Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Brewing Battle to Bring Back the Bells of Bayan Balangiga

In the pursuit of its “Manifest Destiny”, America decided to conduct a foreign policy of Expansionism. As the 19th Century was ending, the United States targeted the Philippines as a strategic place for its Asian ambitions. The Spanish-American War began in 1898 and the American expansionists or imperialists were maneuvering to become the “new colonial masters in the Philippines.”

Earlier in 1896, the Philippine Revolution broke out against Spain, which was its colonizer for more than 300 years. Forever fighting against foreign oppressors and continuously conducting guerrilla warfare against the Spanish rulers, the Filipino revolutionaries caused the collapse of Spanish power in the entire country. In fact, on June 12, 1898 Philippine Independence was proclaimed and a new Philippine Government led by General Emilio Aguinaldo was installed.

But America had other plans. It conducted secret negotiations with Spain. A mock battle on August 13, 1898 was staged to justify the turning over by Spain of the Philippines to America. For $20 million, the Philippines was “purchased” from Spain.

The Filipinos resisted American rule. Thus – the Philippine-American War began. Sending over a hundred thousand troops, killing hundreds of thousands including women and children, burning villages, and torturing prisoners, America finally won the war in 1902.

Described by Pulitzer Prize Winning historian Walter McDougall as having the Good, the Bad and the Ugly parts of America’s history, I would call the Filipino-American War as both Bad and Ugly.

An example was the event that transpired in a small town called Balangiga in the province of Samar, Philippines. The town folks were determined to resist American occupation. After initially decimating  Company C of the 9th Infantry Battalion that was sent to their town, the townspeople were eventually conquered. As historians described, “in an 11-day span burned 255 dwellings, slaughtered 13 carabaos (Filipino oxen), and killed 39 people” in retaliation for what the townspeople did to Company C.

In addition to the burning of the entire island of Samar on orders by Brigadier General Jacob W. Smith there was an order to kill  all boys aged 11 and over.  About 43,000 people either died or fled. This was considered “genocidal retribution”.

Adding insult to  injury, the American soldiers also decided to take with them the Balangiga Bells. 

The soldiers who took them must have considered them war trophies.  For long periods of time, warfare left the victor the complete discretion as to the distribution of spoils.

But the church bells are religious artifacts that fall within the definition of “cultural property” recognized by existing international conventions, treaties and agreements signed and accepted by both the United States and the Philippines.

Conventions on the return and recovery of stolen cultural property now exist to support claimants.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario recently announced that DFA would soon “aggressively pursue diplomatic efforts for the return of the Balangiga Bells that were carted away by American troops during their occupation of the Eastern Visayas province more than 110 years ago.”

This is “To honor the people of Samar who fought valiantly for freedom during the Philippine-American War”, DFA said.

Upon reviewing my notes in my International Criminal Law class on “Offenses Against Cultural Property”, I discovered that   there is a legal and moral basis for the people of Balangiga to get back their church bells.

The United States and the Philippines signed the “Protocol and Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, The Hague, 14 May 1954” as well as the “Final Act of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, The Hague, 14 May 1954.”

The United States is also a signatory to bilateral agreements such as that with Mexico and other regional and international conventions and treaties.

As a matter of principle and policy therefore, the U.S. supports the return of any cultural property carted away during armed conflicts to its rightful owners. This is a Good part of what author/historian McDougall called “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” parts of American Foreign Policy.

The Balangiga Bells are currently under the custody and care of the U.S. Government. Two are in a federal facility in Wyoming and one in a U.S. Military base in South Korea.

On the Philippine side, the Municipality of Balangiga had petitioned for the bells’ return. Then Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel sponsored a Senate Resolution also asking for the return. Most importantly, then President Fidel Ramos had written a similar request to then President Bill Clinton.

On the U.S. side, Congressman Bob Filner of San Diego led a group of U.S. legislators supporting the return.  Even a Wyoming Commission that conducted a study specifically on the matter even recommended the return. Jean Wall, the daughter of the first American killed during the historic encounter also suggested the return. Even the Governor of Wyoming washed his hands and claimed that it is a Federal decision.

In announcing an aggressive diplomatic pursuit, DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario virtually rang the bell signaling that a Battle to Bring Back the Bells to Bayan Balangiga is Brewing.  (B to BB the B to BB is B.)

Beware Bilateral negotiators. Hope for the Good American and not the Ugly one to surface!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Options for the Clinton Trinity

Former President Bill Clinton left the White House 10 years ago. The Clinton Foundation, which is more known for its Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), also just celebrated its 10 Year anniversary.

Clinton’s 8-year Presidency produced the following notable achievements:

1.    Longest economic expansion in American history (115 mos.);
2.    More than 22 million new jobs created in 8 years;
3.    Highest homeownership in American history (67.7 %);
4.    Lowest unemployment rate (4.0%) – lowest for African Americans, Hispanics and for women in 40 years;
5.    Lowest crime rate in 26 years;
6.    Connected 95% of the schools to the Internet;
7.    Smallest welfare rolls in 32 years;
8.    Lowest poverty rate in 20 years;
9.    Converted the largest deficit to the largest surplus;
10.  Lowest Federal Income Tax burden in 35 years;
11. Lowest Federal spending in three decades;
12.  Higher income at all levels.
The Clinton Trinity (Photo by Getty's)

In a letter to me and most likely to many more Clinton supporters, Chelsea had this to say about the Clinton Foundation:

“Since the first meeting in 2005, members have made more than 2,000 commitments, which have already improved the lives of 300 million people in more than 180 countries.
That same commitment to meaningful and sustainable results can be seen in the remarkable work of the Clinton Foundation over the past decade -- transforming lives by giving people across the globe the tools they need to create better lives for themselves and their communities:
-- 4 million people in 70 countries are benefiting from lifesaving HIV/AIDS treatments at reduced prices;
-- 26,000 entrepreneurs, small business owners, and smallholder farmers are improving their families' livelihoods and their communities;
-- 30 million kids in the United States and Latin America are receiving more nutritious meals in schools; and
-- 4.5 million trees have been planted in Malawi and Rwanda, benefiting over 8,000 farmers.”

Chelsea ended her letter with the following exhortation:

“Please send your thoughts about where the Clinton Foundation should go in the future -- and please let my father know that we'll stand with him as he continues his work around the world.”

In response, I sent the following thoughts:

“The Clinton Foundation should also focus on domestic issues. A Clinton Domestic Initiative (CDI) targeting the E-Generation dearly loved by the Clinton Trinity (Bill, Hillary and Chelsea) should be pursued.

By E-Generation I mean the following E’s:

1. Empowerment
2. Environment
3. Economic growth (Employment, Entrepreneurship, Equity Expansion)
4. Education
5. Electronic Media and Communications
6. Energy Independence
7. Electoral Reforms
8. Enlightenment
9. Excellent Healthcare
10.Effective Security Force

I propose that a division within CGI called Clinton Domestic Initiative (CDI) be created to deal with the above issues in the U.S.

Hillary should be tapped to head the new division after her tenure as Secretary of State. If she heeds the clamor to be President Obama's VP or even be his replacement, then Chelsea will head it.  A Public-Private Partnership would then be created to pursue and fight for the E-Gen.

Regardless, the world and the U.S. would be ready to have the first female President of the United States by 2016. :)”

The Clinton Trinity is the most popular political family in the United States today. Bill is the most loved living Past President while Hillary has become more popular than President Obama. With President Obama’s low approval rating of 40% compared to Hillary’s 65%, no wonder many leading Democrats are now talking about pushing Hillary to replace Biden as the VP candidate or even to challenge Obama if it becomes necessary.

The Democrats cannot allow a Conservative Republican President held captive by the Tea Party to control America.

I supported Hillary during the Democratic Presidential primaries. The Party did not live up to its name by the way it chose its Presidential candidate. In a democratic process, the candidate who gets most of the people’s votes gets chosen. Right?

Wrong. Hillary Clinton obtained 18,223,120 votes while Obama got 18,011,877. The “super delegates” pushed Obama over the top after neither of them received enough delegates from state primary races and caucuses.

Many Hillary supporters are now saying, “I told you so.” Many Obama supporters are now willing to make amends or do a “correction”.

For 2012, Obama is in trouble. He may need the Clinton Trinity to help drag him to the finish line.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lucky 9, Cloud 9, Love Potion Number 9

As gathered in the barbershops, the political issues are really economic concerns:
1.    Over 9% (9.1%) Unemployment Rate;
2.    Over 9% full reduction of household income (3.2% + 6.7% = 9.9%) from start of recession  (12/2007) to 6/2011;
3.    Over 9% (9.2% income reduction) for Blacks since the official end of the recession on June 2009  to June 2011.

This is based on a New York Times report and an article written by John F. Coder and Gordon W. Green, Jr. who concluded that it was  “a significant reduction in the American standard of living.”

It is no wonder that Job Creation has been the focus of the Republican Presidential Candidates. Until the withdrawal of former Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota, there were 9 of them who were considered serious.
Herman Cain (photo by Washington Times)
 Herman Cain, the only Black Republican Presidential candidate and former Chairman and CEO of Godfather Pizza, recently rose from being in the lowest to the top tier of candidates. This was after winning by a big margin the straw poll in Florida and by introducing his so-called 9-9-9 plan.

Basically, Cain proposes a 9% Individual Income Tax Rate; 9% for Corporate, and 9% for a National Sales Tax. He also projects a 9% Recovery Rate and eliminating Federal Debt in 9 years. That’s actually 5 - 9s! In short, it’s 9-9-9 = 9 and 9.

Temporarily, he and his supporters are in “Cloud 9”. Whether the sudden surge of his candidacy would continue as a Lucky 9 streak, we will certainly monitor.  They are currently shouting, “Yes, we Cain!”

The other candidates and critics have started putting cloud into his numbers. It is supposed to be revenue neutral but some computations show that it would bring substantially lower Federal revenues.

It would also add a national sales tax on top of the current state sales taxes. Regardless, it is attractive because it is simple and easier to understand.

Mitt Romney
Governor Mitt Romney remains the front-runner.  Compared to Cain’s 5 9s, Romney has 59 proposals discussed in a 161-page plan. Noticing the numbers 5 and 9, his points actually equal more than 6 9s (54). 

Romney plans to reduce the unemployment rate from the current 9.1% to 5.9%.

The 9 most important points of Romney’s plan are the following:
  1. Sanction China as currency manipulator and an unfair-trade practitioner;
  2.  Reduce corporate taxes from 35% to 25%;
  3. Implement stalled free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea;
  4. Survey of energy reserves for domestic production and job creation. Streamline process to create new oil and gas drilling;
  5.  Make states responsible for retraining;
  6. Cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent, a move that will reduce the federal budget by $20 billion;
  7. Repeal Obama’s Healthcare;
  8. Reverse pro-union orders issued by Obama; and
  9. Eliminate or repeal any Obama-era regulations that have a negative effect on job creation and economic growth. 
Romney said, “President Obama’s strategy is a pay phone strategy and we’re in a smart phone world.”

We see concreteness in Romney and Cain’s platforms. Probably because of their successful and fruitful experiences in the private sector, they cannot be accused of being “out of touch 9 times over”.

Many Americans are feeling “down in the dumps” as opposed to being on  “Cloud 9”. President Obama himself is calling it an “Emergency”.  It reminds me of then President Carter’s characterization of the situation in the 1980s as a “malaise”.

For America to avoid reaching the “10th level of Hell” or its economic situation going “6 feet under”, President Obama came up with the American Jobs Bill. 
President Obama
 The 9 significant points include:
1.    Tax Cut – payroll;
2.    Expanding small business loan limits;
3.    Extending 100% business expensing into 2012;
4.    Cutting red tape;
5.    Reforming patent system;
6.    Tax Credit for hiring unemployed, hiring back teachers, etc.;
7.    Infrastructure – schools, roads, bridges, railways, airports;
8.    Expanding Wireless Internet; and
9.    All to be paid for partly by taxing those earning  $999,999.99 or more.

People are skeptic about the passage of the bill because President Obama proposes it. The Republicans are not about to give him a “win”. This is despite the fact that according to the latest survey, 63% of Americans support it. That's 7 9s!

But the proposals of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness led by a Republican and composed of 27 (3-9s) current and former CEOs, academics and industry leaders might have a chance. The average annual income of the CEOs is $9M.

Their proposals involve the following 9 areas:
  1. Attract Foreign Capital;
  2. Energy – more aggressive in domestic production;
  3. Infrastructure- fix and/or build airports, railways and electricity grids;
  4. Immigration – speedier visa decisions,  green card for foreigners earning U.S. degrees in science, engineering and math;
  5. Drug Approvals - streamline
  6. Red Tape – reduction
  7. Taxation -  lower corporate taxes for new companies in their first three years; reduced capital gains rate for investors buying equity in young firms and other measures to encourage people to launch start-up companies;  tax reforms to make it more competitive for companies to locate in the U.S.;
  8. Education – change student loan payment rules; and
  9. Broadband Networks
As mentioned above, the concerns are in the 9 ranges. The proposed solutions are likewise in the 9s.  Hearing the Beatles sing, “what you need is Love Potion Number 9” might give us some tips.

In our Universe of 9 Planets where Earth revolves around the Sun, the Beatles could have coincidentally given the answer as people started and remain occupying Wall Street and the like: People Power “Revolution 9”.

How about Steve Jobs revolutionizing the computer industry and naming his creations starting with the 9th letter of the alphabet “I” as in IPAD, IPHONE, IPOD, IBOOKS, ICLOUD, etc.?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ps, Is, Ts

The last time I was involved in the process of amending the Philippine Constitution was sometime before the end of the term of Philippine President Fidel Ramos.

I remember making a presentation to a group of influential men in the President’s circle namely; National Security Adviser Jose Almonte, former Senator and Foreign Affairs Secretary Raul Manglapus, and then Budget Secretary Salvador Enriquez. The latter arranged the meeting after sponsoring a series of seminars that I ran for a group of young leaders at the Club Filipino. Upon my recommendation these youth leaders decided to organize a Philippine People’s Parliament as a way of institutionalizing People Power through the Constitutional and Statutory provisions on People’s Initiative.

As I explained, the People’s Initiative would make the youth or other Filipino citizens who participate Members of the Parliament or Congress, Provincial Board Members, Municipal Councilors and/or Barangay Councilmen at the same time. This is because it would allow them to amend the Constitution; make, repeal, and amend national laws; make, repeal and amend provincial board resolutions; make, repeal, and amend municipal ordinances; and make, repeal, and amend Barangay resolutions. They can even recall local officials. They will also earn the title, MPP (Member, People’s Parliament). J

They are empowered by mere LAGDA or signature even without being elected! 

Author with Ex-President Fidel Ramos

I agreed with the wise and famous men above that it would benefit the country to allow President Fidel Ramos who had a successful presidency to run for re-election by proposing a Constitutional amendment. However, it was my contention that it would be wiser to offer other amendments including economic ones as well.

My real interest was more on testing the People’s Initiative as the legal institutional substitute for People Power in the streets. The process would have allowed us to build a network up to the Barangay/Precinct level, which in effect was effective party-building. This specifically interested Senator Manglapus who was the President of Lakas-NUCD-CMD at the time.

Only the term extension amendment was proposed. Former president Cory Aquino and the Catholic Church opposed it. Understandably, they thought it was too early to amend the Constitution. Then Vice-President Erap Estrada, Speaker de Venecia and other Presidential hopefuls opposed it for obvious reasons.

It would have been a good test. Ramos was preparing us toward industrialization and to an almost “Dragon or Tiger” status as we approached the 21st Century. Cory Aquino was a transition President. We were still recovering from the economic shambles caused by the Marcos Dictatorship.  Six years were not enough to rebuild and to institute reforms. The would-be successors did not provide much hope.

Furthermore, as Senator Manglapus said, “If the process is allowed to prosper, those who oppose have several opportunities to fight it. First, they can go against the signature campaign; second, if there are sufficient signatures, they can campaign against it during the plebiscite or ratification; and if the amendment is passed, they can campaign and vote against Ramos’ re-election.”

Indeed, democracy in action, it would have been!

There are now moves to amend at least the economic provisions of the Philippine Constitution. Led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, there seems to be a consensus in Congress that a Constituent Assembly be formed with the objective of amending the economic provisions of the Constitution.

Specifically targeted are the restrictive economic provisions that affect foreign direct investments in land; in the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources; in media; in public utilities and even in tertiary education.

There is also the move to liberalize the practice of one’s profession in accordance with the principle of reciprocity. Example: If the California State Bar and / or Hawaii State Bar allow licensed Filipino lawyers to practice in either or both states, their licensed lawyers would also be allowed to practice in the Philippines.

The economic objectives are to grow our economy; to attract foreign investments, and to attain full employment.

The Philippines Board of Investments claims that in order for the country to have a GDP growth rate of 7% annually, it must attract at least $7 billion foreign investments yearly as opposed to a mere $2 billion currently. Compared to the foreign investments attracted by Indonesia, which averages $10 billion annually and by Vietnam’s $6 billion, the Philippines is almost pitiful. This is despite our supposed advantage of having an English-speaking and skillful labor force.

 “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” is actually a good start. Foreign investors would like to deal with an honest government and less red tape. American and other foreign investors are also covered by their national Anti-Corrupt Practices Acts.

To generate employment, we must industrialize. We must attract investments not just in industries but also in infrastructure development and innovation.

Less restrictive regulations will encourage an increase in tourism, trade, technology transfer and targeted training. .

The debate on the proposed amendments should start soon. I look forward to joining the discussion!