied the allegations.

"Tagum City's former mayor helped organize and finance a death squad linked to the murder of hundreds of residents,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. "Rey Uy called these citizens “weeds”. He and other city officials and police officers underwrote targeted killings as a perverse form of crime control."

Such revelations are not new in the Philippines. Other city officials throughout the Philippines have been accused of using death squads to kill street children and anyone considered a threat or critic of local government. As many as 298 victims have been documented in this Human Rights Watch Tagum report. The report said..."Targeted killings have continued but with less frequency since Uy stepped down as mayor in June 2013".

The Human Rights Watch press release said that "On April 28, 2014, the media reported that the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation had recommended the prosecution of four security guards employed by the Tagum City government for their alleged role in the abduction, torture, and murder of two teenage boys in February 2014. The current Tagum City mayor, Allan Rellon, reportedly told the media that he was "bewildered" by the allegations, saying that, "as a local chief executive, I abhor any form of summary killing."

This is not the first report documenting the dark side of Philippines where government officials, have been accused of using private assassination squads of hit-men that go around on motor bikes killing children, priests, missionaries, pastors, church and human rights workers. This column has documented many of these murders. The Sun Star of Davao has bravely documented many of the death squad murders over the years. Investigations by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights have failed to uncover the killers or those behind the murders.

A prominent columnist in The Philippine Daily Inquirer last 24 May, 2014 defended the death squads and the actions of Mayor Uy and the Mayor of Davao Rodrigo Duterte saying no one in the Philippines is complaining about them except Human Rights Watch. Citizens would have benefited too, he wrote, if the police in Manila had implemented a plan to organize a death squad to eliminate alleged corrupt judges and prosecutors.

The killings are done to drive away begging street kids, create fear and silence critics and defenders of human rights on the pretext of preserving law and order by killing people said to be suspected criminals. Anyone can denounce their neighbor as a drug pusher and it's likely that person would be killed. This is how the tiny minority of wealthy Filipino elites use fear, force and murder to intimidate the people, eliminate rivals, cheat at elections and stay in power through family dynasties. Thus, the one percent can rule the nation as they have always done. The hit-men do it for money and the elites do it for political and economic advantage. They act with total impunity.

The Human Rights Watch report gives credence to the many allegations made by Filipino human rights workers for many years including this writer who exposed a Davao death squad and was sued by the former Davao Mayor De Guzman in 1999, although no allegation was made against him personally. After a harrowing, dangerous year of legal defense, and a scary visit to Davao where a group of street children formed a protective cordon around me at the airport lest the death squad would kill me. I was trying to save them, but they saved me.

Mayor De Guzman withdrew the allegation on the day when I was to be arraigned in the Davao City Regional Trial Court. The intervention of Archbishop Fernando Robles Capalla of Davao persuaded the Mayor to withdraw the charge. The Archbishop's brother Romy Capalla, a human rights defender was assassinated with a bullet to the head last March 2014 in Ilo-ilo for his work defending the rights of small farmers to organize independently of land owners and practice Fair Trade. The sugar mill they operated was burned down destroying their livelihood. No one has been caught for the brutal murder.

A Survey by the Ateneo De Davao University says 98 percent of those polled support the mayor, government and 77 percent support the police. Perhaps they dare not say otherwise. Western embassies have warned their citizens not to visit Mindanao due to the crime rates. The death squads have not deterred lawlessness, only added to it.

The report is available on Email [ visit] 

(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)