Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Youth’s Decision: Chance or Change

Within a few of days each other, occurring in the Philippines and in the United States are several events which the youth’s judgment is challenged. The first is Halloween (both countries); second is the Barangay and Sangguniang Barangay elections in the Philippines; third is the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies in Washington, D.C.; and fourth is the mid-term elections in the United States.

Halloween involves some minor decision-making processes. Should a girl dress as a Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi, Christine O’Donnell or as a witch? Should a boy go as Obama, Osama, or Pope Benedict?  Should they go to the Kennedy mansion, the Cheney house, the houses where they are far apart, or at the King’s Manor where the townhouses are all connected to each other? Should it be trick or treat?
Barangay is the most basic governmental unit in the Philippines.  The Chairman which used to be called Captain (Kapitan) is elected not only to act as Chief Executive of the Barangay or in some cases the entire village, but also the representative of the Barangay citizens in the Municipal Council. He also presides over the Barangay Council and in some instances exercises some judicial functions. Electing the Chairman therefore, is a major decision because it has repercussions not only to the present but most especially to the future of the residents.

Sangguniang Barangay is a good training ground for the Filipino youth. It is also a form of self-governance for the latter. It provides them a chance to exercise executive as well as legislative powers.  The Aquino government had announced their intention to abolish the Sangguniang Barangay earlier. The fact that there is an election means that the youth is given another chance to change the course of Philippine governance starting at the most basic unit.

Under Section 13, Article II of the Philippine Constitution, “The State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being . . .”

As mentioned in a previous column, “the Sangguniang Barangay is an organization with a mechanism that is the only one of its kind in the world. Established by law, the SK puts the Philippines in the forefront of an emerging movement worldwide to give the youth a direct role in shaping policies and programs. It provides the youth the opportunity to learn leadership skills and self-governance.”

President Aquino also announced a plan to set-up an e-Center in every Barangay. Internet would then be accessible to residents in every Barangay.  Again, the youth would be in the forefront of the internet revolution in every Barangay. The Sangguniang Barangay members and elected officers are all without exception, what Dan Tapscott calls the “Digital Natives” or those who were “born digital”, “growing up digital”, and “grown-up digital”. Give or expose them to an iPhone, iPad, smart phone, netbook or any electronic product and they will learn on their own the features and the effective utilization of the devices.  Giving the “Net Generation” or the “Text Generation” the chance to access a broadband network would help them change the e-Centers into an effective e-Gov, e-Communications (e-mail, VOIP, Video-over IP), e-Library (e-books, audio books, etc.) e-Learning, e-Entertainment (multimedia, movies, games, etc.), e-Commerce, e-Shopping, e-Banking, and other changes that may surprise us all.
The rallies led by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to be held in Washington, D.C. would most likely attract America’s youth and the progressive or liberal segments of America’s political society. They will be compared to the rallies of the conservatives led by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin’s Tea Party.

The decision for the youth is to go or not to go.  Going would negate the perception that they are now less enthusiastic in supporting the change which they aggressively pushed two years ago. It would also mean that they are giving “change” a “chance”. Not going would confirm what the conservatives had been asserting all along – the youth prefer another change.
The mid-term elections is another critical event for the youth. The latter’s role is more significant than ever in deciding what course or direction should America go vis-à-vis the change which the youth espoused a couple of years ago. They voted for Obama’s promise of change over John McCain by an overwhelming 2:1 margin (66% vs. 32%). In addition, in both 2006 and 2008, the youth voted for Democratic congressional candidates about the same 2:1 margin that they gave the president in his general election victory.

Obama promised healthcare reform. Another 40 million Americans are now covered by health insurance with the passage of the healthcare reform law. That’s a change that the youth believed in and in fact, Obama delivered.  A recent survey shows that 45% of the young favors it, and another 14% want to see how it works in practice. Only 18% favor repealing it outright.

“Youth is the first victim of war; the first fruit of peace. It takes 20 years or more of peace to make a man; it takes only 20 seconds of war to destroy him.” (Baudouin).

The youth believed that Obama would get us out of wars. He had already started the withdrawal of forces from Iraq and is now preparing the groundwork for eventual withdrawal in Afghanistan.

On the Bush tax cuts, 34% of the young prefer to let all of the Bush 2001 tax cuts to expire, and an additional 26% favor letting the tax cuts expire for those earning more than $250,000 per year. Only 23% believe that all of the tax cuts should be extended.

The decision for the American youth in these mid-term elections then is: should they go to the polls and give “change” a “chance” or vote for another change instead?

My barber says, “the problem with another change is that given the pronouncements of the alternative, it could go back to the old policies which the youth already rejected only two years ago.”
Amidst all the events discussed above, there are actually two other events which are just as significant if not more so and which could lead to better decisions for the young. To Catholics and other Christians, one event is “All Saints’ Day”, and to many others, another event is “All Souls’ Day”.

As models in exemplary service and self-less devotion to noble causes, the Saints, Heroes, and our dearly beloved, could guide the youth and all of us to greater glory and better judgment.

As Willa Cather said, “The dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the young.”

In God and in them we trust!  In the youth we bank our hopes!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fil-Am Politics in the Eyes of a Barber

I just came back from my regular haircut, and as expected, I had to listen to and absorb the views and opinions of my barber.  He is also a dual citizen like me, so our conversations always cover both Philippine and American events.

He read my last article on Civil Disobedience and about the Reproductive Health bill that covers contraception. He said he was at the Congress rally for a non-partisan Constitutional Convention on January 26, 1970. He claimed to have heard me speak at the event and even remembered and liked what I said as I described the types of politicians at the time.  Rejecting the participation of professional politicians at the convention, I named them as “mga tao na kung sumamo sa bayan during the campaign ay kasing amo ng mga tupa, ngunit pag panalo at nakapuesto na, ay mga anak ng tupa”.
On contraception, my barber’s take is that the Catholic Church is against it because it would go against the biblical mandate for a man (Adam) and woman (Eve) upon their creation to “go forth and multiply”.  That’s why he says that some, like Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell of Delaware, believes that masturbation is a sin not only because it is “lusting” but more so because it wastes cells needed in the fertilization of human eggs, thus preventing pregnancy.

                  Figure 1 The Pope: Head of the Catholic Church
If there has to be birth control, the Church encourages abstinence. What about withdrawal during sex by married couples? It also prevents pregnancy and wastes the needed cells for procreation.  Sin or not, at least, they are considered natural birth control methods.

Is taking birth control pills prohibited by the Church? My barber thinks so. That’s why the Church objects to the RH bill which allows and, in fact, funds the use of artificial birth control pills. What about a pill that would put the man to sleep prior to a planned sexual activity, thus preventing a potential pregnancy? Is this an artificial or natural method?

If there is a biblical mandate to “go forth and multiply”, why is it that unlike the Protestants who are also Christians, Catholic priests and nuns are not allowed to get married and, therefore, theoretically and morally are prevented from going forth and multiplying their kind? My barber seemed puzzled on this one. But of course, this has not prevented the likes of Fr. Damaso and other priests from begetting Marias and Claras even to this day.

Excommunication is a punishment that the Church gives to violators. It prohibits Catholics from receiving the Sacraments such as Communion, Reconciliation, Matrimony, etc. Not receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony would not allow you to get married and procreate. Another seeming contradiction that my barber imparted.

I diverted the discussion to American politics because it affects the two of us more. So I asked my barber, “What is your take on these mid-term elections?”

Figure 2 President Ronald Reagan: Idol of the Tea Party

According to him the birth and growth of some third parties or movements are actually healthy.  The conservatives continue to push the anti-abortion agenda, a pro-tax cut, anti-taxes, balancing the budget, and anti-spending programs to convince the electorate that they deserve to regain control of Congress and some state and local governments. The liberals, who successfully pushed some programs such as Health Care and Financial reforms, are still not satisfied with what the Democrat-controlled Congress had done, so the extent of their enthusiasm and participation had decreased causing a possible defeat of several Obama candidates.

There is one party and candidate that caught the attention of my barber, however. It sounds like a one-issue movement but as claimed by the leader of the party Jimmy McMillan, it is not. The party is the “Rent Is Too Damn High” Party. The following video links should give us an idea of what McMillan and his party stands for:

Figure 3  McMillan:  Leader of "Rent is Too Damn High"

Jimmy McMillan is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was also an Orange Agent victim. He is running for Governor of New York because he believes that, in New York, the “rent is too damn high”, it’s hard to find a job, and it’s hard to provide education, breakfast, lunch and dinner for your children. Government officials are in cahoots with landlords thus making rent control laws ineffective. People have to work two or three jobs just to pay the rent to the landlords who have committed 10,000 violations.
As my barber finished my hair cut, I repeated my original question to my barber, “What is your take on these mid-term elections?”

He said that as a young boy growing up in the Philippines, he first heard of what the late President Ramon Magsaysay said, ‘those who have less in life must have more in law.”

When President Obama and the Democrats took control of the reins of government, they were mandated by the people to pass and execute laws that benefit the people especially those “who have less in life”.  President Obama was given four years to show and accomplish what he has set out to do within the period. He and his partners in Congress, for example, passed a health care bill benefiting mostly those who could not afford. It was a law that has evaded us for decades. He and his partners in state and local governments are still beginning to execute the said law.

Two years ago, Obama and company started a course that changed the direction of this country with the consent of the governed. We “cannot change course mid-stream.”  Neither can we “change horses mid-stream” or mid-term elections. He believes the Democrats should retain control to help Obama finish his job.

Take it from my barber!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Civil Disobedience in Demanding Church and Political Reforms Revisited

In the battle against the Reproductive Health (RH) bill which President Noynoy Aquino supports, the Catholic Church threatened to use civil disobedience to derail passage of the bill. In support of the RH bill and against the move of the Church in interfering what he perceives as purely a State or political affair, free thinker and Catholic tourist guide Carlos Celdran picketed the Archbishop’s Palace dressed as Dr. Jose Rizal prior to his execution carrying a big sign, “DAMASO”. But as rain started pouring, he was forced to go inside where bishops, priests and Catholic lay leaders were converging. While inside, and nobody minding him, he decided to go to the center with the “DAMASO” placard raised high, shouting that the Church should not interfere. Manila Mayor Lim was in the audience and he ordered Celdran’s arrest but not before photograph was taken of the incident. The latter spent at least one night in jail before he was bailed out. He said that he was willing to suffer the consequences for the sake of his cause.

The action of Celdran is a form of civil disobedience. A search would show that there are about 200 methods of civil disobedience. Among the notable ones are: 1) Economic Non Cooperation such as consumers’ boycott and rent withholding; 2) Political Non Cooperation such as withholding or withdrawal of allegiance and boycott of elections;  3) Non violent protest and persuasion such as slogans, caricatures, and symbols, and picketing;  and 4) Social Non Cooperation such as ostracism of persons including excommunication and student strike.

The best practitioners and most successful exponents of civil disobedience in history were Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Whichever method or form of civil disobedience that the Catholic Church would employ against the Philippine Government, the President or the Philippine Legislature in case the RH bill becomes law is still unclear. The threat of excommunication has been mentioned as one method but was later denied.

In the year 1968, a non-violent movement founded on the principles of Christian teachings was formed. It was called the Christian Social Movement (CSM). Some of its noted leaders were former Senator and Foreign Affairs Secretary Raul S. Manglapus, Jose Concepcion, Jr. who later became Secretary of Trade and Industry, Jose Feria, who later became Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, Vic Lim, former President of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Edgar “Hadji” Kalaw, Chairman and CEO of the Bank of Asia, Luis “Booty” Jose, Chairman and President of Mark IV, Atty. Benny Tan, who later became BIR Commissioner, Johnny Tan, President of the Federation of Free Workers, and Teresa Nieva, leader of the Christian Family Movement.

The CSM vision was to create a “society based on human dignity, built on justice and dedicated to progress – where every man may develop and fulfill himself according to his ability and in the service of his fellowmen.”

With Ferdinand Marcos running a corrupt government, and presiding over an almost fascist regime, demand for political and social reforms was very strong. There was student unrest in the country echoing that of the United States, Europe and other countries due to opposition to the Vietnam War.

Launched at the University of the Philippines, CSM recruited youth and student leaders nationwide. I was one of the lucky ones who underwent seminars run by intellectual giants that included not only the leaders mentioned above but also Jesuit Frs. Horacio de la Costa, Francisco Araneta, Jose Blanco, Candelaria and Olaguer; Dean Jeremias Montemayor; prize-winning author Francisco Sionil Jose, and intelligence officer Colonel Boni Gillego.

Working with CSM Youth Coordinator Emmanuel (Manny) Cruz, we formed a youth arm of the movement and called it the Young Christian Socialists of the Philippines (YCSP). I became the first Chairman and Secretary-General of the organization.

Being dubbed as tools of the Jesuits and the Church and at times called “clerico fascists” by the communist left and Marcos’ extreme right, we decided to target our own church to start our demands for social reforms.

Led by Manny Cruz and joined by young priests, seminarians and Catholic students, an organization called Laymen’s Association for Post Vatican II Reforms or LAPVIIR was formed a few months later. The goal was to push for church reforms within the Philippines consistent with the reforms already promulgated by the Second Vatican Council plus some additional demands which we sought on the Philippine local jurisdiction.

To catch the attention of the Catholic hierarchy and the nation, we started a form of civil disobedience – a 24 hour round the clock picket and lie-in at the Pro-Cathedral near Malacanang Palace. This lasted for at least two months and eventually transferred to the Archbishop’s Palace – the same place where Carlos Celdran initially started his picket.

In our research at the time, the Archdiocese of Manila was the fifth richest diocese in the world, and the fourth largest contributor to Rome (Vatican). It was in control of three banks and owned some of the most expensive real estate and many valuable stocks. Cardinal Rufino Santos also had a Rolls Royce.

I was honored to present LAPVIIR’s demands to the Secretariat of State at the Vatican in Rome on my way to attending the World Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay of the International Union of Young Christian Democrats (IUYCD) to which YCSP was a member. 

Soon after, we saw holy masses being said in English or in local dialects instead of Latin, with the priest facing the public. We also saw the removal of the practice of classifying into 1st, 2nd and 3rd class of funeral, baptism, wedding and mass services.

“You cannot preach Christianity to an empty stomach,” was the cry at the time. This prompted the Archdiocese to put more money into the Philippine Charities which was funding anti-poverty programs.

After Church Reforms, we tackled government and constitutional reforms. We had a lie-down picket blocking the gates of Malacanang demanding reforms within the bureaucracy. We had to be carried to police vehicles and brought to prison. Working with Joe Concepcion’s National Citizens for Constitutional Reforms, Joe Feria’s Citizens for a Filipino Constitution, the National Union of Students of the Philippines led by Ed Jopson, SUCCOR, YCSP and other groups, we had the largest rally in front of Congress demanding a non-partisan Constitutional Convention.

We also worked with the Federation of Free Farmers and the Chi Rho Movement demanding a more effective and just land reform. We conducted a 24 hour vigil and picket in front of the Department of Agriculture offices which lasted for 89 days and ended with a march to Malacanang Palace. In fact, we ended up getting inside Malacanang by storming the gates. Yet, we stuck to being non-violent.

The year 2010 is definitely not 1968. President Aquino is not President Marcos. The former got elected on the promise of instituting reforms in the government hoping that “walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

As in 1968, the Philippines remains a poor nation. As of last count in 2006, the poor make up one of every three (33 percent). The Social Weather Stations (SWS) tells us it’s close to one out of two (43 percent) while Ibon Foundation says it’s two out of three (66 percent).

For the Catholic Church therefore, the cry remains the same: “You cannot preach Christianity to an empty stomach.”

The State is declaring war against poverty. As head of the State, Aquino is committed to reducing if not totally eliminating corruption as a means of reducing poverty. He is also resolved to targeting one of the proven causes of poverty by reducing the rate of growth of population. The Reproductive Health bill seeks to support Aquino’s resolve. The bill is clearly against abortion but it does so many other things.

The Catholic Church has practically the same constituency as the Philippine Government. That is, the sovereign but mostly Catholic people. Both want the people to be healthy and to not suffer from hunger and poverty. 

The Church supports the House Bill No. 13 sponsored by Cong. Roilo Golez. The definition as to when life begins as stated in this bill is acceptable to the Church. The RH bill and the Golez bill are anti-abortion. Are they reconcilable?

Perhaps the Holy Spirit would be able to enlighten our legislators. Or is there a new need for Church Reforms as well?

As Mohandas Gandhi  said, “A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion. Every formula of every religion has in this age of reason, to submit to the acid test of reason and universal assent.”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Toward An Industrial Policy

 The Philippine Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) recently sponsored a trade forum at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. which I attended as one of the representatives of the Philippine American Bar Association (PABA). 

Headed by DTI Undersecretary Cristino Panlilio, the group was asking the Fil-Am community to support the Save Our Industries Act – a bill that seeks to expand Philippine-U.S. Trade in Textiles and Apparel.  Based on their presentation, the bill when it becomes law would grant duty-free treatment to certain products wholly assembled in the Philippines, provided that these are manufactured  from U.S.-made fabrics; reduced tariffs would be levied for U.S. made yarns; and U.S. duty-free treatment would be granted to a limited range of Philippine exports of “cut & sew” apparel products that are not produced in the U.S.  It is co-sponsored by San Diego’s Congressman Bob Filner. 

According to their estimates, the proposed law would provide incremental job recovery of 50,000 in Year 2 and increasing to 200,000 in Year 5.  We listened to the sad stories regarding the thousands of garment factory workers losing their jobs, and their industry being virtually in the ICU from Ms. Ma. Teresita Jocson-Agoncilio, Executive Director of the Confederation of Garment Exporters of the Philippines (CONGEP).  You could not help but pity the workers and resolve to assist in the lobby and advocacy efforts. 

The Philippine apparel exports which are down from $2.1 B in 2006 to $1.0 B in 2009 are expected to be $1.32 B by Year 2 and $3 B by Year 5. On the other hand, U.S. textile exports to the Philippines would increase from $13.5 Million in 2009 to $250 M by Year 2 and $500 M by Year 5 which means direct manufacturing jobs would also be created in the U.S. 

Objectively, it is really a win-win situation for both countries, more particularly the textile industry in the U.S. which lost 600,100 workers to China which now controls 40 % of the world textile market and the garment industry in the Philippines. 

There is a similar law between the U.S. and Sub-Saharan Africa. The sad consequence is that it virtually killed the textile industry of the latter. When I mentioned this privately to the group, saying that it could also kill the textile industry of the Philippines, I was told that the Philippine textile industry is virtually dead anyway. 

It is very sad indeed to think that textiles made out of pineapple, abaca, banana among  others could no longer be competitive worldwide resulting in the industries producing them  to die. In weddings and other social functions involving Filipinos, I still see Barong Tagalogs and Ternos being worn and getting raves, so I could not help but continue to hope.
         Barong Tagalog worn at a wedding in Canada.

When I was taking my Master of Laws, one of the subjects I took was International Trade Law. In that class, I did a research paper entitled: “Industrial Targeting”.  Based on my study, all the industrialized countries including the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, Japan and the newly industrialized countries (NICs) at the time of my research such as South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, practiced industrial targeting in the early stages of their industrialization.  The Asian Tigers, specifically targeted and protected their textile and garment industries. What it means is that their respective governments provided any or all of the following assistance to certain industries that they thought could be competitive worldwide:

Financial Assistance - Loans at preferential terms; Loan guarantees; Export financing; Preferential access to investment funds; Preferential access to forex; Nationalization.
Science and Technology assistance - Support for research and development; Control over technology imports; Requiring technology sharing as a condition for exporting to or investing in the country; Assistance in acquiring foreign technology; Training.
Tax policies - Special depreciation rules; Exemption or Deferral for export earnings; Grants.
Home-market protection - Restraints on foreign investment; Tariffs, Quotas; Discriminatory government procurement; and other non-tariff barriers.
Anti-trust exemptions - Mergers; Price fixing cartels; Export cartels; Joint research and development; Restrictions against competition.     

The current NICs (Malaysia, etc.) and China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh all have industrial policies. The latter four heavily subsidize their textile and garment industries while the Philippines is a loyal advocate and promoter of “free market”, “free enterprise” or “free trade” policies in this global economy. This would be okay if the other countries play fair but the sad fact is, they do not. That is a reality that the Philippines must reckon with. 

A few years ago, I was part of a law and lobby firm (O’Connor and Hannan) which represented the interests of the Philippines under President Fidel Ramos in Washington, D.C. As Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce (APACC), I helped the American Indians lobby for their rights under existing Treaties  including but not limited to their right to operate casinos in their reservations. In the early fights for Filipino Veterans equity, I convinced the Department of Foreign Affairs to advance the funding of a Veterans Lobby Office headed by the late Ambassador Nick Jimenez, father of Inquirer Editor Letty Jimenez Magsanoc.  It eventually became self-sustaining and brought about some successes. Efforts are continuing to gain full equity for the aging veterans.
                Men's Barong Tagalog used at a recent wedding 

I reassured Ms. Jocson-Agoncilio and USEC Panlilio that I would join the Fil-Am community’s effort to get the Save Our Industries Act passed. I suggested however, that the Philippine government seriously consider targeting the garments industry and providing all the assistance needed to be competitive. It is an export-oriented industry. Any or all of the industrial targeting practices I enumerated above where applicable could be utilized. The 8 million Filipinos overseas would be good consuming markets and indirect agents in their respective residential locations.  

P-NOY is lucky to have Panlilio in his government. Known to be honest and competent, he has extensive experience in the private sector having been a banker and top executive of several companies prior to his appointment. He also obtained an MBA degree from Ateneo de Manila University and took an Advanced Management Program in nearby Wharton School of Business. 

Working under a corruption-free, non-adversarial and cooperative environment between and among the business, labor, and government sectors, Panlilio should be able to encourage and increase foreign and domestic investments especially in export-oriented industries within the next few years.